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Brewing Up a Storm
Colby alumni use teamwork as a formula for business success with Newport Storm beer.
   
 

 

ALUMNI PROFILES
Hannah Laipson '46
A Need to Teach

Janet McMahon '79
Mapping the Uncharted

Jeremiah "Josh" Burns '81
Mountain Man

Chris Gieszl '93
SEAL of Approval


Roy Hirshland '85

David A. Ghertner '02


Newsmakers &
Milestones

20s/30s
40s
50s
60s
70s
80s
90s
00s

brewing up a storm

By Matt Apuzzo '00

From left, Brent Ryan '97, Mark Sinclair '97, Will Rafferty '97 and Derek Luke '98 at the Coastal Extreme Brewery in Middletown, R.I.
From left, Brent Ryan '97, Mark Sinclair '97, Will Rafferty '97 and Derek Luke '98 at the Coastal Extreme Brewery in Middletown, R.I.

The compressor and motor don't grind to a halt. They just stop. In an instant, the room is quiet.

"What happened?" asks Brent Ryan '97. "Do we have a massive failure here?"

He looks at Derek Luke '98, who has his hands full of empty, sanitized beer bottles ready for the suddenly crippled bottling machine. Luke, the brewmaster, can only shrug: "Who knows?"

There's a sense of urgency but not of panic. The temperamental machine has fizzled before. An electrician in the building next to Coastal Extreme Brewery headquarters will, for a foamy fee, revive the bottler. "Beer is a wonderful commodity," Mark Sinclair '97 explains. "Electrical work, oil changes, welding, fork lifts."

But it doesn't come to that, and soon Sinclair and Ryan have the machine humming.

Eight hundred cases of beer will be bottled in Middletown, R.I., on this day. By 11 a.m., they have been bottling for four hours, and as long as the machine holds up, they should be finished in eight or nine more.

For now, it's just Ryan, Luke and Sinclair getting their hands dirty. Will Rafferty '97 is upstairs, catching up on some bookkeeping.

This might seem like a never-never land for college buddies, but it's serious business. After years of slowly carving out a niche in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, the company did about $500,000 in sales last year. This year, with distribution expanded to Boston, Ryan expects to top $1 million.

When they arrived at Colby, they had no brewing aspirations. Sinclair was a physics major. Ryan, Luke and Rafferty studied cell and molecular biology.

But Luke and Ryan were fast friends---and beer enthusiasts. The two began with a homebrew kit Luke gave to, then took from, his sister. Soon the conversations began taking on an entrepreneurial tone.

"My parents knew something like this was going to happen," Ryan would say years later, the president of a beer company sipping a bottle of his own brew while working the bottling line. "Two of my sisters are investment bankers . . . so two out of three ain't bad."

Luke took a year off from Colby to ski competitively, so he had another year to study when Ryan graduated in 1997. And though the details were still hazy by graduation, the two pledged to make their brewery a reality.

Sinclair, who had sat in on the brewery talks but wasn't sure where they were heading, took a job teaching physics. But Ryan, who landed a job as a researcher for a pharmaceutical company, was biding his time. The biology and economics double major spent most of the year perfecting a business plan.

Luke, meanwhile, was working towards graduation and perfecting his brewing skills. Some weekends he'd drive to Skowhegan to volunteer at the Oak Pond Brewery. "People were going for interviews and I was going to start a brewery," he said.

Luke and Ryan connected again after graduation and reached out to Sinclair, who signed on despite some parental apprehension. Rafferty, a Washington state native, came on board as vice president of operations.

But, of course, there was no boardroom, no headquarters. The team only picked Newport because it had a booming tourist population and no microbreweries. They then raised $300,000 of start-up money, about 60 percent of which came from family and friends. The team wasn't asking for handouts; they wanted investors. "A lot of our investors sit on our board of directors," Ryan said. "And over the past few years, their money has been safer in this company than in Yahoo! or Dell."

Maybe, but so far nobody's getting rich. Their company is flourishing, but only because of what business school types call "stick-to-it-iveness." The partners share a house in downtown Newport but spend most of their time at the brewery or on the road on brewery business. Rafferty handles sales and much of the bookkeeping. Ryan, the president, oversees marketing. Luke is the brewmaster but shies from the title. Sinclair is the assistant brewmaster and resident troubleshooter.

Since Coastal Extreme Brewery launched its Newport Storm brand beer in 1999, expansion has been slow but calculated as the first years have been spent building a name. The company sponsored concerts and got their beer on tap at the Providence Civic Center. Newport Life magazine named Hurricane Amber the best locally produced product. Newport Storm runs television spots that are minimalist theater. In one, a bartender wrings out his rag into a patron's glass ("Good to the last drop"). When the brewers offered a lifetime supply of beer to anyone who got a tattoo of their logo, The Advertiser quipped, "Just think how many beer logos one beer gut could take."

For the record, a member of the Warwick, R.I., branch of the Hell's Angels gets a six-pack a month for life. The tattoo is on his arm.

For their next trick, the Coastal Extreme boys are planning a late-2003 expansion to Newport Beach, Calif., a laid-back town with a convenient name and, they hope, a lot of thirsty people.

 


FEATURES:
Dark Days
Students, alumni and healthcare providers talk depression and
the ways they address it at Colby.

Peace in Phnom Penh
Jim Cousins '75 has found refuge, rejuvination in the still-rebuilding Cambodian capital.

A Liberal Arts Resume
What did successful alumni in the business world study at Colby?

8 Mile High
With Eminem on his client list, entertainment lawyer Randall Cutler '91 is all about hip hop.

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