Finance company focuses on quality control equipment for beer makers
By Steve Graham
Chad Yakobson appreciates a creatively flavored beer, but appreciates a consistent and high-quality beer even more.
“If quality is not at the forefront of your product, you might be in the wrong industry,” said Yakobson. He is the owner and brewer at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in Denver, and he is throwing down the gauntlet for his fellow craft brewers to maintain strict quality control.
Crooked Stave was an early client of Rick Wehner and his Littleton-based Brewery Finance. Wehner launched the company to help breweries get startup and expansion funding.
Wehner recently realized quality control should be a top priority for brewers in a very crowded craft beer market. So he launched the Better Beer Now program to help brewers purchase advanced lab equipment and make consistent and good beer.
Wehner said brewing is both art and science.
“Most of us get into home brewing for the art of it,” he said. “I would make a great beer and never make it again because I had no idea what I did right.”
This artistic hit-or-miss approach doesn’t work when you scale up to a commercial operation — and Wehner works with a lot of craft brewers.
Wehner had worked in equipment leasing and financing, but was uninspired by the work. He was having more fun hanging out with fellow home brewers and helping them launch fledgling operations.
“I was helping a friend of mine paint his new brewery and I noticed that he had the brewers’ resource directory on his counter and I realized there were no brewery financing companies at the time,” he said.
So he launched a new beer-focused financing company. That brewery with a fresh coat of paint became Dry Dock. Wehner’s company has also helped finance Oskar Blues, Ska Brewing and Bierstadt Lagerhaus, among other breweries in Colorado and across the nation.
As his roster of clients grew, the risk of a business failure on his books was also a growing concern.
“We started to see in our portfolio that more breweries were struggling to make their payments on time,” he said. As I looked at the portfolio, I realized there is plenty of demand for good beer. So what’s the problem here?”
He realized that consistency was the problem, and to improve consistency, breweries needed better quality control equipment. But all that lab gear can be prohibitively expensive, and he hasn’t financed very much lab equipment for his client brewers.
“It’s a barrier for somebody who’s struggling to just get by already,” he said. “If we can make it easier to get that equipment, that should certainly help.”
So he officially launched the Better Beer Now initiative this year.
For $100 per month, breweries can fund up to $50,000 in lab equipment, including microscopes, autoclaves, water-testing equipment and dissolved-oxygen meters.
Wehner said even the monthly charge has been a tough sell for brewery bookkeepers.
“The brewers love the idea; it’s the accountants that are having a hard time,” he said. “It’s a matter of trying to explain to them that a small piece of equipment now is cheaper than dumping a whole batch of beer down the road.”
Yakobson said the program can help improve craft beer overall.
“The ability for everyone to have access to quality equipment and testing procedures is key and will help the industry as a whole grow and become better,” he said.