Artisan Beverage Co-op: Cooperation Among Cooperatives!
Northern New England has become a mecca for craft beverage production in recent years. Widely regarded for its range of influence, our area is full of amazing businesses that produce alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks alike with a number even gaining recognition and fame on a global scale. Such a high degree of success has also inspired a great deal of creative innovation across the board, expanding our tastes beyond beers, sodas, and distilled drinks into more eclectic territory with rare recipes and unique brewing techniques that result in some truly special products. Artisan Beverage Co-op is one of these local businesses that prides itself on producing craft beverages of a unique and exceptional caliber. It is beloved for its two distinct product lines: Katalyst Kombucha, a fermented elixir enjoyed for its health and gut-conscious properties, and Ginger Libation, a rare beer born from the chance discovery of a pre-prohibition recipe that is unlike anything else out there today.
Artisan is an industry trailblazer that has worked hard to expand our notions of what is possible in the world of craft brewing and change the way we consider our beverage choices. Even more importantly, they have also given us hope for a more equitable future through the positive way they do business. Artisan is a worker-owned cooperative, making them a valuable asset to our local Valley area and a shining example of why maintaining high ethical standards and responsible practices are beneficial not only to a business's bottom line but also to the shared well-being of the local economy. Unlike more common hierarchical corporate structures, co-ops are designed to benefit the needs and wishes of their workers and communities. Rather than concentrate decision-making power into the hands of a few wealthy executives or anonymous major shareholders, its worker-owners instead participate in a democratic process to drive the business forward. This guarantees fair and just outcomes that are good for everyone both under their own roof and throughout the localities they serve!
In recognition of Co-op Month this October, we visited Artisan Beverage’s facilities in Greenfield, MA to hear the story of their co-op, and to see how their two popular product lines—Katalyst Kombucha and Ginger Libation—are made. We learned a bit about their roots, why they joined forces to become a cooperative, and how their principles compel them to empower workers, strengthen other local businesses, and improve our Valley communities in whole.
Click play to watch the video, or read our full interview below!
The co-op produces two lines of eclectic beverages: Ginger Libation and Katalyst Kombucha!
Q: Can you describe how Artisan Beverage Co-op was formed?
A: Before Artisan, we were actually two separate companies operating under the same roof [Katalyst Kombucha and Green River Ambrosia] with one producing kombucha and the other making alcoholic products. We were using a lot of the same equipment and people between both companies, so it just made sense to merge them. When they were figuring out how to merge them, they decided to become a co-op. So, in 2013, we went through the process and established Artisan Beverage Cooperative and continued making both lines of products.
Q: What inspired the decision to structure the new business as a cooperative, and in what ways did it empower your staff?
A: The decision to become a cooperative was in part because of an overall feeling that the principles the co-op model conveys are missing from the modern corporate structure. It puts a lot more emphasis on investing and developing within the communities we work in, as well as with our workers. As a co-op worker-owner, I really appreciate the openness of information and the opportunities it gives all workers to not just have a job but a stake in the decisions the co-op makes. It enables the workers to feel more like part of the business—more committed to the business—and allows them to grow with us.
Artisan employees are hard at work to ensure the canning process runs smoothly.
Q: Katalyst Kombucha and Ginger Libation are both huge sellers at the co-op. When were the ideas for these formed, and in what ways have the products evolved?
A: Katalyst Kombucha was formed in 2005 when we began renting a small space in the commercial kitchen here in our current space. As we grew and expanded, we began adding more products such as the alcoholic line of beverages. Ginger Libation came about a few years after Katalyst Kombucha. It was formed when one of the workers here developed a gluten intolerance and began working to create recipes as alternatives to beer. When they found a recipe they enjoyed—a ginger beer that predated prohibition—they started experimenting with different versions of it until settling on the current formula. At that point, we were already making mead using local honey, and there was a general interest in some of the more eclectic beverages as well, so Ginger Libation fit right into our vision here.
These Bliss Berry cans have been labeled and are now ready to be packaged and shipped.
Q: Did you get help from other local co-ops when getting established as a cooperative yourselves?
A: We are super lucky to have a thriving co-op community here in the Valley. While establishing ourselves as a cooperative, we were guided by some of the other local co-ops. We had huge help from Equal Exchange out of West Bridgewater, MA and our neighbors here in Greenfield, Real Pickles. They were super helpful when we went through the process. Once we became a co-op, it opened us up to this whole community that we weren’t interacting with as much before. Obviously, we were in a lot of food co-op stores already, so that was helpful. The Worker Federation of Co-ops was a great resource as well, and so were some of the lending institutions like the Cooperative Fund of the Northeast. So yeah, it was a really exciting time to get into the club!
A SCOBY [Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast] is introduced to tea and sugar in order to ferment.
Q: How do you source your ingredients and why is doing so ethically important for the supply chain?
A: A lot of the ingredients we use are not grown locally so we work very hard to find and do business with other companies that share similar values to our own. For instance, the tea we use for our kombucha is sourced through Equal Exchange Cooperative. We buy our Concord grape jucie concentrate from the Growers Cooperative in New York. Also, we have a fall seasonal Ginger Libation variety called Local Libation that uses ginger from Old Friends Farm [Amherst, MA], cider from Pine Hill Orchard [Colrain, MA], and cranberries from Bluewater Farms [East Wareham, MA]. All of this is really important because it supports the local economy and those who work within it. It keeps the money local and helps us build a stronger community as well, which is incredibly important to what we do..
The fermentation tanks brew the SCOBY mixture into the Katalyst Kombucha we know and love.
Q: Can you tell us a little about how the production facility operates in comparison to other breweries?
A: We’re a little different from a regular beer brewery, but we do have some similar equipment. We recently upgraded our canning line so that now we can produce more in a day. Both our Ginger Libation and Katalyst Kombucha products come in bottles, kegs, and cans now.
Q: What are some benefits of becoming a co-op, and how it excels over other business models?
A: Enabling our workers to be able to grow with the company and have a stake in what we do here is incredibly important. We use the democratic process for our decision-making, which helps keep people honest and also keeps our principles at the forefront of everything we do. I think having a connection with other co-ops has been beneficial as well because of the openness and transparency that was extended to us through the process.
Visit our Northampton store to try all four flavors of Katalyst Kombucha on tap!
Q: How has your partnership with River Valley Co-op helped your business over the years?
A: River Valley Co-op was there very early on for us, carrying both lines of our products. We have had our kombucha on tap there and continue to do so, which is really great for us. It is such an amazing store, and to be featured there is a great honor in the co-op world. So yeah, it has been another great resource, especially with some of the feedback we get from them. We don’t get to work as closely with some of our other accounts, such as the big chain stores. It feels much more friendly and supportive to work with River Valley.
Democratic participation in the business is a hallmark of how cooperatives measure success.
Q: What are some other advantages of cooperatives in building a healthy-functioning local economy that works for everyone?
A: I think it’s great for promoting a fair workplace and giving people the opportunity to be with a company long-term and grow and develop. There is a commitment to keep developing the workers instead of driving them to get burned out—or downsizing them, or laying them off. Obviously, there are challenges, but it feels like we are all in it together—something you might not get at a more traditional company with a top-down hierarchy. We’re all aware of what our goals are because we’ve each had a direct hand in realizing them.
A look into the sampling room at Artisan Beverage Co-op in Greenfield, MA.
(Image: Facebook/Artisan Beverage Cooperative)
Q: What advice would you give to other local businesses considering restructuring as a cooperative?
A: I think tapping into the community of co-ops is a great way to go. It will help you find out how others have done it and what resources they’ve used. The U.S. Federation of Worker-Cooperatives has a ton of information. Also, reaching out to a ton of the other local co-ops can help guide you. They’ll give you information and advice just like Equal Exchange, Real Pickles, and others did for us. You are welcome to reach out to us, too! We’re more than willing to answer questions and give advice.