Since craft beverage tends to lean local, supporting and engaging community first, it’s no surprise to see the CSA (community supported agriculture) model being extended into the boozy realm as the craft beer, wine, and cider industries flourish.
For those unfamiliar, a CSA is a subscription arrangement, typically with a farmer, to receive regularly scheduled deliveries of crops. Most often, this means CSA members get a box of vegetables or meats from a farmer throughout the summer, having paid for it up front. This, in turn, helps the farmer because much of the cost is up front, but income is traditionally earned at harvest. Farmers get paid, consumers get fresh foods, and a bond is made between the two ends of production.
Seeing the unique community it fosters, startups 56 Brewing, Keepsake Cidery, and Urban Forage Winery and Cider House have all adopted variations of the model, where for an upfront subscription, regular shipments of alcoholic beverages (and other goods) can be picked up or delivered.
"We are dedicated to our community of Northeast Minneapolis, in our mission statement and everything we do," says 56 Brewing VP Kerry Johnson. Thus, the "CSB" (community supported brewery).
Members can pick up allotments of flagship beers, new seasonals, and discounts on merchandise and specialty beers. "It saves them money, they get to know us, and they get to have really great beer," Johnson says. Meanwhile, "We know how much demand is going to be and helps us with upfront capital to start brewing."
Keepsake Cidery follows a similar rationale. The Dundas based company opened last spring, but co-owner Nate Watters comes from a CSA background, having worked at or owned shares in CSAs like Mountain View (MA) and Stones Throw (MN). His experience with those businesses led him to Keepsake, where a CSA was part of the plan from day one.
Keepsake features pick-up direct from the cidery, and also at Northfield and Minneapolis locations (with plans to add more stops when membership grows). The bounty from Keepsake is seasonal, 3-4 times per year, Watters says, and it makes up roughly 25% of their overall business. Besides the producer/consumer relationship, it creates extra work on their end, but it’s work that’s worth it in fostering those relationships.
Urban Forage Winery and Cider House is just getting started. They opened on Dec. 30 and distributed their first CSA fulfillment in mid-February. Their CSA is 100% Kickstarter backers, says founder Jeff Zeitler. "We wanted to make our crowdfunding campaign successful, and couldn't give alcohol directly as a gift, but we were able to give a club membership," he explains. Members can pick up bottles of cider and wine at their East Lake St. tasting room.
Looking at trends, Zeitler expects the model to catch on more in the industry. All three companies opened in the past two years and each is still working through growing pains. However, all of them enjoy the relationships and the regular income distribution.
Booze-based CSAs also offer a key difference from a traditional farm CSA. While still agriculturally based products, theirs have a longer shelf life.
"Most CSAs are the raw produce, where this is the product," says Keepsake’s Watters. "Plus, there is difference in timing. Most of the ciders are ready more often and longer than most produce." The items are not perishable, a bonus easily understood by anyone who’s received a box containing 3 pounds of rutabagas or leeks. CSAs, CSBs, or whatever one calls them, offer a way to share the bounty while emphasizing a connection between agriculture and consumer, whether that product comes fresh out of the ground, or fermented in a bottle.
For more information on the CSAs discussed in the article, visit the websites of Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, Keepsake Cidery, and 56 Brewing. Memberships are sold in specific time periods to allow for proper planning and organization and the corresponding businesses. Most also include unique merchandise and other non-alcoholic items as well.