Six Pack of Brewing Success – Part 1 The Product

Let’s start with what every beer geek will tell you is the most important thing, in fact they will tell you it is the only important thing – the product – what’s inside the bottle, can, growler or keg.  This is also the reason that most brewers get into the business, they love beer, they love creating beer recipes, pushing the boundaries and producing great, high quality product.
But what should you brew? If you are a brewer chances are you have beer tastebuds that are developed far beyond the general public, including most beer geeks, but you are running a business here and you can’t sell your beer to yourself so you have to consider what the public want.
And here starts one of the biggest fights in the beer geek community. God forbid you are a craft brewery that is ‘playing it safe’ by producing what there is demand for. All beer geeks think everyone should produce beers that are targeted absolutely directly at them, even though we can’t actually agree on what beers we like.
I’ve discussed Thunder Road before; they are a Melbourne brewery putting out perfectly acceptable, if a little boring (to beer geeks) pale beers. The strange thing is there is an unnatural level of hatred for them amongst the beer geek community.
Thunder Road are unashamedly going after the mainstream beer drinker. Phillip Withers the owner of Thunder Road told the SMH:
”It’s important to respect the 98 per cent of beer drinkers who don’t drink craft beer, because they are the ones we need to convert,” Withers says.
”They deserve to have as close to what they enjoy already but better. We would love people to all be drinking IPAs but some are going to be scared off.”
It’s a simple enough philosophy; produce a better version of the style of product that the market is already drinking and it’s the exact model that a brewery like Thunder Road would need. If you don’t know anything about them, the description in this article sums it up nicely as a ‘money-is-no-object brewery’. I’m sure money is an object (rich people don’t get rich by being dumb) and they know that if you want to make serious money you need to produce mainstream styles.
Sure do them in a craft beer way with a focus on quality ingredients, but if you want to carve out significant market share you are going to have to go after the pale lager loving, beer garden market. 

The Moondog Boys in their makeshift brewhouse

At the other end of the spectrum is Moon Dog who I have also discussed on here a few times. Now these guys are absolutely the brewery that all beer wankers love to see. Three guys (unfortunately only two and a half beards between them, but we can forgive that), completely ramshackle, a do it yourself vibe and small scale. I assume they have low overheads (for the notoriously capital intensive brewing industry) and therefore they can take risks.

They produce risky beers; pumpkin, plums, coffee, pineapple, coconut, all sorts of things are in their beers They are playing at the ragged edge of where Australia’s beer tastes are and are heading. Some people will love the beer, probably just as many will hate it. It’s a niche within a niche and I’m not entirely convinced it’s actually big enough to sustain a brewery, but I could be, and often am, completely wrong.

To make this approach work you have to accept that you are only going after a small market and you have to treat them as special. It’s going to be a huge amount of one on one communication, talking to people at bars, on twitter and in blogs.

I would suggest you might need to be charging a premium for the product as well and you’d have good cause to given it’s unique and one assumes it’s limited. Of course with a higher price comes an expectation of higher quality, unfortunately quality control has been a little patchy at Moondog, but beer wankers are a forgiving lot (assuming we like you to start with) so they will be fine.  

Which approach is right? Well both, or none, or maybe one of them. I’ve discussed this article before, but let’s face it in the blog world no one reads old entries so I’m going to quote it again. There were some dudes in the US who did a correlation study between sales growth (and you should note it’s growth not volume) and ratebeer scores and found:
By analyzing hundreds of thousands of beer reviews, Clemons found that the brewers whose sales grew the most were not just those with high ratings, but those with the biggest gaps between their highest and lowest ratings.
“It is more important to have some customers who love you than a huge number of customers who merely like you,” the paper concludes — even if your beers are so intense that they turn off a lot of potential customers. “Good, solid, likable, average, middle-of-the-range new products that consumers neither love nor hate will not sell.”

So that suggests that raspberry-infused coffee stouts that half the beer wanker population love and half hate will produce sales growth. Having said all that the article goes on to speculate, when discussing the success of Three Floyds brewery:
But one factor trumps the others: “They picked styles that America truly loved and they made them extreme but not too extreme.”
It’s possible, Clemons notes, to make a beer so edgy that nobody likes it. The key is to be as different as possible without being just plain weird.
So maybe success actually lies somewhere between the two approaches. Produce styles that people like, or perhaps more importantly styles you think the market will grow to like.
We can see that the two biggest selling craft beers are Little Creatures and Fat Yak (both pale ales at around 30-35 IBUs) so perhaps the best approach would be to produce a more extreme version, say a 45 IBU pale ale and then grow them to a 60 IBU IPA and then to a 80 IBU Imperial IPA.
And this is the approach of EPIC brewery, which is one of the most popular craft breweries in New Zealand and increasingly pushing into the USA. Their entry level beer is the pale ale (45 IBUs), but also in the range is the Armageddon (60 IBU) and Hop Zombie (80 IBU). And for the ‘I did a weird fruit infused beer’ crowd they have the Portamarillo, which is made with tamarillos and the Fig and Coffee Stout.

So there are a few approaches that you can take, play it safe lagers all the way through to completely nutbag weird shit. You can probably find a market for both, even if they are different sizes, you just need to understand the market you are making the beer for. 
Possibly interesting epilogue. GABS is approaching later this week. 60 craft beers, some relatively safe, some way out there. There is a ‘People’s Choice’ award where the punters vote for their favourite beer. The questions, what will win? A ‘safe’ choice like Thunder Road’s Richmond Pilsener, or maybe Bridge Road Imperial Lager or something way out there like Moondog’s Mr Mistofflees (clearly the brewers are big musicals about pets fans) which is a passionfruit and mango wild ale or The Monk Brewery’s Sweet Potato Porter.  My guess is it will be a ‘safe’ beer.

The Six Pack of Brewing Success

I wonder what this "Beer" they speak of is

So last week I briefly mentioned that I believe that there is a six pack of craft beer marketing success. I chose six because I know that all beery folk think of things in 6 pack units. See already I’m targeting my message to my audience, that’s number one. Well actually it’s not number one, but you should know that all good marketing starts with an understanding of your audience, the best advice I could give anyone when selling anything, ‘Know your audience.’

Think about it, you are at a party and you spot a fine specimen of the opposite sex, or same sex if you are that way inclined. You would like this person to be your lifelong partner/special friend for the rest of the night. If you know absolutely nothing about her it is going to be tough going, you are going to pussy foot around and you run the risk of throwing something out there that is going to get you slapped in the face.
But what if you’ve done a little scouting mission, talked to her friends, found out that she loves horses and the musical stylings of Burt Bacharach circa 1964, then all of a sudden you drop into conversation that you think Riwoche horses are so cute, then you serenade her with ‘There’s always something there to remind me’ and bada bam bada bing, you’re in.  
So as you read the rest of this remember you should always try to see everything from your customers’ perspective, they may not be as enlightened as you, not as educated as you, and they certainly will not care about your product as much as you do. But they are willing to hear about it, try it, and love it. 
So, without further ado here is The Six Pack of Microbrewing Success. 
1. Get the product right – Make the right products for your target and for the market conditions. If the market is full of pale lagers, should you go with the flow and make a pale lager, or do you Zag (as in zig zag, I’m not suggesting you hire a clown) and produce a stout?
2. Getting people to remember it   – There are thousands of beers out there, how is anyone going to remember yours?
3.  Getting people to try it – We all know that ‘if people just try it they will love it’ so how do you get people to give it a go?
4. Getting people to buy it – Or more specifically making it easy for them to buy it. Distribution has to be the biggest downfall of most craft brewers, could it be overcome with innovative thinking?
5. Get people to talk about it – How do you build brand advocates and how do you stop them destroying your brand?
6. Get people to buy it again and again – Building loyalty.
My theory is that you have to have a strategy for dealing with all of the above, get most of it right and your craft brewery should be a success, get them wrong and you will struggle.
Over the next six weeks (and I can’t believe I’m committing to a six week/six post long entry) I’ll be looking into all of these areas in detail.

Or you could just back a truck of money up to Charlie Sheens door like Bavaria did (This is for their non-alcoholic “beer”)  

Drinking in Crown

For nude fish photos see The Den's beer list

Crown Casino is not normally a place where you would find me, nor is it a place I would normally be recommending. In fact like most right thinking inner city beard wearing wannabe Communists I shall decry the Casino as the home of outer suburban bogans and a temple of Capitalist greed. I shall then ride my fixie to a farmers’ market.  

Of course like most Melbournians I also happen to find myself there from time to time and it can be a scary place for the craft beer loving folk. We are more at home ensconced in dark wood panelling, comfy chairs and ironic decorations. I care about you my readers however, so I have found not one but two bars that you can head to if you find yourself stuck in Crown and in need of a good quality beer.

First up is a bar called The Den. Now this walks the fine line that many a Melbourne bar walks. It is so cool that it is close to impossible to find. You won’t find a sign anywhere, it is underground, under The Atlantic restaurant. If you want to get in you’ll have to walk up to host’s desk at The Atlantic and ask for The Den, you will then follow the white line on the floor, through the restaurant and down a set of unmarked stairs.

This bar is incredibly pretentious, as I mentioned it is underground so there are the expected pipes, steel supports and alike, but there are also random fireplaces, red velvet chairs, a grand piano and random hostesses in gold miniskirts. This bar can best be summed up with a trip to the bathroom. It is completely black, black tiles, black toilet, dimmed lighting, but then there is one single small stainless shelf, sitting there in the cubicle, right at nose height. 

But you can forgive all this ridiculousness because they really do have a good beer list. It’s not huge, just fifteen beers in total, but really nicely put together. There is something for everyone, from the afore mentioned toilet goers with Peroni through to local craft fans with Lord Nelson, Bridge Road, 8 Wired and international beers both old school Germanys and Belgians and one single American beer. 

And if you were picking one single American brewery then Dogfish Head is a good place to start. A brewery so loved it has both a television show and a book (as well as a couple of pubs, a B&B, a range of soap and some spirits). It’s also not available in Australia so I’m not sure how this beer entered the country (or at least how it wasn’t shipped off to Malaysia for processing after it snuck past Lisa McCune and her buddies).

The beer in question is Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron, a big (12%) American Brown ale that has been aged in Paraguayan Palo Santo wood barrels, well in fact aged in one huge, almost 40,000 litre (120,000 bottles) wooden barrel.

This beer smells unmistakably like Vegemite, more specifically like warmed Vegemite. The colour was Vegemite-like as well, admittedly it was dark in the underground cavern that is The Den, but this is certainly a dark ale, with a thin (but lacing) tea coloured head.

Being American I assumed this would be a big hoppy beer, but it simply is not. Rather it is the malt, the alcohol and the resins (from the wood one assumes) and some fruit tones that were driving the flavour. It’s a big chewy slow sipping beer, and you are left with a taste in your mouth that feels more bourbon that beer. 

This was a very good beer, not brilliant, and let’s face it probably not at its best after its unofficial journey to the arse end of the world/AKA Melbourne.  I’d have a Pint though.  We followed it with 8 Wired Big Smoke, and I have to say that the Big Smoke pipped it on the enjoyability stakes.

From The Den it was time to head home, but not before a slight detour to another bar with a fabled beer list. This is another one I would not have found myself, not because it’s hidden but just because I wouldn’t expect much from it.  I have to give a shout out to the Back of the Ferry boys for pointing me towards this one.  

There is no real pretension in this bar, in fact it really does undersell itself. For the passerby it looks like nothing more than a standard hotel lobby bar, filled with the usual jetlagged travellers and other people too scared/tired/unadventurous to leave the safe womb/prison-like atmosphere of the Crown entertainment complex.  Its purpose in Crown is best summed up by its name – The Waiting Room.

But again here is a stellar little beer list, again a mix of Australian and Overseas brews. For our Tipple this night we chose the Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale, which was a red or amber ale all the way from California.

For an American brew it was quite gentle, with malts carrying the brew rather than the hops. It was a nice rich red amber colour, had almost no smell except a faint citrus tone. It is a beautifully balanced drink and a nice way to end the night if you are a little bit worse for wear (allegedly). Definitely Pint worthy.

Stoke Amber Ale

Prologue:  Now I’ve seen my far share of Commonwealth Games coverage over the years. I remember the 1982 games with that creepy winking kangaroo in Brisbane, 1998 in the exotic (for then) sounding Kuala Lampur, and I’m very much looking forward to the 2018 games in ‘Whatever the only city to bid for them is’ I assume Berwick or perhaps Craigieburn (AKA the promised land).

The coverage of the Commonwealth games would consist of bronzed 15 year old swimmers from Queensland beating all comers in the pool (admittedly all comers involved three dudes from Canada where water is normally frozen and you play sport on top of it, not in it, an Englishman who was normally just an Australian who wasn’t fast enough to get in our team so moved to old Blighty, and one guy from Kenya, who hadn’t actually seen a pool til the heats).

When the newly anointed Aussie hero emerged from the pool, he would promptly sign a contract with Uncle Toby’s and then have a microphone shoved in his face and asked by the recently retired swimmer now working for Channel Nine ‘How do you feel.” The swimmer, breathlessly would tell the world…..

“I’m Stoked”

And that is the beer we are having today Stoke Amber ale, all the way from the land of the long white cloud.

Why is it called Stoke? No idea, maybe the McCashin family who make it, were very happy with it, let’s see if that’s justified.

Packaging: Simple, just some words in a nice bold font, but there are a couple of things that are interesting here. Firstly the bottle, it’s the greeny brown colour of a wine bottle, rather than the brown or green of the traditional beer bottle. From what I can tell the McCashins don’t make wine so I have no idea why they are breaking ranks here, but it works for me. Also the labels are just clear stickers, so maybe they are going after the stick a sticker on your ute brigade.

Appearance:  Nice light amber/golden colour. Not a huge amount of carbonation with a thin foamy, off white head.     

Smell:  It smells of malts with slight citrus hop tones, but all quite subtle, there is even a hint of honey which was promised by the label.

Taste:  This really is quite a good beer. The malts are almost biscuity and there is a sweetness mid sip that I really like. The bitterness isn’t overpowering but it lingers in your mouth.

In conclusion: A seriously good amber ale, perfect as a sessionable beer, and well worth keeping a 6 pack of in the fridge for a rainy (or sunny, or snowing, or hailing, or overcast, or slightly foggy, or hell even just an average) day.

Ranking:  I’ll have a Pint

Six degrees of Norm (Where we link every beer back to Norm from Cheers in six easy steps):

  1. The McCashin Brewery is owned by a former All Black
  2. All Blacks play Rugby Union
  3. Just like Matt Damon in Invictus
  4. And Matt Damon was was also in Saving Private Ryan with Ted Danson
  5. And Ted Danson played Sam ‘Mayday’ Mallone in Cheers
  6. Where he served cold brews to one Norm Peterson