The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2015

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42  /  the tasting panel  /  july 2015 A LONE STAR LIFE W hen Johnny Livesay tells me the origin story for Austin's Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery, it's just about what I'd expect for such a socialistic concept: "It was the idea of Steven Yark, who wanted to originally open a community-owned beer bar. And on January 14, 2006, he held a meeting in a field, a couple blocks away from here, and I was standing in that field as he talked about his idea for a workers' self-managed business that would be owned, essentially, by a local community." Yark wanted to bring the element of social justice to the craft beer world, and Livesay, who is Black Star's Kitchen Team Leader along with its co-founder, actually had co-op experience back then. While he helped the fledgling group navigate the Texas cooperative statute, the membership rolls swelled through back- yard beer socials; and the idea kept building towards an actual building. Today, in addition to inhabiting a brick-and-mortar-and- fermentation-tank brewpub (opened September 2010), Black Star boasts 3,300-plus member-owners and bragging rights as the first brewpub in the country based on the principles of cooperation. That doesn't mean that the collective ownership must meet every time Livesay needs to, say, order a new part for a blender. "We set it up for the workers to have a right to self-management," he says, explaining that day-to-day operations are essentially the same as non-co-op businesses. "But from the service aspect, I really enjoy that we're cooperatively owned. We have a built-in clientele and we pay a fair wage [no tipping permitted]." Livesay is quick to add that while Black Star's concept was idealistic for social justice, it was also idealistic for craft beer and good food: "More people come for the quality of the products." That includes Livesay's cooking paired with beer from Beer Team Leader and Head Brewer Andy Martinec, who found himself lost in the neighborhood about two years ago when he spotted a "Community Owned Beer" sign in the window. "And I thought, 'I want to do that," he says. Martinec typically brews twice a week, including Black Star's popular Vulcan American-style IPA and its sour mash wheat beer, Waterloo. And while member-owners do have input into the beer menu, he enjoys enough freedom and liberty to experiment and bring to tap the kinds of beers that keep him excited as a brewer. Black Star is not, after all, a tyranny of the majority. "Co-ops in general are mysterious to many people," Livesay admits. "But they're moving back into mainstream consciousness. Beer, though, has always been a very social lubricant. The overlap between beer people and co-op people is pretty high. You can definitely organize people through beer." Co-op Comrades: Johnny Livesay (left) and Andy Martinec of Austin's Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery in Austin, Texas. Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery's Beer Team Leader and Head Brewer Andy Martinec typically brews twice a week. Sharing the Suds AUSTIN'S ORIGINAL COMMUNITY- OWNED BREWPUB DEMONSTRATES BEER'S POWER TO ORGANIZE PHOTO: KIRK WEDDLE by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle

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