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Eat, Drink and Cooperate

If you are looking for a great evening out with friends that features great food in a casual and fun atmosphere, your local brewpub is the place to be. People in cities and towns from Portland, Oregon to Duluth, Minnesota to Ithaca, New York are discovering that brewpubs are where the action is. These craft breweries and brewpubs are not your standard watering holes. They are places where the focus is on food and people, bringing them together in a convivial setting that features artisan brewed beers.

Many craft beer drinkers love to support the trifecta of handcrafted brews, innovative menus, and neighborhood businesses, and this has been a boon to both tourism and local economies. In the last five years there has been an upsurge of craft breweries and brewpubs producing outstanding beverages that are a source of local pride. Currently there are over 1,000 brewpubs in the U.S., and according to the Brewers Association, a national organization uniting craft brewers. Last year alone a total of 250 microbreweries and brewpubs opened from Maine to California.

Craft brewers are now an integral and exciting part of many local food scenes where people are honoring culinary traditions and creating new ones. For instance, in Austin, Texas, a group of people excited about the possibility inherent in merging cooperation with a brewpub opened Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery, the first of its kind in the U.S.

Black Star has much to commend it: it's easily accessible by public transportation, it's a beautiful, well-lit, environmentally-friendly space, and the food and beer are winning awards like crazy. It’s a popular place for local investment as well, with 2,800 consumer-owners who have joined the co-op for a $150 stock purchase.

Black Star BeerIt all came about when a group of people who were connected to the Wheatsville Food Co-op in Austin got together in Jeff Young’s backyard a few years ago. Young had just become a certified brew master, and over a few brewskies asked his pals what they thought about a “co-op beer bar” where patrons could have the opportunity to own it.

Mark Wochner, a board member of Black Star, remembers how organizing the community was work defined by good times and a big leap of faith. “We held beer socials to raise money, modeled after the ice cream social events,” he said. They also partnered with other like-minded organizations to hold beer-tasting events. The community responded in kind, and the co-op had over 1,000 consumer-owners before it even opened. “It’s an exciting thing for people. So many home brewers dream of opening a brewpub, but realistically probably can’t. This way you can own part of a brewpub with other people, and have a lot more control than at other places, as well as a share of the profits,” Wochner said.

Wochner credits the Wheatsville Food Co-op for their part in helping the brewpub co-op launch. “We got a lot of great support, and it meant a lot to have a strong food co-op that specifically set out to assist Black Star,” he said. “We’re all sharing these goals and working together, especially during the International Year of Cooperatives. We exist to create good food at reasonable prices, but also do good for the environment and local economy.” Hear, hear. Let’s all raise a toast to that!