Democracy Brewing Crowdfunds a South Boston Launch

Boston's first fully worker-owned brewery is appealing to a pro-beer voting bloc.

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There’s a reason why the president met with Harvard professor and the Cambridge Police sergeant over a couple of pints at the historic “beer summit” back in 2009. The agreeable beverage has long been on the table during turbulent times—consider the well-documented history of the colonial tavern, not only as a place to have a beer, but also as the centerpiece of early democracy. Boston was settled in 1630, and by 1633, it had its first pub. The early courts conducted hearings at such establishments, and the Sons of Liberty planned a Revolution over their pints.

Now, two local entrepreneurs are looking at this history as they ferment—er, foment—their own plans for an all-American business. Democracy Brewing is the effort of James Razsa, a beer fan and community organizer, and brewer Jason Taggart. With a newly launched IndieGoGo fundraiser, it is poised to become Boston’s first entirely worker-owned, cooperative brewery. So far, Razsa and Taggart are the only employees, though they have a five-member board of directors signed on.

Democracy Brewing on it is set up so that every employee owns a share of the corporation, and therefore has a vested interest in its success, Razsa explains in a crowdfunding campaign video. (Harpoon became partially employee-owned in 2014, with shareholders selling 48 percent of the company stock to an ESOP, or Employee Owned Stock Program.)

“The people making the decisions are the people that are going to be the people working there every day, that sees any problem that can arise,” Taggart says in the video.

Democracy Brewing is eyeing a space near Andrew Square on the border of South Boston and Dorchester, according to its website. It will also be a hub for community groups, including union members, immigrants, and others, to organize—over a couple pints, of course. The plan is to build out a 15-barrel brewhouse, a bar area with 10 draft lines, plus a separate events space that groups can reserve for meetings, arts performances, and other non-profit endeavors. On nights when there isn’t a activist gathering in the events space, Democracy Brewing will host live music and movie screenings, too.

The idea stems from Razsa’s background as an economic justice organizer, with groups like Young Workers United, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Jobs with Justice, and as an intern at the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives, as well as Equal Exchange, one of the country’s largest worker-owned cooperatives.

It’s also personal to Taggart. He developed his brewing chops at John Harvard’s in Cambridge, rising up to head brewer over a 15-year career there. Last year, the equipment was falling into disrepair, and the corporate ownership decided to shutter the brewery instead of investing in new equipment and maintenance.

“Looking at it from a corporate perspective, a board is more focused on making money, whereas in our instance with the workers owning the business, we have to focus on making a living wage,” he continues in an interview. “This isn’t something we’re looking to get rich by. With those guidelines, we can look for the right way to do things.”

Democracy Brewing is brewer Jason Taggart (L) and cofounder James Razsa

Democracy Brewing is brewer Jason Taggart (L) and cofounder James Razsa. / Photo courtesy of Democracy Brewing via YouTube

While he had such freedom at John Harvard’s, Taggart is looking forward to being his own boss when it comes to the beer, too.

“It’s always been a dream to have, not a totalitarian sort of way, but control over what I can make, what our ideas are, what our concept should be,” he says. “Owning your own business, it’s kind of like the American dream.”

Taggart is developing recipes ranging from a light-bodied Workers Pint, to a roasty brown ale called First Lady of Roxbury, to the Consummate Rioter double IPA. He plans to create an array of core styles, plus rotating experiments and seasonal offerings. He hopes to have eight beers available at any time, with room for 10 lines.

With the location yet to be nailed down, plans could change, but Democracy Brewing is also considering building out a commissary kitchen for startup food trucks to use, which could also park on-site as a dining option for brewery patrons, Taggart says.

Razsa and Taggart are asking for $30,000 to help fund a down payment for the leased space, as well as initial permitting costs. The duo is in talks with various mission-based investors and lenders, too. If they secure the Andrew Square space, buildout could begin in January with a summer 2017 debut, Taggart says.