After leaving their jobs in 2008, Jeff and Linda Greene searched to find a business they could start in Eastern Washington, close to their roots. Jeff, who’s 50, had spent more than 20 years working with manufacturing companies. His wife Linda, 46, had worked in a number of administrative and management jobs.
Like many first-time entrepreneurs, the Greenes expected to hit rough waters as they launched their first business, Pullman-based Palouse Falls Brewing Co.
It didn’t take long before they were smacked by a bow wave of painful startup problems.
Within several months of starting the brewery, the Greenes had to adjust their plan drastically, after running into serious quality issues with their original brewing partner.
Like other entrepreneurs needing a solution, they hit the reset button and found another brewing partner to guide them through the challenges of putting a good beer in front of regional customers.
“We could have taken our lumps and thrown in the towel,” Jeff Greene said. “But we had both Linda’s and my resolve that business is all about ebb and flow.”
In late 2008 the Greenes invested a significant amount to become one of the first U.S. distributors of high-quality, unique beers developed by a Northern Ireland firm, Strangford Lough Brewing Co.
But after converting a Pullman building into the Palouse Falls brewery, the Greenes discovered that the wort – the condensed malt extract – sent by the Irish company was producing beer of inferior quality.
Earlier this fall the Greenes filed suit against Strangford Lough and its owners, alleging that the company breached their contract.
Tony Davies, managing director of Strangford Lough, based in Killyleagh, Northern Ireland, denies the Greenes’ allegations, adding his company has met its obligations and would like to resolve the Palouse Falls issue outside of court.
Networking provided solution
For the Greenes, the key to recovering from the setback was their business network. They had met Gary McMorris, a salesman for a chemical ingredients firm, who told them about Mark Irvin, head brewer at Spokane’s Northern Lights Brewing Co. for 16 years.
Irvin met with the Greenes and quickly formed a deal with Palouse Falls Brewing Co.
The result: This fall the Greenes produced their first kegs of beer, offering four brands for sale: Crimson Pride, Idaho Gold, Kamiah IPA and Steptoe Stout.
Irvin is not a partner in Palouse Falls. Instead, their arrangement has Irvin mixing four exclusive wort batches in Spokane, then shipping them to the Palouse Falls building.
In the Pullman brewery Jeff and Linda Greene handle the final finish steps – transferring the mix to a fermentation vessel, filtering it, transferring to a brite tank, carbonating, and then, after two or three weeks, transferring the beer into kegs.
For now Palouse Falls Brewing Co. only sells beer on draft or in kegs for events. In time the Greenes plan to bottle their beer and sell it through retail outlets.
“We are a microbrewery with full-out capacity of 8,000 barrels per year,” Jeff Greene said. “It is too early to determine how many barrels we’ll produce this year, but we will only be running 10 to 15 percent of capacity for now.”
Irvin said his arrangement with the Greenes is intriguing and lucrative, although he declined to say how much he’ll be paid for mixing worts for Palouse Falls.
“I wanted to do this partly as a good Samaritan, and partly to make a little something,” Irvin said.
For anyone with experience brewing, it’s not hard to develop distinct flavor profiles for another brewery, Irvin added. “Yes, you’re using some basic styles or types (like stouts or IPAs). But how you alter the variables, the kind of ingredients you use and in what amount and the type of malt. It all creates a distinct taste.”
The Greenes and Irvin also have discussed possibly becoming a regional hub for brewing and distributing microbrews across the region. Jeff Greene said he was impressed by the success of Granite City Brew Pubs, an Iowa company that produces a selection of microbeers and delivers them to more than a dozen microbreweries in that area.
Granite City Brew, in fact, patented that process, calling it Fermentus Interruptus. It’s a larger, more commercialized version of what Irvin does for Palouse Falls Brewing Co.
“That approach provides a consistency of the product and simplifies the breweries’ investments,” Jeff said.
‘Needed to find another way’
Back in 2008, as the Greenes considered new careers, they were a few must-haves: Because they had two sons at Washington State University and family members nearby, they wanted to be within 200 miles of Pullman.
They also wanted to start their own business that allowed them both to use their strengths.
The idea of a brewery, once they found it, seemed to have very strong potential. Doing their research, the Greenes understood making beer can be complex – raising capital, dealing with regulations, investing a large amount in equipment and then operating a facility.
They managed nearly all those hurdles, until they hit the impasse with Strangford Lough. They confess to a moment of doubt.
But they looked at their options and concluded their business instincts were correct.
Said Jeff Greene: “We were confident there’s a solid market on the Palouse for quality beer. So we simply knew from our market research that the need was out there. We just needed to find another way to do it.”
Along the way, they came to realize that beer-making – at the microbrewery level – is mostly a congenial and supportive industry.
“It’s not as competitive as the business I came from,” Jeff Greene said. “We were encouraged by how collaborative this industry is and how helpful people are to others. They realize that the larger number of craft brewers that succeed, the better the whole market is.”
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