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Michigan's first beer co-op to begin selling memberships

After a long and, at times, tedious process, High Five Co-Op Brewery will begin to sell memberships on September 9.
Mayor George Heartwell and Dallas McCulloch give a thumbs up at the High Five Trash Free Tasting Party.

Mayor George Heartwell and Dallas McCulloch give a thumbs up at the High Five Trash Free Tasting Party. /Courtesy of High Five Co-op Brewery

Details for those interested in becoming co-op members of High Five Co-Op Brewery

  • One membership for a one-time fee of $150
  • Mug club benefits, with the possibility of imperial pints (19.2 oz.) the same price as a regular pint (16 oz.)
  • One vote in annual board elections and membership meetings
  • A member cannot own more than one membership
  • Members cannot sell memberships to any third party


If you are interested in purchasing a co-op membership to High Five Co-Op Brewery, RSVP to attend the membership buy-in party at Harmony Brewing Company.

High Five Co-op Brewery visits Harmony Brewing Co.

High Five Co-op Brewery visits Harmony Brewing Co. /Courtesy of High Five Co-op Brewery

High Five Co-op Brewery supporters.

High Five Co-op Brewery supporters. /Courtesy of High Five Co-op Brewery

It's been a long journey for High Five Co-Op Brewery. With their bylaws in place and legalities in order, the time has finally come: High Five will begin selling membership certificates to Michigan’s first ever beer co-op on September 9, 2013 at Harmony Brewing Company.

According to their finalized bylaws, one person can buy a membership certificate for a one-time fee of $150. Co-op members will receive mug club benefits, with the possibility of 19.2 oz. imperial pints the same price as regular 16 oz. pints, and will also have one vote in annual board elections and membership meetings. No one can buy more than one membership and no one is allowed to sell their membership to a third party.

The board for the High Five Co-Op Brewery will consist of nine directors. Seven directors will be decided by co-op members, one will be nominated by the brewers, and one director nominated by the front of the house personnel.

“We felt this was an appropriate way to give the members lots of power to influence the decision-makers at their brewery, while still giving the people who actually work there a lot of say as well,” says Jorel Van Os, Vice President of High Five.

High Five first entered public consciousness at a December 2011 5x5 Night event where aspiring entrepreneurs submitted business ideas online and jockeyed for votes in order to win $5,000 to help jumpstart their business idea.

Dallas McCulloch presented his idea for High Five Co-Op Brewery, wowed voters and took home the seed money.

After a flurry of activity after his December 5x5 Night presentation, things began to slow down for McCulloch and High Five, and the path to creating a legally functioning beer co-op became muddled and complicated.

One large obstacle was finally submitting their Articles of Incorporation in order become a legal co-op in the State of Michigan. After submitting the articles to the state on July 4, High Five officially announced their status as a legal co-op on July 11, via their facebook page.

“A lot of people haven’t heard anything from us,” says Van Os. “But we don’t have much to show because it’s legal stuff, it’s working on bylaws.”

Typically co-ops begin by figuring out bylaws and how they will operate. They then elect a board and release shares. Since High Five plans on brewing and selling alcohol, there has been some hurdles, both expected and not.

“There is a lot more red tape than we had realized,” says McCulloch. “You’re having to deal with cooperative law and you’re dealing with Michigan liquor law.”

McCulloch references the archaic Michigan laws from the prohibition era. The Windsor-Detroit border was a main passageway for alcohol smugglers when alcohol was prohibited during the early 20th century.

“There are still laws on the book that are essentially trying to make it so mob connections can’t monopolize the trade,” says McCulloch.

The irony isn’t lost on High Five that the largest barriers to forming a democratic, community-based brewing collaborative were laws put in place to stop one organization from controlling alcohol trade in Michigan. High Five realizes that they are blazing a trail in Michigan.

“It’s never been done,” says Van Os. “No one has gone this route before. Ever.”

It’s a brand new idea. At least in Michigan.

High Five models itself after Black Star Co-Op Pub and Brewery in Austin, TX. However, High Five is distinguishing themselves by focusing on transparency, education, openness and democracy.They have received great support from the strong brewing culture in Grand Rapids.

McCulloch references how the brewing and beer-loving community automatically flocked to meetings and became involved with the co-op at its inception. O’Conner’s Homebrew Supply, local homebrewers and local cooperatively run diner Bartertown have shown their support.

Other local breweries have also given their support, and High Five even had a special limited public taste testing of a wheat IPA at Harmony Brewing in November of 2012.

“The game plan was to have it match up with when we would be able to start actually selling our shares,” says McCulloch.

And just as McCulloch won voters over with the concept of a beer co-op, he won people over with High Five’s first public beer offering.

“[Mayor George] Heartwell liked it,” laughs Van Os. “[We] never expected to make politician friends.”

Another political figure, 16th District Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen, was an early supporter.

“He likes biking and beer and homebrewing,” chuckles Van Os.

“My birthday last year,” laughs McCulloch, “[Talen] rode his bike to my house and dropped me off some IPA.”

While much of High Five’s focus will be on community, democracy and transparency, beer is certainly the central connecting piece.

“I can talk about the co-op model all day and how awesome it is,” says Van OS. “But until you’ve had our beer, it means nothing.”

Grand Rapids is one step closer to finally being able to share a tall, frosty and co-operatively brewed imperial pint.

If you are interested in purchasing a co-op membership to High Five Co-Op Brewery, RSVP to attend the Membership buy-in party at Harmony Brewing Company.

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