Thursday, August 03, 2017

Brewery Rickoli's American Dream

In an age when more breweries are pulling back on the idea of packaging beers and competing for retail space because of the high costs and heavy competition, Brewery Rickoli is getting a rare opportunity to go nationwide - for free.

The Wheat Ridge brewery's Oats McGoats, a gluten-reduced rye stout, is one of five beers from small companies that are part of Sam Adams' Brewing the American Dream 12-pack now available in liquor stores. Brewer Rick Abitbol got to be part of that group by winning the first-ever experienceship offered in 2013 by America's second-largest craft brewery, which gave him a chance to spend a week in Boston learning the finer points of the business and to continue to get advice up to this day.

But having Oats McGoats - a full-bodied offering that is the star of the five local beers in the 12-pack - get onto the national stage may be the biggest benefit yet from the association with Boston Beer, even considering the experienceship already helped Abitbol scale up to his current three-barrel system. The publicity is driving more people to his taproom on Wadsworth Boulevard, and it comes as Brewery Rickoli is trying to add to the 65 current liquor stores that carry its hand-bottled bombers.

"I can't even describe it. It's exposure that we couldn't obtain on our own," Abitbol said last week at a shark-tank style event in Denver where Boston Beer officials awarded $10,000 to a local coffee company before offering speed coaching to local brewers and other entrepreneurs. "And having Sam Adams behind us ... that's all it takes for us to have a lot of people come by the taproom and see how far we've come."

This 12-pack - which also features small breweries from New Mexico, New York and California - will help more than just the five beer makers who get their faces on the labels of those bottles, however. All of the profits go to Accion, a national micro-finance organization that focuses on entrepreneurs with limited or no access to bank credit, a group that includes brewers trying to start their business or take it to the next level.

The company got into a broader partnership with Sam Adams several years ago, though many of the breweries it has helped out are located in Colorado and in New Mexico, from which president and CEO Anne Haines hails. It looks at a variety of criteria when deciding who gets loans ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, but the biggest factor in deciding who gets help is the intangibles of the entrepreneur rather than their bottom line, she said.

"First and foremost, we are looking to people whose dream is on the line," Haines said, noting that seven different Colorado breweries are among the firm's many food- and drink-business clients. "We look for passion, commitment, determination."

It's a lot easier to get a loan these days to start or grow a brewery than it was 25 years ago, when no one yet understood the craft-beer model or how it was going to become such a vital part of community drinking. But to see such a large craft brewery like Sam Adams helping out its nascent competition and using its resources to link them to a company that will help them get new levels of attention says something powerful about the spirit of the craft-brewing industry.

"They're all small, local brewers, so the exposure for them is fantastic," said Jennifer Glanville, head brewer for Boston Beer. "To me, this has been the most exciting collaboration we've ever done."

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