I spent an idle hour, scrolling through dozens of pictures of two soon-to-open breweries, attempting to come up with the appropriate angle that would thread unrelated stories into one cohesive narrative. It's the day before deadline, and I need words something fierce. But, like a hangover, I was plagued by my actions from the night before: I had read a prospective brewery's Kickstarter page, and I couldn't start writing over my own teeth-gnashing.
Don't get me wrong; I certainly don't hate crowdfunding campaigns. I've helped numerous ventures over the years, and have a lot of quality music, nifty shirts and a plethora of eccentric gadgets as a result. But putting a would-be brewing operation in close proximity with strangers' wallets can oftentimes be a special brand of pending disaster buried in vapid, idealistic words.
I understand that the purpose of crowdfunding is to get something in return for my donation to the project, and not a transactional equivalent. But some of you breweries-in-planning must have lost your minds.
Nobody wants your coasters
I'm quite fond of both my writing desk and frequent cups of hot coffee, and I know the two aren't necessarily friends. Likewise, condensation from cold glasses tends to mar wooden living room surfaces.
Anyone with two brain cells to rub together understands that an adequate buffer will prevent any damage from occurring, but I'll be damned if I'm paying for promotional pieces of perishable paper.
Out of college and out of money, brewery coasters were a mainstay at my apartment. Ikea furniture was cheap, but it wasn't free and I wanted as much mileage out of it as I could get. I'd squirrel coasters by the fistful from local bars that were given boxes of these ubiquitous bar necessities gratis.
Now, for only five dollars, I can secure early delivery of temporary items I'll eventually get for free and dispose of unceremoniously?
Brewery-logo stickers? Now we're talking. My kegerator is plastered in them. Slap them on magnet paper, and I can rearrange or replace my decorative material at will. They can go on my car, a friend's back when they're not looking, the grist case of another brewery I'm visiting (seriously, it's a thing).
There should be a law mandating that every brewery's Kickstarter campaign includes a sticker at the lowest backer level, but please keep your coasters to yourself.
Seeing my own name is cool, but...
"Give us money, and we'll put your name on our website!" Thanks, but if I want to see my own name so badly, I'll write it in block letters on a scrap piece of paper before I throw it in the trash and wonder how my vanity has gotten so out of control. For fun, I just typed my own name for free, and I didn't have to pay a brewery $10 to read it.
More often, I'm seeing this as a lower-level (and lower value) reward in brewery crowdfunding campaigns. Solution: make it a mid-level pledge item and in the form of something tangible, something I can see when I visit your taproom and take pride in.
Durham's Fullsteam Brewery sports the Wall of Awesome, an impressive array of certificates listing all the backers to their taproom project and color-coded by donor level. Similarly, Charlotte's Red Clay Ciderworks has an awesome mural in their space naming all backers arranged in the shape of an apple tree.
Brew a beer with us!
I've spent more than three years working in breweries, and brewing is not the cushy job some folks think it is. It's messy, sweaty, unrelenting and honestly dangerous. I'd imagine any donors to this typically slightly-upper level pledge would balk at being put to work mucking out a mash tun.
I got paid to do this and I hated this necessary evil. Anyone who willingly would pay for the opportunity doesn't understand the work involved.
I don't have a good alternative for this sponsorship level. The production area of an in-motion brewery is no place for just anybody that can sign a check, and I'm sure the brewery's liability insurance company would agree.
Name a piece of equipment
Increasingly, this is one of the highest-level reward options. For hundreds of dollars, an incubating brewery will offer you the privilege to actually name one of their fermenters.
Let's face it, unless a brewery is Charlotte's own Birdsong Brewing (naming their fermentation tanks after actual military tank types, that's so metal), they'll have mundane names for identifying fermenters.
Often, just numbers are used, like Fermentation Vessel 1, aka FV1, and so on. But, for a ton of cash, you can ensure FV3 goes by its proper name, "Clarice," even though you'll never have a hand in cleaning it or filling it with beer.
I've had my car for several years, but I'm boring and simply refer to it as "my car." Anyone who wants to name it for me, please send a large check and I'll let you call it whatever, but it's mine alone to drive.
Or, if maritime endeavors are more your speed, my friend Chris tweeted, "I want a boat. If you pledge $600 to my kickstarter you can name one of my fishing poles!"
we need to learn how to brew
No kidding, I actually saw this happen in the Charlotte area. I didn't dare donate. Thankfully, neither did anyone else.
We blew our money on equipment, help us improve our taproom?
I've seen but a select few of these campaigns out there. Cost overruns and unforeseen scheduling delays drain a potential brewery's funds to the point that they've opted to sink their nest egg into making beer without much left over to make their taproom a destination.
Rather than lean on potential donors to foot the entire substantial cost of opening a brewery, these folks dropped their own coin into the meat of the operation and left the garnish to their potential patrons. I'd tip my hat to them, if I wasn't so busy whipping out my own wallet.
Starting a brewery is far from cheap. Capital required ranges widely, with a nanobrewery carrying an estimated price tag of $100,000 and a full, production-size brewery costing at least ten times that amount.
The concept of crowdsourcing funds for a brewery is relatively new, with North Carolina's own Mystery Brewing the first successfully-funded brewing project on Kickstarter back in 2010.
In an article two years later, Mystery's founder Erik Myers said that such crowdfunded campaigns are worth it, "but not really for the money" so much as a marketing mechanism.
Problem is, a fistful of coasters and other equally weak offerings make for poor marketing, and your campaign is less likely to get funded.
I'm far from saying breweries and crowdfunding are oil and water, nor am I saying brewing outfits corner the market on lackluster campaigns.
If you're looking to start your own brewing journey, it's because you're hopefully making beers that others don't or contributing a fresh voice in an evolving culture.
Celebrate your individuality in approaching crowdfunding too; why settle for aping the least ideas of others?