Alan Newman: The Curious Opportunist

Alan Newman calls himself an “opportunity-junkie.”

Over the past 31 years as a serial entrepreneur, he’s successfully helped to build three companies in three entirely different industries: Gardener’s Supply Company, a mail-order gardening supply company; Seventh Generation, a brand of environmentally-safe household products, and Magic Hat Brewing.

Now, as the president of Alchemy & Science — the craft-brew incubation project and wholly-owned subsidiary of Boston Beer Company — Newman is once again searching for his next fix.

In the last 18 months, Newman has orchestrated three deals for the incubator: The acquisition of L.A.’s Angel City Brewing, the launch of the Traveler Beer Co. line of shandies and, most recently, the purchase of the trademark rights to the business name “Just Beer” from Buzzards Bay Brewing of Westport, Mass.

In his quest to build more craft beer brands, he plans to launch two more projects before focusing exclusively on the strategic development of each one.

Little is known about the other two, yet-to-be-named projects, but Newman allowed during a recent interview that he is eyeing Miami as one potential home base. While his signature bright yellow spectacles might blend in well to the thriving, neon-filled dance music scene in South Beach, Newman said plans are nowhere near finalized.

“We are moving forward with plans to build a brewery in Miami but it’s not done and we don’t have a timeline,” he said.

If Alchemy & Science does end up taking its talents to South beach, Newman said the project will feel similar to what he’s created at Angel City.

“With Angel City, we embrace the local culture,” he said. “We are part of the renaissance of the downtown community and involved with a bunch of local organizations. Miami, similarly, is a local play.”

In Los Angeles, Angel City is as local as it gets. Beer is only available on draft at less than 100 on-premise accounts, local artists display their work in the brewery and Los Angeles’ finest food trucks routinely park outside and serve food to taproom visitors. At least some of that will change in August when the brewery finally introduces 12 oz. 6-packs and 22 oz. bottles of its two top brands, Angelina IPA and Eureka Belgian White.

Newman’s vision of Angel City has always been for it to be L.A.’s local craft beer brand. He said he’s often reminded of his early days at Magic Hat.

“In its heyday, everyone in Vermont was proud to be in the community with Magic Hat,” he said. “We were such a strong member of the community. That is what we are trying to do here in L.A. We just want to be an integral part of the community.”

But it’s a different approach for Alchemy and Science’s other brands. Traveler Beer Company –which was rebranded from House of Shandy earlier this year – and The Just Beer Project are more national plays.

“Those projects are aimed at the fringes of the craft beer market,” said Newman.

Newman attacks the fringes by asking himself how to get non-craft beer drinkers more excited about the category.

“I’m always questioning how we can earn a greater share of the night out,” he said. “Traveler does that.”

While Traveler Beer Company targets the potential crossover consumer, The Just Beer Project is more of a traditional craft beer play, Newman said.

“Craft beer has gotten so complicated,” he said. “Let’s simplify it. Just Beer is a revolution back to great craft beer without all the complexity. We have confidence in that simplicity.”

Even the brand’s current portfolio is simple. Its first beer, Just IPA, checks in at 5.2 percent and is only available on draft in four markets: Baltimore, Md. Virginia Beach, Va. Pittsburgh, Penn. and parts of New Jersey. 6-packs, 12-packs and 22 oz. bottles will roll out to all four markets in September, and additional seasonal offerings are also in the works for 2014.

And how about Alchemy & Science’s fifth beer project, which, until now, has been kept under wraps?

“It’s an acquisition,” Newman said.

That would leave Alchemy & Science with five distinct brand propositions, but its biggest strength isn’t a diverse collection of offerings. It’s actually an intricate network of distributor partners who already sell Boston Beer Company products. To date, every Alchemy & Science distributor is also a Boston Beer wholesaler, but Newman said that could change.

“We have some room to pick our own distributors but we do it judiciously,” Newman said. “We respect and honor the Boston Beer relationships and understand that some of our greatest leverage is by using those relationships but there are times when we think that our needs will be different than Boston Beer Company’s. We are currently evaluating a couple territories where we may not be with a Boston Beer distributor.”

That commitment from a pre-existing distribution network could help Alchemy & Science earn valuable retail placements in spite of what Newman believes are some unavoidable headwinds.

“I expect there to be some real turbulence over the next 18-24 months,” he said. “There will be a correction. I don’t know what it’s going to look like but nothing stays like this forever. What is happening in the marketplace is not sustainable.”

Meanwhile, Newman hopes that Alchemy & Science will continue to succeed through any so-called ‘turbulence’ and after he’s left the beer business.

“I want to be proud of what we built,” he said. “I have a financial partner in Boston Beer that understands this industry and when I’m done, they will find a way of continuing what we started.”