Inc. 5000 Applicant of the Week: Short's Brewing Company
BY J.J. McCorvey
How the owners of this small-town brewery put their creative taste buds to work and went from 20 vendors to 1,000 in a year.
As applications for the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc.com/inc5000apply/2010/.) One that caught our eye was Bellaire, Michigan-based Short's Brewing Company.
Usually, flavors like black licorice and key lime pie aren't the first that come to mind when one has a hankering for beer. But for Short's Brewing Company, which tripled revenue in the past two years, experimenting with the atypical isn't just what works – apparently, it's also what sells.
"Sometimes I think we just get lucky, and they turn out good," says Joe Short, the company's CEO and head brewer-in-charge. "Then again, sometimes I've skewered it. It's definitely a risk and reward venture."
Short founded the brewery in 2003 with friend Scott Newman-Bale, after the two graduated from colleges in Michigan. Short had already cultivated his brewing talents while experimenting at home, and after several stints working for larger beer manufacturers, decided to strike on his own in pursuit of more creative freedom. So he convinced Newman-Bale to leave behind his career in real estate – a "lucky decision," Newman-Bale says – to help open a brewpub in a town of 1,000 in the "middle of nowhere."
"The whole place was built by the community – even the bar is hand-made by local people," says Newman-Bale, who also serves as the chief financial officer. That's where the duo launched their first line of experimental flavors, using regular customers as a makeshift focus group as they tried out odd ingredients like maple syrup and sunflower seeds.
Though the beer caught on quickly with the locals, it wasn't until the duo opened a facility five times the size of the pub that they first experienced statewide growth. Since opening in March of last year, they've gone from distributing to just 20 stores and vendors to about 1,000. And while the product is carried by popular food store chains like Whole Foods and Meijer, Newman-Bale says their main focus will remain on small independent stores, not rapid expansion.
"It's a very personal flavor, so it's very nice to have a personal touch as well," he says. "We're inundated with offers, but we just don't have enough beer."
In the mean time, expect the brewery to churn out more quirky, but innovative flavors, like spruce tip ale, which Short says they hand-pick right from the tree.
"We'll go get a couple of buckets, throw some hot water on them, and the whole brewery smells like Christmas for a day."
J.J. MCCORVEY is a reporter at Inc. magazine, where he covers a wide range of topics, including technology and business research. He has covered metro news for The Detroit News, and his work has been featured in Men's Fitness. @jmccorvey