Adam Avery: Passion, Patience & People
The brewing business is booming in Colorado, and nobody knows that more than Adam Avery, owner, founder and CEO of Avery Brewing Company. Twenty years ago, Avery couldn’t sell his beers to save his life. Now he operates the biggest brewery in Boulder. It makes so much beer it has outgrown its location, so the company is building a new brewery to accommodate the public need. Rooster sat down with Avery to learn how he built his brewery from the ground up and pry some inside information out of an extremely successful entrepreneur.
How did you get all of this started?
I home brewed back in the day for a couple of years. I had my mid-20s crisis, took the LSATS, got accepted to law school. A couple of my rock-climbing buddies told me I’d never make it in law school. They said, “You make some pretty good beer, why don’t you think about that?” So I talked my dad and another guy out of $90,000, and we started the business on $90,000 in 1993. And here we are 20 years later.
Is this what you envisioned at the very beginning?
No. We’ve exceeded all of my wildest fantasies for sure. We sold 41,000 barrels of beer last year, did $12 million in sales. I still remember like it was yesterday when I said “Ah man, if we could just make a million dollars,” but we’ve kinda crashed through that and we keep rolling.
Do you remember what it was like to start your own business?
I don’t really remember, or I don’t want to remember. Yesterday was yesterday, and I don’t worry about it. I like to look into the future. But it was a ton of hard work; I don’t think I could do it again. I was 27 years old, so I was just a dumb kid, had a lot of energy. It takes a lot of time and energy and determination. A lot of, “Hey, I’m gonna make this happen.” It took us nine years to make money. Dad and I didn’t pay ourselves for 2.5 years, but I always knew it would happen because I always trusted that we made really good beer, and trusted that people were going to want to drink the beers that we made.
What was it like before you started this, how has the craft beer market changed?
In 1993 craft beer was more flavorful than the big three, but it was “pretty” flavorful. But we came along, and it wasn’t just us, we wanted to make bigger beers, more flavor, using more hops. It took a lot of people by surprise. We started making our IPA in 1996. I had to pick up a lot of beer from bars where the owners were my friends because they said, “The beer is too bitter, it’s too hoppy. My customers won’t drink it.” It’s so satisfying to know now IPA is the No. 1-selling style of craft beer in the country; it just took a while. Seventeen years later, the style that brewers could barely give away everyone is clamoring over. A total change in the way people are drinking.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in life and business?
Oh god, patience is probably the biggest thing. You can’t have everything at once. I think for the style of beers I wanted to make, knowing that it was gonna take some time to get people to understand the flavor profiles helped. The market was turning to our favor, and I think that was probably the biggest thing, patience.
What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you and Avery?
The success. I never imagined that we would ever have 85 employees. We’re the largest brewery in Boulder. We’re talking about building a new $22 to $24 million building and just bought six acres of land. Yeah, it’s totally surprising.
So, the Gunbarrel plans are going well?
It’s going slowly but smoothly. It takes a while to get through the city and all that, but everything is great and moving forward. Not as fast as I’d like, but you know, patience.
Was there a perfect storm in Boulder that allowed you guys to grow so much, so fast?
No, it really goes back to the people. We have really good karma, and you get what you give. I think we’re a pretty good example of that. We’re not out to get anybody; we’re all about the industry. We don’t feel like other craft brewers are our enemies. We do four major festivals a year where we invite everybody and their beer to come and raise money for different charities. We know that there is this big pie sitting on top of the table, our industry has 6 or 7 percent of that, and there’s a lot of people fighting for the crumbs. But we know there’s so much pie up there. If everyone sticks together as an industry, we can eat into that pie so much faster.
How important are people, the employees, to a successful business?
They’re 100 percent of what it takes to run a business. You can only be anal and controlling for so long, and you have to trust a person to come on and do what they’re hired to do. My employees always joke with me and say I micro manage because I manage a little bit. Everybody’s job is just as important because, if anybody messes up, you’re dumping that beer down the drain, or maybe you haven’t made an improvement either, and with us, we have people who can take care of a sequence but also those who are thinking to make it better. Man, I gotta give my props to the people.
What’s the best part about your people?
It’s the culture here. We have the right management team here and the right people. This is the most fun place you could ever hope to work at. For me that means a lot. We have super low turnover; we have people from other breweries that want to come and work here. We’ve just got this really cool vibe, and we’ve been able to maintain it as we grow. That’s one of the most important things for me: to maintain this thing that we’ve got going on here. Everybody gets along. Sometimes I kind of pinch myself, but they do. You go outside at 4 p.m. at the red tables and it’s full of brewers and their significant others hanging out drinking beers after work.
What is being an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is… I was a bulldog, that’s it, I knew that this would happen. I knew that we could be successful and I never gave up. And that’s what an entrepreneur is about. Then next phase is bringing in people who are definitely better at what your deficiencies are. You give people the job they were made to do. The business gets really successful once you get those people in the right spots. I used to drive the bus, then maybe I piloted the bus, and now I feel like I’m in the back of the bus, “Hey how’s everything going up there? Good, right on, send another round in. I’m thirsty.”
Do you have any advice for upcoming brewers or entrepreneurs?
Well, be ready to be poor and work a lot of hours. Specifically for a brewery owner, it’s hard work. But if it’s your passion, that’s what it’s all about. Before I started, I’d always hear people “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s fucking true. You wake up, you’re going to your business, and you’re going to do what you want to do. If you’re in it because you’re absolutely in love with brewing, you’ve been home brewing and that’s what you’re super passionate about, go for it. If you’re getting into it because it’s an up-and-coming industry, you will fail. If you don’t have the passion, you can’t succeed at a business that requires so much of it. There’s too many good beers out there.
What do you see for Avery in the future?
I’ve hired people who dream bigger than me. I remember thinking if I could sell 4,000 barrels and make $1 million I’d be psyched. Now we’re so far past that. The new brewery we’re building can support and produce a lot of beer. Like a half million barrels of beer. More than 10 times the amount of beer we sold last year. I’m all like “Oh my god!” and they’re like “Yeah baby, we make just as good of beer as everyone else. Why shouldn’t we sell that much?” “Yeah you’re right, but does it happen that way?” and they’re like, “Yeah if you make it happen.” I think our future is bright. One of the biggest things for me is that we can grow it, but that we grow it the right way. I know it’s not impossible.
Now for some fun, what’s your favorite beer, can you pick one?
I never answer that question, it’s impossible. A better question is: If you were marooned on an island and could only have one beer what would it be? If I could only have one beer it would be Hog Heaven. When it’s cold, it tastes like a double IPA and as it warms up it turns into kind of a different beer. It’s one of my favorites.
What’s your favorite beer to play around with?
The most fun for me is to create a barrel series blend from a bunch of different projects. Andy Parker, he’s our barrel herder, our special projects manager. He brings in all these beers and we put different amounts of each beer in each one. That’s a fun day, blending day.
What’s your inspiration for making the beers you do?
A lot of the recipes are mine, a lot Andy will come up with and we’ll try it. I drink a lot of other people’s beers. So I get inspiration from other breweries. Sometimes though, we just come up with shit on our own and are like “Hey let’s do that.” Right now we’re kind of into grapes and using other fermentables in the beer, and it’s turning out pretty cool.
What is your goal with every batch of beer?
To make it better than the last batch of beer. We spend more on our QU and QA program than any other brewery around here. We have five full-time people who work in the lab. We have four microbiologists and a chemist. Our lab drives our brewery. They’re able to say it’s ready to move batch seven from here to here. We know it’s ready because the lab classifies it as being OK. We’re heavily driven by quality control.