Photos courtesy of MobCraft Beer Inc.
It takes a bold brewer to craft a beer with a fruit that chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain once said will leave your breath smelling “as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother,” but MobCraft Beer Inc. has done it.
It wasn’t that the Madison-based brewery was aiming to make a sought-after limited-edition beer. Nor were they trying to garner some press. Instead, MobCraft made Don Durio’s Filthy Mustachio—which called for four ounces of durian fruit and eight ounces of cashews per five gallons—because it was the recipe submitted to the brewery’s website that gained the most pre-orders the month it was entered. And since pre-orders act as votes, the Filthy Mustachio surfaced as MobCraft’s beer of the month.
MobCraft has been a disciple of crowdsourcing since the brewery started, in 2012. The idea for a crowdsourced brewery sprung up during a college business course. MobCraft founder Giotto Troia was tasked with researching Threadless, an online business where the t-shirts designs are submitted by the artists and then pre-ordered by customers to cut down on overhead. Troia and two friends were already homebrewing, often using “weird” ingredients, with results so good they were encouraged by friends and family to take the operation a step further. So they did: borrowing from Threadless’ business model, the trio created their own and MobCraft was born.
Here’s how it works: Recipes from beer enthusiasts are posted to MobCraft’s website, and each month the community casts votes for the different options by pre-ordering the beer of their choice. Voting takes place for three weeks, at the end of which the brew with the most votes is made, shipped out (41 states can order the beer for shipment), or made available for pickup at the brewery. The most popular styles become part of MobCraft’s flagship series and are sold in beer stores across Wisconsin.
Beer suggestions range from tame (vanilla-wafer porter) to outlandish (blackberry/mango/wasabi) to wicked (ghost-pepper amber ale). There’s no limit to the requests that flood in—although there are some hurdles for what actually gets brewed.
“Sometimes the beer names and ingredients give us a little bit of trouble, depending on government approval for some of the ‘quirkier’ ingredients,” Troia says with a laugh.
But other than that, there are little to no barriers to entry.
“We wanted to make sure the community accepted it [the beer] and liked it, so what we do is allow people to submit their ideas to us—whatever they want,” Troia explains. “It can be as simple as an idea for a beer, or as complex as a homebrewer sending in an entire recipe bill. It allows everyone to participate in this process.”
This community approach has been so successful that MobCraft will soon be expanding from its rented space in Madison’s House of Brews microbrewery to its own place in Milwaukee. As for how they can afford the move: crowdfunding.
In November 2013, Wisconsin signed into effect an equity crowdfunding law. Unlike Kickstarter, where people plunk down cash and get products or rewards in return, the Wisconsin law takes crowdfunding in a slightly different direction. Here, stock is sold online by private companies to people who aren’t required to fall under the tagline of “accredited investor.”
MobCraft was the first company in Wisconsin to take advantage of the new law. In early 2015, Troia ran a campaign through Craftfund.com, the new law’s online platform, offering anyone interested in funding the brewery the ability to invest up to $10,000 and get equity in return. Their goal was $250,000, and while they didn’t reach that number, Troia says the process worked as a launching pad.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t reach our goal, but we did officially become the highest crowdfunded brewery in history—whether via Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or any other platform—because we raised $75,000,” he explains. Troia deems the campaign “very successful,” even in spite of some Federal Communications Commission restrictions, such as barring the brewery from pitching their effort to the public via social media or commercials.
Expansion into Milwaukee will put MobCraft in a 13,000-square-foot facility and allow production to increase to about 2,500 barrels a year, beginning this winter. A taproom will also open in the summer, along with a sour-aging facility.
Having succeeded with his own crowdfunding efforts, Troia hopes MobCraft can become a model for others trying to follow that path. In the meantime, Troia’s goal is to keep the brewery growing—but it all hinges on the community’s interest in the crowdsourced, small-batch brew approach.
“What we really aim for is a direct emotional connection with the person who submits recipes to us,” he says. “That person’s name and where they’re from makes it on the label, and they get a launch party.”
That connection between brewer and consumer, beyond enjoying a pint in a taproom, is what drives Troia and MobCraft forward—even when stinky fruit is involved.