If you’ve attended a beer festival in Nashville recently, there’s a chance you may have seen a tall, mullet-bearing man donning a cutoff shirt and cutoff jean shorts, or “jorts.” This tall — 6 foot 6, to be precise — man is Mark Dunkerley, but when he’s in his jorts and mullet, he answers to the name “Randy.” He’s also the man behind Jubilee Beer, a locally owned craft brewing company that donates half of its profits to the Oasis Center.
In addition to running Jubilee, Dunkerley serves as vice president of Development at Oasis, an innovative local nonprofit that has worked with Nashville’s youth since 1969. The Nashville native long dreamed of running his own craft brewing company, and after several right turns, he found his way back to his hometown.
The Vanderbilt graduate got the craft beer bug while attending Arizona State for graduate school. During a five-year hiatus from Nashville, he lived in Arizona and then Richmond, Va., where he planned to launch a beer company with a friend from school in 2008.
“The fall of 2008 was not a good time to start business,” Dunkerley admitted, laughing. “I quit my job in July, did a five-week barbecue tour across the country, took my time getting to Richmond, got there and then saw the drop in the market. I’m sitting with my buddy on the porch, drinking coffee, dreaming big and seeing the ticker update, and it’s like ‘The sky is falling, the world is ending. You just quit your job and tried to start a beer company.’ ”
While the downturn of the economy stalled plans to launch the business, it gave Dunkerley the opportunity to conduct due diligence regarding the craft brewing industry. Once he realized he couldn’t come up with the capital to build his own facility, he looked into contract brewing, in which a beer company utilizes an existing brewery with the capacity to take outside work.
“A lot of times, a brewery will start up with $2 million or so invested into a large facility that is idle for 80 percent of the time,” Dunkerley explained. “Obviously as you grow, your ability to contract-brew shrinks.”
With the absence of a large initial investment and operational overhead, Dunkerley says contract brewing is a much safer way to enter the beer business, and cites brands such as Sam Adams, Brooklyn Brewery and local brewer Blackstone as companies that have contract-brewed as they built their businesses.
Dunkerley’s initial contract was with Bluegrass Brewing Company in Louisville, where he was initially inspired to align with a nonprofit.
“BBC actually did contract brewing for a company called Horse Piss, which is where I got the idea for Jubilee,” he said. “Horse Piss is a Kentucky beer that gave a portion of their profits to disabled jockeys. I saw that and thought, ‘That would be cool to do something charitable.’ Fast-forward a year later, that ended up becoming Jubilee.”
BBC brewed and bottled Jubilee’s flagship beer, the Nut Brown Ale, an English-style ale. While the Nut Brown is currently on hiatus — Dunkerley says they hope to bring it back soon — Jubilee is focusing efforts on the new brew, Randy’s IPA, which is made just down the highway at Murfreesboro’s Mayday Brewery.
“I’d been looking for another brewing partner,” Dunkerley said. “BBC was having a lot of capacity issues, and I really wanted to bring it home locally. The guys at Mayday are great — we’re definitely kindred spirits in how we approach things, and they brew really good beer and have a good business plan.”
Randy’s IPA, which Dunkerley describes as a “typical IPA with enough hop character that appeals to a hop head, but with a smoother finish that’s more approachable,” is currently available in establishments throughout Middle Tennessee. Dunkerley plans to expand production and distribution once Mayday implements a canning line, but he wants to ensure that Jubilee’s growth doesn’t exceed his current capabilities.
“We’re looking at expansion as it makes sense,” he said. “We don’t want to expand too fast, to get volume up and then realize we can’t keep up with demand, so we want to grow slow, steady and consistent.”
Dunkerley was well into developing Jubilee — a name he chose by Googling “Tennessee history,” and which, as a term for a festive celebration or gathering, suited his branding — when he first heard about the Oasis Center. In 2009 he was meeting for coffee with a friend who worked at Oasis, and he was so impressed that he immediately signed on as a volunteer.
“I walked in the doors and just was amazed at the space itself. It has a really cool, inviting feel to it,” Dunkerley recalled. “I then learned about the work they do, and it was the kind of thing I wanted to be involved with: meeting youth where they are, and not having a cookie-cutter approach for how you have to do it. Figuring out what’s the best thing for the young person, which is not necessarily the best thing for the organization, which is the underlying current of what they do.”
Dunkerley, who was hired by the organization after his stint as a volunteer, is as enthusiastic when describing the Oasis Center as he is when describing his beer, perhaps even more so.
“Around here, we say, ‘Are you beating the odds or are you changing the odds?’ ” he said. “You need to be doing both, or we’ll be having the same conversation in 10 years. They have programs for youth in crisis who need help right now, and they’re also looking at it systemically — what are the drivers? Why are young people coming here? Can we get upstream and start working with some of those root causes? It’s a much more systemic, holistic approach.”
Dunkerley says the Oasis Center focuses on combating generational poverty with educational opportunities, promotes outreach programs in the foster care system to reduce issues such as homelessness and teenage pregnancy, and works extensively in the LGBT community, which comprises approximately 30 to 40 percent of homeless youths. The Oasis Center uses traditional institutional programs — like the nationally implemented Teen Outreach Program, or TOP — and creative, nontraditional methods to fulfill their mission of helping young people transition into a happy, healthy and productive adulthood.
“We’re an organization predicated by change,” he explained. “Our work is dynamic, and we’re typically at the forefront, pushing the envelope on a lot of issues, and also looking at how can we creatively do our work in a different way.
“The bike workshop is a great example of the Oasis Center’s entrepreneurial culture,” Dunkerley says of the program in which kids learn how to build their own custom bicycle.
“Two of the big issues that we face are childhood obesity and lack of transportation,” he continued. “This bike workshop hits at the heart of both of those and does it in a way that youth don’t even really know! If we started an ’Obesity and Transportation’ program, no one’s going to join that club!” he said, laughing.
At first glance, a craft brew company that promotes a youth organization may seem odd, but when Dunkerley explains it, it makes perfect sense.
“I was blown away by this place and what they did, and I was thinking, craft beer drinkers are, statistically, 25 to 54, affluent, educated — exactly who you want to be in front of from a philanthropic standpoint, as an organization,” Dunkerley said. “So I pitched [Oasis’ then-president] Hal Cato on the idea of this beer company promoting a youth organization in a fully respectful way. If they thought for a second that this would negatively impact the organization, we never would have done it.”
Dunkerley credits the local craft brewing community for being open and helpful, citing Linus Hall and Neil McCormick at Yazoo and Kent Taylor at Blackstone among the 23 beer companies from Nashville to Seattle that he talked with before launching Jubilee.
“A lot of folks in the community have been really cool, that’s one of the good things about the beer community,” he said. “At some point, craft beer will get really competitive, but right now, we’re all still small enough that it’s us against larger beer. I don’t think anybody’s going to open their books, but they’re more than willing to sit down and share the pitfalls.”
Dunkerley is equally open, sharing information about contract brewing on Jubilee’s website to inform — and perhaps warn — potential craft brewers of the obstacles and opportunities they’ll encounter along the way. Ever a businessman, he understands the importance of branding, effortlessly transitioning into his alter ego Randy to promote Jubilee.
Randy made his initial appearance at Dunkerley’s mother’s 60th birthday party, and when it took her 15 minutes to recognize her own son, Dunkerley knew he was on to something. Randy began making regular appearances and is the host of Jubilee’s “Hot Chicken and Jorts” party, which will be held on Aug. 10 this year (visit jubileebeer.com for more information).
“You need something to break through; there are 2,000 craft breweries out there now,” Dunkerley said. “Randy’s this total redneck buffoon, this ridiculous character who appreciates craft beer, and he’s trying to convert people from drinking mass-produced products to seeing the light of craft beer, so to speak.”
It may be unlikely worlds colliding — not unlike craft beer and a youth organization — but in Dunkerley’s opinion, does this convergence work?
“Yes, in a really awkward fashion,” he said, laughing.