David Anderson started his beer career as a home brewer in 1992 and developed the concept for his own brewery, the Brewfarm. Belgian-style beers were to be the focus there. After the initial ideas in 1995, he set about implementing them, developing beer recipes and buying a plot of land. But the implementation finally succeeded at another location, but the property provided the start-up capital. The Brewfarm quickly became a focal point for the local community and, of course, the center of David’s life. Recently, he was able to sell the brewery and now devotes himself to his new passion: traveling the world as an International Beer Judge…
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Markus Raupach: Hello, and welcome to another episode of our podcast BierTalk. I’m still in Brazil after more than a week. But now we’re sitting together. I’m here with David Anderson, a good friend and beer judge of mine. And yeah, we are talking about his beer history. He had a brewery, but we’ll hear a lot about this in a few moments. So please, David, introduce yourself to the listeners.
David Anderson: Well, hi, listeners. This is David Anderson. I’m from the United States. I live in the state of Wisconsin and I currently live in a city called La Crosse. Beer history. So, me and beer go way back to I guess I can say homebrewing back in 1992, and started to make some good beers and people liked my beer and said, wow, you should open a brewery. So, I took that and ran with it and created a concept I called the Brew Farm to be able to brew beer on a farm or a rural spot and kind of in the image of a Belgian farmhouse style brewery. Back in 1995, I started.
Markus Raupach: Long time ago.
David Anderson: Yeah.
Markus Raupach: A long time before and long time after. So, let’s see. And how did it all start? So, when you grew up? When did you have your first contact to beer?
David Anderson: Oh boy. So, I had some cousins. I think the first time I ever had a beer was when I was probably eight or nine and up at the cousin’s farm. And they said, here, try this. And it was a beer called Falstaff. It was a classical, plain old American lager. And I think I went to my first keg party when I was 12, and kind of went from there. And then like I said, mentioned, discovered homebrewing in 1992 and from there, it went to the more formal period where I decided I wanted to open my own brewery in 1995. I started writing my business plan, and then realized that being a home brewer was just a good step. It was an introduction to brewing, but I was nowhere near the necessary information and experiences to brew commercially. So in 1996, early 1996, I went to the Siebel Institute in Chicago, where I had some training, both classroom and some hands on training, which helped start the process to be a commercial brewer. And soon after that, I still pursued ideas and the whole taking an idea and making it reality, which is a million steps in between and thousands and thousands of details. So, I started brewing for a brewery called Ambleside Brewing in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1997. Brewed with them for the year and a half they existed. They went out of business after a year and a half, which was very informative on many things on what not to do, as opposed even to what to do. I found what not to do being almost more important as I put mine together, than what to do.
Markus Raupach: That’s an important learning I think to see better what you don’t do next time or you do your own time.
David Anderson: Exactly, or because I let somebody else make million dollar mistakes is always a preferential.
Markus Raupach: Maybe let’s see, how did the beer market look in the early 90s and then later on when you started? What was in the US at this time?
David Anderson: Very good question. I believe when I started in 95, there were 300 breweries give or take. And now there’s more than 9000. So, it was kind of the Wild West time. It was a lot of breweries that had been going for a long time like Anchor and Sierra Nevada and things that have been going since the 80s. So, there was definitely brewers to look to, to get inspiration on how to start and grow and to be good craft brewers. And it was one of those times where you pretty much knew almost everybody in the business. It was very friendly and collegial atmosphere, and everybody’s helping everybody else. Because the goal was creating that delicious, clean, tasty, interesting glass of beer at the end of the day.
Markus Raupach: So you met all these legends we say today.
David Anderson: I did. Yeah. And it started, it’s because the first time I got into the beer judging, I started beer judging soon after I completed the Siedel, because there was sensory training at Siedel. So I was like, oh, I can definitely be able to take a beer and pick it apart as far as the visual, the aromas, the flavors, the mouthfeel, the beer experience, as I call it, to be able to do that. So I started judging homebrew in 1996 in the Minneapolis area where I was living. And soon I applied for judging at the Great American Beer Festival, and at that time, there wasn’t that many beers entered, and there wasn’t that many judges. So I was on a, I think it’s about a two year or three-year waitlist, and finally got to judge at the Great American Beer Festival in 2005. So that was my first big commercial endeavor and that’s where I met a lot of the legends. Because they were, they’d been doing it for a while and because the wave was probably about 10, 12 years before that, I think, they started. But then my first international experience was Birra dell Anno I think it was 2006 or seven. And that’s when it was in Milano. And that was such a fantastic experience to be able to judge internationally. And that kind of set the tone, or I guess the idea that I really like to travel the world, drink beer and write it off on my taxes.
Markus Raupach: This traveling for judging also influenced your brewing?
David Anderson: Very much so. And because I get access and get to experience beers, I’d never be able to experience. Because I go to wherever we’re at in Brazil, or I was in Japan prior to coming here, and it was earlier this year and I was in Germany for European Beer Star this year. So going to the source and being able to not only just experience the beers at the festival, visiting all the breweries that I can possibly, going to the store and just finding a random beer and it’s like what is this, and trying it and being able to, but yeah, it was very fruitful for my brewing, which we’ll get to soon. That was inspirational or just would give you a kernel of an idea. It’s like, wow, somebody put yuzu fruit in the beer. And it’s like, wow that’s really an interesting idea. I could make a beer with X, Y and Z and yuzu fruit.
Markus Raupach: So that might be maybe a good advice for a brewer to be also a beer judge.
David Anderson: I highly recommend it. I really believe that it not only sharpens your sensory to be able to understand your own beers. But to be able to just be intelligent, I guess, or just be smart about what’s going on with your beers and be able to course correct. Because I know a lot of brewers are very poor at sensory, which seems backwards because you’re drinking your own beer and you can’t tell if there’s a problem. That’s a big problem.
Markus Raupach: If you look back to the 90s, when I did research for my books, I read the idea that you had America more or less separated in two parts in terms of beer, or general in terms of society in the 70s and 80s. Because you had the West Coast with all these crazy people, which maybe didn’t make it in the East Coast. But then they went there and made it more easy and be creative. And some of them made the computer stuff and some of them made the beer stuff. And on the other side, you had the East Coast people, hard working class and all these people with also their beers and this constant is more or less in between. So did you also discover that? And did you have connection to the West Coast or to the East Coast? Or where did you get your ideas?
David Anderson: That’s a good question. There was an East Coast, West Coast divide and the beer styles, if they said American IPA back in the mid-90s, a West Coast IPA would be very different from an East Coast IPA, and there’s still some differentiation between the coasts. But I think as the craft beer market has grown, there’s become a little more homogenous so that the East Coast kind of blends a little bit with West Coast, and they have intermingling. So, there’s definitely a merging of kind of styles when it comes to things of that nature. As far as the Midwest, it’s been such back in the 1800s there’s been German and Czech immigrants. So, there’s a very heavy lager emphasis in the upper Midwest and that, it took a while for the craft, especially the hop angle of craft beer to really take hold. You don’t want to think too spicy in the Midwest, because oh, that’s too much flavor. So, the lagers ruled the day back then.
Markus Raupach: So, when you started did you have access to the beers from the West Coast and to the raw materials from there? Or do you have more local stuff or more lager stuff?
David Anderson: You can get access to the hops. That wasn’t too much of a problem. In the Midwest is the grainbelt. So, the malts were grown in Minnesota and North Dakota, so things were, there’s a number of large malting facilities in the Midwest, so that was easy to get at. Hops were accessible. You get the stuff from Hopsteiner and it was, the important hops were a little bit more difficult. But as the market grew, availability grew with it.
Markus Raupach: And being a homebrewer, it was easy that time to start up like getting the equipment, getting the raw materials, other recipes? Or did you have communities? Or how did that come?
David Anderson: A little bit of both. There were the classic, what they call homebrew shop, or the local homebrew shop and they had all the materials. They didn’t have a great variety of things; it was pretty limited. And they, you typically have a premade kit or preassembled kit. So, all the ingredients were there, you just had to have the equipment and they gave you direction. So, it was kind of like making soup at that point, but not quite. I always, people think that making beer is the equivalent of making soup. So, I use that analogy for not making soup. So yeah, it’s one of the things were once you start with a premade kit and then you have ideas, because I like to cook. So, there’s a cooking background so where you can take and extrapolate from the existing recipes to like, well, what if I use this ingredient? Or what if I changed this yeast or these hops and be able to experiment? And that kind of set the tone for later down the road when I opened my own brewery.
Markus Raupach: So you opened your own brewery, but did you have a normal job before? Some regular thing?
David Anderson: I don’t know about normal. My career is that I didn’t really have a career. I’ve been in the beer business in many different facets. Once I started putting together my business plan for Dave’s Brewfarm in 95, went to Siebel, 96, then I bought some commercial land in the city of Plymouth, Minnesota where I was going to open up essentially a brew pub. It wasn’t really my original vision of brewing on the farm. It was more of a rock bottom type, brew pub with 210 seats and 10-barrel brewhouse and big restaurant. And I chased that for three years before in the late 1990s. The market went south and nobody wanted to invest in a restaurant at that time. So, then I sold the land I bought which, not knowing what was in the future, but that lump sum that I got from selling the land enabled me to down the road, build the brewfarm.
Markus Raupach: So what were your customers at this time in the brewery and the tap room? Before the brewfarm, when you first …
David Anderson: They never came to exist.
Markus Raupach: Oh, you just had the land.
David Anderson: Just had the land. I had the land, I had construction plans, I had two banks that were ready to write loans, but I needed to raise three quarters of a million dollars privately. Yeah, it ended up being a $2.1 million project. Yeah, it was big. But the investors were scared to invest in a restaurant. Essentially it was a restaurant that happened to brew beer. That’s truly what a brew pub is. First and foremost a restaurant that happens to brew beer, not a brewery that happens to have a restaurant. That’s typically more American in that regard.
Markus Raupach: So you could keep your investors and start the new project.
David Anderson: I really didn’t have investors. Again, I had everything in place for them. But there was nothing there. But I owned the land and the land had increased in value significantly in the four years that I held it. So, once I sold that, I had a nice lump sum to be able to. And after I sold it, then I went to work for, what did I do? I worked for other distributors. I actually moved from Minnesota out to, I got married, moved up to Massachusetts and started brewing for a brewery called Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, Massachusetts for two and a half years. I started a beer export company in 2002, called Brewers Alchemy Exports and showcased beers at the 2002 Great British Beer Festival. I brought a bunch of American beers over. So, I had my hands in a lot of different kind of entrepreneurial things. Then I went to work for a beer distributor, moved back to St. Paul, Minnesota, and went to work for a beer distributor. So as a salesman selling online or not online, draft accounts in the Minneapolis market. And then finally in 2007, I started looking at land. And in February of 2008, I closed on 35 acres of what would become the Brewfarm.
Markus Raupach: Before we look to the Brewfarm, what about your family? Did they support you? Your parents or your wife or whatever? Or what did they say is that you told them you’re going into the brew business?
David Anderson: They were a little skeptical as I was as well. I suppose it’s always good to have a little bit of scepticism because it’s now looking back, I know how difficult and how the deck is stacked against you to be able to actually create it and be successful. So, they were supportive all the way through. And it’s like, well if this is what you want to do, we’ll support you. And so I went forward and jumped off the cliff, hoping there was a net below.
Markus Raupach: Do you have siblings?
David Anderson: Yes, I have siblings. I’m the eldest. I’ve got a brother who’s a piano player and another brother who is a mechanical engineer and a sister who does marketing.
Markus Raupach: Good bunch of people.
David Anderson: Oh yes, very good.
Markus Raupach: Great.
David Anderson: And they are all very again, supportive.
Markus Raupach: Okay, and then you had the idea of the Brewfarm. So that for me means you have a farm, like animals and maybe some crops and also, of course, beer. Was the emphasis more on the farm or more on the beer? Or how did that go?
David Anderson: Definitely, beer first. So, when the farm came together, it was just bare land. It was 35 acres. Not sure what that translates into hectares, but it’s a good chunk of land. Beautiful, rolling, Wisconsin farmland, and it was just the dirt and trees, that was it. So, everything that became the Brewfarm, we had to physically build or somehow manage to create. And broke ground September of ‘08, was built as a live workspace. So, the building itself was built into the hillside and that’s where the brewery was. It’s 40 feet by 60 feet, so 2400 square feet. Sorry for all you metric fans out there. And then the living space was above it, about 1500 square feet of living space.
Markus Raupach: So the scenery was you had hills in the back and a river or something?
David Anderson: No, there were some natural springs, a pond. So it wasn’t really the water feature. Of the 35 acres, 22 were tillable or pasture and the balance was woods. And as far as the farm aspect, we planted hops. We had four different varieties. I can’t remember now. I think one was Fuggles. One was Centennial, Cascade and Northern Brewer. And for anybody thinking about growing hops, don’t.
Markus Raupach: I just was thinking you need such a lot of knowledge to do all these different things. So, did you have people for that? Or did you have to learn that on your own? Or how did that?
David Anderson: Yes, it was all my own. At the time I was married. So, I had my now ex-wife, she was very into the growing of things. In fact, we had a, what’s called a community supported agriculture. So she grew crops and sold shares for families outside the city. But yeah, it was just, I’d never had employees. I was a solo operator. So yes, doing everything. People would ask like, so do you grow your own barley and malt it? And I’m like, no. It’s just 24 hours in a day. It’s just me.
Markus Raupach: I just wanted to ask, because for me, that sounds like a 26-hour day.
David Anderson: It is at least 26, yeah, and more. And it’s one of those things where I’ve been so involved in it and it just was kind of a natural thing for, there’s always stuff to do. And people would ask me, it’s like, well, do you have a job outside of this? And then I’d give them the look like, are you kidding me? Do you know what goes on to make that nice, clean glass of beer that you’re drinking, just to make it look easy? So many details and so much hard work.
Markus Raupach: And you also had a taproom there?
David Anderson: Yes. We had a taproom. It was kind of tucked into the corner of the brewery space. It wasn’t originally planned. But somebody had said, well, you know, you should really consider that. It’s good for marketing directly to your customers. The profit margins are very good for manufacturing to retail. So, you should probably just put in a little taproom. I was like, oh okay, sure. So, I put in a bar. We had eight different lines that were constantly rotating. And it was pretty minimalist when it came to taprooms. So, I mean, we put out chairs and tables in the brewery space. So, like wintertime, it would be really, really snug. We could get about 50 or 60 people in there. But during the summertime and spring and fall was outside in the Brewfarm and it was fantastic. People would drive from the cities, Twin Cities, 45 minutes, hour, one way to come out and spend time at the Brewfarm.
Markus Raupach: So people came for beer or also for food?
David Anderson: They brought their own food. It was something that, people said, Oh yeah, you should have a restaurant and do food. And it’s like no, I don’t want to be a restaurant. I want to focus on the beer. And the licensing for having a restaurant is much more onerous. It’s a lot more rigorous because the health considerations of preparing food. We did sell frozen pizzas. So that was as far as I wanted to go with food. But we encouraged people to bring picnics and grills and things like that to be able to enjoy.
Markus Raupach: That still doesn’t sound for me that there’s a lot of income generated by that.
David Anderson: Interesting. So when people would, they’re trying my beer and it’s like, wow your beer is really good. And they’d say, what’s going to happen when you grow. And I said, I’m going to grow enough to be sustainable. I’m going to get enough money to cash flow. And that’s the whole key, I think, to any business is cashflow and debt management. So those two things, to minimize your debt and cashflow enough to pay that debt and have enough cushion. Because it’s not, if something’s going to go wrong, it’s when something’s going to go wrong. So, you need to have enough funds in savings to be able to cover those emergencies, and those breakages and things that are going to happen.
Markus Raupach: And you also had your animals. So you sold maybe eggs or meat?
David Anderson: We had chickens and ducks. So, we had probably 30 chickens, most of them layers, some meat birds, and then we also had ducks. They were mostly layers. We had like Peking ducks for, those are fantastic to be able to cook. A lot of work, but, so that wasn’t really so much as an income stream as it was good to have fresh.
Markus Raupach: And what beers did you make?
David Anderson: Which beers didn’t I make? It was a huge variety. I had two brewing systems, I had a seven barrel, little two vessel system and then I had a pilot system which was 10 gallons. So I could experiment. It was a lot of Belgian style influence, I guess, so saisons and some of the stronger trappist areas.
Markus Raupach: Tripels.
David Anderson: Tripels. But I also did lagers. I did a lot of things that I just ended up calling Brewfarm style because they didn’t fit into. I know styles from being a beer judge, but they certainly didn’t fit any particular style.
Markus Raupach: Was there something like an all-time favorite, which was always available?
David Anderson: So I ended up, when I first started, I contracted a couple of beers in packages because I didn’t have either the money or the space to put in a canning line or a bottling line. So I had two beers, one was called Brewfarm Select, which was a pale, 5.5% lager. Had a nice hop balance to it. And the other one was called Matacabras, which is a Spanish wind that is so strong, it kills goats. It blows them off the cliff. It’s very strong. I know, people are like really? And then in fine print on the label, it says, “No goats were harmed in the production of this ale.” Just to cover for all the PETA people out there. But those were the two pretty much. So the Matacabras was 8.5%, had the trappist yeast strain, it had rye malts, American hops, so it was a very kind of a mix again, Brewfarm style. And on the label I put, “A curious ale,” because it really, again, didn’t fit. People were like, what is this? I’m like, Well.
Markus Raupach: A beer.
David Anderson: It’s delicious. But there’s, I mean, so many different beers. And the taproom was kind of like test room, I guess, is the best way to describe it. Because, I put a new beer on. Is it good? Thumbs up, thumbs down. And some new beers would always get chatter. So, I had a scotch ale called McAnderson that was typically a fall time seasonal. I called them seasonal because it was 8, 8.5% again. And there’s another one called SOB OMG.
Markus Raupach: Oh my God.
David Anderson: Yeah. It was sour orange basil, SOB and then oh my goodness. But it was with a sour orange puree and fresh basil. So it was summertime. So it’s fun to be able to do that. We grew the basil in our garden, I made other, a lot of the flowers and wildflowers. I made a dandelion saison. There was other ones with bee balm. We had planted some grapes, so some cold hardy grape varieties. There were raspberries that grew wild. So, to be able to forage quite a few ingredients and begin an experiment to see what kind of base beer style would it go with, what kind of yeast would be appropriate to go with it. And usually hopping was always very minimal for stuff like that to showcase the special ingredients.
Markus Raupach: So that was more or less your showroom and then you contracted the successful piece. And you sold that in stores?
David Anderson: Correct, yes. Yeah.
Markus Raupach: And was that easy? Because I heard in the Three Tier System, it’s not so easy to get always in stores.
David Anderson: Wisconsin had law that under 300,000 barrels, which I was very under, you can self-distribute.
Markus Raupach: Okay.
David Anderson: But I did work with a distributor to have both throughout Wisconsin where I did some self-distribution in my small area, and then out states, I had a distributor who distributed my beers. And then I had a Minnesota distributor cover the … I was 45 minutes from Minneapolis, St. Paul which is a huge beer market. So, I had a distributor there in that market. That’s how the beer got around.
Markus Raupach: So, and then people drove to your location.
David Anderson: Yep.
Markus Raupach: What about the alcohol law driving thing? Is that in the US?
David Anderson: It’s there. It’s 0.8%, which is pretty standard throughout. States for a while had a wide variety of alcohol limits. But now 0.8 has been the typical. And more often than not, people would have a designated driver. So, and I also started my taproom hours early, so people weren’t coming out and getting drunk. So, I started at three in the afternoon and I closed at seven. Those were my hours.
Markus Raupach: That’s really early.
David Anderson: Very early, yes. Because I didn’t want to be a bar. I didn’t want to be, to have customers, because I lived upstairs. And seven o’clock usually meant I was planning to close at about eight. And I didn’t want to be the bar that people hung around and got drunk at. Because, again, the liability is very, very high. I had people who I’d say, no, I’m taking your keys. You’re staying the night because you’ve had too much. And so it’s something just to be aware of as a proprietor standing behind the bar. You’re watching your customers, you’re talking to them, making sure that they’re not over imbibing.
Markus Raupach: So it is true that you could have been sued if some.
David Anderson: Oh yeah.
Markus Raupach: Yes.
David Anderson: Very much so. Yeah, I had a very high liability insurance for that case. And anybody who serves and sells alcohol has to have that kind of liability protection. Because they typically will go back and they’ll just say they were over served. And without having an alcohol tester to tell me exactly. One person can drink three beers and another person, three beers and one’s drunk or one’s barely buzzed. You’ve just got to be aware.
Markus Raupach: So you set up a brand with a profile? What would you say how much was it on your premise? And how much was it by selling in the stores?
David Anderson: It’s changed over time. So, I brewed my first beer in 2009 and the taproom opened late 2009. And I also started contract brewing in 2000. Actually, before I brewed any beer, I had recipes developed before. So I started the contract because I wanted to get the, I used the contract, packaging and whatnot to get the Brewfarm name out there. Because when I first started, I said, well yeah, it’s Dave’s Brewfarm. What’s a Brewfarm? And nobody had, because I made the word up in 1995. So, it went very well with packaging up till about 2012, 2013. And then the craft beer market in the United States just exploded. So, what was fairly, I hate to say, easy to sell in 2009, and 10 and 11, became extremely difficult in 2012 and 13, because the marketplace was just flooded. Ran out of shelf space and it became very competitive amongst not only just the brewers, but the distributors as well. So the shelf space became a very hot commodity. And so at that point, I quit the contract and packaging and focused solely on the taproom, because there was no way I could compete being as small as I am. I didn’t have this huge war chest of marketing money to stand out, or even though the beer did the marketing, it became too competitive.
Markus Raupach: So you are a bit of a victim of the success of the craft beer.
David Anderson: Oh, very much so, yeah. It’s interesting now, again, looking back. Because I was probably like one of the smallest breweries in the United States, and I was doing volume and just being, I don’t know many single operator breweries right now or even back then. There was maybe less than three or four of us. So being able to succeed as a small brewery, again, it’s about the debt management, it’s about the cash flow and I could do that. I wasn’t going to, I didn’t get into the business to get rich quote unquote. For me, it was lifestyle. I had to make money. That’s the business. But I wasn’t out to just like suddenly become this multi-billionaire, craft brewer in Wilson, Wisconsin. So, it was a fantastic lifestyle and experience to be able to do that and living up there and brewing whatever I wanted was, I think many brewers would be very envious of having that instead of brewing the same beer, because that’s their core.
Markus Raupach: How was the relationship to the other brewers? Because in Germany, we had something like a breakpoint in the craft beer market. It was in Germany, about 2014, 15, before it was all one loving family, whatever. And then they started to be competitors. And then there were lines between and breaks and whatever. And it started to be more competitive and not being so friendly anymore. So, did you have the same thing in the US?
David Anderson: It was similar. In the area I was, there’s probably six other small brewers. And they’re all small brewers. I think the competitiveness got to the ones that I call the middle tier, making more than, say, 10,000 barrels annually. And most of the ones in my area were probably less than 1,000 barrels, annual production. So, there was always competitiveness, but it wasn’t to the point where it would ruin the friendship and ruin the partnership. So, if I called up somebody said, hey, I need some hops. I’d get hops. And if somebody called me up and said, hey, can I get some grain? Here you go, no problem. So that never went away. But the division that you spoke of in 2014, maybe it had been a little earlier, but like I said, 2012, when things really got super flooded in that time period, I heard infighting stories, especially about the breweries in the Minneapolis market. It was much more competitive for the brewers there.
Markus Raupach: So it started to be harder for you, but you kept on, your business?
David Anderson: Yeah.
Markus Raupach: And how did it then develop the next year?
David Anderson: It maintained. I saw a dip in, again, 2012, 13, because all these new breweries, so people only have X amount of attention, X amount of dollars, X amount of time. So, all these new breweries, everyone was going out and trying. But then, after about a year or so, I saw stuff picking back up again, because they’d tried these other breweries, and they’re like, well, it’s not as good as Dave. So, they came back and business, and then it was pretty steady state up until I sold it, so. Or Covid, I should say.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, yeah. I was, let’s say, the end in whatever way. But how did that come then? Did you say, Okay, now enough is enough? Or was it more or less the pandemic? Or what did you make leave it?
David Anderson: It’s a little complicated. At the time, I was still married, and my ex-wife got a job. She’s a college professor, and she got a job in a city two and a half hours away. So in 2015, we decided well, we’ll sell the Brewfarm and I’ll just move down, which was fine. So we tried to sell the Brewfarm, had a lot of people, ton of interest, but nobody, they didn’t have what I called the two C’s, cash and competence. They had one or the other, but you really need to run, knowing what I know, you needed both those a lot. Because living the dream, it turns out is really expensive, and a hell of a lot of work.
Markus Raupach: And you wanted to continue. Not just having money, also have someone to continue your work.
David Anderson: Correct, yeah. I wanted, I call the legacy buyer. So the legacy I built from my initial business time with the Brewfarm, I want. Because the community that was created by being just brewing beer, but that would come in, was really special. I mean, it sounds kind of corny, but it turned into this thing where people would I’d say, walk in strangers, and they’d walk out friends. And it was in the middle of nowhere, so you really had to make an effort to get out there. It wasn’t oh you just stopped by. Because I was literally in the middle of nowhere. So, it was a very concerted effort, but again, all these strangers would come together and then they became regulars. And it was an amazing thing to watch it happen. So that legacy was to me important and to the customers, also, they were like, what’s going to happen when you’re not there? And it’s like, I’m hoping that, I’m really looking for a buyer who’s going to take what I built and actually run with it. Because I called myself a minimalist when it came to what I could do because it’s just me. It ran fine and the cash flowed fine. But that was my kind of somewhat odd business model that I created. So, there was so much more potential for events and food and concerts and things of that nature that somebody could do. And thankfully, I did eventually end up with a buyer who fit the bill.
Markus Raupach: So you left before the pandemic.
David Anderson: No. The Brewfarm was for sale, kind of on and off from about 2015. So the pandemic, the last time I sold a beer was March 8th of 2020. And the state of Wisconsin shut down shortly thereafter, and then everything else unfolded. And I had, like I said, been trying to sell. So it wasn’t the selling of the Brewfarm, it wasn’t caused by the pandemic. It was accelerated by the pandemic, and it kind of changed the dynamics of potential buyer. Because suddenly you’re facing a pandemic. It was like, Ah. Because this isn’t viable for me to buy this and try and run a business where if we’ve got the plague knocking on the door. So once that settled down a little bit, I finally, the buyer, Joseph Alton is his name and I’ve known him for more than a decade. And it was one of those things where the timing came together at a good time. And he showed interest and we started talking and eventually came down to he bought it and it was end of October of ‘21 when it closed.
Markus Raupach: And what is the name now?
David Anderson: The name now is Botany Brewfarm.
Markus Raupach: But it’s still a Brewfarm.
David Anderson: It’s still a Brewfarm. Yes. And so yeah, he’s got a lot of good ideas. He’s 20 years younger, which is very, very helpful for.
Markus Raupach: Oh yes.
David Anderson: Youth and energy are required to run the Brewfarm. So if I had been ten years younger, I never would have sold, literally. I’m at an age where it’s like, I can do all the things and then man, it hurts and it’s a lot of work. It takes it takes a lot. So having youth will be very beneficial for him to be successful.
Markus Raupach: And these five years when you decided to sell and could not sell, your ex-wife had this far away job. So that must be hard times.
David Anderson: It was not easy, no. I would spend some time before we got divorced. We got divorced, I think 2017. No, no, we got divorced in 2019. Things had started going apart in 2017. But I would spend time because actually I started a master’s degree program in 2017 part time.
Markus Raupach: For brewing?
David Anderson: No, no. It was completely different. For leadership. So my ex was teaching at a college called Viterbo University in La Crosse and they had a business school where they had a leadership program. And I went to numerous lectures and presentations and it’s like, oh this sounds interesting. And so I started taking coursework and ended up with a master’s degree in December of 2019. Because you can never stop learning.
Markus Raupach: So by then you sold the Brewfarm and then you were more or less free?
David Anderson: Completely free. Oh my gosh.
Markus Raupach: So then you’re more or less focused on beer judging? Or do you also study something with a leader?
David Anderson: Yes, short answer there. I’ve been free except for my puppy dog responsibility wise, since the end of October in 2021. So yeah, I judged quite a bit. I think I mentioned earlier I did Italy, I did Germany, Japan and now Brazil for 2022. And I had done brewery consulting in the past prior to the Brewfarm. I spent time in Vietnam, Italy, Israel on start-up breweries. I haven’t pursued actively any start a brewery work. But that’s something that I’m looking to next year because now that it’s been a year, it’s like, okay, I kind of got the travel bug. Because I didn’t go anywhere when I was at the Brewfarm. Because if I went somewhere, no beer, no sales. So it was very hard to get away.
Markus Raupach: So no holiday, no.
David Anderson: Nothing. So now, I’m kind of, I was making up time this year in spending a lot of time on the road. So 2023 looks to me like I can take on projects. And the leadership aspect, I am quite, I mean, I think there’s a lot of breweries that could use some leadership training and whatnot at all levels, whether it’s CEO down or head brewer up or whatever the case may be.
Markus Raupach: And if you look at the US craft beer or maybe beer market in general, so when you were working at the Brewfarm these years, if you have no holiday, you also have no time to see what’s happening somewhere else. So if you now look back on that, is there a big change? Is it different now? What do you think what it’s about?
David Anderson: Yeah, it’s definitely changed. It’s matured to the point, I mean, there was a lot of big breweries that expanded just before the pandemic. And there’s been a lot of fallout from that. So, a lot of places have gone out of business or have very drastically reduced their expansion plans. The market itself, I think, craft beer, it’s flat right now. I don’t know, it’s not growing because I think people were basing projections on unlimited growth, which is completely unrealistic.
Markus Raupach: Yes.
David Anderson: So I never understood, we’re going to keep on growing at 45% every year until eternity, which it doesn’t work that way. I know that a lot of brewers took a hit and started producing hard seltzers. The hard seltzer market, but I’ve heard now that that’s going down significantly as well. So things go in phases. And then, if you chase trends, you’re going to be at the whim of trends. And if you brew solid beers, have good people, you should be able to succeed on just being a good brewer instead of having to be a pastry stout seltzer, who knows what.
Markus Raupach: So do you have an idea of why we still have raising numbers of breweries in the US?
David Anderson: I think there’s a lot of room, I believe, for small brewers.
Markus Raupach: Local ones.
David Anderson: Yeah, hyperlocal. Beer is best fresh at the source. And that’s why if a taproom is available, I’ll go to a taproom because that’s truly the best expression and best enjoyment is right at the brewery. And again, depending on the business model, they take on just enough debt and can cash flow, small brewers can be successful very easily. Again, you’re not going to get rich, if getting rich is your motivation, opening a brewery is not the way to do it. There are much better ways to make a lot of money than the craft beer market. So, if it’s a passion project and you’ve got a smart business plan, and are a good brewer, and a good brewer and a good brewer, you should be successful. And there’s a lot of places that can support a small brewery. If you only have to sell 600 to 1,000 barrels annually, and you have a small town of 30 to 50,000 people, easy.
Markus Raupach: Maybe one last thing. Did your view on the big players change? Because when I think on the big players in Germany, maybe 20 years ago, they were all competing, they were trying to destroy the small ones getting up, every hectolitre counts. So, and they were very rude on the market. And now some of them understood that if they destroy all the small things, they will lose their identity and then they start to do more corporations. But on the other hand, more and more small ones are bought by big ones. And then also some are managed in a new way, which then means beers change, and also may not be better anymore, whatever. So yes, do you think there has been a change in the States?
David Anderson: The big brewers, I respect the brewers themselves. The fact that they can brew that much volume consistently, I’ve got a deep, deep respect for that. As far as business practices, I don’t have that much because they’re just going, like I said, squeezing every dollar or euro out of any and every opportunity. So, I don’t see that having changed. It’s kind of deviated in its methodology, whether it’s buying small brewers and either changing them significantly, or just shutting them down to buying out the competition. They still do that on quite a scale. And again, they’re just motivated by shareholder return. I wish it was not as greed driven and it was more, we’re all in this together and we should all try and grow the market together. And you’ve got your segment and we’ve got our segment and let’s help each other. But that’s a fantasy.
Markus Raupach: I think there’s a big difference between the people in management and brewers. Because also in the big players, you have brewers and they love what they do and they love their beers and they’re as proud as the others.
David Anderson: Correct.
Markus Raupach: So I think that’s always hard. And also, I saw there is some change in the storytelling. Because when you see with before, maybe 2010 or like this, the big players said okay, we are the big ones. So we more or less, don’t care about the others and we have more history, we have more the bigger equipment and the better resources, and whatever. So, but then I realized that they started to take over the messages of the smaller ones. So let’s say they just found out that they had two founders, which were immigrants and which had a personal history and an idea about beer and it changed how they made it look like. And also nowadays, now they make advertising windmills and farms, and so all this sustainability comes over. So, I think they realize things, but they are more making it up than making it good.
David Anderson: It’s true. I mean, again, they’re trying to take what’s become a commodity, and then back into a story whether it’s real or imagined. Because they’ve seen what the storytelling from the craft brewers has done, and how that engages consumers. And I never spent a nickel on advertising or marketing. I just put stuff out on my blog, or my Facebook page, like, I’m open this weekend. So all the people that had my beer became my marketing and the marketing team, and it was all word of mouth. And word of mouth advertising and marketing is so powerful, and it’s so sticky, and it’s so persuasive. And the big guys see that and go, wow, I want a piece of that word-of-mouth marketing. So they tried to create this aura of being special. And they pay people to go out and be influencers and say, Hey, you should try this big brand of beer because it’s got this XYZ story. And it doesn’t stick. Because people can see through it. They know authenticity. Sometimes it takes a little bit to see through it. But in the end they’ll say it’s like, well, that’s not a good, that’s a fake story. And then the beer doesn’t support the story.
Markus Raupach: Yeah, that’s it. And maybe last question. Do you maybe partly regret that you left that? And how are your ex-customers? Do they still have contact to you and ask for beers or ask for recipes? Or is there still a community?
David Anderson: There’s no regret, because I’m kind of a serial entrepreneur, I guess. And the fact that I ran the Brewfarm for 12 years was actually the longest I’ve done something. So I created something from nothing, and I’m very proud of that. But it was just time. Nothing lasts forever. I do miss my customers. The Brewfarm community that was created, I miss the people and the contact and hearing their stories and seeing the friendships that developed over the time. I still do hear from customers often, Facebook’s been my method for keeping track. I mean, I can’t stand Facebook philosophically, but it’s a fantastic tool for keeping in touch with friends all around the world. I did brew collaboration very recently with Alexander (Bazo?) of Bamberg Brewery. And so I just put up a label that he had created for our collaboration called, Rye are you so hoppy? And people were like, oh, he’s brewing again, he’s brewing again. So there’s the chatter that goes on. I miss that kind of excitement that gets generated by when I create something new and my customers are, would be like, oh, he’s got a new beer. We’ve got to go try it. But you have to go to Brazil to drink it. So that little detail.
Markus Raupach: Bambeer Farm.
David Anderson: Yeah.
Markus Raupach: Great. So thanks a lot for your time. Thanks a lot for having us taking part in your story and hear what it’s about, and yeah. All the best for your next time and for the next ideas in businesses.
David Anderson: Thank you, Markus. Appreciate the interview.
Bier Talk – der Podcast rund ums Bier. Alle Folgen unter www.biertalk.de