29 Apr 2009 @ 12:21 PM 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the wake of the Craft Brewers Conference and the “Beer on the Web” panel. It was good, but I almost felt like there wasn’t enough time to cover things in any sort of detail.
Tweet!
I talked to a bunch of people after the panel and there was a really wide array of comfort levels with technology. Some people in the industry are super savvy and comfortable with technology some really have no idea what we’re talking about, much less how to use it well. Today’s post is a service to the latter group. If you know a brewer(y), please pass this on:

What is Twitter?

Think of it as a micro-blog. It’s basically like what you’re seeing here, except in 140 character snippets. Everything you post on Twitter is available to anybody to read, unless you send a direct message – those are private. You can read more here before you sign up.

Why you should use Twitter

1. It’s your target demographic. Here are some interesting statistics about Twitter (collected by Nielsen Online):

  • 85% of Twitter users are over the age of 21.
  • Twitter’s largest user demographic is aged 35-49 (41.7% of traffic). This happens to line up almost exactly with the largest craft beer drinking demographic.

2. It reaches an enormous audience very quickly. Let’s pretend you’re just getting started and you have 200 people following your Twitter feed. You post something of interest, and half of those people decide to re-Tweet your post when they read it (this is when people re-post what you’ve posted, noting a re-Tweet by including the letters ‘RT’ at the beginning of the post), and let’s pretend that those people each have 100 people following them. You have, in about 35 seconds of work, reached 10,000 people with your message. Those numbers are small, too. To give you some comparison, at the time of this writing Dogfish Head’s Twitter feed had just under 4,000 followers, Rogue and Harpoon had about 1,700 each. Beer Advocate’s Twitter feed (and they do a lot of re-tweeting) reaches just under 5,000 people. Twitter is the fastest growing social network; it saw 7 million visitors in February 2009. These numbers all have the potential to grow and grow BIG.

3. It’s fast and free. Signing up for a Twitter feed takes about 30 seconds. Posting to Twitter takes about 30 seconds. You could probably do at some point to take 10 or 15 minutes to brand it with your design and color scheme. If you don’t have a marketing department that can wing this off for you in a heartbeat, drop me a line. I’ll do it for free. Seriously.

How to Post to Twitter

This is not a “where do I type” tutorial. This is “what do I share?” One of the questions in the “Beer on the Web” panel was something along the lines of: There’s not much happens that’s very interesting – half the time all I’m doing is doing yeast cell counts or cleaning tanks. So what do I post?

Well, posting that you’re doing yeast cell counts or cleaning tanks isn’t a bad start. In fact, it’s a great start.

Here’s the thing: You’re running a brewery or a brewpub. You’re not just selling beer. You’re selling you. You, the people who make your beer, who deliver your beer, who answer the phones, everyone, are all wrapped up in the personal brand that you’re projecting out to the consumer. Consumers can say, as often as they’d like, that who makes the beer doesn’t matter, it’s about how the beer tastes, but they’re not being honest with themselves. People love having personal connections with the products they consume and you can do this in a way that large corporations and megabreweries cannot.

You’re running a small business. Your brand is you.

Twitter, because of its brevity and its informality, allows you to give people an inside view of you and your brewery. It’s like being on a brewery tour every day. Let me show you a couple of great posts that have popped up in my Twitter feed over the past day.

The Twitter

See what’s going on here? You’ve got notification of promotions and events, you’ve got notification of new brews, and you’ve got a peek inside the life of a brewer. It shows a little process without giving anything away. Information is great, it will sell your product, you just need to put it out there because people are looking for it. Let them find it. They want to be a fan of you and your brewery!

Recommendations

1. Use it regularly. Like any presence on the web, having something stagnate is much worse than having nothing there at all. It’s amazing how many breweries out there have Twitter feeds with nothing on them – some of them even have a ton of followers and no content. It’s a huge waste of opportunity.

2. Pace yourself. You don’t have to post every 20 minutes. You can probably get by with just posting once a day, but really – if you’ve got a piece of information, put it out there. On the other hand, if you’re posting every single thing that comes up, you’re just creating spam. I have stopped following people because they tweet too much, other people will to.

3. Don’t go crazy re-tweeting. Pick and choose. Yes, when you re-tweet is encourages others to re-tweet, but it also, as I said before, creates spam if you do it a lot. Never, ever, re-tweet just to find something to tweet.

4. Get TweetDeck. It is a really easy way to get a handle on Twitter – it’s especially powerful as it allows you to create search queries, the example you see below is a column that I created on a search for “Duck Rabbit.” Note that I’m looking for a product name, not a twitter handle.

Duck Rabbit on the Tweets

I cannot say enough how much of an advantage I think it is for your brewery to use Twitter effectively and efficiently, the return on investment in incalculable. Use it. You’ll thank me.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Apr 2009 @ 12 21 PM

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 27 Apr 2009 @ 11:43 AM 

Whatchya doin’ this Saturday?

If you said making beer – you’re right!

This Saturday is Big Brew Day which, if you’re not familiar with it, is the commemoration of National Homebrew Day – it’s the first Saturday in May each year. The AHA says:

Each year the AHA finds two or three recipes to highlight for Big Brew. Then hundreds of homebrewers register their locations for a communal brew-in to celebrate National Homebrew Day. They invite family and friends, or hang posters around town to advertise their brewing site. Then on the first Saturday in May (May 2nd this year) everyone congregates at the brewing site early enough to join in a collective toast at noon Central time and get on with the brewing.

This year’s recipes look interesting: A saison in honor of a homebrewer from San Diego, a dark mild (holy yum) based on a recipe from Dry Dock Brewing Co, and an Amber Ale being brewed in honor of Utah HB51 – the bill that legalized homebrewing in Utah.

The irony is that nobody in Utah can legally brew this beer for another 10 days after Big Brew. The bill goes into effect on May 12. It’s almost like taunting them.

But if you’re not in Utah, find a site that’s cooking up a batch and join them! It’s sure to be fun – and make sure you raise a glass at Noon CDT to honor the best hobby out there.

Cheers!

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 27 Apr 2009 @ 11 43 AM

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 24 Apr 2009 @ 10:34 PM 

Day 4 – Last day of the conference. I’ve got a lot to say, I hope you’re buckled in.

Interesting stuff today – my sessions started off on the practical level: Water and its Uses in the Brewhouse, and Oak Barrel Aging. Both good, the latter was especially fascinating, especially since I would like to do a fair amount of barrel again myself. I would have liked to hear him speak a little more to sour beers, but it’s just not as hot in the market as spirit-flavored stuff right now, so I understand the focus.

The afternoon held another “women and beer” session, this time by Ginger Johnson – a marketeer and beer appreciator – but (importantly) not a brewer. She was great. She was energetic, and she was peppy, and she had a message that I (mostly) agreed with focusing on education and social interaction. I spent the entire session writing down quotes, let me pass a few onto you. She started off by nothing that she was talking about women as a market segment, not as an issue. “Gender is a difference, not an inequality” she said and “Women are not a niche or a special initiative.” Yeah! I’m not sure she always stuck to this, but it was good to start with. I mean, you don’t start a women-only beer tasting group without it being somewhat of special initiative – after all, it’s women-only and it would seem that you’re doing it for a purpose, there.. The problem is, once you treat women as a different segment, you’re automatically create an inequality. If you say, “Women taste things differently” you’ve created an inequality (and I still don’t buy that shit. In fact. Let me make an aside:)

An aside:

I’ve heard this mentioned like 5 times in the past two days: “Women taste things differently than men.” Someone at the first panel mentioned that there had been some sort of study that showed that women have a better ability to detect acids than men do and some other incremental difference. So does that mean that women taste things differently than men? Yeah, sure. If what you’re trying to do is compare, on a minute level, the differences between palates. But here’s the thing: If I drink an IPA and my wife drinks an IPA, we are both drinking the same beer. I might love it and she might hate it (she’s not a hophead), but it’s not because she’s tasting it differently than I am, it’s because she doesn’t enjoy the hops. People taste differently than other people. It’s not because she’s a women, it’s because she has a different set of life experiences behind her taste preferences. However! What she tastes as an IPA is essentially exactly the same as what I’m tasting as an IPA since the only thing either of us have to compare it against is our own experiences with flavor. There is no possible way I can experience the beer as it is on her palate, so an incremental difference between us is inconsequential. Maybe this leans a little too far to philosophy, but the way I see it is this: If I start at point A and she starts 5 feet away from me, and we both walk three miles the only difference between us is our individual experience on a very slightly different path. We both walked 3 miles. Poor analogy, maybe, but it’s my standpoint.

Back to topic:

The thing that Ginger said that really rang true to me was, “It’s about real women, not about feminizing to sexualizing something … Treat them like the consumers you want them to be.” Hear-freakin’-hear. This goes back to my theory (which I will repeat again and again and again): You want women to drink good beer? Make good beer.

She brought up some sort of .. statistic or something. Un-cited it makes me a little nervous, I think she said she got this out of focus groups (and I also distrust focus groups.. so.. meh… it’s okay). What she said was: Women have higher standards than men. If you meet the woman’s expectations, you will generally exceed the man’s expectation. It sounds reasonable – though it does kind of fly in the face of “Gender is a difference, not an inequality.” I can’t say that I love that I might have lower standards for my beer than my wife. I like to think that we have different expectations, not that mine are lower. She might love a sweet malty beer and I might love a sour funky one. Those aren’t better or worse, or higher or lower or whatever. They’re different.

Aaaanyway (I’m clearly rambling today), the point is this: IF that’s true (which – in a general, population-level sense, sounds right) then finding this missed market segment is easy. But let’s say it this way: You want women to drink good beer? Make good beer.

Last session of the day was fun: Beer on the Web with Jason and Todd Alstrom, Jay Brookston and Joni Denyes from Odell Brewing. From my perspective, it was fun – not anything I didn’t know, but nice to relax and listen to something that I’m really familiar with. At the same time that the actual panel was going on, there was a sub-discussion going on on Twitter which was both serious and actually quite funny. Take a look at a Twitter search for #cbc09 and just scroll back oh.. hell.. probably a couple of hundred pages by this time, to see the chatter flow. For the record, and thank you Sean from Fullsteam for worrying my wife as she followed along on Twitter from home: My fly was up.

I think the only issues that I had was the panel were these:

1) It would have been nice to have a computer set up to the projector in the Amphitheater with a connection to the internet to actually demonstrate some of this technology. Unfortunately, while there were a bunch of people in the room who were very tech savvy and willing to discuss this technology, there were also a bunch who were essentially asking, “What’s the Tweeter? Is that on the Google now?” It would have been nice to have a way of displaying the technology that people were talking about – maybe having Jay’s blog and Beer Advocate up online, as well as O’Dell’s twitter, MySpace, and Facebook pages – it definitely would have required a longer session, though. Maybe next year, it’s a session that’s worth repeating.

2) I was a little irked about Jay Brookston’s comments about amateur bloggers. I’m trying not to take umbrage because I’ve so recently started pouring my head onto this blog, and look at this objectively. Fact is this: In a way, we are all amateur bloggers. The internet is a relatively young invention, and blogs moreso. Five years ago, we couldn’t have this conversation. So have professional bloggers risen overnight? I don’t think so. Maybe you had professional writers who have decided to move their content online, but that doesn’t make them any less amateur in the medium. I see where Jay is going – not everybody who runs a blog is serious about writing or serious about their subject matter. Jay has the advantage of being an established writer and having a good history in the beer industry. He also happens to be both tech savvy and a fantasic author – and this gives him a decided edge.

However, everybody has to start somewhere. Just because somebody is new or small doesn’t mean that they’re unprofessional or not good at what they’re doing. Good god – if that were the case, would we even have a craft brew industry? The point I hope Jay was trying to make was that – just because someone is running a blog doesn’t mean that they’re willing to approach it intelligently and that YOU, both as a business owner and a consumer of content, have to take the time to decide whether or not this person is worth spending your valuable time and attention. There’s little-to-no cost of entry involved in starting a blog, and because of that there is definitely a high level of jack-assery. Don’t take their existence as a credential, take the time to investigate them for yourself (or find someone you trust who has the time to do it for you).

So there’s my spiel to stop me from being an amateur, and actually make me someone awesome who is still trying to ping the radar. 🙂

Because.. hey.. I’m awesome right? And modest, too. Don’t forget modest.

All in all? Awesome week. I got to meet some great people, some who were just starting breweries and some who have been in the business for a long, long time. I got a lot of good perspectives and have come away inspired and hungry for more. I’m not gonna lie, it’s gonna be really difficult to head back to the 9-5 next week. I’m ready to start NOW.

Next year, the conference is in Chicago and I plan to attend with my wife and my (hopefully eventual) COO in tow to flesh out details of the business. Until then, there will probably be occasional mention of startup stuff here on the blog, but I’ll most likely focus on beer, breweries, as much industry stuff as I can dig up to keep myself engaged and moving forward.

I hope you’ll join me on the ride.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 May 2009 @ 07 06 AM

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 23 Apr 2009 @ 11:20 PM 

Day 3 didn’t start out very well for me, mainly because Day 2 ended so well. Turns out that at the end of Day 2, I forgot to eat dinner. It took me a little while to get out of bed this morning. Heh.

But get out of bed I did! And I had another fantastic day.

First off, I mentioned yesterday that I was hoping that the movie that Greg Koch showed at the beginning of the keynote would be available on line, and it most certainly is. View at your pleasure, it is truly awesome. I think it actually brought a tear of pride to my eye.


I Am A Craft Brewer.

Today, I had lunch with a good friend of mine who’s working as an indie video game developer. He’s in the process of starting up his own company, very much in the same way I’m working on starting up mine – he’s a little ahead of me on the track, but in comparing notes about the industries, we found remarkable similarities. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that these are both comparatively young industries. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’re both rooted in passion, or that they’re both working full time against lowest-common-denominator preconceptions. Hard to say, but we were a little surprised that we felt like we had so much in common when the two end products felt like they weren’t related at all. He’s got a deadline coming up in a couple of weeks, so I won’t push now, but we’re looking at – in the future – doing an industry comparison across our sites so that we can fully explore the similarities. The way my mind sees it is that we might see some really unlikely partnerships bloom sometime in the future.

After lunch, I attended the panel Beer According to Women: How Women Brew, Present, Pair and Sell Beer. The panel was moderated by Sebbie Buhler of Rogue, full panel was Candice Alstrom of Beer Advocate, Teri Fahrendorf – Road Brewer and founder of the Pink Boots Society, and Jodi Stoudt of Stoudts Brewing Co. Really fantastic panel, with a good range of opinions. There’s a list of questions and answers laying around somewhere on the internet that I need to dig up and post here so that I don’t have to reiterate the entire panel. For the most part, the panel agreed with my feeling on the matter: How do you get women to drink good beer? You make good beer. The key word that all of the panelists emphasized was “balance” and I might argue that that’s important for every beer drinker, not just women.

In fact, I found myself thinking, almost across the board, that any of the good points about how to reach women really applied to men equally and that bringing gender into the equation really made things more complicated than they were. What I found most interesting is that there seems to be a bit of an age divide on this issue. It was evident right away in the panel, the first question asked was: Does gender matter? While 2 out of the 3 panelists said “No” (my position), one said “Yes” and continued to return to the point throughout the entire panel. I hesitate to use the world “older” to describe her because the age difference between 99% of the people in this industry is not that wide and “older” sounds like I’m saying “elder,” and I don’t want to give that impression. We’re talking maybe 10 years, here, both in age and in experience in the industry. However, it is enough, I think, for traditional stances on feminism to change significantly. It’s a tricky subject. What is clear to me is that while we might be talking about this now, we’re going to be talking about it completely differently in a few years and my theory is that we won’t be talking about it at all after a small time. Why? Because craft brewers continue to get better at their craft, they continue to put good beer out in front of consumers and in time the women will drink it as equally as the men.

The second panel I went to was Keeping it Real: Brewery Owner Perspectives. Moderated by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, the panel consisted of Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery, Kim Jordan of New Belgium, David Walker of Firestone Walker, and Rob Todd of Allagash. It was phenomenal. The entire panel was anecdotal. Managerial advice took the form of stories about the startup years of each brewery, how they found their vision, when they had to finally delegate responsibilities, how they manage distribution, etc. It was funny and warming and is one of those times (like the video above) that I feel really warm about becoming part of this industry.

The only question that I felt wasn’t particularly well addressed was one by Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing. He mentioned that a lot of the people up on the stage were in his homestate of Texas through large A-B and MillerCoors distributors and that those distributors actively choke out local Texas beers due to their current legal restriction on self-distribution. David Walker responded something along the lines of, “Hang in there, it will all be okay, things are changing.” which is probably accurate, but Scott’s point remains valid. All of these guys can say to their distributors – don’t take tap handles or shelf space away from other craft beers to put my product in, and that might be agreed upon from a managerial standpoint in the distributor, but the local guy who’s actually going into package stores or supermarkets or dive bars or whatever might not give a shit, and that’s where local breweries are going to get hit the hardest. When something of similar quality to their product comes in from elsewhere and has the advantage of being a well-known brand – a Sam Adams, a Dogfish Head, a New Belgium, etc. – and the local rep won’t follow through on the intention of the regional brewer.

Kim Jordan might not have wanted to take tap handles away when Fat Tire came into North Carolina, but I see it in bars everywhere now and I can assure you that the tap handle that came down to put Fat Tire on was almost definitely NOT A-B or Coors.

So Scott’s question, in my mind, is: When a large regional brewery starts to become a threat to local brands due to the unscrupulous actions of their distributor: what do we do?

I don’t know the answer to that question, and I think it’s going to be a tough one to answer until the three-tier system is better regulated, but it’s interesting to think about.

I, unfortunately, did not make it to the Cask event at Harpoon tonight, though I had originally planned to. I ended up meeting up with my old roommate and fantastic friend at dining (again) at the Cambridge Brewing Company. Harissa Rubbed Lamb Steak paired with Gruit? That’s the kind of meal people write about. Heh. I just wrote about it. Awesome.

Tomorrow? More women and beer and the sad conclusion of the conference.

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Categories: Brewers Association, industry, media
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 Apr 2009 @ 11 28 PM

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 22 Apr 2009 @ 11:54 PM 

Holy crap I’m tired.

What a long day. What an awesome day.

Started off with the keynote at the CBC. Really, more than just the keynote – Charlie Papazian opened things up with a “be unscripted” introduction. Paul Gatza followed with some really quite positive numbers about the state of the craft brewing industry. Brewers Association 2009 Achievement Award Winners were announced and Greg Koch blew everything out of the water with a fantastic video toast (which – if I can get an internet copy I would love to post) and keynote address that was truly awesome. Greg is, indeed, a rock star.

The BrewExpo opened and.. I’ve been to a lot of conferences for other industries I’ve worked in. I’ve never been to a trade show where people were so… well.. friendly. People are happy just to chat. They genuinely seem to want to help you and want to know about what you’re doing. It’s really pretty fantastic. I learned an amazing amount today, and am planning on going and scouring the floor for pricing info for my business plan.

The afternoon held sessions – I held myself to the “Brewery Startup” sessions, all in the same room. A nice overview of fundraising and opening numbers from Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio, followed by a really great statistical look at the craft brew industry, primarily by Ray Daniels, and finally a phenomenal rundown of practical advice from Jamie Martin, Brewmaster of Moosejaw Pizza & Dells Brewing Co.. Absolutely great stuff.

The evening gave me a choice: Go on the drunk bus to Sam Adams, or head over to, arguably my favorite bar ever, the Sunset Grill to meet up with the Stone Brewing crew and try a bunch of things I will never have on tap again. Well worth it. I got to meet Carla the Beer Babe, the 2 beer guys from 2beerguys and Candice Alstrom. Great times.

Now.. let’s pretend you get a chance to grab Greg Koch as he works through a crowd and ask him a question. What do you ask?

Me? I ask: “How many of that plaid jacket do you own?”

The answer: “Just one.”

Indeed – the story of my life. What price glibness? I’ll answer that question later. For now – great day – looking forward to tomorrow.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 22 Apr 2009 @ 11 54 PM

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