When Ale Industries started out, it was rare to find a brewery that had a taproom slinging a triple-hopped IPA. Today, these are some of the staples of an ever-evolving industry. We talked to Morgan Cox, co-founder and Brewmaster of the Oakland, California brewery about all things hops and grain.
Early on, Morgan foresaw a career for himself in brewing. After getting into homebrewing at the age of 18, he knew that he wanted to own a brewery of his own one day. He knew he would need some commercial experience, and at 21 he was finally able to start looking for work.
To put things in perspective, when Morgan was looking for work there were about eight breweries in the San Francisco Bay Area – so jobs were few and far between. Today, there are more than 200. Morgan eventually secured a volunteer position at a local outfit, and over time worked his way up to the coveted position of Brewmaster.
As Brewmaster, Morgan was charged with decommissioning old equipment and bringing in the new – one day, this gave him an idea. He could take that old equipment and get his own brewery off the ground. After some understandable resistance, the owner came around to the idea and in 2009, Ale Industries’ first beer was brewed.
Morgan says, in the years since, the change the industry has gone through has been huge.
“When we first started, Facebook wasn’t around – everyone was on Myspace,” Morgan remembers. “Social media marketing wasn’t a concept. If you wanted to get your name out there you went to beer festivals, got out and about talking to people, or took out print ads.
“The Internet 2.0 was really in its infancy. Companies had websites, but they were more like landing pages. Spreading the word is completely different today. That’s just one aspect of the business that has changed.”
As for the styles of beer you see most breweries creating today, this has been another shift.
“In the past, brewing was about trying to achieve perfection in classic styles,” Morgan explains. “Every brewery had an IPA, a pale ale and so on and so forth. They didn’t have names for them like they do now. Back then, it was almost like it was a commodity. Now it’s a niche, luxury type item. Where, in the past, you would judge a brewery on how true to form its pale ale was.”
This shift from traditional classic styles to thinking outside the box and creatine more imaginative flavors was closely followed by the emergence of the taproom. In the beginning, Morgan says, there were either breweries or brewpubs.
Now, most breweries will have a tasting room. With that comes unique business management challenges. You’re essentially running two businesses – one hospitality and one wholesale – Morgan uses Xero to run both.
According to Morgan, using Xero on mobile puts the power of accounting right into the hands of their salespeople or ‘foot soldiers’. They can easily pull up Xero when they’re out visiting customers, place an order or even check on whether they have an outstanding invoice or whether the account is within terms.
This cuts down time chasing up accounts payable and accounts receivable – things that would otherwise get buried, Morgan says. They have also created report templates that enable salespeople to see, in real time, how they’re doing in terms of the goals set for them.
Ale Industries prides itself on having a very transparent culture. Employees are extremely clued in on almost every aspect of the business – Morgan gives everyone a Xero login so they can see where money is coming in and out.
“We are an open book company, meaning there is no information about the health of the business that we won’t share with every employee,” Morgan says. “Not only does Xero allow us to easily do this, but Xero also gives everyone the ability to filter and search through the fiscal parts of our business, to both better understand what we are doing and why.”
“My favorite part of being a business owner has been the ability to create and grow a team of passionate people who are putting our mark on the industry that I love. I wake up every morning knowing that I am going to be able to help my employees become better at something they are passionate about. That is highly motivating to me.”