The old and the new were both on full display at Brewbound’s Brew Talks meetup in Kansas City, Mo., which was held earlier this week at Boulevard Brewing Co. The event featured veteran beer executives from Boulevard and its primary wholesale partner, Central States Beverage Co., who were on hand to discuss the state of the industry, and along with them a pair of soon-to-launch brewery founders, who detailed their own plans to carve out a niche in the local marketplace.
Representing the old guard:
Simon Thorpe, president of Duvel Moortgat USA, which acquired Boulevard in 2013, discussed how things have changed since the buyout, while using the opportunity to also peer ahead into the not-so-distant future.
Thorpe detailed how the company has begun shifting some production of Ommegang beer — another of Duvel’s holdings — from New York to Kansas City to better serve markets in that part of the country. On the flipside, Duvel is also examining the viability of bringing some of Boulevard’s production to New York, as a more cost-effective way of serving East Coast markets. This type of cost analysis, Thorpe hypothesized, will become increasingly important for all craft breweries over the next few years.
“I’d urge everyone in the room to look at your cost-side economics, because [success] is going be defined by some of these really dull things, like freight costs,” he said. “Whereas we want to go and just make some great new beers — and there’s some really cool stuff out there — it’s going to be some really prosaic stuff about ‘how do you figure out your logistics’ and ‘your supply chain to move beer…’ That’s really the critical shaper of what’s going to define who wins and loses over the next five to ten years.”
Thorpe also touched on the increasing importance of partnerships as way to continue improving craft’s share of total beer.
“One of the things that makes us strong is working together. We can all articulate that in different ways but if we think that we can take on ‘big beer,’ if we think we can be a 20 share, if we think that we can be sustainable over the next 50 years, on our own, in isolation, personally, I think, we’re smoking something really exotic,” he said. “The cornerstone, the foundation of why craft beer is so successful right now — and is going to continue to be successful — is because we work together.”
Following that line of thinking, Jon Poteet, vice president of marketing for Central States, discussed how his company sold 1 million cases of Boulevard beer in 2014, without taking sales away from the wholesaler’s other, smaller craft brands.
“Many brewers who we talk to at Central States say, ‘Oh my gosh, you have Boulevard, how can we possibly get the time of day in your portfolio?’” he said. “I think it all comes down to managing the expectations of the brewer and setting realistic goals because the reality is we invest in small brands both from monetary and manpower and support.”
There are some differences, of course, between selling Boulevard, which carries with it an air of ubiquity in the Kansas City market, and selling some of the smaller brands that might not be local to the area.
“Whereas Boulevard will have their programs created and bring them to us, we will often times for a smaller brewery create the programs, create the graphic identity, create the social media buzz, create the events that go on in town,” Poteet said. “When you have a brewery that’s not local, and they’re out of Colorado, they’re small and are not going to have a rep here. You have to be the face and voice of that brewery in your market and you have to go out and fight for it every day to make it work for them.”
Representing the newcomers:
Meanwhile, Michael Crane and Steve Hood from Crane Brewing, a soon-to-be-open brewery specializing in wild and saison beers, were on hand to introduce their new venture.
Hood, discussing the narrow focus of Crane’s production, noted that “if we opened a brewery like this in 1989, we would have crashed and burned.
“There’s just not question, people wouldn’t have been ready for that and they wouldn’t have been prepared for the price point,” he said.
Like many other upstart breweries, Crane has explored crowdfunding as a partial means of launching.
“Some people I think misunderstood,” he said. “The money’s in the bank to do the brewery, build everything, buy everything we need. But what we’re going to need to do… we have temperature controlled storage for over 400 wine and spirit barrels for aging sour beers, and that will tie up a lot of revenue for a long time because some of those beers will take months, some of them years.”
Double Shift Brewing founder Aaron Ogilvie plans to open a taproom-centric brewery specializing in approachable beers this July. So far, he’s been able to raise about $350,000, a task that was “surprisingly easy,” he said, after sampling family and friends on the product.
“I think setting apart is a hard thing to do, especially in Kansas City because you have a place like Boulevard that does a lot of things really well, Cinderblock does a lot of things really well,” Ogilvie said. “My goal is to brew a beer that new craft beer drinkers can be introduced to and enjoy, while I would say veteran craft beer drinkers would still say it’s a solid beer, something original and still drinkable.”
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