Local Vendor Spotlight: 4th Tap Cooperative Brewery
4th Tap co-founder and President, John Stecker, shared some info and insight about the first worker-owned cooperatively-governed brewery in Texas.
1. Can you tell me how 4th Tap got started?
We had all been homebrewers for a very long time, and we slowly built into a weekly “club” event. We were clearly doing something right because we began to get increasingly frequent requests to send beer out to events. We spent many years brewing weekly and sending our beer out to parties, weddings, SXSW events, etc., which really helped us to develop our unique approach to beer styles. It will be six years this December when we decided to make a real go at opening a production brewery, and from when we came up with the name 4th Tap Brewing Cooperative. At the time, we already had strong biochemistry and engineering backgrounds, but we recognized we needed more. Chris Hamje went to work in the Black Star Co-op brewery for a number of years while I spent time getting a crash course in business education while working at another company here in Austin. We also went through the Cooperation Texas training program to learn more about how to build and participate in a worker-cooperative. From there, it was raising the money, finding a location, and getting it built. That last sentence really does not do justice to the absurd amount of work it took to get from idea to functioning brewery. Bottom line, a whole lot of real sweat and blood went into building this place.
2. What are some of the challenges and benefits of being the first worker-owned cooperatively-governed brewery in Texas?
Explaining what a worker-cooperative is to just about everyone! Second, answering the question, “why didn’t you just open as an LLC?” which I am sure we have still not answered to many people’s satisfaction — but we don’t really care. We believe in our structure, and that is, ultimately, all that matters. Beyond those two questions, there have been plenty of business and legal hurdles. From working with credit unions, taxes, loans, and TABC/TTB filings, everything is a bit more difficult. It has also been compounded by the fact that Texas views us as a non-profit organization while the federal government views us a for-profit. One of our core principles here is the triple bottom line— people, planet, and profits— so that has been a point of frustration at times. As for benefits? Our team. We have an amazingly dedicated and passionate team that share in the work load to such a high degree. They go so far above and beyond and I have to attribute some of that to our model.
3. What are some of your favorite pairings or recipes using 4th Tap beers?
The Renewal, with spicy food, will do you right. The tart, almost mild-sour quality from the real tamarind does a great job of balancing a good spicy dish. We’ve also received messages and pictures from people who have used our Sun Eater to make rosemary lemon bread, and to marinate a chicken breast for a rosemary chicken dinner. Our Long Walk really goes well with a romaine and mandarin orange salad. Also, surprisingly, gingers snaps and Long Walk. Seriously, give that a try.
4. Tell us a little about your beers and your brewing philosophy. What makes 4th Tap unique?
There are so many beers being brewed in Texas, especially in Austin, and much of it is really, really good. Just from Austin alone, I can go out and find great examples of most styles of beer. For that reason, we wanted to make sure that we brought something new to the table. We focus on creating out-of-style, interesting, but still very drinkable beers made for our home here in Texas. We also spend time looking for local or exciting ingredients that can really enhance the qualities we like in different styles of beer. We don’t add ingredients to a beer for the novelty of it, or just to punch you in the tongue with it. If we’re adding something different, we’re adding it for a good reason.
5. What are some of your favorite things about Wheatsville Co-op?
Short lines! Seriously, I hate waiting in long lines and Wheatsville keeps them in check! In broader sense, we love that Wheatsville makes it a priority to not just provide local and organic food, but to often communicate the story of the suppliers. Wheatsville is a supporter of the local food economy, which supports the local financial economy, and that is an important and worthy undertaking. Wheatsville is also a living and breathing example of a cooperative business model in action! Also, I appreciate Wheatsville being the neighborhood grocery store back in my north-campus-living college days. Y’all kept me fed!