I want to start a recurring feature on this here blog: the stories of other young people starting a business, chasing a dream, or otherwise trying to carve out a life on their own terms. In This Economy, it’s harder to reach a conventional level of career success and stability than before. On the other hand, the risk involved in working for yourself just isn’t as scary in a world that seems much less certain anyway.
Meet my friends Carrie and Matt. Their project is Good Nature Brewing, a nanobrewery to be located in Hamilton, NY.
Before Good Nature, Matt had been working in the restaurant industry for 13 years starting at age 16. He loved the work but began to notice that it was taking a toll on his body and mind. Then Carrie came along. Her prior work experience? “I’ve never had a conventional job in my life.” Matt describes her as a “struggling farmer.” They met on a farm in the Adirondacks – she was the garden manager, he was the kitchen manager.
Matt wanted out of the restaurant industry because he wanted something more “relaxing.” Carrie decided not to go to grad school for public history, reasoning that incurring debt didn’t make much sense when she could be “having fun.” But if you spend much time around these two, you’ll find that their idea of relaxing and having fun is throwing all their spare time and energy into their business. And they made sure to clarify: rather than being constantly stressed about getting customers their food, Matt worries about the future of his business and life and community, and this kind of stress is infinitely more preferable for him: by contrast, it’s relaxing. Carrie prefers the focus involved in building a life around a small business to the carefree traveling she had once planned on. To be having fun, she says, “I need to have projects.”
Matt: “We definitely have a project now!”
Their business evolved: from a purveyor of seasonal canned soups made with regional produce to a CSA that would involve a value added product like growlers of homebrewed beer to a restaurant serving locally grown food. The connecting thread was their idea of “combining both of our loves to create some sort of lifestyle.” Then one night at the Colgate Inn after a hard day’s work, they noticed that when visitors asked for a locally brewed beer, the only options were Saranac and Ommegang. They saw an opportunity for a small brewery – even smaller than a microbrewery – that could provide local restaurants and bars with locally brewed beer from locally grown hops that could also be sampled or bought by the growlerfull from a tasting room in town. Good Nature Brewing was born.
Matt and Carrie both love beer. Matt had experience with home brewing, and Carrie knew local farmers. The Hamilton area was once the top producer of hops in the United States until the rise of industrial hops farming in the Pacific Northwest coincided with a devastating blight and knocked out most of the local farms. The Good Nature team know their history, and they definitely know their beer. When they’re not fine-tuning their business plan, they’re reminiscing about great brews shared and enjoyed. I asked them both to pick a favorite beer. Carrie immediately said, “Raging Bitch by Flying Dog.” Matt said, “That’s really hard. If I had to pick one… That’s damn near impossible!” before settling on a chocolate stout special release by Foothills Brewing out of Asheville. They are of two minds about how, due to the vagaries of laws governing the sale and trade of alcohol, microbreweries generally reach only a smaller geographical area. On one hand, the beer reaches fewer people and markets, getting less exposure. On the other, craft beer has become almost like wine: each region has its own crop of distinctive signature brews. When people travel, they like to drink something local.
They want their brewery to grow into a community project, with memberships available, the prospect of a tasting room as a place for people to gather and call their own, and the idea of creating another bridge between the town of Hamilton and its dominating university, Colgate. Carrie and Matt often say that Good Nature wouldn’t be possible in another town. The help and support from local family and friends who love and believe in their project has been invaluable, and they want to give back – in the form of beer, history, and fellowship.
Good Nature Brewing is currently in the fundraising stage. Carrie and Matt have developed several of what will be their signature brews already. They do test batches in their home brewing laboratory, which is currently dormant after a move. Once they get it up and running again, they plan to start having people over for tastings and further refine their recipes. They’ve settled on a location for their brewery and tasting room: an old railroad depot. They’ve just started selling memberships.
There’s still a very long road ahead of Carrie and Matt before they sell their first growler, and it can get overwhelming. But as Carrie said, “It’s way too big now for us not to do it.”