Golden Gate Brew Tours: "Hopped" Up and Ready to Go

If you believe what Hunter S. Thompson said, that “good people drink good beer”, then at least one group of CMCers are doing their part to make the world a better place.  Combining two of the things that CMCers love most in the world, beer and the entrepreneurial spirit (fueled, of course, by more beer), Ryan Anderson (‘10), Andrew Hess (’10), Eric MacColl (’10), and Mike Widmann (’10) have a business plan which will bring the burgeoning art of craft brewing to the people. That plan is Golden Gate Brew Tours, which is now officially incorporated and is scheduled to be fully operational by June of this summer.  The brainchild of Ryan Anderson (favorite beer: Pliny the Elder Double IPA, Russian River Brewing Company), Brew Tours is a service which will guide customers through the microbreweries of the Bay Area, exposing them to the increasingly popular world of artisan beer.

In Ryan’s words, “Brew Tours is essentially a craft beer educational service.  It’s a venue to learn about beer, talk about beer, and most of all drink great beer.”  Considering that the world of small brewing has mushroomed in size over the past 30 years, from 40 craft breweries in 1978 to 1,400 across the nation today, it seems that the creation of such a venture is long overdue.

The Brew Tours model is simple.  For around $100, customers will be driven to three breweries around the Bay where they will meet the staff, enjoy tasting flights, and be provided with a meal before returning to the Brew Tours office in San Francisco.  The $100 is all inclusive; as team member Eric MacColl (favorite beer: Big Bear Black Stout, Bear Republic Brewing Co.) noted, “We want people to be able to enjoy a beer experience without having to whip out their wallets for everything.”  For now, the Brew Tours team is focusing on developing relationships with five breweries in Marin County, including Marin Brewing Co., Moylan’s Brewing Co., Russian River Brewing Co., Bear Republic Brewing Co., and the more widely known Lagunitas Brewing Co.

The world of craft brewing is largely defined in two key ways, both of which lend themselves to the success of the Brew Tours endeavor.  The first is the struggle of all small breweries to find shelf-space alongside the dominant generic brands.  This is part of the reason that most craft brewers welcome new breweries in their area – short of creating competition, another small brewery actually helps raise awareness of alternatives to Coors and Budweiser.  In the same vein, Bay Area breweries stand to gain a great deal from the increased exposure that Brew Tours is offering.  The second defining point of craft brewing is the close-knit, “democratic” nature of the brewing community.  In the words of team member Andrew Hess (favorite beer: Alesmith IPA, Alesmith Brewing Co.), “Beer people are just as passionate as wine people, except that they wear jeans and t-shirts.”  This atmosphere fits perfectly with the Brew Tours vision of providing a collaborative, relaxed learning experience.

Since Ryan Anderson began formulating the idea for the Brew Tours during Professor Conger’s Leading Entrepreneurial Ventures class last fall, development of the company has been dynamic.  A great deal of the GGBT team’s effort has been focused on acquiring the capital needed to get Brew Tours up and running.  The first step was winning the $10,000 Innovate Startup Award, provided by CMC alums Sunil Rajaraman (’01), Adam Altman (’99), and Jason Yardi ('00), that was the year end prize for best business plan in Conger’s class (click here for more information on the final presentation to investors, and the other business ideas that offered stiff competition).  The team is currently making competitive bids for other CMC, CGU, and Kravis Leadership Institute sponsored awards as well.  On Friday, April 9, they applied for the $25,000 Henry R. Kravis Entrepreneurial Award, and  also recently submitted a bid for  the $5,000 Student Web Based Entrepreneurial Award, another KLI sponsored prize.  Although G. G. Brew Tours is not a web business, the team envisions the website as being an important forum for customers who wish to continue learning and talking about beer after their tour experience.

The team's next steps are finishing the company's website, arranging transportation, and acquiring a permanent office to serve as a bottle shop and staging area for Brew Tours.  In the short term, the team plans on either leasing a fifteen to twenty person luxury bus to serve as the shuttle, or outsourcing transport to an established company.  “The main hurdle we face on the transportation side is insurance,” notes Ryan. “The insurance rates on a commercial vehicle managed by twenty-two year olds running a beer tourism business are astronomical.”  In the long run, however, the team plans to purchase a bus which will be highly customized to provide the comfortable, collaborative atmosphere of a “mobile speakeasy.”  The team’s plan for a permanent office is similarly ambitious – eventually, they would like to base the business out of the Ferry Building.  “It’s incredibly expensive, but it makes sense in terms of transportation logistics and there aren’t very many other places where you get 25,000 people walking past every weekend.”

Although there is still much left to do, Golden Gate Brew Tours is only weeks away from becoming a fully operational CMC-led venture with excellent potential.  With four tour trips already booked for their opening in June, it is clear that there are many out there who want something more than Natural Light in their lives.  Students and alumni both, if you're going to be in the Bay Area this summer, give Golden Gate Brew Tours a call and let them help you make the switch not just to drinking better beer, but as Hunter S. Thompson says, to being a better person.

Team Member Mike Widmann was unavailable for comment.  His favorite beer is the Palette Wrecker Triple IPA from Green Flash Brewing Company.

As the interview portion of this article was conducted in the interactive, beer-appreciating spirit of Brew Tours, please excuse any typos in the later half.

Don't forget to check out Golden Gate Brew Tours  on Facebook and on Twitter.  Also, Golden Gate Brew Tours merchandise will be available for sale during graduation, so help the crew raise some dough and say you were there at the beginning!