We reported on the launch of a cool brewery incubator program in North Carolina in November last year — the Rocky Mount Mills Brewery Incubator. We thought now was a good time to check in and see how the incubator concept has gone from the perspectives of both the Rocky Mount Mills team and one of its first tenants, BDD Brewing Co., which is celebrating the launch of its first lineup of successfully brewed commercial beers.
“BDD has shown tremendous growth as a member of our incubator,” said Sebastian Wolfrum, executive brewmaster, Rocky Mount Mills. “The team went from brewing on a 5-gal pilot direct fire system to becoming craft brewers of our 10-bbl, two vessel, steam fired system in a very short period. [Owners] Chazz and Matt are destined for big things in the brewing world, and we’re so honored that they decided to start their journey as part of our incubator.”
Quick reminder on the program
More than just a contract brewing space, Rocky Mount Mills designed a three-year program to help nurture the growth of a fledgling brewery concept, develop a business plan, recruit investment and eventually grow beyond the incubator space:
- Year one: Solidify concept and get their feet wet in not only producing beer but preparing a business.
- Year two: Grow the business to include distribution channels and develop and hone a fulfillment strategy.
- Year three: Strengthen the business plan for both short- and long-term financing that will take the brewer to their next phases along a projected timeline.
“The programming around the RMM Incubator and the tenants have focused on both attracting new groups of people to discover both the Mills and our breweries,” Wolfrum told us. “We help navigate the getting-to-market landscape for craft beer as each brewery will have to decide how they want to grow and become profitable. There are real opportunities and liabilities at the same time when selling beer with or without distribution partners, and we guide them in the decision-making process.
“We are moving forward with brewing education content as we understand more and more where startups’ biggest challenges are. To address some of that, we have plans for the fall to do more with Nash Community College’s small business classes at the Production Lab classroom on campus.”
The Class of 2017- ’18 looks as follows:
- Bull Durham Beer Co. is graduating and moving with larger production back into the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
- Planetary Elixir is 10 months into operations and working on getting their product into cans for bars and grocery sales.
- Hopfly Brewing has established a good foothold with their taproom hours at the Incubator in the local community as well as attracting beer lovers from further out. They are planning to expand their reach into the Triangle starting with a Summer Beer Garden at 9th Street Bakery in Durham through July.
- BDD Brewing has gotten well off the ground brewing and getting into distribution around Raleigh to build up to their grand opening this weekend.
Class of 2016/17:
- Koi Pond Brewing & TBC West; Both stand-alone taproom breweries have established a family-friendly gathering spot on the RMM campus.
The tenant perspective
BDD hosted its own all-day festival this past weekend, dubbed “Squatchstock” in honor of its company mascot, Sasquatch, to celebrate the occasion. The event was hosted at the beer garden at Rocky Mount Mills and featured two bands, a solo artist and a BBQ food truck. The crowd was treated to the beers BDD has been working on for the past three months including I’m Squatchin You Pale Ale, Wild Man Uncle IPA, Red Eyes Amber ale brewed with cinnamon and chamomile, Monkey Man Saison brewed with ginger and tangerine, Abominable Joe Man French vanilla mocha stout, Squatch on the Beach Lemonade Shandy, el Quinametzin Mexican Lager and Squatch and the Giant Peach, a peach cobbler wheat dessert beer.
All very cool. So, we wanted to know…
How did the BDD timeline from starting up to launching compare to expectations going into the start of the incubator? What went quickly? What took a while to get used to?
Chazz Oesch: When I first started at the incubator, I only knew how to brew on our little baby, 5-gal system. There was a definite learning curve on both sides as it is an unprecedented program. It did take a bit more time starting up than expected because of this learning curve. The brewing aspect I picked up very quickly like when it comes to the mechanical elements, i.e., how to brew using the system. The fragility of each step of the process was the biggest hurdle. Each batch we make is large, so any changes we want to make to the beer has to be made after we sell the current stock. That creates a slower process for perfecting recipes. As far as selling, that is one of my strengths, so I jumped right into that.
What happens now as part of the incubator program?
Chazz Oesch: Because of the incubator model, we can fine-tune our recipes and business structure — distribution model, expansion plans, etc. — without much financial risk to us. Going forward we will be working on consistency in the brewing process as well as learning and relearning the best way to market and distribute.
How and/or where will BDD be distributed?
Chazz Oesch: Starting out, we are self-distributing. We have distributed to a few bars in Raleigh, a couple of which we are a constant brand on tap. Going forward we will continue to get a piece of the Raleigh market share, as well as move east towards the coast.
What’s the tenant experience like?
Chazz Oesch: The tenant experience is great. We share equipment and coordinate events. It is a very friendly competition. When I started brewing, I helped Cam from Hopfly brew a beer, then Ben from Bull Durham helped us brew our first beer. After those two experiences, I was confident and competent enough to brew on my own. It is a great setup in which we believe that a rising tide lifts all ships.