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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v10n38 (09/22/2011) » Five Questions With...

Ethan Cox: Nanobrewer

Get to know a Buffalonian...

Ethan Cox: Nanobrewer

Ethan Cox is a founder and president of Community Beer Works. He grew up in Buffalo, leaving to attend high school in New England, and ultimately earning a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. Cox moved back to Buffalo in 2006 to raise a family and currently resides with his wife and two sons in the house he grew up in. He hopes CBW will help revive Buffalo’s historic beer culture and restore Buffalo to its rightful place on America’s craft beer map.

Who’s involved in Community Beer Works?

Seven of us form the company: Myself as president & main instigator; Dave Foster is our Operations manager; Bob “Rudy” Watkins is the brewing master; Gregory Patterson-Tanski is architect & all things construction-y; Dan Conley handles blogging, website development, social media and archiving. Rounding it out is Chris Smith giving us business advice and Matt Daumen beaming in wisdom from Austin, TX. It’s a varied and big team, but it positions us for growth for a long time to come, too.

When did you get the idea to start brewing beer commercially?

I say I’m not sure if I chose beer or beer chose me. I went to school to be a psycholinguistic researcher, but decided that above a particular career, I wanted to raise my family here in Buffalo, which is where all of us CBWers grew up. I didn’t find Buffalo to really be offering what I trained for in terms of jobs, however. So it came time to consider Plan B, which had been sort of frementing away inside me all through my graduate training, and that was taking my passion for craft beer and homebrewing and scaling it up. I think most homebrewers harbor some dreams of “going pro,” and we’re just driven enough to make those dreams come true for us.

What are some of the hoops you’ve had to jump through to get a nanobrewery up and going?

Where do I start! Brewing regulation—really, manufacture of anything alcoholic—happens at both the federal and state level, so that involves background checks, financial scrutiny, you name it- it’s very invasive, really. Then there is dealing with the codes governing the building of our manufacturing space, from OSHA stuff to making sure we’re putting in adequate power for our needs, current and future. And as well, even finding a location initially meant dodging all schools and churches by some hundreds of feet, all the while minding the zoning ordinance—which ultimately, we sought a variance for anyway. Before I even started down this road I remember Tim Herzog (of Flying Bison) saying it was easier to open a machine gun factory than a brewery, and he was not wrong.

How soon before you can start brewing and selling beer?

We’re on-target right now to potentially be open as soon as the end of the year, which would be sweet. But that might also constitute the optimistic estimate—it’s a bit of a moving target. That said, construction is now underway, we’ll soon be ordering the remainder of our equipment needs, completing the last of our fundraising via our campaign and crossing our fingers that the good folks down at the NY SLA find us charming and worth facilitating rather than stymying.

How big do you hope to grow the enterprise?

We’d like to be in the 5,000-7,000bbl/year range in 5 years or so, which would be rapid, but feasible, growth in the current craft beer market. By way of comparison, Sam Adams sold 1.8 million barrels in 2010, while Brooklyn sold 108,000bbl. 10k would make us comparable to Ithaca Brewing Co. We recognize that in order to get there, we’ll have to consider packaging (we’ll only be kegs and growlers to start). We could possibly make this much in our current location, but we’re also interested in growing into a diversified, local chain perhaps—with some brewing going on at a brewpub, some perhaps at a theater or bowling alley, perhaps even something like a B&B or boutique hotel: who knows? This way, we can embeer multiple communities within Buffalo with fresh & creative ales. Portland has McMenamins, Buffalo shall have Community Beer Works!

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