Madison's newest brewing business plans to offer its first beer in about six weeks. But this isn't a brewery with its own walls, tanks, fermenters or even a brew kettle. Rather, it's a venture based on social media and online communities centered on beer.
MobCraft Beer is launching a new business model for making beer that is based on crowdsourcing opinions of its online supporters to determine what gets brewed and when. Founder Giotto Troia of Madison is working with House of Brews to actually make the beer. He's planning to release a new and different crowdsourced brew on a monthly basis based on social media feedback.
"Crowdsourcing has been around a while in other businesses, but it has been pretty much untouched in the brewing industry," says Troia, who has been exploring different brewery business models since fall 2011. At one point he considered opening a brewpub in Baraboo, but start-up funding proved too difficult. Troia and his partners, Andrew Gierczak of West Allis and Henry Schwartz of Madison, hope their first beer will be offered in mid June.
MobCraft will use crowdsourcing to collect initial ideas for beers, including descriptions of brewing techniques, thoughts on ingredients, and even recipes. Those suggestions for beers will then be assessed for interest by using evaluation techniques -- including a "crowdsourcing popularity algorithm" -- to gauge interest from across various social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other sources of online beer chatter including direct suggestions.
Once they narrows down the list, MobCraft's Andrew Gierczak, who has professional brewing experience in Milwaukee, will weigh in on what it would take to make and mass-produce the most popular choices. After a short-list of three to four beers is determined by Gierczak, it will be submitted to the MobCraft crowd, who will ultimately determine which beers will be made based on interest expressed through electronic pre-orders. The operation conducts voting online, and has warmed up its system ten test batches.
House of Brews owner and brewmaster Page Buchanan will be making the beers in his east-side brewery. Troia also says he's been looking into the possibilities for purchasing additional equipment, like fermenters, that could be used at House of Brews to keep up with demand.
MobCraft's business model also has the characteristics of a community-supported brewery. Customers who sign up for the monthly beer selections have the option of six- or 12-month memberships. They will be able to either pick up their beer at House of Brews, or get it shipped to them.
Eyeing a business base that expands beyond Wisconsin, MobCraft is also working with Artalé Wine Company of Rockford, Illinois, which intends to use express mail services to send beer to up to three dozen states.
Based on availability of beer after members are served, non-members will be able to buy MobCraft at the House of Brews or over the bar at a small number of select tap houses in Madison, Whitewater and Delafield.
MobCraft plans to eventually offer a few regular or standard beers, such as ambers, pale ales and porters, along with a new crowdsourced brew every month. Because of the mass solicitation of beer recommendations from its mob of followers, Troia expects those monthly releases to be all over the board. Over the last 10 months, Troia explains, MobCraft has had received suggestions via email and online ranging from standard favorites to beers with unconventional ingredients like watermelon, pistachio and tamarind.
"If someone wants to pitch an idea and if it has enough popularity we'll make it," says Troia. But he's quick to add that such beers also must be profitable.
The beers will be sold in four-packs of 22-ounce bomber bottles for $24 (plus shipping, if needed).
MobCraft is previewing some of its beers during Madison Craft Beer Week. The 8 Seasons Grille will host a four-course beer pairing dinner on May 11 from 710 p.m. featuring MobCraft beers. Reservations are required for dinner; call 608-819-1082.