From grocery stores and credit unions, to restaurants and apartments, all the way up a wall to bouldering gyms, Minnesotans are enamored with co-ops.
Chalk it up to our state’s rich agricultural tradition, or perhaps the multitude of progressive-minded wallets in our metro areas. For Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative’s head brewer Will Hubbard, that co-op appeal comes from an ambition to create a space where brewing great beer is just as important as being a great neighbor. “That’s definitely an important thing, for me and for the brewery in general,” Hubbard says. “Beer and community working in tandem together. We’re cultivating a community through beer.”
Coming from a different mouth, those words could sound like an empty platitude. But within minutes of meeting Hubbard, you can tell he means it. He’s the classic archetype of a Midwestern straight-shooter. Genial without being particularly gregarious, Hubbard speaks in the measured tones of someone who is still becoming accustomed to the idea that people would be interested in him, personally.
Get Hubbard talking about beer or business, however, and you can watch the reticence start to melt away—at least a little. Right now he’s particularly excited about a boozy imperial red ale that Broken Clock’s 740-odd members voted into existence to commemorate the brewery’s 100th batch of beer, called Dem Apples.
“The idea behind it was a Dutch apple pie beer,” Hubbard says with growing excitement. “We put the graham crackers directly in the mash—boxes and boxes of these things—and dumped ’em in. When we released it [February 1], one of our local producers, Sarah Jane’s [Bakery], came in with a bunch of pies.”
Standing well over six feet and solidly built, Hubbard hails from St. Paul’s blue collar East Side, where he attended Harding Senior High School and played in the drumline during Knights games. Growing up, he was the kid constantly tinkering with something around the house, a trait Hubbard says he inherited from his uncle, a well-driller and general jack-of-all-trades.
“I’ve always been very mechanically inclined. I was the type of kid growing up where I was taking apart the vacuum and putting it back together,” he says. “It’s a similar environment here. Basically the whole brewhouse is refabricated dairy equipment. So a lot of it is getting older; there’s stuff that breaks on it occasionally and you gotta figure out how to fix it.
“I’m pretty comfortable doing that,” he continues with a chuckle. “That’s a hobby type of thing for me that kind of serendipitously works here because stuff breaks. It just does.”
Hubbard attended the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, where he initially studied chemistry before switching to economics. Since graduating in 2010, he has earned his MBA from Concordia and worked in marketing analytics at Patterson Companies and for 3M, testing tape formulas. The structured methodology in both fields still informs his style as a brewer.
Hubbard bought his first homebrew kit from Groupon after college and began to develop recipes with the help of a few buddies and family members. He also picked up a side gig at Northern Brewer’s original Grand Avenue location, where he would soak up all the knowledge he could from study groups with his coworkers. “I just didn’t like sitting at a desk all day; I just can’t do that—it’s not for me,” Hubbard explains. “I was very interested in brewing because of the science aspect of it, but also because of the challenge of learning the business by starting one up. So I’m kind of covering all of my bases.”
Circa 2015, Hubbard met Jeremy Mathison, now Broken Clock’s operations manager, through a mutual friend. Mathison and partner Jeremy Gharineh had the idea for the co-op business model that would incorporate beer, and the group soon started a monthly homebrew showcase to draw in the surrounding community. With logistical help from Hubbard’s wife, Stephanie, and a core group of around a dozen supporters, the trio began to develop the business plan for Broken Clock.
Hubbard, Mathison, and Gharineh were inspired to model their brewery after Austin, Texas’ Black Star Co-op, one of the first cooperative breweries in the country. “It takes a lot of money and time to open a brewery,” Hubbard explains of the co-op model’s appeal. “To do it myself would have taken a number of years and a significant investment. Then you’re kind of tied to a bank or interest. This seemed like a good path for me to follow to get that business experience, hit the ground running, and start working with commercial equipment to develop a name for the brewery.”
Beyond the fundraising aspect, the trio was enamored with Black Star’s commitment to providing every one of their members an equal stake in the company’s finances and a voice in its decision-making processes—things that are also part of Broken Clock’s membership structure. At Broken Clock, every co-op member is empowered to vote on board positions, and every member stands to earn dividends when the company becomes appropriately profitable.
In the brewhouse, while the majority of the recipe development process is managed by Hubbard, the beer he brews is largely informed by members’ desires rather than his personal whims. Regular members have a say in the beers and the beer names; last year, ahead of their annual member meeting, Broken Clock held an open call for their members to vote on recipes developed by Hubbard that they’d like to see in production. That inspired bit of crowdsourcing netted Broken Clock one of its biggest hits to date in the summer of 2017: Minuteman New England IPA.
According to Will, the majority of Broken Clock’s 20 taps share this populist origin story. “The three beers that we first started onboarding as a production brewery were the ones that were very popular when we did homebrew showcases,” Hubbard says. “Pretty much all of those are based upon recipes that we originally did back in 2015 or so.”
When talking about the pilot system Broken Clock’s board of directors is planning on implementing, which could allow for more member-inspired hits like Minuteman, Hubbard gets excited. “[I want to] help those members develop beers that we can put on as a member-inspired brew,” he says. “We’ll crank out a half-barrel, put it on tap, and serve it to the public. And if it takes off, we can consider scaling it up and bringing it to production. That’s part of the brewer membership—to have those bragging rights and to have access to education.”
It’s a communal method of decision-making that suits Hubbard’s collaborative nature perfectly. Quick to defer credit for personal accomplishments to his teammates, Hubbard enjoys the emphasis on harmony and shared responsibility that a cooperative structure encourages. “I like to have unity and for everybody to be happy around me, and I can pick up if there’s a member of my team that’s going through something. I’ll try to cheer them up, or poke fun at myself a little bit and get a smile out of ’em,” he says with a smile of his own.
Looking around Broken Clock’s relatively new taproom (opened in November 2018), you can see the physical manifestation of this community that inspires Hubbard and his coworkers. Proudly, he explains that the entire taproom was built by members’ hands, and every single stool bears the name of a member who helped make the build-out possible. Somewhere in here, Hubbard and his wife have a stool of their own, identical to the rest—just the way they like it.