Beer, Wine & Spirits

Not just for firemen: One brew stokes flames of sizzling market

Courtesy Fireman's Brew

It's no secret that craft beer is hot. The nearly $20 billion market has more than 3,400 breweries in operation, sending volume surging 18 percent and pushing its market share to 11 percent, according to Brewers Association figures.

With the industry's growth sizzling, a scramble is under way by some breweries to secure capital to fuel their growth. Lucky for one Los Angeles-based craft operation, it's no stranger to feeling the heat.

Fireman's Brew, started by a pair of firefighters, is hoping a private stock offering can help keep it on a steady growth path as it looks to keep pace with the rest of the fast moving industry. The company is aiming to raise $5 million dollars via the sale of four million shares of common stock at $1.25 per share, with a minimum purchase requirement of 4,000 shares for $5,000.

In total, the new round of funding would represent about 27 percent of the company, a sum that Fireman's Brew's leadership thinks is just right for its current needs.

"At some point we'd love to get private equity money but we're not yet in a position where we need $20 million," David Johnson, chief operating officer of Fireman's Brew, told CNBC in an interview. "We're raising a lower amount of money than a lot of private equity groups feel is worth it for them to even look at a deal."

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Fireman's Brew was founded in 2005 by two Los Angeles based firefighters, Rob Nowaczyk and Ed Walker, who say they were inspired to create a branded fireman's beer when relaxing after a long day fighting wildfires. Both have remained full-time firefighters as they have worked to build the brand.

Many new companies tend to take on loads of debt in order to fuel expansion hopes. However, Johnson says the company has taken a measured approached to its growth, looking to raise and deploy smaller amounts of capital with a focus on avoiding debt.

"We built this company on zero debt, and I'm very averse to debt for a small company" he said. "In my mind it's a good way to go. Equity can't put you out of business but debt can in a hurry."

Fireman's Brew has undertaken previous stock offerings before. The first round, in 2013, raised $883,000. Another sale in 2014 raised $1 million.

According to the company, the profile of many of its investors was a point of pride. Of its 177 current investors, more than 100 are active or retired firefighters.

"Some of these firemen are buying and hanging up their Fireman's Brew stock certificates, just like a lot of Green Bay Packers fans have their stock certificates hanging up on the wall," said Johnson. "It's something that they are proud of and want to be a part of."

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Gentlemen prefer Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads

Courtesy Fireman's Brew

In a crowded marketplace, a brewery's back story can be critical to helping it stand out from the crowd. Johnson feels the company's ties to the firefighting community, through both its founders and investors, brings a level of brand legitimacy that gives Fireman's Brew an advantage.

"It gives us an opportunity to grow beyond our home base quicker because firefighters mean something to somebody no matter where you are in the country" he said. "So we're not tied into just being a Los Angeles beer. We are a beer that resonates with the public everywhere in the country whether you have heard of us or not."

The company sells three styles of beer: Blonde, a pilsner-style lager; Brunette, a German-style doublebock; and Redhead, an amber ale. It also sells a line of Fireman's Brew branded coffees and sodas.

While the company currently has distribution in 15 states, Johnson says it only employs one full time salesman: the goal with this current round of financing would be to increase that number to 20. Ramping up its sales team would help boost the sales numbers substantially for a brand that sold 50,000 cases last year.

Meanwhile, Fireman's Brew says it will consider an IPO when the timing is right, but fully acknowledges there is a long road to go before they get to that point.

"We need to keep growing the company, going deeper into markets we already have while continuing to add new markets" Johnson said.

"We're going to do it when we think the opportunity is right," he added. "We're not going to go public earlier just for the sake of going to public to say that were public."