24 Aug 2009 @ 9:50 AM 

One of the most bizarre parts of starting a brewery is planning that’s far away from buildings, business plans, or venture capital, and it’s probably one of the most important decisions that you can possibly make: What kind of beer do you make first?

It’s vital. It’s the beer that first defines your brand to customers; it’s the beer that will most likely, but not necessarily, be with you for the entirety of your existence.
The ubiquitous sampler.

So, how do you decide? Do you want a session beer that people can drink a lot of? Something big and memorable that people won’t drink a lot of? Do you want to make an incredibly popular style and subject yourself to a ton of competition? Or make a hard-to-get style and hope that people will go out of their way to try it? What’s more – is there a way to balance all of these considerations?

A few years ago, when I took Siebel Insitute’s inaugural Start Your Own Brewery course, one of the largest things I took away from it was Jason Ebel of Two Brothers Brewing Company and Windy City Distribution saying something like, “If you’re trying to sell a porter, for the love of god, don’t even bother calling me. Everybody’s got a friggin’ porter.”

When I was shopping at Whole Foods this weekend, I took a stroll through the beer section and noticed that 75% or more of the beers that they had in there were IPAs or APAs.

In one panel at the Craft Brewers Conference this year, I remember a slide (wish I had a reference for you, but I don’t) noting specifically that most customers expected and wanted to see a stout on tap at their brewpub, but that it was continually the lowest-selling beer on tap.

A study by the BA in 2002 (which I can no longer find, so you’ll have to trust my AWESOME memory) suggested that craft beer drinkers who said they had a favorite beer drank that beer, on average, once per month. So on some level, all of this is subject to whim, no matter what.

It all seems like crazy conflicting information? So how do you deal with it?

For me, it’s been a weird process of elimination. I started by looking at the beers that I like. It is my personal feeling that a flagship should be with a brewery as long as possible, as a strong part of their brand definition. With that in mind, it had better damn well be a beer that I enjoy since I’m going to be the one around it most.

I cut it down to beers for which I had already made recipes that I enjoyed, so that I could then work on perfecting those recipes over the next few years as I work on the nuts and bolts of the rest of the startup … you better believe I have a beer in my hand every time I work on my business plan.

That left me with a half dozen beers to choose from. I eliminated the really high gravity stuff with the thought that I would prefer if people bought a lot of my first product, and the best way to get people to buy a consumable product is to make sure they consume it.

That left me with three. One of which I eliminated because it involved an herb that I thought would be a tough sell out of the gate.

That leaves me with an IPA and a Porter.

Tough sell.

Of course, I’m still early on in the process – it all may change in time, especially as I develop new recipes that I – and others – like.

But what about others?

Beer drinkers: What are you most likely to try from a new brewery?

Breweries: How did you arrive at your final decision for your flagship?

Other startups: How are you approaching this process?

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 24 Aug 2009 @ 09:58 AM

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