Deschutes Brewery is one of the top craft breweries in the world today by just about any measure. The most common and quantifiable measure would be that of volume, and on the BA’s list for 2014, the Bend, Ore., brewery ranks No. 8. Not too shabby. But to brew a lot of beer, you have to sell a lot of beer, and selling a lot beer requires a dedicated fan base. How do you get these fans? Deschutes can help show you the way: Good beer? Check. Standout marketing and thoughtful branding? Check. Smart, creative employees? Check. Willing to throw kick ass, day-long parties across the country, all while contributing the proceeds to local charities?
As you may know, the Deschutes team is traveling across the country, stopping in an awesome city, like Cleveland, shutting down a street, setting up a massive 40-tap bar (more than a football field long) and concert stage and, yes, throwing a kick ass party dubbed Street Pub.
In theory, it is one of the coolest ideas, and in practice, it was even cooler. Instead of just attending it, enjoying some new and rare beers, listening to some tunes, chowing down and enjoying the sun, we needed to know more about the Street Pub. What inspired it? What do they hope to gain? And is any of this replicable for the smaller-but-just-as-cool craft breweries out there?
So, we asked. Thanks to Joe Pleich, director of the Deschutes Street Pub Program, for answering.
CBB: Can you talk about the impetus behind the idea? Whose idea was it? Why travel the country and do this? (Other than to be everyone’s best friend.)
Pleich: This year has been full of all kinds of big changes for us with a total rebrand, new packaging and rolling out the biggest Field Marketing program in company history. Street Pub was a collective brainchild developed by me and Angela Jasus (field marketing & events manager) with the help of our ad agency (TDA).
We knew we wanted to elevate our field programming to do something big, but ultimately relatable. As I thought back on how it all started for us, I realized the first chapter that makes Deschutes Brewery special is the Pub. We started 27 years ago in Bend on Bond Street with a mission to brew damn tasty beer, serve inspired local grub and create a community gathering place to simply bring people together. Coming together to share stories, catch-up, debate and laugh over a pint is what makes drinking beer at the pub such a memorable experience.
Then, it hit us: Let’s take the Pub to the people! Street Pub is meant to emulate that pub culture in every way. For the last five years that I have worked for Deschutes, there is one question I would hear every day: “When are you building a pub in our town?” Street Pub is the answer. We are building a Pub. In your city. For one day. In its practicality, Street Pub is a huge block party but with, high-end culinary demonstrations and barrel-aged reserve beer releases. In addition, the bar is built from local reclaimed oak and 100% of the proceeds go to charity, so it is much more than just a block party. It’s a fun way to share our passion for community, quality, sustainability and celebrating the culture of beer altogether in one event.
CBB: So what’s better/cooler/different about Street Pub?
Pleich: Rolling out Street Pub involved overcoming a lot of hurdles. For the past five years we ran a program called Base Camp, which was a week-long series of events celebrating all things craft beer centered in different cities across the country. Ultimately, it never really caught fire, and we weren’t the only brewery out there with this formula for events. The transition from planning pint nights and beer dinners to transporting and building a 402-foot, 32,000-pound bar has been challenging to say the least, not to mention navigating relationships at the city and state level to get permission to bring it in. The Street Pub program was definitely a risky move for us to take, but when we see 8,000 people join together to celebrate their community and raise money for local charity like we saw in Cleveland last Saturday, it’s all worth it.
CBB: What about the beer? What’s getting the most buzz?
Pleich: The upside to having 40 taps is that it gives us a chance to showcase everything we brew at one time. Whether it is introducing someone to Mirror Pond Pale Ale for the first time, giving some of our fans a chance to try beers they could never get outside of our pub in Bend, or special reserve releases scheduled throughout the day like The Abyss and The Dissident, there is something for everyone. One beer that has been stand-out popular is Bachelor Bitter. It was the first beer we ever brewed at our pub back in 1988, and until now, the only place you could get it was our pub.
CBB: [We asked some questions about beer and food pairing that we decided to move into their own separate story (Click here to read it!). As a teaser, here is photo of Executive Chef Jeff Usinowicz:]
CBB: For our professional brewing audience, many of whom may be thinking of hosting their own fun, charitable event, any practical advice? What will save them time/headaches or overall improve their event?
Pleich: Local partnerships are of utmost important. Choosing the right nonprofit to partner up with is half the battle. You want to work with someone who shares your values for community and culture and is well-connected with their own community. I always look for well-respected organizations with a strong volunteer base that are no strangers to festival-style events and have a big media reach. It also really helps to get local business associations, neighborhood groups, etc., on your side before your permits ever hit the city’s desk for review. The more partners you have in support, the more arms of outreach you will have to help promote the event.
CBB: How do you make an event like this work, in which all of the profits go to charity? Obviously, it is a completely noble and worthy endeavor, but it’s also obviously a big undertaking that requires time, money and manpower of the business. Any practical tips for folding in a good cause and having it also work (or not adversely impact the financials of) the brewery?
Pleich: Any time you are going to plan a big event for which you need city permits, you have to have a 501c3 as a beneficiary, as most know. You don’t have to give 100% of the proceeds to charity. This was a call we made early on with Street Pub for a couple reasons: 1) Deschutes Brewery has always been committed to serving the community. Our team wanted to give all the proceeds from the Street Pub events back to charity in communities where we have a presence. We also give $5,000 matching funds on top of whatever is raised by the event as part of our community involvement initiative as a company; and 2) It helps to get the attention of the powers that be (e.g. city officials for our permits and such). It also helps get the charity partner 100% on board with the event, as we do rely on them for volunteer power and to help promote the event.
Thanks for the insight, Jeff, and thanks for stopping by Cleveland. For some additional craft beer event strategies, check out this feature from our archives or this before-and-after series from Blue Mountain Brewing.