high five co-op brewery

High Five Co-op Brewery wants you!

Michigan’s first cooperatively-owned brewery hosted their official investment launch party, seeking investors to help fund what will ultimately lead to a democratically-operated brewpub in Grand Rapids.

High Five Co-op started in 2011 when founder Dallas McCulloch won $5,000 in startup capital from the Grand Rapids business competition 5×5 Night. Since then, they’ve been working at a modest, yet diligent pace to grow their membership base and network their collaboratively-brewed beers onto local breweries’ draft lists as rotating features.

Jim Jones, High Five’s Director of Finances & Co-op, said some momentum was lost over the last four years primarily “due to navigating through an erratic process of legal challenges.” Simply, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission struggled with how to process High Five on paper.

As a co-op, they are equally owned by all participating members so the MLCC is obligated to background check and vet everyone who applies to join. High Five has had to dedicate their time to work closely alongside the MLCC to ensure ownership liabilities and operational responsibilities were ironclad. They succeeded.

Now, High Five is asking for help. Phase 1 of their strategy is to develop their brewery and taproom utilizing 75% of the available space of their location. Their future location is to be determined based on the rate of total investments contributed by the public.

They’re prepared to put a down payment on a facility and procure brewing equipment as soon as they reach their immediate goal of $100,000. Ideally, they want to be pouring their first pint in 2017, if not sooner. Build-out will depend on the level of construction and renovation their new home needs. Their preferred location would be a building conveniently located to public transit to encourage their neighbors in the community to be regular guests.

In Phase 2, forecasted at approximately six years out or when they raise a total of $250,000, whichever comes first, they intend to build out a full-service kitchen in the remaining space. In the meantime, customers will be able to bring their own food, while High-Five will also seek restaurant partners for delivery and contracts with food trucks.

While location helps and the intent to serve Instagram-worthy food is definitely a plus, having exceptional beer has to drive their success. High Five already has street cred in the local scene. They’ve brewed collaborations with B.O.B.’s Brewery, Final Gravity Brewing Co.Grand Rapids Brewing Company, Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply, Harmony Brewing Company, HopCat, The Mitten Brewing Co., Rockford Brewing Company, and White Flame Brewing Co.

high five co-op breweryDuring the investment launch party, High Five’s current talent sampled a selection of their proposed mainstays as well as a special release — a 12% bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with maple syrup by Arick Hopper. Keep your eyes on Bill Kennedy’s pineapple variant of his Galaxy Pale Ale and Justin Dueweke’s Wheat IPA.

To help brewers break into the professional beer scene, High Five will “bridge that gap and provide homebrewers with a place to gain experience brewing on commercial systems,” explains Josh Smith, Board Director.

Their business model naturally allows them to be more responsive to the changing tastes of consumers because their member-owners are the consumers and brewers who determine what they brew. When High Five opens, they’ll employ a head brewer to maintain quality assurance on every in-house batch. As of right now, after having enjoyed the quality lineup of beers they showcased, they have nothing to worry about.

High Five hopes “being a people-centered business will drive social innovation.” Their mission is “to start a brewery that produces amazing beer while operating on the cooperative principles of democracy, equal ownership, non-discrimination, environmental consciousness, education, living wages for workers, and concern for our community.”

High Five is entirely owned by its members. Jones confirmed, “High Five cannot be sold.” That translates to every single member getting a vote in the direction of the brewery to guide it to success. Jorel Van Os, board of directors Vice President, assured, “We will never be macro. We will always be micro. And, we will always be community.”

high five co-op brewery

In order to become part owner of High Five and a member of their collaborative community, currently tallied at over 140, contributions can be made in two ways. At its core is the owner-member lifetime membership at $150. Once an owner-member, you can then increase your support to an investment share, at a minimum of $1,000. These investment shares will earns dividends declared annually by the board of directors. Regardless of investment level, all owner-members earn one vote equally.

High Five is keeping this investment window open for one year. John Shoemaker, guest at the Investment Launch Party, affectionately pointed out that this is an opportunity “where dreamers get to be the doers.” Laura Barbrick, board of directors President, encourages those on the fence to consider, “Now is the time to help contribute to something special that’s never been done before [in Grand Rapids].”

What’s next for High Five Co-op Brewery? They’ll continue to host investment events to seek the public’s support. To become an owner-member and for a list of membership benefits, you can join here

GRAND RAPIDS — High Five Co-op Brewery hosted its first official membership event and “sixer mixer” this past Saturday.

Members and non-members alike met in The Factory, a collaborative workspace, and brought along their favorite and homemade brews to share and taste. Attendees sipped on samples while engaging in light discussion.

The event was the first of what will be several sixer mixers and was an opportunity for members to meet each other and discuss their own brewing and beer enthusiasm. Prospective members could attend to learn more about the co-op’s goals and operations. Everyone sipped on a brew they selected from coolers filled with snow instead of cubed ice — which has to be one of the more resourceful uses of the surplus of snow with which Grand Rapids has been inundated.

Attendees could enter their beer selections in a competition for Oldest Cellared Beer, Highest ABV, Lowest ABV and Honorable Homebrew. Those who were selected won a free High Five Co-op Brewery T-shirt. Each title was taken by a home brew.

Andrew Brouwers, High Five member of two months as well as the recipient of the Lowest ABV award, said he joined because he likes the small, personal side of the cooperative.

“I like brewing beer and I like the idea of a smaller organization geared towards people’s desires more than the commercial side of it,” he said.

Brouwers said he’s looking forward to watching the process of the brewery’s start from the ground up.

“I think the initial opening is really interesting — like the procurement of a property, and trying to understand where they want to go and then raising the capital to do it,” he said. 

Rachel Weaver came to the event with Brouwers as a non-member. She said she may be interested in investing in a membership in the future, but for now, sharing a membership with Brouwers will do.

“When it gets bigger and if it were to get limited to members only, maybe that would spur me to purchase one, but until then I’m just kind of along for the ride,” she said.

In its second year, High Five has already made strides in breaking ground as the first co-op brewery in Michigan. Much of its struggle has been rooted in meeting legal requirements. President Nick LaVelle said the co-op’s hard work is making the project come together more quickly than its predecessors in other parts of the country and will make it easier for future co-op breweries to start up in Michigan.

The co-op currently boasts 88 members and is working on diversifying its methods of funding the project. High Five is currently searching for investors who are interested in supporting the cooperative. A Kickstarter campaign is also in the works.

“We’ve been in contact with a few different individuals and are currently working out a good collaborative strategy for their interests,” says High Five board member Josh Smith. “One thing we’ve been discussing is allowing our first phase of investors to purchase our building and equipment and leasing those items to the co-op.”

In the meantime, High Five is seeking to strengthen the community in the 88 members they’ve accrued since the beginning and the people who are just interested in learning more about the co-op.

“By hosting events like the sixer mixer we’re really hoping to create a strong community of homebrewers, beer enthusiasts, and community advocates that enjoy coming together, sharing brews, meeting new people, and supporting the goal of creating a co-operative brewery to call their own,” said Smith.