Brewer Magazine Q&A: Tom S. Cook, Von Ebert Brewing

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Tom S. Cook, founder, Von Ebert Brewing — Portland, Oregon

BREWER: How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the beer market compared to a few years ago?
COOK: Being known for one thing is not enough anymore. The successful breweries are doing everything right. Branding, brewing (IPA, Lager, Mixed Culture, and others), brewpubs, experience, website, packaging, social media. You have to do all of these things (and others) right or you are going to be left in the dust.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
COOK: I think I am a little unique in that I have really learned from all of my brewers and team members, past and present. I don’t come from a brewing background, but I ask a lot of questions. I think I can hold my own on the items that I mentioned above (okay, okay, our website isn’t the best), but when I first started, I was learning on the fly and my team had and still has a tremendous amount of influence over what direction we go. All of my direct reports all have more time in this industry than I have, which was part of the reason I hired them.

BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
COOK: I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I think it can be challenging to be the founder of a brewery, yet be willing to yield decision making to your team, even though that is why you hired them in the first place. A perfect example is a couple of our last couple of award-winning beers. Obeisance out of our Glendoveer brewery won gold at GABF and it had some awesome ingredients that I had never even heard of, but the brewers wanted to try it and I thought it sounded fun. The Pearl won Gold at the Oregon Beer Awards for Fresh Hop IPA. We used a process that I have never heard of and really had never thought through before. It worked incredibly well and was an idea from the brewers, not me. Bottom line, there are times when you need to make decisions and there are times when you need to listen to your team and let them make things happen.

BREWER: Can you touch on something your brewery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
COOK: Packaging. I think the general public doesn’t consider you a real brewery until you package. It is really unfortunate because there are so many pub-only and draft-only (Barley Brown’s comes to mind) breweries out there that people should know about, but that just isn’t how it works.

BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
COOK: Group Purchasing. I really think that a lot of local/regional breweries have massive opportunities to save money with suppliers if we purchased things together instead of all independently. Many of us are buying the same things, but we have never really pooled our purchasing to go to suppliers and ask for a discount if we all agree to buy ‘X’ amount of a product.

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