Nearly two-and-a-half years after 10 Barrel Brewing Co. was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Bend, Oregon-headquartered brewery is finally nestled snugly into the global beer giant’s craft and import focused High End division.
With the transition complete and several multi-million dollar expansion projects concluding this spring, 10 Barrel’s founders say they’re finally fully focused on the business of making and selling beer and expanding their reach.
The challenge for 10 Barrel and A-B, however, will be figuring out how the brewery’s action and outdoor sports brand identity — exemplified by the company’s commitment to giving employees a day off to hit the slopes when it snows more than 6 inches on Mt. Bachelor and buying company snowmobiles for its workers to ride — will resonate with consumers in Southern California, Chicago, New York and other parts of the country.
Earlier this month, Anheuser-Busch invited Brewbound and several other beer writers to Bend for a behind-the-scenes look at 10 Barrel’s expansion as well as to glean insight into its sales and marketing strategy from its three founders, twin brothers Chris and Jeremy Cox and Garrett Wales.
“We don’t have any distractions this year,” co-founder Chris Cox told Brewbound. “So it’s really just getting back to the basics and doing what we like to do.”
Those basics include a “methodical” on-premise rollout of the brewery’s flagship Joe and Apocalypse IPAs into 31 states, according to Adam Warrington, a spokesman with The High End.
“We’ll start by taking Joe and Apocalypse [IPAs] on draft and seeing how they resonate,” Warrington said. “Then maybe bring other beers in or package as well.”
“A lot of us like Joe better, but the Apocalypse is still our workhorse,” Jeremy Cox told Brewbound. He added that the company sells four times more Apocalypse than Joe.
“It’s not like we’re going to go in and try to fill every Safeway and Albertsons,” 10 Barrel brewmaster Jimmy Seifrit told Brewbound. “What we’re going to try to do is piecemeal and build every place up at a time.”
This year’s forecast also calls for more of the Crush series of fruit-flavored sour beers as the current incarnations, Raspberry and Cucumber, have each proven popular.
A-B’s High End team will take the lead on introducing the 10 Barrel brand into new markets.
“That’s really where A-B helps us out a lot,” said Jeremy Cox. “I think we have 200 and some wholesalers who are carrying our beer in select markets around the United States and … really we’ve seen a lot of growth there. We never thought this would happen three years ago. We’re selling beer on the East Coast, which is really cool.”
Even with the expanded footprint, 10 Barrel’s primary focus will be trained on “organic growth” in its “home” markets, Jeremy Cox said, which it has built through brewpubs in craft-centric beer markets such as Bend, Portland, Denver, Boise and now San Diego, where the company plans to open a fifth brewpub in the hyper-competitive craft beer mecca by mid-April.
10 Barrel is admittedly trying to build a foothold by localizing its brand to build its distribution footprint, 10 Barrel co-founder Garrett Wales told Brewbound. However, the markets it enters are some of the most challenging in the craft beer marketplace.
“Hang ‘em and bang ‘em and see what happens,” 10 Barrel co-founder Garrett Wales told Brewbound. “We know we have a brew team that can put beer out that can compete anywhere in the world and that’s why those are fun markets for us to be in.”
“If this were about making money, we wouldn’t put a pub in Portland, Denver and San Diego,” Chris Cox added. “That’s not the easiest road of resistance for white space and gaps, if you’re looking at it from a business standpoint. For us, it’s really about putting ourselves in the best beer markets in the U.S., and on the West Coast, and seeing how we do.”
The company has put in the infrastructure under its new corporate ownership to bolster its efforts in its home and expansion markets. 10 Barrel expects to complete a $13 million expansion next month, moving its warehousing, packaging and shipping operations into a 70,000 sq. ft. building adjacent to its original production facility. That new space will also include a 138-seat pub with a second-floor outdoor patio as well as office space featuring mountain views.
During the trip, 10 Barrel brewmaster Jimmy Seifrit led the group on a tour of the brewery, showing off the company’s towering stainless steel tanks that last year pumped out more than 73,000 barrels of beer, a 32 percent increase from 2015. The company’s 50-barrel brewhouse is capable of producing 124,000 barrels of beer annually, but 2017 barrelage is a moving target, Seifrit said, due to the extra capacity and additional production hours needed to brew the Crush line.
From a packaging standpoint, 10 Barrel’s new hybrid bottling and canning line is capable of filling 250 cans or bottles per minute and will enable the company to increase the amount of non-draft beer available to wholesalers and retailers.
“We tripled the amount of beer that we can get through,” Seifrit said. “The new packaging line gives us a lot more confidence that our product is going to be amazing in 90 days. That’s a big deal for us too. We really haven’t had that confidence until we got this new packaging line to really put out a great beer that’s good on Day 1 and Day 90.”
The new line also features a pasteurizer for the Crush series along with beers brewed with Brettanomyces.
“It’s great to have,” Seifrit said. “That way we have 100 percent security.”
The multi-million dollar investment into improved packaging and brewing operations was made possible as a result of the A-B purchase, Seifrit said.
“Our parents afford us a lot more opportunity than we ever had,” he said.
The next opportunity is a planned sour-specific brewing facility to be built on vacant land behind the production brewery in the next two years, Seifrit said.
And as the dust settles on those projects, 10 Barrel will turn its focus inward on innovation. Seifrit, who started with the company in 2011, is transitioning from brewmaster into an innovation brewer role.
“Jimmy’s only priority right now is brewing rad beers with his team,” Chris Cox said. “It’s really exciting the kind of stuff that they’re coming up with the last couple of months and the things that we’re going to be releasing in 2017.”
Seifrit and what he called his “dream team” of brewers, which includes Tonya Cornett, Shawn Kelso, Bobby Jackson, Whitney Burnside, Ben Shirley and Kay Witkiewicz, admitted it hasn’t been easy to be innovative in the face of so much change.
“We’ve always been grow, grow, grow, and we obviously want to continue to grow, but at the same time, we really want to be able to address that innovation piece,” he said. “We don’t necessarily want to sacrifice barrelage for it, but I wouldn’t say driving capacity is our No. 1 thing anymore.
“We’re still trying to find the rhythm of the production schedule,” he continued. “Obviously, we need to support our shelf space, but at the same time, you really want to be creative. So we’re trying to play this game of supporting our existing customers and also pushing the brewery forward innovation wise.”
Editor’s Note: Hey if it wasn’t obvious from the story, yes, A-B paid for the reporter to fly and stay in Bend and visit 10 Barrel. Look for more stories about the Bend scene in the coming weeks.