When Braxton Brewing co-founder and CEO Jake Rouse first participated in the inaugural Startup Brewery Challenge — held during the 2013 Brewbound Session on December 5 in San Diego — his company was still in planning mode.
At the time, Braxton was brewing test-batches, soliciting potential investors and searching for space to build its brewery and taproom in Northern Kentucky. A passionate Rouse took the stage and explained how Braxton, at the time still more than a year away from its launch, would one day stand apart from competitors by existing at the intersection of beer and technology.
Sponsored by Craft Brew Alliance, the Startup Brewery Challenge pitch competition gives new beer companies an opportunity to showcase their business plans, sample one core product offering and receive immediate feedback from a judging panel of industry experts.
And back in 2013, judges like Pete’s Wicked Ale founder Pete Slosberg said they loved the Braxton product but felt as though the company was still too early in development to brew with Widmer and benefit from the experience of learning from CBA executives.
But earlier this month, Rouse made his return to the Brewbound Session in Chicago with a much more seasoned pitch and a Braxton brand that had been commercially available for nine weeks.
This time, judges were impressed not only with the quality of his product but also his ability to communicate a brand story that resonates with consumers.
“We deliberated on the finalist’s vision, quality of beer, story, branding, and packaging,” said Karmen Olson, CBA senior manager of emerging business and Startup Brewery Challenge judge. “Our goal with the challenge is to select a winner who excels in each of those categories, and one who will also benefit most from CBA’s breweries and resources. Ultimately, we selected Braxton Brewing Company not just because Jake’s presentation was polished but also because he had participated as a brewery in planning almost two years ago and we knew he had a strong vision and the ability to bring a brand to life.”
The audience also agreed. Braxton won the fan vote too, beating out five other finalists, including: White Lion Brewing, Camino Brewing, Three Notch’d Brewing, Grapevine Brewing and Ancient Owl Brewing.
“Each of the finalists showed great promise,” said Olson. “Camino Brewing had an incredible story. White Lion had the panel’s favorite beer. Braxton’s branding was dialed.”
During the June 11 Brewbound Session conference judges samples Braxton’s 4.8% ABV golden cream ale, Storm. Judging the competition alongside Olson were Ben Dobler, Craft Brew Alliance’s innovation brewing manager; Good Beer Hunting founder Michael Kiser; Upland Brewing president Doug Dayoff and Pat Brophy, head beer buyer for Binny’s Beverage.
“To be able to come back and have conversations with the judges, other attendees and get feedback on our beer and the concept was great,” said Rouse.
Rouse won an all-expenses-paid trip to Portland, Ore. to become Widmer Brothers’ “Brother for a Day.” There, he’ll be able to craft a new collaboration beer with Widmer Brothers, take an extensive tour of the company’s pilot and production breweries, participate in CBA’s daily taste panel and learn from the company’s sales, marketing, graphics, quality assurance and packaging departments.
“CBA really views this as a partnership and they want us to work together,” he said. “We see this is a great opportunity and a great partnership where we can continue to collaborate and learn.”