How do you deliver more beer to more people? That’s the number one question craft brewery entrepreneurs are currently wrestling with, said Karmen Olson, Craft Brew Alliance’s senior manager of emerging business.
Speaking to more than 130 beer industry professionals during Wednesday night’s Brew Talks meetup, held at Providence Park in Portland, Ore., Olson provided a glimpse into CBA’s new emerging business unit, which seeks to invest in and form “strategic partnerships” with small U.S. craft breweries.
Since formally launching the division in April, CBA has established a partnership with just one beer company: North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountain Brewery (AMB). Earlier this year, CBA became AMB’s master distributor, helping the company gain access to the entire Anheuser-Busch InBev wholesale network. More recently, however, the two companies signed an alternating proprietorship arrangement that will enable the smaller company to produce beer at CBA’s brewing facility in Portsmouth, N.H.
Although Appalachian Mountain is the only beer company CBA has partnered with to date, Olson said she expects to be working more closely with a “stable of really healthy, locally relevant brands,” over the next 18 months.
In the meantime, CBA is taking meetings with a variety of different breweries and discussing future partnership opportunities, Olson said. In addition to approaching companies in areas of the country where “craft beer indexes high,” CBA has fielded plenty of calls from entrepreneurs who are curious about “what a partnership might look like.”
In both scenarios, the goal is to emulate the success brands like Redhook, Widmer and Kona are having in their home markets, Olson said.
“What we are trying to do is replicate that and build more home markets in geographies where we see opportunities growth,” she said.
And in its quest to stay more connected to local craft hubs, Olson said CBA has learned a lot about the kinds of obstacles small brewers are encountering as they look to scale in an ultra-competitive craft marketplace.
“It is evolving really quickly,” said Olson. “The biggest struggles are the obvious ones — breweries want to get more beer to more people.”
So what does CBA look for in a potential partner?
“We don’t want to work with a partner that just wants to hand over the keys,” said Olson.
Instead, the company is working to identify brands that have compelling stories and strong connections to their local markets.
“We genuinely want this to be a partnership where we understand the needs of the partner and see how those intersect and overlap,” Olson said. “We also need them to have a face and to be active and committed to staying engaged in their brewery.”
“Do they have momentum behind their brand? Are people excited about them and talking about them? And do they have a story that distinguishes them from the rest of craft?” she added.
In the video above, Olson discusses CBA’s emerging brands strategy with and offers her outlook of the continued development of the craft category.