Boosting Brewery & Distillery Business with Entertainment and Lodging  

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

With thousands of craft breweries and distilleries in operation today, it’s no longer enough to simply produce amazing beers and spirits. Brewers and distillers are quickly learning that to thrive and stand out among the competition, they need to build a unique brand and expand their reach to a broader customer base.

  Some of the best ways to achieve this are to offer entertainment and recreation opportunities for everyone to enjoy and onsite lodging that makes an evening out safer and more convenient. With the right event-planning strategy, you can keep consumers coming back to your business even after they’ve sampled everything on the drink menu multiple times.

Types of Entertainment and Recreation

  In recent years, both breweries and distilleries have gotten very creative with the types of entertainment they offer. You’ll regularly find local establishments offering board game nights, yoga classes, musical concerts and karaoke nights. Trivia, open mic comedy nights, painting and crafting events and book club meetings are also held at breweries and distilleries.

  Low-key options, such as yard games and photo booths, are easy options to add, as well as professional networking events, poker tournaments and sport-themed events for big games. Breweries and distilleries can become more involved in their communities by partnering with other businesses to promote local products, nonprofits to support important causes and artists to display pieces of original artwork on the walls. Meanwhile, it’s fun to host holiday-themed festivals, offer educational brewing or distilling lessons and highlight new beverage releases in a way that entices people to walk through the door.

  Dana Koller, the president of Kaktus Brewing in Bernalillo, New Mexico, told Beverage Master Magazine that his brewery’s most successful events have been celebrating Oktoberfest, St. Patrick’s Day and other cultural events. Kaktus always has a full lineup of exciting events on the brewery calendar and offers small-batch brews, organic bites, and a refreshingly chill atmosphere.

  “I think what makes them successful is that we are genuine about the celebration and not just there to make a quick buck,” Koller said. “Although we may not be the most authentic option, we make sure that we have a blast doing what we do and show our appreciation for those wanting to celebrate.”

  On the distillery side of things, Sledge Distillery in Tolar, Texas, has been adding lots of events to its calendar lately, including tastings, tours, food, retail offerings and live music. Sledge Distillery specializes in hand-crafted spirits based on a World War II family moonshine recipe.

  “Private shopping nights for new releases have been very successful,” said Susan Sledge. “Also, we have found that the addition of live music adds to the atmosphere. Our clients are looking to re-engage with us and bring their friends along. We consider their repeat business a huge honor.”

Onsite Lodging Options

  Another unique idea for breweries and distilleries to consider is adding lodging near the taproom to welcome overnight guests. Some craft beverage producers have locations in historic buildings that can be renovated to include accommodation in an adjacent space.

  Alternatively, producers can purchase or build a separate building that provides lodging on the same property. Not only is this a good way to keep customers safe from drinking and driving, but it’s an opportunity to make your business a true weekend destination rather than just a quick stop along the way.

  One brewery that has added lodging to its offerings is Riff Raff Brewing Company in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Founded in 2013, Riff Raff operates in a historic, Victorian-era house in the downtown area and offers flagship beers, seasonal taps and eclectic twists on favorite foods. Visitors can currently rent apartment units above the downtown brewpub through Airbnb.

  “The building that houses Riff Raff Brewing Company is registered on the Colorado State Historic Preservation roll and has been used and repurposed multiple times since it was built in 1898,” said Jason Cox, founder and CEO.

  “When we purchased the building and opened the brewery in 2013, the upstairs housed apartments with long-term rentals,” Cox said. “We underwent a major remodel in 2015 and converted to short-term rentals because of the fact that there was a brewery downstairs. We thought it would be a type of beer-and-breakfast kind of offering!”

What Consumers Want Right Now

  There is a high demand for entertainment options at breweries and distilleries because people are looking for fun ways to get out and experience their communities in different and social ways. Breweries and distilleries have emerged as ideal destinations for date nights, family-friendly fun and free things to do that don’t require a big commitment. Many businesses are finding success with inclusive events that are pet-friendly and welcome children. You can give consumers what they want by keeping participation costs low or free, offering something different from what they can find anywhere else in town, providing fun photo opportunities and maybe even selling specialized merchandise to mark the occasion.

  “I think what people are looking for is true community, a place and time to connect without expectations,” said Koller. “The music and events are the excuse to get out and socialize for them.”

  “Our customers are looking for a way to relax and take a break from the pressures of life,” said Sledge. “Our distillery is located in the country and gives our guests a feeling of truly ‘getting away.’” 

  “I can’t speak directly to data or analytics, but I do know there are several experiences where lodging is packaged with craft breweries, and it creates a more complete experience,” said Cox. “Our friends own a brewery in northern New Mexico that allows camping on the premises, and they have lots of concerts, so it provides an opportunity to have an immersive guest experience. We aim to do the same type of thing with our lodging above Riff Raff Brewing Company.”

Considerations for Breweries and Distilleries

  Planning events may seem overwhelming to some brewery and distillery owners because it’s just one more thing added to the to-do list and budget. It often pays off in terms of business sustainability and professional satisfaction in the long run. Events, recreation, entertainment and lodging provide fun opportunities in relaxed environments to build your brand and get people engaged with what you’re doing. It’s an effective way to make personal connections with your customers and perhaps even raise money for charitable causes.

  There are many things to think about when planning a new event, type of entertainment or onsite lodging. Cost tops the list since some things will inherently cost more than others. If the event requires renting or buying extra furniture, party supplies, or sound equipment, you’ll need to budget ahead. Although it may be an initial goal to make extra money from an event, it might be worth it to break even for the sake of outreach and exposure. Breweries and distilleries with large spaces may be able to rent out entire sections of the building or property for private events and make extra income in that way.

  Regarding onsite Airbnb offerings, Riff Raff’s Cox sees significant benefits in breweries entering the lodging business.

  “We rent more than 325 nights a year in each of the two rentals, which include a three-bedroom, two-bath unit and a one-bedroom, one-bath unit,” Cox said. “We do see people who book because it’s above a brewery, and they definitely want that experience. Sometimes I conduct VIP tours and add other offerings for guests who stay upstairs.”

Event Planning Tips

  When considering hosting an event, make sure to see what else is already scheduled in the community so that there are no conflicts that would prevent someone from attending what you have planned. In general, it’s best to keep the event size manageable so that the lines for beverages don’t get too long or the spaces too crowded. Fun themes will catch people’s attention, while free and low-cost ticket prices will make your events more accessible to everyone.

  Recurring events, such as activities that happen on the same day each week, make scheduling events easier and allow more people to participate when it works for their schedule. It may also be worth inviting another local brewery or distillery to co-host your event.

  Koller from Kaktus Brewing said that one of the most important things to plan for when hosting events is “making the numbers work so that you are not understaffed since this is always a major challenge.”

  “From the moment a guest arrives on property, we want them to feel welcome,” said Sledge. “Signage has been strategically placed, so people know where to go and the options they have for entertainment, food and beverages. Our employees are intentional about greeting guests and orienting them to the facility and events.”

What’s Next for Craft Beverage Entertainment?

  Producers are just getting started with what they have in mind to entice craft beverage enthusiasts.

  “For Kaktus Brewing, we have been working on plans to expand parking to host larger events with games, a new stage, more shade structures and outdoor cooking,” said Koller. “This will allow us to do full weekend events instead of just evening events.”

  “We are programming smaller, more intimate events where people share a particular interest,” said Sledge. “For example, we are doing a three-event women’s workshop called ‘Feel Good Fridays’ where the group has drinks with a licensed therapist who facilitates a group session on various topics.”

  Meanwhile, Cox recommended that any brewery looking to add short-term lodging should check with the local planning or zoning department to understand rules regulating short-term rentals.

  “Depending on the type of zoning district, it may or may not be allowable for a brewery to offer lodging,” Cox said. “After that, I would put myself in the shoes of a guest to understand the entire experience. For example, some of the equipment that a brewhouse uses runs 24/7, and the noise could have an impact on the lodging, depending on the configuration. Beyond that, I would say to create a great experience for the guests and make it happen. Remember, it’s all about the craft beer and having fun with it.”

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