Twenty-five years after Greg Kelly started Red Brick Brewing Company — then known as Atlanta Brewing Company — the company is looking re-establish its position in metro Atlanta by revamping its portfolio to include new core products and more taproom exclusive beers.
Speaking to Brewbound, Red Brick director of brewing operations Gavin McKenna said the company is approaching 2018 as an opportunity for the company to “re-stake” its claim in a home market that’s become increasingly crowded.
“We get one chance to get someone to try our beer again, and so every can that goes out we have that in mind,” he said.
“We’re the oldest craft brewery in Atlanta,” he continued, “and we feel like there’s a really cool story to tell there.The cool kid breweries are not forever going to be new breweries, and at some point people are going to have to rediscover breweries along the road. And we want to be in that conversation about what’s happening in the city that’s interesting and vital to beer culture.”
In an effort to insert itself into that conversation, McKenna said Red Brick is refocusing its off-premise business around flagship Hoplanta IPA — which accounts for about 50 percent of the company’s sales — along with two new core offerings, Soul of the City pale ale and Homestand dry-hopped pilsner. He added that the company will also retire year-round release Casual session IPA while putting seasonals Hibiscuwit and Zest in Show Citrus Farmhouse ale on hiatus.
According to McKenna, the three core products will be part of a more focused approach to its chain retail business in accounts such as Kroger and Publix, among others. Chain sales made up 45 percent of the company’s sales and 76 percent of its off-premise business in 2017.
“We want to build those chain retail commitments around a core three of beers that we think are on-trend and what people are looking for,” he said. “And we’re scaled to be able to maintain demand.”
If successful, McKenna believes Red Brick will sell about 10,000 barrels of beer in 2018. The company also has the ability to scale capacity to about 14,000 barrels without additional capital investments, he added.
Red Brick is also taking advantage of a new law enacted last September that allows direct-to-consumer taproom sales for the first time in Georgia. Previously, the state only allowed breweries to sell tours and offer “free” samples — a system that many brewers found confusing and unnecessarily burdensome.
In an effort to capitalize on the extended sales privileges, and prepare for an influx of visitors, Red Brick spent about $50,000 retrofitting its taproom. As part of that investment, the company installed 20 draft lines, and implemented a strategy of primarily serving small-batch, taproom-only releases. And, in the coming months, Red Brick will initiate brewery-only 16 oz. can releases, McKenna said.
“It still feels a little bit like we’re throwing things against a wall and see what sticks,” he said. “It’s not as controlled as it was from us. We have a lot more freedom to do what we want and to try things.”
According to McKenna, taproom sales have been strong, but the company is hoping to double its direct-to-consumer business in 2018 as more consumers become aware of the changes to the law and turnout for Red Brick’s exclusive releases.
“As the word spreads that we’re trying to be a little more distinctive and small-batch focused in our taproom, I think people will be really receptive to that,” he said. “But we still have a lot of room to grow.”
Some of the company’s small-batch releases may trickle out to independent retailers in the Atlanta metro area, McKenna added, noting that Red Brick’s sales team will renew its focus on securing on-premise placements in those accounts.
On-premise sales made up 41 percent of Red Brick’s business last year and, to support the continued growth within that channel, the company will be adding two additional sales reps to help bolster sales within Atlanta and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re putting a lot of effort to make sure we’re well represented there,” McKenna said.