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Dave Engbers Discusses Founders Brewing Co.'s 25th Anniversary

Dave Engbers, Co-Founder and President of Founders Brewing Co., spoke to our Managing Editor about his famed company’s 25th anniversary.

Dave Engbers Discusses Founders Brewing Co.'s 25th Anniversary

Dave Engbers, Co-Founder and President of Founders Brewing Co., spoke to our Managing Editor about his famed company’s 25th anniversary.

Did you envision Founders being a pillar of beer and brewing 25 years on from when it was founded?

No way. The catalyst to opening the brewery was mainly driven by a desire to bring people together. Our dream of starting a brewery was driven by our spirit for creating a better beer for our local community and providing a space that would give beer enthusiasts a place to hang out, listen to music and meet others who demanded better beer. When we realized that the craft beer audience was extremely limited back in the 90s, we had to be intentional on bringing people into the conversation. Ultimately, we realized that beer could be the conduit to bring people together while introducing a new audience to craft beer.

Do you have a favorite beer that you've brewed over the years?

Our beers are like our children. We don’t have favorites. We love and respect them all for their unique nuances and characteristics. That’s one of the great things about beer. There is no right or wrong. All of us are intrinsically unique and taste and experience everything differently. It’s also situational. There is a time and place for different styles, but most of the time you will find me with some type of IPA. 

Tell us about Founders' sustainability initiatives more in-depth.

We are located in the lower peninsula of Michigan, in the heart of the Great Lakes Watershed. Twenty percent of the world’s surface fresh water is our backyard. It’s a big deal. We have a fantastic natural resource in water and recognize how important it is for us to conserve that resource. As a brewery, we all use a lot of water to do what we do and should recognize how important it is to conserve our water usage the best we can. As a larger brewery, we are fortunate to have scale, which allows us to make more beer with less water. We have a great team who continue to push for continuous improvement from an energy and efficiency standpoint. We have always pushed to be great stewards of our environment, but we recognize that we need to continue to look at new technology and processes that will allow us to do better.

Tell us one of your favorite memories from the past 25 years at Founders.

We have so many amazing memories throughout the years. One of the events that I will never forget and always brings a smile was the opening of our current Grand Rapids location. We had spent our first 10 years at our original location in the Wolverine Brass Works building, which had by then served its purpose. 

It took time, but over the years we had slowly developed a growing group of extremely loyal friends and beer enthusiasts, which we affectionately called the Founders Family.  Our taproom was truly the heart and soul of the brewery and what has helped us build and define our brand. It was this Founders Family that kept our business afloat while our distribution sales lagged behind. 

When we were finally able to find a new location and complete our initial build-out of our new facility, we had an extreme amount of anxiety about whether our Founders Family would continue to support us through the move to a much larger taproom. In an effort to thank our “regulars” and folks that had supported us throughout our tumultuous first 10 years, we opened our new location, not to our investors, bankers and accountants but to the group who had been in our corner throughout our difficult first years. The new taproom was nearly four times the size of our original space, but when the doors opened, we filled the entire room in less than seven minutes. It was at that moment that I knew our new space was going to be a success.

How do you feel about the state of the beer industry?

I’m extremely optimistic about the future of beer. Obviously, the beer category has suffered numerous challenges in the past few years with competing categories of seltzers and ready-to-drink cocktails along with the legalization of cannabis. But beer seems to be resilient.  It seems to me that beer perseveres and keeps “chugging” along. The younger generations play with the trends but ultimately always find their way back to everyone’s favorite social beverage – and that is beer. With the staggering amount of local and regional breweries that have opened in the last few years, the consumers have so many choices on what brands and styles to imbibe, so beer will continue to be part of the social landscape. Beer isn’t going anywhere.

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