Since 2007, Left Hand Brewing Company has continually added to the infrastructure of its brewery in Longmont, Colo. This past year, Left Hand added two 600 barrel fermenters and a 500 barrel brite tank. Up next, to be finished in August or September of 2014, is a 12,000 square-foot expansion, which will include a pilot system, a sensory analysis lab, a biochemistry lab and offices. These continual additions have become the standard at Left Hand — it’s almost second nature now.
“We wouldn’t feel comfortable if we weren’t expanding,” said Chris Lennert, the brewery’s vice president of operations.
Yet at the same time, Lennert said that Left Hand isn’t concerned with being the biggest or most competitive brewery around. He maintains this stance despite the fact that Colorado cradles around 150 craft breweries, most in or near Denver, and features some of the industry’s biggest stars. New Belgium and Odell Brewing are about 30 miles north in Fort Collins. After a few drinks, you could wander from Left Hand’s brewpub and easily end up at Oskar Blues, about 2 miles south in Lyons.
However, even as Lennert promises to keep feeding his home market before anywhere else, this continual expansion, however measured, isn’t just for Colorado. At the end of the first quarter in 2013, Left Hand began distributing to upstate New York. It was the brewery’s first new market in four years. Lennert said that the brewery won’t add any other new markets in 2013, but that could change in 2014. He’s already looking at Southern Illinois, Maryland and Pittsburgh, Pa., he said.
With hopes to bring on these new markets, and without much recent experience going through this process, Lennert has clearly defined a compatible marketplace, as described in the video above. Before entering a new market or working with a new distribution partner, so he doesn’t have to eventually pull back, Lennert asks himself a series of questions. Below are a few examples.
Will the distributor take care of the beer the same way the brewery does?
What’s their cooler temperature?
How are they delivering beer to the market?
What is the primary focus of their sales team?
Do they understand craft beer (or, even better, are they cicerone certified)?
How do they handle dated beer?
Are bars opening in this market that focus on craft beer?
How are they handling promotions?
“Anybody can sell beer at a discounted price, that’s not what we look for at all,” Lennert said.