by Melissa Piper Nelson
When Matt Miller discusses brewing and beer, you want to listen. That’s because he speaks from experience and with a great appreciation of the craft. His favorite subject is brewing sour beers and he is eloquent about their creation from multiple yeasts, the fermentation methods and their special characteristics. What started as a hobby nearly a decade ago will soon become a reality for Matt and his business and life partner, Cole Taylor, when they open Mellow Mink Brewing Inc. early this summer in Mechanicsburg, PA.
From hobby to how Mellow Mink got some kick-start capital, their story is as interesting as the brews being planned. Mellow Mink was one of 13 small business projects to receive low interest loans backed by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA), which was announced earlier this year by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Mellow Mink was approved for a $98,300, 10-year loan at a two percent fixed rate through the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation (CAEDC). Miller said the funding will be used to purchase machinery and brewing equipment for the new business. In turn, Mellow Mink will ultimately create up to 10 part- and full-time jobs and support other businesses by purchasing locally-sourced ingredients and materials.
PIDA loans are packaged and underwritten by a network of certified economic development organizations (CEDOs) that partner with PIDA to administer the program. The loans may be used for land and building acquisitions; construction and renovation costs; machinery and equipment purchases; working capital and accounts receivable lines of credit; multi-tenant facility projects; and industrial park projects. Similar grant and loan programs exist across the U.S. and start-ups can tap into these types of funds by working with local, regional and state economic development agencies or the Small Business Administration.
Miller and Taylor found out about the low interest loans and local support during a beer trail promotional event, and they worked with CAEDC to find the right mix of capital funding to help bring Mellow Mink on line. “We are truly grateful for the assistance we received from CAEDC,” said Miller. “While we developed our own business model from scratch, having the help to find funding for the venture was important for us.”
Mellow Mink’s venture matched one of the local tourism targets of promoting a beer trail destination in the Cumberland Valley. “As CAEDC is also the tourism promotion agency in Cumberland County, we recognize the value of supporting tourism-related businesses,” said Kristen Rowe, CAEDC’s director of marketing and communications. “We work with entrepreneurs like Matt to see how we can assist them in finding the funding they need to succeed,” she added. “Mellow Mink is an attraction-based business as well as manufacturing, which are both target industries in this region.”
In 2017, PIDA approved $65 million in low-interest loans which supported $199 million in private investment and over 3,000 jobs. “We wanted to have a name and face in our local community and this gives us that opportunity,” said Miller. Mellow Mink (the name comes from a marriage of comfort and relaxation with style, artistry and a commitment to the highest quality) will open in one of the region’s fastest growing townships and a tri-city area that abounds with restaurants, activities and entertainment opportunities.
Miller said now is culturally the time for the craft brewing businesses to take off. “We don’t see this as a flash trend,” he said. There are many factors driving the interest in craft brewing and boutique operations, said Miller. He should know, too, as he has written a popular sour beer craft brewing blog for the past four years. He is also a pharmacist who comes to the business with a scientific and research background.
In short, as Miller — or as his blog persona, “Dr. Lambic” — said, sour beers, made from a mixed culture fermentation process, are blended to create products with balanced acidity and depth of flavor. Miller said Mellow Mink intends to combine traditional sour beer methods with modern science to “craft a diverse array of sour and farmhouse style beers.” Mellow Mink beers, said Miller, will “embrace local terroir, rotate and change with the seasons, and make use of fruits, flowers and spices.” Mellow Mink will also serve popular lagers, IPAs and stouts as well.
Miller and Taylor plan to match production with sales but predict a 300-barrel production their first year. “We want to highlight the artistry of craft brewing and we are looking at sour beers as a niche market gaining in popularity.”
Working with county and state economic development groups has offered these entrepreneurs the leg-up to move from hobby brewing to opening a business with local roots. What does Miller suggest to other brew entrepreneurs? “Do your research, know your business and search out local and state entities with the ability to help make your dreams come true.”