If you ask Alan Newman what it’s like to build a craft brewery in Miami, expect to hear a few expletives.
Newman, the president of Alchemy & Science — a craft beer incubator and wholly-owned subsidiary of Boston Beer — has been trying to pry open the doors to Concrete Beach Brewery for nearly 18 months but the company, Newman said, has encountered a myriad of confusing permitting and zoning regulations along the way.
On a recent visit to Miami, Brewbound toured the Concrete Beach facility. A 20-barrel brewhouse and multiple fermentation tanks have already been installed, indoor and outdoor taprooms are built and the entire space is, essentially, a few fresh coats of paint away from opening to the general public.
But, as Newman told Brewbound last month, the city of Miami has routinely “found yet another hoop for us to jump through.”
“It has been a horrific process,” he said. “We have a significant investment sitting there, we are ready to make beer and we can’t. It is seriously problematic.”
Nevertheless, the permitting hangups haven’t stopped Newman from pushing the project forward as much as possible in the meantime. While the Concrete Beach location awaits a final city inspection, Alchemy & Science is producing and selling two styles of beer, brewed at Boston Beer’s facility in Cincinnati. The company is also testing new recipes at Boston Beer’s pilot brewery in Boston, Newman said.
“In Miami, you have more of an unsophisticated craft market with warm weather,” he said. “We aren’t going in there with big robust beers. It would blow people out of the water.”
So, Concrete Beach is currently marketing two styles: Rica, an unfiltered wheat IPA, and Stiltsville, a “Miami-style” pilsner. And, when the company is officially allowed to brew in the Concrete Beach space, Newman said he plans to use the taproom as somewhat of a proving ground for styles that will be unique to South Florida.
“New product development coming out of the taproom is critical,” he said. “It’s really our research and development arm.”
It’s the same strategy Alchemy & Science has deployed with its two other “local” beer brands – Angel City Brewery and Coney Island Brewing Company. The goal with all three, Newman said, has been to create a sort of “beer skunk works.”
“For me, local breweries are about becoming a part of the community and a part of the fabric of the culture,” he said. “They give us an opportunity to expand the craft market by teaching people about beer. The goal was to create long tail brands that have the potential to become regional or national, but also to innovate and grow the craft beer category. If the craft beer category grows, Sam Adams will grow with it.”
While local is still a focus, there’s a fourth, much larger brand in the Alchemy & Science portfolio as well — Traveler Beer Co. The line was first test-marketed under the “House of Shandy” label in the northeast in 2012. After a rebrand and the addition of some new markets, Alchemy & Science opted to take the lineup of flavored ales and shandies national last month.
Traveler is “all about capturing a share of the night out,” said Newman and, it’s a decidedly different offering than Alchemy & Science’s more local craft offerings.
“How do you grow craft beer if you are trying to get a share of the night out? You come up with things that can be part of it,” he said. “These are not FMBs. These are real craft beers that we add real flavor to.”
And although Newman believes the Angel City, Coney Island and Concrete Beach brands have and will continue to help “grow craft” in different geographies, it’s Traveler that has done the most to broaden the segment, Newman said.
“I really do believe that we are sourcing our customer from a broad range of categories,” he said.
Traveler’s national rollout also could also mean a more fully-integrated sales and marketing push from Boston Beer teams currently tasked with selling behind the Samuel Adams, Angry Orchard and Twisted Tea brands, Newman said.
“Alchemy & Science is still heavily involved in the development of Traveler,” he said. “We still drive all of the new product development, packaging, programming, and selection of new beer. We still manage the sales through the Boston Beer sales team. Where that goes in the future, I don’t know.”
Newman suspects the long term management of Traveler will be a true “joint venture,” between Alchemy & Science and Boston Beer.
“Alchemy & Science will drive excitement, enthusiasm and branding,” he said. “The Boston Beer sales team will take ownership of it, with our guidance.”
As that happens, Newman said Alchemy & Science will continue to push its local craft offerings. The short-term goal, for all brands, is to earn consumer acceptance.
In Miami, that means opening the brewery and beginning to develop a strong on-premise draft business, Newman said.
“I need to feel like when I go into a bar in Miami and say ‘I am from Concrete Beach,’ people know us and people like us,” he said.
In Los Angeles and New York, meanwhile, it’s about broadening local acceptance and taking each brand to more places.
“I want to see LA proud to have Angel City as part of their culture,” he said. “I’d like to see results in LA County that are consistent with what I am seeing downtown, where we have been extremely successful. With Coney, I’d like to see us grow into acceptance in the five boroughs.”
And with Traveler, the focus is on executing the national rollout, growing velocity and having “strong IRI numbers.”
And how about The Just Beer Project, a fifth session-themed beer brand the company acquired in 2013?
“We killed it last fall,” he said. “We ended up going into the sessionable beer category and, as we did that, the category exploded. It was really hard to get people focused on a company that didn’t exist and a fictitious brand that was trying to deliver sessionable beers while all the qualified and credible craft breweries were also putting sessionable beers into the market.”