“The details of my life are quite in-consequential…”– Dr. Evil
So we had a choice.
Option A: Take our next set of orders, stick out a few more years of military service and collect retirement pay, but at the price of one of us effectively being a single parent while the other one gets to read about our kids growing up via email, or…
Option B: Walk away from 19 years of service, set down roots in a country neither of us is from with no safety net to speak of and start a venture in an industry which requires endless hours of demanding physical labor, is full of risk and may bankrupt us in the process of trying to earn a living.
Option B it is!
Our story shares some of those themes you can find throughout the craft beer industry: an insatiable love of (“lust for”) craft beer; founders who have outgrown their previous occupations; a small team with a diverse set of skills. The beer is just the “what”, however, and I suspect you’re here to learn about the “who” and the “why”.
Our vision has always been to make a company that is built around its people. For now, that’s a short list: there’s only two of us. That number will grow, but for now we have just ourselves to manage every duty and responsibility that comes with operating a professional brewery (there are a few exceptions: nobody bought the beers with labels hand-drawn in crayon, so we get printed ones now, and we switched from fabricating to buying bottles ever since our kids converted the glass smelting furnace into a pizza oven).
As we push towards our next expansion, we continue to walk in lock-step towards each milestone, each goal set down by the better half of the Mad Yank, who goes by the title of…
“We didn’t just want to create a family-run business – we wanted the business to become its own family.”– Larissa, Director
Aside from being a Co-Founder and Co-Owner, Larissa is also the Director. She grew up in a small town in Germany, in the Main Valley, surrounded by the smell of hops permeating the air – with 5 breweries and several wineries making up a significant portion of the town’s landscape, fermentation as an art form has been in her life since the beginning.
Being the only one in this relationship with any culture, Larissa also takes on the role of editor and communicator. Without her, every piece of copy Grant writes would devolve into a mashup of movie quotes and science-fiction references. You’re welcome.
Larissa runs the entire admin side of the house not just because she’s good at it, but because every time Grant gets involved, things disappear. She takes a step out of that role and drops her laptop at every opportunity (I mean that literally – it looks like it’s been used as a football) to hang out in the brewery to ensure quality control is maintained.
The Absent-minded Professor
The other Co-Founder/Co-Owner, Grant, could be considered the titular “Mad Yank”, probably because he’s a Yank and completely out of his gourd. When he started talking about his plan to ditch his retirement in order to setup a microbrewery in London, some of his colleagues began referring to him as “that mad yankee” – actually, what they called him was not in English and quite a bit more vulgar, but the translation seemed to work, so he took the name and ran with it.
“A lot of what I’ve learned from working with nuclear reactors has direct application in beer production, and I write recipes the same way I write code, so we get to leverage two disparate backgrounds to make something new.”-Grant, Chief Brewer, Nerd
Aside from the brewing, Grant also does a lot of tinkering with the brewery itself. What he can’t buy (read: is too cheap to pay for) he will typically piece together himself, usually claiming “it’s only a temporary fix” before going on to use such gadgets for the next couple of years, or until Larissa grows tired of waiting for him to upgrade it. He also does the web design, most of the product photography, bottle labels and makes the best waffles this side of the Atlantic.
“I never said this.”-Mire, Artist/Sculptor/Teacher
We found Mire back in the early days of the brewery when it was still just an idea. While searching for someone who could capture the right look for our brand, we saw some of his work he’d done for others via 99designs.com and pitched the idea to him.
We were immediately taken aback by how incredibly hard working Mire is; we would make a suggestion for a tweak and before we could break for coffee he’d send us 4 or 5 new variations based on what we said. What makes it more impressive is that the work he does for projects like this isn’t a main source of income, but serves more as of fun way to use his talents and get some work out there.
Although the layout for our labels has changed over time, his artistic direction is still very much present and we continue to contract him for each new character design. His art style is a big part of our look, as he’s one of the few that we have met who could capture both an antique and modern look/feel in the same image.
Beer of the people, by the people, for the people.– The Mad Yank
To make “great beer” is a good goal – we’re not aware of any microbrewery that endeavors to make bad beer. For us, though, it isn’t specific enough to be a goal.
We want to make beer that challenges the norm and doesn’t just “toe the party line”. In some cases, that means trying recipes that aren’t according to the playbook and create flavor profiles that aren’t in alignment with the style guides. In other cases, that means toning it down a bit and making something more approachable for those who are hesitant to begin their craft beer journey.
We want our beer to be about community; to bring people together by daring to be a bit different without alienating people who aren’t radicals.
To do this, we approach innovation by taking a page from the playbook of Silicon Valley tech startups (stay with me here, I promise it’ll make sense): many incubators and tech companies have a fairly ingenious approach to finding what works: don’t decide by committee what ideas to try and which to set aside. Try EVERYTHING instead. Let the customers decide what works and what doesn’t.
This approach isn’t anything new and wasn’t the brainchild of anyone in the Valley – nature has this same approach to innovation. Now, whether nature has been largely successful at its core business is a matter of some debate, but we do think the approach works for us, so we’ll keep at it.
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If soap is the cornerstone of civilization, then beer is civilization’s keystone… there are probably more qualified examples, like “cultivation of crops”, or “domestication of animals”, or “mathematics”, but we’re a brewery, not a university.
I may or may not have read about the Mad Yank in their own words… but I most definitely did push a button to tweet about it.Tweet