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The Man Behind the Bears Brewing Co. Kickstarter Wants to Give You an Outrageous Haircut

Last week, a Kickstarter campaign for a South Shore brewery popped up, featuring some ridiculous backer rewards. Promising restored bicycles plus maintenance, a custom haircut, and even lifetime tenancy at the hypothetical brewery, it does not exactly instill a sense of confidence in the business or its visionary, Alex Johnson from Kingston, Massachusetts.

Alex Johnson plans his hypothetical Bears Brewing Co. for this garage.
Alex Johnson plans his hypothetical Bears Brewing Co. for this garage.

Yet, amid the Blizzard of 2015, visions of enjoying a fresh growler of beer on the beach danced in our heads. So, we reached out to Bears Brewing Co.'s Johnson to learn how serious he is about the venture.

Spoiler alert: The 24-year-old didn’t expect anyone to take the Kickstarter campaign seriously. But "this is definitely something I want to do in my life," Johnson says. "Whether it’s in a year or if it’s in 10 years, it’s definitely going to happen."

The campaign description on the Kickstarter says you have spent the better part of a decade working in every aspect of the industry. What’s your background in the beer industry? Have you ever brewed?

I started out when I was 17; me and a bunch of my friends worked at this little country store, then an actual liquor store, doing backroom stuff. Then I got a second job at a liquor store; I started managing the whole beer thing. It specialized in wine, high-end stuff, and I applied that to their beer selection, too. About a day after I got fired [in June 2014], I started working at L. Knife. [Johnson currently works for L. Knife & Sons, a Kingston-based wholesale beverage distribution company, which has divisions around the United States. Johnson credits professional connections through the company for his career opportunities. He currently works for L. Knife's Vermont division, though he plans to return to Kingston at the end of this month.] I’ve done about a handful of batches [of homebrew.]

What’s the timeline on Bears Brewery?

I got the idea probably when I was 18 or 19. There’s a group of kids me and my friends would be around a lot, at parties and whatever, who would pronounce "beers" like "bear." My friends and I would make fun of them: "We have some beers if you want that." We made it a joke, and from there, we thought, "That’s actually a pretty good idea." [Throughout the rest of our conversation, Johnson mentions various product ideas the group has come up with: Grizzly Bear Double IPA, Brown Bear brown ale, Black Bear Black IPA, a winter ale called Polar Bear.] I want to do a 15-pack. I would call that one the Den.

[This guy] I’ve met a few times, I guess right now he’s second head brewer at some little brewer in New Hampshire. He’s kind of like the sous chef; he does all the work, you know, and the chef takes credit for it. Me and him should get together, because I know this industry very well, and he knows about making the beers. The two guys at Harpoon are kind of like me. They knew how to make beer, but they went out to UC Davis to find their brewer.

So, I was bored and thought I’d throw a Kickstarter up with really funny incentives as a shot in the dark. Maybe there’s some rich guy out there who finds this hilarious and will just throw me a ton of money.

Are the prizes for real? Where do you have access to possibly dozens of washing machines, can you tune a bike, are you a trained barber?

No. I have a good amount of bikes. The other background to the brewery: It’s my dad’s garage. The garage was just a hangout for me and my friends. Right after high school, we’d go to the dump for my dad a lot, and we’d find a lot of bikes there and fix ‘em up. We started going to, like, four different towns, all of their dumps, scabbing all their bikes and just fix ‘em and sell ‘em. I didn’t have any kind of legal business licensing; I just sold bikes out of a garage, and it was 100% profit. I still got a good amount of bikes, and I know if I ever want to, I can go to the dump, find bikes, and fix ‘em.

There’s limited supplies for washing machines; I only have one. My dad keeps hassling me to try to get rid of it.

The whole thing with haircuts: At the dump, I found an old barber’s chair. I gave haircuts for a while to [my friends.] The last haircut I gave a kid, it’s pretty outrageous. He grew out a sleazy mustache, and he wanted a combination mullet-rat tail with the sides shaved. He really liked it. He said I nailed it. I have done a few custom jobs. One of my other friends let me give him the haircut of my choice; we call it the "crazy monk." There’s one called the "shithead special," where I just take scissors and hack it up. I’ll give anyone any kind of haircut they want, but I think they’d be a little foolish to expect a lot from me. But I’ll do my best. It won’t be great, but it’ll be pretty funny at least.

Why did you choose such prizes?

I don’t have a whole lot to give. The only things of value would be t-shirts, and I said thongs, too, because I think that would be funny. I’ve already had two people pledge $100, so I have $200 to screenprint t-shirts and thongs. I only get the money if I reach $50,000. I’ll have more than enough to screenprint t-shirts. I’d be surprised if there are several people who are like, "Where’s my washing machine?" but I’d figure something out. There’s a lot of washing machines at the dump, too. The lifetime tenancy...if someone had $10,000 they needed to burn and they wanted to live in the brewery, that’s probably someone I’d want to be friends with. That’s no issue.

No offense, but do you think people take your campaign seriously?

No, definitely not. I knew from the get-go it was definitely a longshot. Because of your article, I’m up to $360 now [The campaign is actually up to $326, as of February 13], and that’s [326] more dollars than I thought I’d have. I did not expect people to take it seriously.

With Bears, do you have a team working with you?

I definitely have a lot of people interested. My whole group of friends are already my employees. My friend who would come to the dump with me, he designed the logo —Cobey Gray. I’m working with a guy right now who’s done a good amount of homebrewing; he’s on board, Matt Lewis. He lives in Essex, Vermont. The friend we were joking with when we came up with the idea is Brendan Rix. He’s not involved; he’s a cop now, weirdly enough. But I am never the type of person to not give credit where credit is due.

Why the $50,000 goal? What steps will you take with the money?

Like I said, I didn’t expect any money. But if I had a crystal ball, I’d probably have asked for more. But $50,000 would be a huge step. I’m pretty confident I could turn a profit. I could probably make a pretty good beer, and if I brought more people in, then I know that I’m pretty good with the marketing and stuff like that. I joked to my friend, I’ll just spend $50,000 on merchandise, sell it all and make $100,000, and then do it.

What if you don’t meet your goal?

This is definitely something I want to do in my life. If I’m walking home one night and find a duffel bag full of cash, I know exactly what I’m going to do with it. Whether it’s in a year or if it’s in 10 years, it’s definitely going to happen.

Alex Johnson has until February 20 to raise $50,000 for Bears Brewing Company on Kickstarter. If he misses the goal, the campaign collects no money.