The following is an interview with Ben Tilley of Agrarian Ales, conducted by Rebecca Shenton, Hatch’s communications fellow. Agrarian Ales was the second company in Oregon, after Red Wagon Creamery, to complete their maximum raise by gathering investments from their community.
Hello, my name is Ben Tilley, and I am the president of Agrarian Ales, a farmhouse brewery and family gathering place in Eugene Oregon, and I’m here to happily announce that, with the help of HatchOregon, we have completed our CPO, community public offering raise of $95,000, and are ready to get started on construction and moving forward with our projects.
Rebecca: What has this money allowed you to accomplish? Such as hiring people, retaining staff, building new stuff?
Yeah, all of the above! We reached our minimum initial offering in late March, which allowed us to utilize those funds to construct our new bathroom facilities. And from there we have been able to retain a few staff members through the winter to keep working on projects that we were unable to keep up on in the summer. We’re currently constructing a bottle conditioning room to increase our bottle production and bottle sales, extra storage capacity, and we also constructed a pole barn to collect and house all of our farming equipment. We have a few more projects for later this year: design and construction of a hop press and potentially an upgraded hop dying facility.
Rebecca: Where do your investors come from?
Our investors, of course, come from the state of Oregon. We have approximately 100 investors that participated in the offering. I would say about 55-60% are people that we at the brewery already knew or were existing customers. About the same number of people come from or are based in Eugene, Oregon. And then the remainder are scattered across the state and in talking to a few of them, the first exposure and experience they had to Agrarian was what they learned about us through Hatch Oregon and the CPO.
Rebecca: What is one thing your investors all say?
The most common thing I’ve heard most of my investors say was their excitement over the opportunity to be able to participate in our business in this manner. This is Hatch Oregon, and this new law has really created an opportunity to allow small businesses and the average person to participate in the investment industry. Albeit very small, its still an opportunity to do this, where there wasn’t one at all before this.
Rebecca: What happens when investors come into the brewhouse? How do they react?
Investors are very excited when they get to come into the brewhouse. Our design and our ability to bring people right into everything that we’re doing, the closeness, and the ability for them to literally touch the equipment, look inside of everything firsthand, there’s really no separation at all between them, us, and our business. I think that’s the most exciting thing for them.
Rebecca: What is one thing that surprised you about this experience?
I guess the one thing that surprised me the most was the high level of eagerness for our investors, especially the ones that had just become aware of us through this offering, their eagerness to want to participate in the growth of our business. It was very refreshing to have them express a deep loyalty and commitment to our business, and our plans for the future.
Rebecca: What was the most important lesson you learned along the way?
I think the biggest lesson I learned was the fact that there is a lot more love and loyalty within our community than maybe what is visible on the surface.
Rebecca: What was the hardest part of the process of launching and running a CPO?
I think the most difficult part of the process for me was maintaining myself in a “fundraising attitude.” I’m typically not accustomed to asking for help, asking for money. This entire process, for the last year, I had to work at making sure I present myself and my business and my message in a manner that is approachable, professional, and not coming off as if I’m begging or asking for something.
Rebecca: What was the best, most satisfying part of the CPO process?
The most satisfying part of the process was meeting new people who became investors and really getting to experience the level of enthusiasm and joy they had in participating in this. It was really great to meet these people and know that we have a shared sense of wanting to make our community better.
Rebecca: What does your family think?
The family’s very excited. Both my mother and father, and my brother, who are all involved in the business all live on the property. So the additional traffic and people we have on our property each week is a bit of a change. But they have welcomed it with open arms and they too enjoy the excitement that they feel from all of the customers and investors when they come out and the experience that they’re having. They’re very happy to share their lifestyle with our community.
Rebecca: What made you decide to do a CPO?
The reason we chose the CPO option is because the collection of projects we wanted to pursue were more or less real estate upgrades, non-collaterilizable upgrades. So traditional methods of obtaining a loan were a little more difficult, given what we wanted the funds to be used for. The CPO allowed us to directly solicit and connect with our existing customers, as well as others in the state of Oregon that were interested in participating in this. The structure of the CPO, and the opportunity given to us, and our new investors, was really why we chose this. The ability to connect deeper with them, and just having greater options and opportunities to pursue this type of funding for the type of projects we do.
Rebecca: How did Hatch help you reach your goal?
I would say Hatch did pretty much everything that could possibly be done in terms of helping us raise our goal. I had no knowledge of this pending law before I connected with Hatch. And from the first minute, up until the last minute of our raise, Hatch was intricately involved, throughout different members of their staff, and provided us with advice and direction and support through the entire process. I can honestly say I would never have done this, and I doubt I would have been at all successful if it wasn’t for Hatch, their staff, and all the help and support they gave us.
Rebecca: What is your favorite beer of all time?
I would say that any beer made by Cantillon.
Rebecca: And the favorite beer that you brew?
The favorite beer of ours that we brew is one we brew for release in May called Indigenous. It is the only lager that we brew, which is a difficult style of beer to make with a very small system. We name it Indigenous because we source every ingredient from the Americas. It is a corn-chile lager, where we source locally-grown, heirloom species corn from central America. We use chile peppers, grown on our farm at Crossroads, native to the American southwest. We use a San Franciscan lager yeast, and our own well water on the property.
Rebecca: What was the most interesting beer that you’ve ever made?
Oooh, that’s a tough question, but what comes to mind first is one of our chile beers that we named Hot Banana Heff. it is a traditional, German-style Hefeweizen recipe, which, brewed in the right manner, will tend to produce some banana and clove esters in the flavor of the beer. We added some of our own farm’s Hungarian hot banana chiles to the recipe, while there’s actually no banana flavor whatsoever in the beer, it was really surprising how well that recipe, coupled with the chiles, paired for the final flavor. And it ended up being one of our most popular beers of year this year.
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