Going Fourth

In a traditional business model, the quest for profit might be the only bottom line. However, in a worker-owned cooperative, there are three equally important factors that must be considered with every business decision. “The triple bottom line means, yes, we are concerned with profits,” says Jimmie Lundie, one of the founders of 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, a new worker-owned brewery slated to open early next year.

“But there is also the well-being of the workers and the well-being of the community and environment, as well.” The seven-member group also like to call themselves “the Wedding Brewers,” since they began brewing together several years ago for a seemingly endless parade of friends’ nuptials. “I guess when you get into your late twenties,” says 4th Tap worker-owner Dariush Griffin, “there’s a period when you just go to wedding after wedding—like every weekend. And all of our friends were asking us to brew, and we were constantly meeting up. Finally, we just formed a club and we thought, why don’t we just make it into a business, since we were investing so much time and money into it.”

Thanks to the suggestion of Chris Hamje—the assistant brewer for Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery and the future head brewer at 4th Tap—the group became interested in forming a cooperative. “We tried to do it ourselves, and we tried printing out bylaws, but we realized we were just very ignorant,” Griffin says. Luckily, last spring the team found the Business Institute’s start-up course offered by Cooperation Texas, a nonprofit organization based at the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in East Austin that works to create sustainable jobs through developing and supporting worker-owned cooperatives. “The course really runs the gamut from the basics of what a worker-owned co-op is to the more technical side of things, such as writing a business plan and seeking out sources of financing,” says Cooperation Texas Executive Director Carlos Perez de Alejo. “We walk groups through that process, and then once they’ve graduated, we have an ongoing relationship with them where we provide training, technical assistance and education on a variety of issues.”

Since graduating, 4th Tap worker-owners have been in the process of raising capital and developing prototypes for a range of innovative new beers with influences from different regions—including an American pale ale with Belgian-inspired coriander and orange peel paired with English malts and yeasts, and a honey saison with fresh Texas basil and Czech hops. They chose the name 4th Tap as a nod to the fourth, special-selection tap in many breweries where seasonal or experimental ales are debuted, as opposed to the blondes, IPAs, ambers or pale ales that are traditionally offered in the first three taps. “We’re trying to make all our beers that special beer that gets you excited,” Griffin explains.

While the beers 4th Tap is producing may be distinctive, the group also thinks their unique business model will further set their brewery apart. “Worker co-ops are more sustainable, the structures are more democratic and they lead to more workplace satisfaction,” Griffin says. “I think 4th Tap is going to be a much better place, being a cooperative.” —Nicole Lessin

For more information, visit 4thtap.coop