Founders Brewing Co. celebrates 15th year
Flirting with bankruptcy forged Founders Brewing Co. into west Mich. craft beer industry titan
In February 2001, Dave Engbers made an unusual purchase.
Squeezed financially and feeling desperate, Engbers went to the hardware store one day and walked out with a pair of bolt cutters.
The tool sits in Engbers' office now, a constant reminder of what might have been for Founders Brewing Company if not for a mixture of divine intervention and a damn-the-torpedoes course correction.
Fortune and fortitude have turned the company into Michigan's second-largest beer maker in its 15th year.
"You still pinch yourself once in a while," said Engbers' partner, Founders President and CEO Mike Stevens. "We still look back and go, 'holy crap — I can't believe it worked.'"
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Today, Engbers and Stevens are two very busy guys. It's a good problem to have for a couple of college buddies who operate an internationally acclaimed microbrewery which has averaged an annual growth rate of 72 percent for the past five years.
Every Monday at 11 a.m., the company's taproom on Grandville Avenue SW begins to fill up with thirsty patrons who pack the former derelict truck dock for a deli sandwich and a glass of Dirty Bastard, Imperial Stout, or whatever brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki has cooked up recently.
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Staggering growth can often spawn talk of "overnight success," but, reclining in conference room chairs with a snifter of their latest concoction close at hand, the two company founders shake their heads at the term, each exuding a sense of boyish relief at the long-awaited prospect of financial security, something that has famously eluded the brewery since Day One.
"For us to still be here is a major feat," said Engbers. "It probably would have been ... a lot easier to file for bankruptcy and call it quits."
"We felt that we owed it to the brewery to dig our heels in and figure things out."
Founders turns 15 this year. If the halls of craft beer were a high school, Founders would be the standout freshman quarterback whom everybody wants to be friends with, and whose bold moves consistently wow the crowd of loyal fans.
In June, the label for the brewery's soon-to-be-released anniversary ale, a 15 percent alcohol by volume barleywine aptly named "Bolt Cutter," was leaked on BeerAdvocate, an online nexus of sorts for craft beer geeks to mingle and debate the merits of beers available in the ever-expanding market for microbrews.
Founders has a "world class" BeerAdvocate ranking of 96 out of 100, and two of the company's beers, Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) and Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) rank in the Top 10 best beers in the world, as voted by site users.
In 2011, Founders' KBS edged out Hopslam from Kalamazoo rival Bell's Brewery to crack the Top 10 best beers in the world at RateBeer, the second pillar of online craft beer ranking.
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