What happens when your hobby outgrows its hobby status? If you are experimenting with making craft beer in your garage, you end up supplying the entire neighborhood. That is what happened to Aaron Barkenhagen ’07. His love of good beer and his loyalty to his Fullerton neighbors created a symbiotic relationship that still exists today. The name of his now much larger craft brewery is Bootlegger’s Brewery, a name which reflects back to the time he was passing out free beer to his neighbors.
Aaron did his business plan at CSUF on starting a craft brewery and credits his success to learning the entrepreneurial process in the business school. By 2008 he decided to turn his hobby into a business, and opened his first tasting room and brewery in Fullerton.
Now Aaron brews over 200 varieties of craft beer at his modern brewery, and his tasting room usually has about 25 different brews for customers to try at any one time. He has a seven-barrel and a 30 barrel brewing system with over 35 employees throughout the company who are all beer lovers and are dedicated to crafting quality products. Bootlegger’s brews complex beers that require artistry through hand brewing. Aaron’s brewery output runs about 625 full barrels per month. Creativity also helps when it comes to naming his own brews; one of his best is a double IPA called “Knuckle Sandwich,” although the most popular is “Far Out.”
Bootlegger’s and Aaron have won various awards for his beers including one in an international competition. Aaron won the Orange County Entrepreneur award in 2010. Bootlegger’s does over 20 special events per year, including one at Disneyland and another with the Los Angeles Angels baseball team.
Bootlegger’s breakout year was 2012 when it started distributing bottled and draft beer to local distributors, and now Aaron has 11 distributors serving Central and Southern California. Bootlegger’s is a family-owned LLC with Aaron’s wife Patricia as partner and manager of the tasting room. In a rather flat market Bootlegger’s is expanding and becoming a more dominant player in the Orange County craft brewery industry.
Aaron has, by trial and error, made Bootlegger’s a singular success. His success exemplifies all the qualities of a successful entrepreneur: he loves what he does, he obtained the knowledge needed, he has great employee relations, and he has never forgotten his local beer enthusiasts’ base. Now he shares his success by mentoring entrepreneur classes at CSUF’s Mihaylo School of Business.
One final word about loyal customers. The Bootlegger’s tasting room has no flashing sign advertising its location. In fact it has no sign at all. When asked why, Aaron replies “Don’t need it.”
Written by Professor Jeff Longshaw, edited by Travis Lindsay
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