Three years ago many people feared the craft beer movement was in jeopardy because of litigation, with larger companies strong-arming smaller companies over seemingly ridiculous trademark issues. Some people thought such unseemly activities were indicative of a new kind of craft beer infighting that threatened to ruin the industry. They were wrong. We survived.
Today, the narrative has changed and many people fear that craft beer is scheduled for extinction at the behest of brewing behemoths like AB-InBev, MillerCoors, and Heineken, all of whom recently assimilated craft breweries that were looking to grow, expand, or simply cash out. But resistance is not futile.
There are other ways for craft breweries to face the future. Breweries can grow and expand, and longtime owners can retire or cash out, without giving into the whims of the Beer Borg. For example, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is one option.
EHOP, Collaboration not Assimilation
Harpoon Brewery (Boston, MA) and Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) are among the craft beer companies that have successfully navigated the treacherous waters of change, growth and expansion by pursuing the ESOP option. To celebrate the virtues of employee ownership, Harpoon and Deschutes have collaborated to make two beers: a project they’ve dubbed EHOP, an Ode to Brewing Independence.
Next month Harpoon and Deschutes will release the EHOP beers in celebration of brewing independence. Harpoon EHOP and Deschutes EHOP will be available for purchase in their respective markets in October, which coincides with National Employee Ownership Month. Both beers will be available in 22 oz. bottles and draft (limited availability).
The plan was hatched in August 2014 when Harpoon Brewery announced that it was transitioning to employee ownership. When the news reached Bend, employee-owners from Deschutes Brewery were among the first to extend an enthusiastic welcome to the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) club.
Harpoon brewer Ethan Elston and Deschutes brewer Ryan Schmiege collaborated on both recipes. While each beer is unique, both recipes include employee-grown hops (EHOPs) and local ingredients.
The Harpoon EHOP will be released as part of the brewery’s limited batch 100 Barrel Series. Harpoon employees contributed their homegrown hops to the recipe, which include Cascade, Challenger, Willamette, and Tettnang hop varieties. The combination of Caramel and Midnight Wheat malt gives this beer a sturdy malt character, while locally sourced sage and thyme add a bit of spice. The result is a full-bodied amber ale with a malty sweetness and lingering spiciness. ABV 8% / IBUs 35.
“It has been quite a year for us at Harpoon as we’ve transitioned to employee ownership,” says Harpoon CEO and co-founder Dan Kenary. “It’s a complicated process and we couldn’t have done it without the support that we received from Deschutes and other craft brewers who had chosen this path before us. We’re extremely proud to be employee-owned – being an independent brewer is something we value deeply and believe it’s at the core of what makes the craft beer industry so great for both brewers and beer lovers. This beer is a high-five to our fellow independent American craft breweries and their employee-owners.”
Deschutes is brewing its version of the EHOP beer using the same malt and hop profile. Several of the whole flower hops being used in the beer are growing in front of the brewery’s main Bend, Oregon facility, and were harvested by employees this week to add to the beer. This beer will also be an amber ale, brewed with Oregon sage and thyme. ABV 8% / IBUs 35.
Ryan Schmiege, assistant brewmaster for Deschutes, traveled to Boston to collaborate on the Harpoon EHOP. “This is the perfect way to celebrate employee ownership for both of our breweries,” said Schmiege. “I had a fantastic time working with the brewing team at Harpoon, and it was interesting to see how many similarities our two breweries have, even though we are across the country from one another. I’m proud that we’ve come together on this collaboration to celebrate our shared employee-ownership culture.”
Deschutes and Harpoon will host an invite-only EHOP release party on Thursday, September 24th from 3-6 pm at the Corner Office at the Curtis Hotel in Denver prior to the opening GABF session. The Harpoon EHOP will be on tap along with a selection of Deschutes beers. Fellow Colorado brewery employee-owners and their beers will be on hand at the celebration, including New Belgium, Odell, and Left Hand. Harpoon CEO Dan Kenary, Deschutes CEO Gary Fish, Odell CEO Wynne Odell, New Belgium Director of Organizational Development Jennifer Briggs, and Left Hand Co-Founder Eric Wallace will be at the reception celebrating employee ownership and sharing their great beers.