Call it a liquid gold rush.
As the popularity of craft beer continues to grow and as the country’s 2,000-plus breweries continue to take market share from domestic brewing giants Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, more business-minded craft enthusiasts are looking to get a piece of the action.
Of course when any industry is booming, entrepreneurs want in. It’s been that way since the California gold rush. When James Marshall first discovered gold in El Dorado County, nearly 300,000 individuals from across the U.S. flocked to the region with hopes of striking it rich.
But for most, the idea of striking it rich in beer is much more attractive than actually raising the capital needed to finance a brick and mortar brewing operation.
That’s where Bill Fisher’s story begins.
Fisher was tired of building sales organizations and increasing the value of companies that weren’t his. So after a few beers with his friend Chris Webb, the pair decided to launch their own startup — a craft brewery. And so, the Massachusetts-based Newburyport Brewing Company was born.
But Fisher, unlike the above-mentioned craft enthusiasts looking to strike it rich in the beer business, knew he needed a solid business plan. The blueprint he and Webb drew up called for $750,000 in seed money — 15 percent of that being their own. But securing a bulk of that investment wasn’t a walk in the park.
“Our challenge over the past several months has been getting those investors excited, to the point where they want to actually invest their money,” Fisher said.
To date, Fisher and Webb have secured over $600,000 from 21 different investors, a nod to their ability to explain the vision of Newburyport Brewing.
“We have pre-defined goals that are based on industry feedback and our advisory team,” he said. “We have a very clear and attractive business plan, a strong team to ensure our success and an incredible passion for great craft beer.”
That advisory team includes Devin Kelly, a former VP of marketing with InBev and Chris Testa, the former VP of Marketing for one of New England’s most successful beverage brands – Nantucket Nectars.
Having those players on the Newburyport bench is no doubt a value add for potential investors but Fisher said the investors are most excited about the brand’s potential under his leadership.
“You are seeing some very savvy business folks that have a passion for craft beer now,” he said. “The idea that we are business folks, approaching a craft beer brewery and building it in a very business-like fashion is attractive for investors.”
So what does $750,000 get you in an affluent town on the eastern seaboard?
Fisher said it’s enough to build out an 8,000 square foot brick and mortar facility complete with a 20-barrel brewhouse, six 40-barrel fermentation tanks, two brite tanks and a canning line capable of filling 30 cans per minute.
“It’s a seacoast brand,” explained Fisher. “Newburyport is the birthplace of the U.S. coast guard and it’s a seaport community rich in history. We have created a brand for Newburyport but also a brand for outdoor and music lovers. We are looking beyond just New England.”
Fisher is banking on the recent success of cans and plans to package all of his beer in kegs and cans exclusively. It’s an idea he credits to Luke Livingston, the founder of Baxter Brewing Company which is located just 100 miles north in Lewiston, Maine. He’s also hoping to mimic an aggressive early sales plan that helped Baxter move over 5,000 barrels in its first year.
“They are having great success,” Fisher said. “Like Baxter, we want to have a focused approach by driving three products out of the gate. From a marketing and sales perspective it’s a great strategy.”
Those three beers – Plum Island Belgian White, Newburyport Pale Ale and Green Head IPA – all reflect elements of New England culture in both package design and taste.
“Plum Island Belgian White is an approachable beer, that ties nicely to the relaxed nature of Plum Island which is off the coast of Massachusetts,” said Fisher. “Newburyport Pale Ale features a clipper ship and we are a clipper city. And then there is Green Head IPA which gives a nod to the aggressive Green Head flies that we get in New England around July. It’s the beer that bites you back.”
But unlike Baxter Brewing, who started out with a smaller initial operating capacity, Newburyport Brewing will be capable of producing 30,000 barrels of beer annually right from day one. The hope is to attract contract brands looking for a brewing partner.
Fisher is currently in the process of building out space at 4, New Pasture Road in Newburyport, Mass. and he expects to be operational by December.
And while it’s still too early to tell if the company will strike gold in Newburyport, Fisher is hopeful.
“We aren’t business guys looking to make a dollar on craft beer because it’s a hot market,” Fisher said. “We are passionate about beer and passionate about building a sustainable business. That is what sets us apart.”