A chance: it’s all anyone starting out in his or her career can hope for. In today’s world not many businesses are willing to take a chance on someone who has no previous work experience besides selling suits at a Jos. A. Banks and cleaning cars.
With little industry knowledge, I was hired as an intern at Braxton Brewing Co. when they were just 9 weeks young. I’ll be the first to admit I was under qualified and I know at times there were doubts if it was even worth it for them, but without the team at Braxton, I would not be where I am today.
The Stars Aligned
It was one of those chance moments where everything had to fall into place. I was a junior at Indiana University where I was hoping to be accepted into an exchange program with a school in Glasgow, Scotland. I wanted to spend time in the city where my great grandfather was born and his family had called home.
That opportunity didn’t pan out, so the courses I had taken during a prior summer allowed me to work as a senior during my junior year. I took nearly every senior level marketing course the business school offered. One of these courses was M415: Advertising and Integrated Marketing Communications. Our course included casework for a former student of my professor. The student was Braxton Brewing Company CEO Jake Rouse. Jake visited our class with Purdue graduate and head of marketing for Braxton, Jonathan Gandolf.
Jake and Jonathan met while working at ExactTarget prior to its purchase by Salesforce (a cloud computing company). The two had recently come off the most successful Kickstarter campaign for a brewery in the website’s history. Raising close to $72,000 and blazing past their fundraising goal, the brewery was becoming a reality. The branding was created and the only piece left was to finish building the brewery. Braxton sought the help of some college students for an outside opinion on marketing their business and as students we happily obliged.
To a college student, the idea of spending a semester on casework for a brewery was as if the heavens parted and presented us the case of the decade. Research would be going to the local craft beer bar and liquor stores to unearth knowledge about an industry none of my teammates and I were familiar with. Sure, we had enjoyed drinking beer in the past, but wheat ales, lagers, and knowing that India Pale Ales existed was where we drew the line.
So How Was The Case?
The Braxton crew presented their business plan, core beers, goals, and idea for the brewery and as teams of five we needed to come up with ideas and complete marketing strategies. The teams met with Jake and Jonathan to see if we were on the right track while they answered questions we had about a brewery still finishing its construction. Eventually, I personally took a trip to Cincinnati and Covington to see the work in progress. I wanted to get a feel for what the space would be and how the world might see their work.
After a semester of work we presented to our professor, as she was the gatekeeper to the final round. The final round of presentations was in front of the class as well as Jake, Jonathan, faculty, Salesforce employees, and more. We received the highest scores in the class and the second semester seniors on my team were able to finally relax.
During this semester, I had been applying to advertising agencies for a chance at a summer internship. After career fairs and interviews went by I was looking at the end of spring without an internship opportunity.
A company reached out during those final weeks of school and after several interviews offered me a position for 10 weeks. I would be working in one of Fortune magazine’s best places to work, but I wasn’t sold on the industry. In these final hours I was hoping and praying all of my hard work could possibly turn into an experience at Braxton. My professor had been talking about the possibility of Braxton having an opening for an intern to help with the workload Jonathan and Jake were dealing with in their first six months. There was uncertainty from the two what an internship would look like in their young brewery and if they had the money to pay me.
As the timer for accepting my offer to the other corporation was about to expire I was offered a 10-week role at Braxton in Covington, Kentucky. I was over the moon with excitement. I have always enjoyed being creative and to spend a summer gaining entrepreneurial experience away from the typical business setting was an incredible opportunity, one I knew in my gut was the right decision.
Fast-forward to June, I was working at Braxton Brewing Co. and felt like I was part of something. I was proud to be there no matter how small a role I was playing. Braxton was and to this day makes a difference in their community. The Rouse family at Braxton genuinely cares about making a positive impact in Covington. They created a beer called Trophy (Single Hop Pale Ale, 5% ABV), where 5% of all sales go back into the Covington community. The beer rotates its hop profile every quarter; the first batch was loaded up with Hull Melon hops and it smelled incredible.
Just Hold On
Braxton, as Jonathan would say, is somewhat of a rocket ship; it has grown tremendously since opening March 27, 2015. A brewery that used to only distribute to Northern Kentucky now distributes to most of Kentucky and southern Ohio. A four-month old brewery was continuing to gain recognition not only in local news, but also national craft beer conferences. While I was working, Jake presented at the first Brewbound Startup Brewery Challenge with a clear goal and picture for what Braxton was, a brewery born in the garage with his brother Evan and his father Greg. Braxton won the competition and would eventually brew a collaboration beer, Shoptalk (Imperial IPA, 10% ABV), with Widmer Brothers. Michael Kiser, who served as a judge in the competition, helped put together a short film about the collaboration on Learning Curve (Widmer Brother’s Collaboration Series).
However, all of this wasn’t just fun and games. I vividly remember the moment my eyes were opened to the kind of pressure that is on individuals who open their own businesses. Jake was told by his own doctor he needed to take a vacation. There’s no room for error and I was still in the classroom mindset where I would come up with several options, revise, try again, and go with it. I quickly learned to be concise, immediate, and to not bother presenting solutions without polish and a clear return on investment.
I was an intern in a 9-week-old company who had no previous experience in a startup or a brewery. I know I was the most passionate student in that classroom for the job, but I was a rookie to my coworkers. During my 10 weeks, Braxton launched Trophy, a coffee program with Carabello Coffee in Newport, KY, new co-working space hours, and brewed Dark Charge (Imperial Stout, 10% ABV).
The experience I gained working in this space was in so many different areas. I would spend time packaging whole bean coffee from Carabello, pricing coffee, creating signage for various events, running social media, and also the occasional proofread for new packaging.
Throughout all of this I remained appreciative that I was given a chance. Individuals in the beer industry improve their chops at other breweries creating almost a family tree of where they have gone. These kinds of stories happen all over the country and I am thankful that my starting point in the industry was with some of the smartest individuals in the Midwest.
Today, I currently oversee on-premise sales for MillerCoors in East Tennessee with a passion as strong as ever for beer. The Braxton team has added more staff, launched phenomenal beers ranging from a Dortmunder Lager, robust porter, cream ale, scotch ales, and a top-notch barrel program. Their space has been quickly filled with a canning line, new fermentation vessels, a centrifuge, and larger bright tanks.
What started in the garage for the Rouse family has evolved into a catalyst for change in Northern Kentucky. People don’t expect well-executed beer like Braxton is producing to come from the bourbon capitol of the world, but they’re doing it one pint at a time. It is a rocket ship they are riding and it was a blast to be a part of it during stage one. I will forever be grateful to the Rouse family, Jonathan, and the rest of the team at Braxton for giving me a chance.
Writing & Photography by yours truly.