01 Aug 2012 @ 12:59 PM 

God I wish this was going to be a long post, but it’s not.

Tomorrow is IPA Day, and I can’t get behind it.

Nevermind the fact that IPA is the first jumping off point for every beginning craft beer enthusiast that is trying to get as far away from premium lager as possible. Nevermind that the vast majority of IPAs are over-hopped and over-wrought and are just one-note hop bombs with very little subtlety or nuance.

Look at your calendar and look at all of the SUCH-AND-SUCH Day holidays that are on there. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Secretary’s Administrative Assistant Professional’s Day. There’s a Grandparent’s Day, Boss’s Day (I assume this is about Bruce Springsteen), National Doughnut Day, National Catfish Day, and whatever the hell else you want. You know what they all have in common? They are held to bring specific attention to something that is generally under appreciated.

IPA? Really? The single best selling style in craft beer? Every goddamned day is IPA day. It doesn’t need a specific holiday. You want to know why there’s a Black History Month and not a White History Month? Because EVERY month is White History Month.

Why aren’t we celebrating a style that NEEDS a little bit of extra attention? Bitter! Bock! Pilsener! (speaking of an under appreciated style) Schwarzbier! Vienna Lager! Baltic Porter! ANYTHING but freakin’ IPA.

IPA is delicious, but it’s EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t need to be put on a pedestal, it needs to be joined on that pedestal by other delicious beers.

Join me by using #IPADay to celebrate a beer style that you feel needs more appreciation and attention, instead. Take it back and go somewhere new! I’ll be tweeting using: #TakeBack #IPADay

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Tags Categories: industry, marketing, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 Aug 2012 @ 01 00 PM

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 23 May 2012 @ 11:39 AM 

I am writing this post because I get an e-mail or a phone call almost every single day from a person asking me how to do this and so this is partly to help people and partly to slow the deluge of e-mail and phone calls.

As anybody who has viewed this blog for any length of time is probably aware, I am the guy behind Mystery Brewing Company. I originally launched the brewery as a Kickstarter campaign. The original idea was to do alternating proprietorship – a form of contract brewing – but that idea fell through and we now operate a fully functioning brick-and-mortar brewery. I won’t go through that whole story right now, because I already have. Read it here. We’re not a nano, but we’re not huge. We are, however, having a blast.

I don’t think I was the first to try, but I’m pretty sure I was the first to get funded, the largest funded (so far), and I might be the first operational Kickstarter brewery. I make no promises that those claims are true, but I think they are.

So, because of this success, I am asked often for advice by other budding entrepreneurs about how to start a brewery using Kickstarter. Let me give you this bullet list:

1. It can’t be done

Okay. That’s kind of glib. But consider this: I raised ~$44,000 via Kickstarter, which seems like a lot of money, right? I mean.. it is. It’s like median yearly income for an American family right now or something silly like that.

For a 7bbl brewery that doesn’t even pay for kegs. It certainly doesn’t pay for a brewhouse. It’s 6 fermenters. It’s the cost of plumbing and glycol piping. You get the idea.

Okay, now remember: You owe taxes on that money. You’re a business now and you need to pay taxes on any income that you make. So that $44,000, after the cut that Amazon and Kickstarter take is closer to $40,000, and then closer to $35,000 after you pay even the most modest of income taxes on it. Then you have to pay for those prizes that you’re sending out to people plus postage (postage is expensive – one Priority Mail package to 250 people = $1,000 minimum), so now you’re down to $30,000 or so, maybe lower. That’s more like 4 fermenters.

The point is this: You need, need, NEED alternate sources of funding. Don’t count on the SBA. Regardless of what they tell you they are not interested in funding startups unless there is absolutely no risk involved (ie – you are putting in an enormous amount of capital already), same goes for banks. You need to have a lot of your own money in the bank, ready to go, or a few angel investors willing to put up at least $150,000, probably more. The total cost to starting up a 7bbl brewery, right now, with the prices of stainless and the dearth of decent used equipment, is just north of $500,000.

2. Go big or go home.

For a blog that gets more hits on an article about nanobreweries, than pretty much anything else, I am still not convinced that they are a completely viable business model. If you’re planning on starting a nanobrewery, you NEED a taproom if you want the business to be completely self-sustaining. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to brew enough beer, otherwise. If you don’t have a way to sell per pint, you need to find an alternate form of income.

If you’re still interested in going the Kickstarter route:

3. You need a pre-established community to support you.

I hate to say this, but if you don’t have a local community that’s ready to see you start a brewery, you’re going to have a difficult time finding that funding. When I started my Kickstarter campaign, I was the only brewery that had a “currently funding” project. Today there are 12 in funding and I know of at many MANY more who are looking at it, so you need some way to make yours stand out. It’s going to be YOU. That’s it. You and your local community. Use it. That community is your friends, your parents, their friends, their friends of friends, etc. I knew 50% of the people that backed me on Kickstarter personally. Of the rest, most of those knew one of my other backers. That network is even more important now that it used to be, because you’re not the only person trying to do this.

4. Have decent rewards.

People are going to back you for more reasons than just helping you start a brewery, and it’s not because they want another crappy shaker pint. It’s about the experience. They want something that’s going to make them feel special. They also want something that seems like it’s worth their while. $100 for a t-shirt is shitty. $100 for a t-shirt, a sticker, a pint glass, and a bottle opener is less shitty, but throw in a personalized beer recipe and you’re starting to talk business. Don’t skimp on prizes, people will skimp on contributing. They’re nice people, but they want a reward.

5. You need to work on it EVERY DAY.

That means you need to go bother people every day. You need to write press releases and contact every network you’ve ever been a part of. Go give a talk to your grandparents’ retirement home and contact your college alumni magazine. Call your hometown newspaper and get your mom to talk about it at her bridge club. Call people you used to work with and old friends from elementary school. If you aren’t pushing it as hard as you can and being excited about it, then why should anybody else? Making that campaign work is a full time job. It won’t come to you, you need to go get it.

6. Don’t forget where you came from.

After you’ve made it and you’re successful, make sure you don’t forget where you came from. I will be sending out Kickstarter prizes for years. No shit. Half of my donors probably think I’ve completely forgotten about them. I haven’t. These people are the reason I had the balls to start my brewery and I have so, so many plans for ways to thank them that go above and beyond what I originally planned in the Kickstarter campaign. And you might ask yourself – why? What do I owe them now? They are the original community around my business. Any and every small business is about people. It’s about the community, and these are your starter community. They are your early evangelists. Take care of them and they will continue to take care of you.

7. Stop asking me for help.

Okay, that’s a little glib, too. But I can’t tell you how to make you successful. It’s your business, make it your own and come up with your own cool ideas and tactics. I can give you all of the advice in the world, but ultimately you won’t be successful by using my model, because it’s mine and, like I said, small business is about the people. You’re not me (I hope), and so you need to go find what works for you.

Good luck! It’s a shitload of work, but the reward of having all of those people believe in your idea is worth every hour you spend on it, and worth far, FAR more than the amount of money that you might raise.

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Categories: brewery, industry, marketing, op-ed, startup
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 May 2012 @ 11 39 AM

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My book, North Carolina Beer and Breweries is officially released today.

Neat.

And before the book was even officially out, I’d already had at least one AMAZING, humbling review.

Now comes the hard part – the the book tour. In this, I need help.

I’m a nerd. I’ve been to a lot of book signings and releases, and in each and every one of them the author generally gets up, reads a bit from the book, answers some questions, and then shmoozes and signs books for a while. I’ve also been to a couple of beer book signings and releases before where the author kind of stands around and drinks while signing books when people manage to approach the with a pen and a book in hand. I find the latter kinda lame. I want to hear from the author, that’s why I’m there. Otherwise I’m just drinking with somebody I don’t know and I could just buy a signed copy of the book and have the exact same effect.

So, this is where you come in – what do I do at these? The nature of this book is such that reading from it is difficult – it’s not fiction, it’s essentially episodic non-fiction. There are small snippets about the entire state and what’s interesting to a crowd in Wilmington will be different than what’s interesting to a crowd in Asheville. So, in order to make sure that everybody who goes to one of these gets a great experience, what’s the best thing to do?

Read from the history section?

Just do a talk about beer in North Carolina?

Q&A?

Beer tasting with whatever is local? (Remember – that requires buying kegs.)

Just hang out and shoot the shit?

Stand on the bar and deliver a gospel sermon about craft beer?

Help me, internets – what would YOU find interesting?

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Tags Categories: marketing, media, Mystery Brewing Company, NC Beer, nc beer book Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 Apr 2012 @ 10 51 AM

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 07 Oct 2011 @ 12:31 AM 

This week is a festival-y week. This past weekend was, of course, the Great American Beer Festival. This coming weekend gives us the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC. It’s my home beer fest, and this particular one will be the first one that my little startup brewery has a booth at, however unofficially.

It’s meant that I’ve spent the past week or so thinking a lot about the festivals themselves: What do I want out of them? What are people getting out of them? What are they all about?

This year was my first GABF, and for the most part it seemed like a nice beer festival. I quite enjoyed it. It was well organized, there were nice wide aisles, there was a good selection of beer and nice side events. (The Farm-to-Food Beer Pairing Pavilion was brilliant.) Indoor beer festivals are also my favorites because there’s no smoking and there are actual bathrooms and not port-a-johns. So, awesome on those counts. What I really noticed, overall, was something that Andy Crouch brought up in his recent GABF recap which is that there was a tremendous lack of brewers. There were, however, scads of volunteers (yay!) that didn’t know anything about the beer they were pouring (boo!). It’s something that made me reflect back upon local beer festivals and seeing brewers hanging out behind festival tents chatting with one another while volunteers were pouring their beer just feet away on the other side of a flap.

What’s going on here?

Before I answer that, let me ramble on a little more.

While I was in Denver, I had lunch with a friend who does not drink. Over the course of lunch, she asked, “So, what’s the point of this festival? Is it a good way to get exposure to a lot of people?” and I thought about it and had to answer: No. Not really. Not at all, actually. I drank beer from dozens of breweries, and I doubt that I can tell you more than a handful that I had and enjoyed.

And it’s a sort of woogy answer. Here in Durham, with an almost-open brewery, I am looking forward to getting a lot of exposure. But I am largely an exception. I am pre-new and many people haven’t heard of me (or have only heard of me have no idea what I’m all about) and this is an excellent way to get in front of my local crowd. But what about for everyone else?

Again, what I told my friend: I don’t think most brewers really care about getting in front of drinkers, anymore. They care about getting in front of the 1% of people that are in there that can actually help expand their market – the beer buyers, the bar owners, the restaurateurs, the distributors. Everybody else is just getting trashed.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with beer festivals.

To wit (and I’ve said this before): Beer festivals used to be about education. For years and years, they served as a way for a population that was eager to learn to get a wide array of beers easily, and to learn about a vast array of different styles in a way that just wasn’t available to them anywhere else. Now they can go do that at the package store. Total Wine has just as many beers as you’ll see at most beer festivals, maybe more, and it’s cheap to build your own six-pack. Sampling is just a lot easier in the marketplace than it used to be. That means when people go to beer festivals they’re not interested in learning. They already know what they’re looking for. They’re interested in drinking – which in and of itself is not a terrible thing – but as beer festival prices go up and up and up, people tend to try to get their money’s worth out of the price of their ticket and that generally means pounding as many 2 oz. samples as possible.

Is this true for every festival? Certainly not. But the bigger ones, the more well-known ones? Almost universally true.

From a brewer’s standpoint, if people aren’t there to learn from you there’s no incentive to try to engage with them. There’s nothing more disheartening than having somebody walk up to your booth and ask for “your lightest beer” or “whatever” and then just slug it back, regardless of what it was. We put a lot of work into making these products, and we’re proud of what they taste like. It’s frankly a little insulting to watch somebody pound a sample of your product without any thought. I’d rather you hated it and dump it out then to drink it without thinking about it.

If it’s not about educating consumers, it’s really about that small contingent of people that can effect a brewer’s bottom line in a real way, the people who will end up buying a large portion of product (eg – kegs or cases, not a bottle or a 6’er), and that makes hanging out at a booth and giving beer to people who don’t care fall under “not a good use of time” in most circumstances. After all, a brewer can hang out around the back of the booth and wait for that 1% to come around and focus on them while volunteers pour the beer.

So, if this is the overall trend, then what does the future of beer festivals look like? I struggle with this. I can’t help but think that brewers will get more and more jaded about spending large amounts of time and product going to beer festivals that help them less and less and that more and more people will stop showing up to something that is become more and more of a chugfest.

I offer these possible future solutions for beer festivals:

  • Stop pretending it’s about the beer and focus on something else. Get bands in and make it an all-day concert that happens to have a great beer selection (a la Brewgrass). Give brewers a chance to sell their beer instead of give it away and you’ll end up attracting a lot more breweries and take a lot of pressure off of the breweries.
  • Stop pretending it’s about the drinkers and make it a trade show. Make it industry-only. You want to see brewers show up and show off their products? Make sure that the only people there are buyers, retailers, and distributors. General public can have their own drunk-fests with all-volunteer staffs and maybe a few special guests.
  • Get the education back into beer festivals. Get rid of the damn band – no one cares – make it event-heavy. Put beer-and-food pairing sessions front and center, have talks by brewers about ingredients or techniques that are more than introductory bullshit schlock. Realize the fact that craft reaches a much larger portion of the marketplace than it used to and cater to that market. After all, those are the people that are going to beer festivals now.
  • Limit attendance. For the love of all that’s holy. Anybody will tell you: small beer festivals are more fun.

I’m sure there are dozens of other ways we could see festivals revitalized. It’s time for some innovation.

I enjoy beer festivals, but I am jaded by their expense to the brewer. You’ll see us at our locals, but not at many outside of our area. They need re-imagining to continue to be relevant to both brewers and drinkers and I kind of wish I was in a place to help move them along. Unfortunately (for festivals), I’ll be on the other side of the tent flap making beer.

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Tags Categories: beer festival, industry, marketing, media, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 07 Oct 2011 @ 09 19 AM

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Announcing Pint/Counterpint Episode #3 – our “local” episode. In this episode we cover local issues, such as – what does it mean to be a local brewery? Is it using local ingredients, or just distributing locally? We also talk about local talent and that we’re looking for more of it (it’s not what you think!).

As a special guest star you’ll notice my very nervous dog Tessie who decided that the time to wander out of the office and look for comfort was the middle of our shoot. Isn’t she cute? Awww.

Special thanks again to Tres Bruce who continues to make us look and sound sharp.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Aug 2011 @ 11 24 AM

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