Former Heineken CMO Tapped to Lead Wachusett Brewing

Wachusett Brewing Company today announced that Christian McMahan, who most recently served as a managing partner of creative agency Smartfish, would join the Massachusetts-based craft brewery as its new president.

McMahan, who previously spent 2 1/2 years as the CMO of Heineken USA (2008 – 2010) and worked for six years as the vice president of marketing for Diageo (2002 – 2008), will officially join Wachusett in mid-June.

Wachusett co-founder Ned LaFortune, meanwhile, will continue to serve as the company’s CEO and remain active in various “planning, strategy, design, process and problem solving” projects, a press release noted.

LaFortune said he planned to “co-lead” the company with McMahan.

“For me, this is no longer a case where a rising tide lifts all boats,” he said. “The craft breweries that are going to succeed need to be well-organized and well-structured for the future.”

For his part, LaFortune believes that McMahan’s “understanding of the beer business, proven leadership, and vision for its future will be a tremendous asset,” he said via the release.

“His passion for beer and all related to brewing is infectious,” he added. “With our shared leadership of WBC, I am bullish on the future of our company and the entire craft segment.”

While at Smartfish, McMahan worked on branding and creative projects for dozens of beverage clients, including Pabst Brewing, Golden Road Brewing, Creature Comforts, Wormtown Brewery, Long Trail Brewing, Otter Creek Brewing and Half Full Brewery, among others.

As part of the move to Wachusett, McMahan has agreed to sell his equity stake in Smartfish back to the firm’s other partners, he confirmed to Brewbound.

“We came to a very reasonable agreement,” he said.

At Wachusett, McMahan’s initial directives will be threefold: He’ll first look to create a strategic innovation plan for the Wachusett brand, which could include “portfolio architecture” adjustments as well as a possible rebrand, he told Brewbound.

McMahan will also be tasked with refining the go-to market strategy for Nauti Seltzer, the company’s hard seltzer offering, and creating a “best in class on-site experience,” for brewery visitors.

Wachusett grew 36 percent, to 55,000 barrels, in 2016, and the company expects to produce 70,000 barrels of beer and hard seltzer this year.

Much of Wachusett’s anticipated growth will depend on the success of Wally IPA, a recently introduced New England-style IPA that was co-developed by McMahan and LaFortune, along with the company’s brewing team.

“We sold our annual estimated volume goal before the end of April, and six-pack cans were only introduced in late March,” he wrote to Brewbound. “We could well exceed the estimate if the trend continues through 2017.”

Wachusett currently distributes its beer throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont. McMahan said he also planned to assess additional distribution opportunities outside of the Northeast.

“I think Wachusett has done a great job of being who they are and they have understood themselves as good as anyone in craft,” he said. “Now the question is — how do we grow and develop our core market, but have the brand appeal to markets outside of New England? We know certain brands can travel well, and certain brands can’t, and I certainty want to leverage my market knowledge and relationships to take the brand as far as it is prepared to go.”

The Nauti Seltzer brand, meanwhile, is currently available along the East Coast and as far west as Wisconsin, McMahan said.

“Nauti has found a nice niche and performed well in some pockets,” he said. “We need to stabilize that brand, find its playing field and watch where the hard seltzer category is going to head over the next year so we can position Nauti for success.”

Meanwhile, on June 17, Wachusett plans to open its new “Brew Yard,” an outdoor beer garden featuring food and a selection of draft beers. A separate, indoor “Tap Barn” is also planned, McMahan said.

“We’re going to be creating and pouring interesting, hard-to-find beers that make you want to go there,” he said. “In visiting taprooms around the country, I have a vision for what it can be and Ned (LaFortune) is the guy that can make it all work.”

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