Unlike brewing, running a business isn’t always an exact science. That’s why Craft Brewing Business taps into the best brewing business minds in the industry to bring you insight into some of the most challenging aspects of running a commercial brewery. From start-up to expansion, and even gleaning insight from the craft brewing industry’s top brewers, we bring you our best business feature stories from 2014.
The big focus at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference and Brew EXPO America was craft beer quality. As a craft brewer who lives and dies on the quality of your craft beer, the product is the one thing you can’t let drop. But where can you turn for brewing advice? Look no further than the relationships you are forging with your suppliers.
Does this sound familiar: Distributors are asking for more beer, new markets are calling on you, and production is bursting at the seams. Congrats, you are ready to expand. You are about to embark on a journey that will push your sanity (and bank account) to the limit. Coordinating build out, negotiating lease terms and equipment deposits are a few of the things to expect all while running the existing brewery. A common problem that occurs during expansion is maintaining daily cash flow.
Building your brewery’s brand takes more than just brewing beer and sending it to your distributor. Competition between small breweries is heating up, and it’s important to define your beer’s experience beyond the bottle. Attending and/or hosting craft beer events can expand your reach and increase your customer base. For the inside scoop on how to approach events, we picked the brains of Tim Raybould, chief executive officer of Ticketleap, and Tom Kehoe, president of the Philly-based Yards Brewing Co.
As a brewer ramps up production, sales and marketing in response to growing demand, the founders (and the group of close associates who helped the founders in the earliest stages of the business) will no longer be able to cover all of the work by themselves. The brewer will need to hire new employees to handle an ever-expanding list of tasks. In turn, this will create several new legal issues, as the employment relationship is nearly as heavily-regulated, both by state and federal law, as the sale of alcohol (depending on what state the brewer operates in — and we’re looking at you, Massachusetts and California — it may be even more heavily regulated). To continue to thrive, a brewer must be able to anticipate these challenges and develop a plan to meet them.
Pricing a product in a competitive market is hard work. The most valuable team members at companies such as UPS, OfficeMax and Southwest Airlines are their product pricers. Why? Because their work must appeal to millions of people in a highly competitive market. Now, let’s talk about pricing beer — how do we typically price our product? Does the distributor set it and we conform because we don’t want to undercut the neighborhood bar? Do we guess? All these pricing methods are happening and, in my opinion, must change as the craft beer industry becomes more competitive.
This piece is aimed at established breweries. Whether you’ve been brewing for five years, or for 25, rebranding can be an important step to reflecting positive changes and growth to your audience. But it’s not something to be taken lightly and there are some important factors that should drive the decision. Let’s talk about some of these reasons as well as additional issues to consider before undertaking the process.
Mammoth Brewing Co. announced the release of its limited-edition craft beer, “Bear Garden.” Complementing the four-day annual Bluesapalooza festival (July 31–Aug. 3), which includes more than 80 craft breweries and performances from more than 20 popular bands, the Mammoth Brewing Co. brewers create an original beer to be sold at the festival —a tradition that began in 2007. Head brewer Jason Senior chatted with Craft Brewing Business about the inspiration behind a limited-availability brew and the innovative process from which “Bear Garden” and other past exclusive craft beers from MBC were engineered. We also spoke with co-owner Sean Turner about the business behind limited-edition, special-event craft beers.
With the explosion of craft beer festivals all over the country, it’s easy to “infiltrate as many local craft events as you can,” says Lindsey Rogers, co-owner of Kick Boom Pow. You can usually find festival listings in locally published magazines or on the event pages of craft-focused websites. The reason behind this particular approach is simple, Rogers notes: “Beer events are the fastest and easiest way to get a ridiculous amount of people to try your product that normally otherwise wouldn’t have.”
When branding a microbrewery, or any organization for that matter, people tend to jump straight to aesthetics. “We want our logo to look vintage, but contemporary. A little bit rustic with just a touch of whimsy.” I still don’t know what “whimsy” means, but the cool thing about owning a design firm is that when you nod emphatically during meetings while taking a few notes, people trust you.
Numerous media outlets reported this year on a public “pay-to-play” allegation made by a local craft brewer in Massachusetts that has since spawned other accusations across the state. Indeed, the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages is heavily regulated throughout the United States, and much of this regulation was born in the aftermath of prohibition. Many of the laws and regulations have remained unchanged from decades ago. The rapid expansion of the craft beer industry has drawn some of these regulations into question, highlighted the need for reform and increased craft beer customers’ awareness of why their favorite brew may not be offered at a particular establishment.
In the spirit of both thanks and giving, we reached out to a few of our favorite craft breweries from around the country to get their advice on the ultimate homemade treat — homebrewed beer. California to Delaware, craft breweries like Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head and Gordon Biersch offered up excellent insights for homebrewers everywhere.