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Burlington Beer Fans Aim for a Co-op Brewery

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Imagine this: You and your pals are thirsty for a beer. You head down to your local brewery and settle in for suds and dinner. The brew you order is your own creation, which won the brewery's monthly contest to be featured as a special. And that's not your only stake in the spot: You're a cooperative owner.

That fantasy could become reality for brew fans sooner than they think. The Burlington Cooperative BrewPub Project launched on Facebook on the last day of March and quickly began generating buzz among beer lovers.

According to Matthew Cropp, the idea was inspired by the Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery, which opened in 2010 in Austin, Tx., after raising nearly half a million dollars in four years. It's not the only cooperative brewery in the country, but Cropp cites it as an influential example.

Cropp is an active member of Cooperative Vermont, an organization that, according to its Facebook page, works on "raising awareness about Vermont co-ops and growing our cooperative economy." He says he's been pitching the idea of Vermont's first collective brewery to other Burlington beer aficionados for the past year, but recently decided the time was right to take concrete steps. The first public discussions will happen on April 16 at Cooperative Vermont's Co-op Socials Series at Barre's Quarry Grill & Tavern. There, besides introducing the BrewPub Project, the group will celebrate Granite City Grocery's proximity to its goal of opening a cooperative market. (It's approaching 800 members, says Cropp.)

Once the BrewPub endeavor gains general interest, Cropp goes on, organizers will begin a pledge drive. The aim is to gain a critical mass of shares, after which they'll collect pledges and appoint a board. Cropp hopes member loans will cover all the brewery's costs to get off the ground, enabling the enterprise to avoid getting lost in the "giant morass of red tape from the Cooperative Fund of New England."

Cropp says he's already had informal discussions with local brewers interested in becoming the co-op's first employees. Beers will likely include a few standards, as well as specials generated by monthly recipe contests. The ultimate goal is a full-scale brewery and restaurant based on the Black Star model. Now Cropp and co. will have to wait to see the pledges roll in.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Bubbling Up"

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