Meeting of Malts Panel on Innovation: Who is Doing What?

Dear Client:

Last week’s annual Meeting of the Malts event in Hershey, Pennsylvania, featured a panel on some of the best-known craft brewers, highlighting just how different some of their models are. Still, some things seem to be converging, as consumers seem to want more new and “refreshing” brews.

A general panel discussion featured Bryant Goulding of Rhinegeist Brewery, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, Shaun O’Sullivan of 21st Amendment Brewery, John Trogner of Troegs Brewing and Wendy Yuengling of D.G. Yuengling.

Wendy Yuengling spoke for her family’s brewery. They’re known for a comparatively few solid brands, vs. the craft industry’s plethora of offerings. “Being America’s oldest brewer at 190 years old, our model has been built on quality core brands,” she said. Still, they’ve been playing more with innovation lately, having introduced Golden Pilsner last year, for example.  “We feel there’s an opportunity for sessionable refreshing beer,” she said.

“We will continue to look at what types of beers people want to drink and try to fill that space.” Like: “We’ve done some cool things this year with Bourbon barrel beers where we can continue to attract new consumers.”

Shaun of California’s 21st Amendment believes that “innovation is the heart and soul of a craft brewer.” (Recall, 21A joined with Brooklyn Brewery’s sales and marketing platform a couple of years ago.)

To wit: “We just came out with a beer called Spark Ale, a hybrid of a beer and a cider,” Shaun said. “It’s geared towards craft beer lovers that might want something a little bit lighter. It’s quite refreshing.” (He also mentioned they are looking to go international via their partnership with Brooklyn.)  

IPA IS HALF RHINEGEIST’S BUSINESS … BUT “HOPS ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE.” Much of the conversation centered on innovation, and how the brewers get there. Cincinnati-based Rhinegeist relies on their taproom to test what resonates with consumers.

“IPA is about 45% of our business,” said co-founder Bryant Goulding. “We do a lot of testing with beers on draft in our taproom,” where they are exposed to a plethora of different people.

Some of the innovation that has yielded: “Recently we started to play around with cranberries in ciders and ales. It gives a lovely rose color and piques people’s curiosity. We then met with further success when we put it in cans and made it available to an entirely new set of consumers. We find we do really well with it, because hops are not for everyone.”

But it’s coming full circle, as Bryant says they see fruited IPAs as “a really growing part of the market.”

GARRETT OLIVER ON SELTZER AND MORE. It wouldn’t be a beer symposium without some talk on seltzer.

Asked about the alcoholic seltzer trend, Brooklyn’s Garrett Oliver replied, to applause: “I make beer! There are all kinds of beverages out there that people might want to drink. … We sell 51% of our beer outside the United States. So we have a very international focus to the things we do. Most of my friends are in the wine business or cocktail business. We were one of the first breweries to make beer cocktails.”

But it’s hard to deny that wine and spirits trends — and drinkers — are bleeding into the beer space.  Indeed, Brooklyn’s Bel Air sour has already become their no. 2 seller.

“This is a beer that appeals to wine and cocktail drinkers,” he said.

So how do you innovate sort of outside the folds of craft, while still being genuine? “Every brewer should decide, there are things we are going to do and things we’re not going to do,” said Garrett. “Our religion as brewers is going to be challenged by lots of things.”

Staying true to Brooklyn’s own DNA means thinking on a global scale. “Sitting where we are, we are closer to London than the West Coast. This is very much the way we think. We are in an international city and London is one too. We don’t have a hometown advantage. You don’t see New Yorkers walking around in shirts that say ‘New York’ on them. It’s like being in a band; you don’t wear your band’s shirt! New Yorkers don’t ask if you’re local or around the corner but rather ‘are you the best?’”

Also interesting: “We established ourselves in New York City as a beer wholesaler. We had 200 brands when we sold that business off. We were the largest Sierra Nevada wholesaler outside of Northern California. We sold everything, essentially, except for Sam Adams and Guinness. Craft beer, otherwise, came from us.”

Finally, Chris Trogner of Troegs, itself in Hershey, punctuated the conversation with his method of madness for innovation.

“I work more from a brewer’s stance. I discover flavor by trying different ingredients and different techniques that inspire me. There is no silver bullet,” he says, but as a brewer you should be “making things you are proud of. You should be able, from time to time, to find something that’s really interesting and creative that people can grab hold of and enjoy.”

But for them, no seltzers on the horizon.

MIKKELLER TAKING OVER BURNSIDE BREWING’S OLD DIGS, FOR NOW

Popular Danish brewer Mikkeller is set to make temporary use of the old Burnside Brewing outpost in Portland, Oregon.

Recall that the spot, which Burnside Brewing called home for nine years, has been sitting idle since February after Burnside was reportedly booted from the space by its landlord for falling behind in rent.

Now, Mikkelller is partnering up with local restaurant group, Chefstable, to re-open the space as a pop-up beer bar/restaurant with hopes of turning it into a permanent outpost, reports Oregon Live.

Owner and managing partner of Chefstable, Kurt Huffman, reportedly “purchased Burnside Brewing’s assets and wiped out its debt, allowing the new project to proceed.”

If all goes according to plan, the new project will evolve from a pop-up beer and restaurant into a permanent establishment. Apparently, the “schedules and the legal complications of starting a foreign brewery led them to opt for pop-ups,” per report.

The pop-up phase is slated to debut on June 1 and run through the end of the year. This short-lived space will feature around two dozen Mikkeller taps alongside a menu of Japanese noodles and rice dishes. “It’s truly going to be just a thrown-together space that fits in with the idea of a pop-up, opening as a Mikkeller bar, knowing we’ll close back down in six months,” Kurt told Oregon Live.

Indeed, at the end of the year, Chefstable and Mikkeller plan to shut down the pop-ups and “pursue the feasibility of a permanent establishment,” per report.

It’s important to note, however, that Chefstable did not purchase the building that housed the former Burnside Brewery. So if they do decide to make this a long-term deal, there’s a chance the brewing equipment could go into a different location if renovation and expansion plans don’t pan out at Burnside’s old digs.

BEER BRIEFS:

BRECKENRIDGE BREWERY COMING OUT WITH A HAZY IPA? The Hazy train keeps a rollin. MyBeerBuzz recently plucked an interesting new label submitted by A-B’s Breckenridge Brewery for a 16-oz. hazy IPA, cleverly titled Hazy IPA.  The beer is touted as a “bold, juicy & aromatic India Pale Ale” and weighs in at 7% ABV.

Until tomorrow,

Jenn, Jordan, and Harry

“Last year I joined a support group for antisocial people. We haven’t met, yet.” – Anonymous

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