G-Sync: Hello, Innovation! Welcome High Five Co-Op Brewery!

If last week’s Chipotle restaurant commercial during the Grammy Awards taught us anything, it was that there is beauty in the small and simple, but most of all, we should not be afraid to start over again.

This is also how I would describe the burgeoning startup by craft brewers who just voted on the name High Five Co-op Brewery, taking an important next step in their effort to launch Michigan’s first co-op brewery. 

The name plays off many popular and uniquely Michigan components: the notion that it takes two hands to make a high five, thus playing off the teamwork aspects of a co-operative, or simply the hand shape that is definitely an image every resident of our state understands.

If the venture is successful, and I believe they will be based on their methodical steps thus far, Grand Rapids’ High Five Co-op Brewery will join the Black Star Co-op of Austin, TX as the second co-operatively owned and worker self-managed pub/brewery in the country.

For most people hoping to start a new craft brewery, the process typically involved three steps: making a quality product, finding support from investors and bringing that product to the marketplace. 

Unlike the corporate structure, a co-operative, as defined by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

In short, for recent 5x5 Night winner Dallas McCulloch and his group of beer lovers who have been meeting on a regular basis at the downtown local worker-owned and operated Bartertown Diner, they are landing with this idea at just the right time.

At the end of 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the Year of the Cooperatives with the intent of asking the world to consider a new model of how we conduct ourselves in our society when addressing the needs of the people in our community.

Not everyone would agree or see beer as a form of advancing society until you unpack the guiding principals of cooperatives, which range from empowering people to think bigger, increasing the community members’ livelihoods side by side with the strengthening of the local economy, encouraging gender walls or barriers to fall,  creating pathways out of poverty and -- most of all -- allowing a sustainable model to emerge for the next generation. 

The last portion of the co-op philosophy emphasizes the hope for the future when we include all rather than just those who have sat around the table with an open checkbook. Businesses are often built on the backs of many people and cooperatives seek to correct the imbalances often experienced today.

I felt this same hope as I sat down with McCulloch, who reminded me of myself at times since we both shared working class parents who worked very hard to provide for their families. It was refreshing to see up close this pull-yourself-up-from-your-bootstraps energy in him as he excitedly talked about the progress of the co-op.

Featured here this week is the first look at their logo, just approved a few days ago in one of their meetings. It also marks the first time the name has been officially released to the public.

The High Five Co-op Brewery’s ability to build upon its story is part of the charm of having a local beer co-op here in Grand Rapids.

“Our goal is more than having a place for people to create great beer and share within our group,” says McCulloch. “It is also an opportunity to once again repeat the same model used for some time within our state in bringing a new beer to the marketplace.”

Talk about the marketplace made my ears to perk up. Maybe it was years of hippie conditioning, but I thought the use of the word marketplace was something foreign when talking about a place where the members would create, collectively own and share the beer for themselves. Au contraire, mon frère. McCulloch and friends will be creating a destination, not a product, and one that is exportable in a new way.

“We are not interested in creating a product that is exportable like a beer distributor,” says McCulloch," but we want to create a beer that is enjoyed only here in our tasting room [to which] all can gain access.”

So, while High Five Co-op Brewery is not something you will be able to purchase at every bar or party store, they will resemble something more on par with the Eiffel Tower, meaning there is only one.

Certainly, while we are accustomed to innovative Michigan beer products (including annual beer festivals like next weekend’s Winter Beer Festival held at Fifth Third Park or this week’s debut of Brewery Vivant’s new organic East Hills Ale, an amber ale with a malty sweetness), we also have more than enough room for a new brew and a new concept, too.

The High Five Co-op Brewery appears to have the power to change people’s lives and may alter the way our region is viewed regarding the advancement of innovation. And if they are able to get it off the ground successfully in 2012, well, then we will have arrived right on time to uncap a toast to the year of the cooperative with many other community-building ventures appearing all over the planet.

G-Sync Bonus: Rapid Growth will be giving away a pair of tickets to the SOLD OUT Michigan Winter Beer Festival.  Please follow this link for details on how to win this pair.

In addition, the High Five Co-op Brewery is offering a chance to win tickets to the Winter Beer Fest. People who attend their next meeting at Bartertown Diner on Sunday, February 19, 5:30 PM will be entered into a drawing that will be awarded at their meeting. This is also a great chance to meet McCulloch and his fellow beer-mates who will be presenting ways to become involved in the development of this new venture.  Visit http://www.beer.coop for more details.


The Future Needs All of Us.


Tommy Allen, Lifestyle Editor
Email:  [email protected]


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