Buffalo Wild Wings’ presence at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival was merely an appetizer.
The chicken wing restaurant, one of the largest chains in the U.S., will be regular menu item at numerous Brewers Association (BA) events over the next two years, including the 2019 GABF, the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) and Homebrew Con.
Its presence at additional BA events is part of a three-year sponsorship agreement with the trade group, Buffalo Wild Wings beverage innovation manager Jason Murphy told Brewbound.
“The idea is to be back here doing the same thing next year, even bigger,” he told Brewbound during last month’s GABF, where the restaurant chain had set up a replica sports bar outfitted with television screens, draft beer and free wings.
Murphy said he’d like to “activate” at CBC, and he’s also hoping to be “involved” in the BA’s high-end beer-and-food pairing events — SAVOR and PAIRED — in the future.
“Everything’s kind of on the table,” he said. “As we get into 2019, we’re evaluating what that next step is and how we can continue to elevate the experience and grow beer and our partnership with the Brewers Association.”
Although discussions are ongoing, Buffalo Wild Wings is also looking to feature gold medal winners from GABF on tap at some of its 1,200 restaurants across the country, Murphy said.
“I think we really want to be known for being a place that you can go to any Buffalo Wild Wings across the country and know that you can get a GABF gold medal winning beer in our restaurants,” he said.
Buffalo Wild Wings, which is the largest pourer of draft beer in the United States, is attempting to reverse declining on-premise visits by marketing itself as a sports bar first, and a casual dining experience second. The company is also leaning more into its beer business, aiming to place greater emphasis on supporting smaller brands, Murphy said.
“Not only are sports and wings going to be a driver, but beer is going to start to be a driver for us too,” he said.
Although craft beer growth has “stalled’ at Buffalo Wild Wings’ locations this year, Murphy said craft still makes up about 30 percent of Buffalo Wild Wings’ beer mix (domestics and imports each account for 30 percent). And he’s looking to expand those offerings in 2019 to feature more local and regional brewers.
“We realize the path to success is to be a local sports bar, and to be a local sports bar, you have to partner with local breweries,” he added. “We want people to know that we’re open for business. There’s not enough accessibility to retailers for small brewers.”
According to Murphy, Buffalo Wild Wings plans to change how it allocates its taphandles next year. Currently, the company mandates 23 of the 30 tap handles at its stores on a January 1 to December 31 calendar.
Although the company will still mandate 23 tap handles, Murphy said it will “drastically decrease” the number of national mandates and instead move to a state-by-state model that incorporates more local and regional offerings on a spring-to-spring schedule, with the opportunity for a fall reset. He added that store managers will receive more data and analytics to help them choose rotational offerings.
“We’re going to be a little more flexible with our handles,” he said, noting that breweries will also have the opportunity to rotate styles seasonally.
Buffalo Wild Wings is “looking to partner with anybody and everybody” who is making quality beer, said Murphy, who encouraged brewers to call or email him.
“I may not be able to do something with a partner or brewery on my level, but I can at least direct people in the right place so they know the right relationships, to build in their local markets, to get one of those seven handles, or to talk to the franchisees,” he said.
As Buffalo Wild Wings alters its purchasing strategy, some larger, more established breweries could take a hit, however.
“Beers that you’ve expected to see on at a bar just because it’s been there for 20 years, might not be on in a Buffalo Wild Wings anymore,” Murphy said, referring to “flagship fatigue.”