Adam Avery of Avery Brewing Company

Going Pro by | Nov 2007 | Issue #11

When I get founder and brewmaster of Avery Brewing Company Adam Avery on the phone, I tell him that I’d enjoyed a bottle of The Beast the night before—Avery’s monstrous 16.42% ABV Grand Cru. He congratulates me on making it to work afterwards. His little Colorado brewery probably doesn’t need more of an introduction than that.

1. Go Gonzo
“Like most everybody else” in the business, Adam Avery says he makes beer full-time because he came down with a homebrew habit he just couldn’t kick. “I was a gonzo homebrewer,” he says. “I was brewing three batches of beer at any given time; I was making way more than I could actually drink, but I was just experimenting, wanting to do as many different styles as I could. I brewed everything—I didn’t do any lagers, but I was using a lot of hops, some fruits, making high alcohol beers, Stouts, Pale Ales—I was running the gamut.”

2. Beware the library and the cubicle
Avery was working at a rock-climbing store when his quarter-life crisis hit. He was about to jump into law school, but then a couple of his climbing partners staged an intervention. “They were lawyers, and they said, ‘If you can figure out anything else to do, you should do that.’” He figured that lots of people dug his beers, so he gave that a shot. He put together a business plan, and with “a wing and a prayer, and a few bucks,”Avery Brewing Company was born. “I was like, Why not give it a shot? It just felt like the right thing to do.”

3. Go big to stay alive
The brewery launched with an Amber, a Brown and a Stout, and even during the boom days of the ’90’s, he found the Colorado beer market a difficult one to crack. “We did the raspberry wheat thing when they were big,” he recalls. “We were just trying to figure out ways to drive volume. It was real touch and go for the first five, six years, and it got to the point where it was like, are we going to make it or not? At that time, I said I should just start making beers that I really want to make and see what happens.” He brewed up Hog Heaven, a “ridiculously hopped” Barleywine, and distributors started calling, demanding his business.

4. Be self-centered, as long as you promise to share
A series of monster beers followed Hog Heaven—The Reverend, a 10% ABV Belgian Quadrupel; Salvation, a Belgian Golden Ale; The Czar, a Russian Imperial Stout; Mephistopheles’ Stout, with 107 IBUs, 15% ABV; and the Maharaja, a big, bullying Imperial IPA. “I make beers that I want to drink. That’s the bottom line,” Avery says. “I love our IPA because I made the IPA for me—that’s the style of IPA I like. I always say: I’m making the beer for me; I’m just making a little extra for everybody else.”

5. The demand for weird is out there—go find it
Avery has become successful by turning the logic of growth on its head. “We sell a little bit of beer in many markets,” he explains. “We’re in 29 states, Sweden and Denmark. The business model is weird, and it probably goes against what most breweries try to do—they try to saturate their home market, and grow geographically. The market here is tight, so you find other markets. There aren’t enough people here to buy these weird beers, so I need to ship them to Boston and Anchorage and Denmark, to find those people who share my same taste in beer.”

6. Evoke passion
“Our brewery in general is kind of binary—either people love us or they hate us,” Avery says. “I guess the flavor profiles, some people really latch on to them and say: ‘Yeah, I get what you’re doing,’ and some people are like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I knew going in that I wasn’t going to please everybody. But we please enough people. I love it, because you do get the fanatics that just can’t get enough, and that makes it all worthwhile.”

7. Win fanatical converts on the business side, too
If you’re inside Avery’s wide distribution footprint, chances are, your local distributor hounded Avery until he agreed to ship beer to them. “The really cool thing is going to these tastings and people having such a good time and having that fanatic zeal for it—the same goes for the distributors. Most of the states we’re in, we’re in because we have a distributor who was calling us up for like six months saying, ‘Hey, when can we get beer? When can we get beer?’ When you have a distributor who’s psyched to have the product, they go out and perform for you. That’s pretty satisfying.”

8. Embrace progress
When I asked about popular talk that big beers are bastardizing brewing, Avery says, “This is what beer can be, and should be. It’s just a natural progression—back in the late ’80’s, Sierra Nevada was making beers that were as different from beers being brewed by MillerCoors as my beer is different from a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. That progression happened in cheese, in wine, in bread, in coffee, and now it’s happening in beer. I think brewers are starting to see that they can brew beers they’ve always wanted to brew, and still be commercially successful, or at least successful enough to make them worthwhile. Our business model is based on that fact.”

9. Know which side you’re on
When Avery and Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo realized they were both brewing Belgian Ales named Salvation, they settled their differences in the kettle room, not the courtroom: Not only did they both keep the Salvation name, but they also released a special blend of both breweries’ beers, dubbed Collaboration Not Litigation Ale. “It’s kind of a statement for Vinnie and I that we’re bros, that the industry should stick together and not squabble over beer names and stuff. We should fight the good fight. Brothers in arms. It’s fun to see everybody succeeding, and it’s also fun to see that everybody basically gets along. We all know what we’re fighting for—everybody collectively is fighting for the rest of that 96 percent.”