True Vine Brewing has always been about community, founder Ryan Dixon says. So when a recent expansion project went over budget and the company had to scale back its plans to finish out its taproom and expand into bottled beer, Dixon and his partners had a novel idea.
"What if we went to our community?" he said.
That's how the "Pints & Bombers" Kickstarter project came about.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website that allows people to donate to specific projects. It was developed as a way to help creative artists, authors, musicians and such develop their works.
But lately, there's been a trend of for-profit companies turning to Kickstarter and similar sites to fund new expansions and projects. A Kickstarter project is deemed successful if a set amount is pledged by a certain date. For True Vine's Pints & Bombers project, that's $10,000 by Dec. 1. As of Wednesday, more than $1,000 had already been pledged.
If that goal is reached, the money will go toward the taproom (that's the "pints") and the bottled beer (22-ounce "bombers").
"We just went through an internally financed expansion," said Dixon. "That was a very big deal for us as an LLC. With that expansion, we wanted to add in the bombers and the pints. But as with everything, there were cost overruns. And we realized that it was going to take us longer than anticipated to get there."
But customers, many of whom gather at the monthly "open taps" event at the brewery's downtown location, kept asking when the taproom would be open more often, and when they would be able to take some beer home in bottles.
"So the thought occurred, what if we went to the community? And what better way to grow the craft beer community than to let our supporters have some ownership in this?" Dixon said. "A lot of small breweries are doing this."
Kickstarter's terms of service lay out what the crowdfunding site is meant for: "We allow creative projects in the worlds of art, comics, crafts, dance, design, fashion, film & video, food, games, journalism, music, photography, publishing, technology and theater."
Small breweries are in under the "food" category. A quick search of the site shows several similar projects, such as Black Frog Brewery in Toledo, which is hoping to raise $15,000 for a taproom.
"Business has been great but it's time to take the next step and open a tasting room," Black Frog explained.
But while the concept is catching on, it's not the traditional way for-profit organizations raise money. Usually, they look for investors, who give money in exchange for an ownership stake in the business. That's called equity.
The New York Times looked into this new model in 2014.
"After nine years in Brooklyn, the Chocolate Room - a popular purveyor of wine, cake, candy and coffee - experienced one of those cataclysmic events retailers fear: a crippling rise in rent," the Times reported. "Informed in late 2012 that they would face an increase of more than 500 percent, the cafe's owners, Naomi Josepher and Jon Payson, reluctantly decided to abandon their space and begin figuring out how to finance a $200,000 relocation."
They launched a Kickstarter project with a goal of $40,000. But they faced some pushback, because, as the Times pointed out, "the money raised through sites like Kickstarter is essentially a donation" to a for-profit company.
And the rewards are different. Donors don't get equity in the company; mostly, they get early access to music, books or products they helped to finance.
In the case of True Vine, the reward is simple and straightforward.
"You get swag," said Dixon. "Great swag. You get glasses, shirts, and if you donate more, you get a private party at the taproom. And you get the feeling of knowing you helped build this."
He sees crowdfunding as a continuation of what the company has been doing already - working with the community to produce a local beer and good fellowship.
"That's how we've been developing [the taproom site]," he said. "We have work projects, such as clearing the hillside so we can start to terrace it, and add space. Ten or 12 people came out for that. You know, anyone can throw dollars at a problem. We don't want to do that. We want to throw creativity and community at it. We called it our ‘will work for beer' campaign. And people really enjoyed it."
The story behind the Pints & Bombers project is the young company's incredibly rapid growth. True Vine started in Dixon's garage several years ago, but it's only been selling beer commercially less than two years.
True Vine - Dixon, and co-founders Stephen Lee and Dan Griffith - found a run-down commercial building near downtown Tyler.
"It was old and forgotten and dilapidated, and it just really called our name," he said. "So we started in with the upgrades."
The company signed its first commercial account in January 2014.
"That was Juls restaurant," Dixon said. "We added accounts, but we were limited in how much we could produce - at first, it was only about 100 gallons a week. Stanley's would call and say they needed more Rose City Pale Ale, and we'd have to tell them it would be next week before we had some ready."
The new expansion will allow a 1,200 percent increase in beer production.
"We now have eight accounts in Dallas," Dixon said. "And the goal in 2016 is to go to small-format - cans or bottles. The grocery stores, like Fresh by Brookshire's, are ready for us. They keep asking when we're going to be ready."
That's where Kickstarter comes in. Dixon knows there's a risk.
"If it fails, we don't get those things done as soon," he said. We'll still have pints and bombers. They're still part of the plan, but they won't happen quite as quickly. They'll be sidelined for now. It's not a huge number, business-wise. But any business has to have its priorities straight."