Will Cannabis Beverages Cannibalize Beer Sales?

By: Briana Tomkinson

Cannabis was legalized in Canada a year ago; however the production and sale of edibles, in-fused beverages and tinctures, remained illegal—until now.

  The first legal cannabis-infused drinks and edibles are expected to hit shelves as early as De-cember. Many have been designed to produce a high mimicking the effects of alcohol in terms of onset, intensity and duration.

  While the federal government officially legalized edible cannabis products on Oct. 17, produc-ers still need to obtain Health Canada approval, a process that industry insiders expect to take a minimum of 60 days.

  Some products will include only CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis, while others will have THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces a “high.”

  According to a report from Deloitte, the cannabis-infused beverage market will be worth an estimated $529 million per year in Canada, most of which will be on top of existing cannabis spending. Deloitte predicts sales of these beverages will come at the expense of beer, wine and other alcohol as “cannabis-curious” customers experiment with marijuana instead of booze.

  The Deloitte report notes that alcohol and tobacco companies are looking for opportunities to enter the legal cannabis industry to avoid losing market share. Pharmaceutical companies are also entering the market, as consumers turn to CBD oil and cannabis to self-medicate.

Mild High Aimed at New Cannabis Consumers

  Deloitte predicts cannabis-infused beverages will appeal to older, often female, Canadians who are concerned about the adverse effects of alcohol and are interested in trying cannabis yet are turned off by the idea of smoking it.

  Most producers of THC-infused drinks are aiming for a formulation that triggers a high within about 15-20 minutes and lasts no more than a few hours. This effect is in contrast to most cannabis edibles and oils, which are slower to take effect and produce a high that can last as long as six hours.

  Unlike beer or wine, there’s little risk of a hangover from cannabis beverages. Some varieties can also boast they are low-calorie drinks, which could appeal to more diet-conscious con-sumers. Prices are expected to be similar to that of craft beer; however, the beverages can on-ly be sold at legal cannabis outlets, not grocery stores or alcohol retailers.

  In October, Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp announced the launch of 13 cannabis-infused drinks, some boasting as few as five calories per serving. The drinks range from pure distilled cannabis, intended to be mixed with sodas or other beverages, to pre-mixed blends of canna-bis with tonic, ginger ale, cola, soda and fruit-infused sparkling water.

  Unlike some legal producers in the U.S., Canopy Growth’s lineup focuses on low-dosage bev-erages with an effect similar to that of a single beer or mixed drink. According to the Ottawa Citizen, while Health Canada allows a THC concentration of 10 mg per package, 10 of Canopy Growth’s 13 products will have 2.5 mg or less, producing a mild high aimed at appealing to inexperienced cannabis users looking for an alternative to alcohol.

  Truss Beverage Company has also announced it will be ready to release cannabis-infused beverages in December, including CBD-infused spring water and THC-infused drinks. Compet-itor Fluent Beverage Company said it would be prepared to release CBD-infused beverages but is still working on formulations with THC. 

Beer Brands Push Into Cannabis Beverages

  Ever since Canada legalized the sale and consumption of cannabis, big beer companies have been teaming up with cannabis companies to develop cannabis-infused beverages.

  Canopy Growth, for example, has benefited from billions of dollars of investment from U.S.-based Constellation Brands, maker of Corona. Truss Beverage is the product of a joint venture between Molson Coors and cannabis producer Hexo, and Fluent Beverage is backed by An-heuser-Busch, who has partnered with British Columbia-based pot producer Tilray.

  In June, Bloomberg reported that Molson estimates cannabis beverages will make up 20-30% of Canada’s legal cannabis market. However, a report by Deloitte estimated drinks make up just 1% of sales by value and volume in U.S. states where pot is legal.

Marketing, Labeling Restrictions on Cannabis Beverages

  If cannabis beverage producers want to steal market share from beer and wine, they need to overcome the strict limitations on marketing, packaging, labeling and distribution imposed by Health Canada.

Starting a New Craft Distillery: Part 3

By: Donald Snyder

Man in front of distillery – copper

  Consumers are thirsty and they want something new. Increased demand for all things local and unique have helped pave the way for a surge of craft distilleries across the country. For those interested in starting a craft distillery today, there is a wealth of resources available to help navigate the unknown. Many toes have been stubbed by those who have been through the startup gauntlet and came out successful on the other side, lighting the path that new distillers can follow. Finally, let’s look at some of the proven, key attributes of a successful craft distillery.

Find Your Niche, Strengths

  Every craft distillery is different. That is what makes this industry so exciting. Every distillery starts with different goals, aspirations, skill sets, strategic strengths, and weaknesses. What is your story? What makes you different than the other 900 craft distilleries? If your sales representatives are in front of a new account, how will you get and keep their attention after they leave? Are you the first in your area? Is there something special about your grains or recipes? What does your background and strengths give you as a competitive advantage? Whether you have a business, marketing, technical, accounting, tasting, bartending, packaging, or engineering background, identify and capitalize on your team’s unique skillset to make a lasting mark in the industry.

Understand Your State

  Not all states are craft distillery friendly. Some states permit craft distilleries a great deal more flexibility than others. Colorado, as example, permits self-distribution and sales direct to retailers or bars, bottle sales direct to consumers, and sales by the drink out of the distillery tasting room. Washington State has similar distillery-friendly legislation. For these reasons, there are more craft distilleries in these states than any other. States, including some control states, can have very restricting laws making turning a profit very hard. Successful distilleries have come from restrictive states but their struggle is uphill. If you have flexibility in deciding where to open a new craft distillery, research the laws and find a state and a region that is distillery friendly.

 Foot Traffic is King

  The most successful craft distilleries leverage their location. Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinburg, TN handles thousands of thirsty tourists each week, all lining up for free tastings of their flavored moonshines. Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines, Alaska has cruise ships dock 500 feet from their distillery that unload 2,000 thirsty passengers right into their backyard. Hotel Tango Distillery is turning into the hangout bar for locals in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Dancing Pines Distillery in Loveland, Colorado is in the middle of a Denver suburb and has gained a significant following. Is there a successful brewery or winery near you that draws a large crowd? A new craft distillery in the area can offer exciting opportunities for co-branding like bourbon barrel aged beer or a wine barrel finished rum. Urban distilleries can require expensive real estate but the opportunities for distribution and loyal foot traffic can lead to big returns.

Quality is the Only Option

  First and foremost a successful craft distillery must have a high quality, great tasting product. If a consumer is going to spend $35-$70 per bottle on a local craft spirit, it better taste good. If the spirit does not meet expectations, the risk is a bad mark on the entire craft industry. Take your time on your formulation. Get feedback from professional tasters, bartenders, distributors, and consumers before you release the product. For example, finding the right combination of gin botanicals does not happen on the first batch. For aged spirits, don’t rush bottling your product if the spirit is not ready. Time, experimentation, research, blood, sweat and tears go into a successful brand and it does not happen overnight. The even harder challenge is making a high quality product in a process that is scalable to meet increasing demand.

Do the Math on Still Size

  The most common question I get asked when consulting on a startup is “How big of a still should I buy?” My answer is, “How much money do you NEED to make?”

Here is a simple example:

Distilling a batch of spirits from grain on a 60 gallon pot still will make you about four 12pk cases a day (about 7-9 Proof gallons), depending on the mash bill. If these bottles retail for $40 per bottle, you can probably sell those bottles to a distributor for $20/bottle. That is a total possible revenue of $960/day.

Assuming a healthy 40% profit margin after Cost of Goods Sold for raw materials, you can net $384/day.

Assuming you distill Monday to Friday for 250 days per year, can $96,000 per year after material costs cover overhead, rent, other expenses, and payroll?

Assuming reasonably similar labor inputs and profit margins on materials, a 600 gallon pot still will produce 10x the spirits in the same number of working days.

At that production level, a distillery can both sell unaged products and lay down spirits for aging. Estimate your revenue needs to cover your overhead and back into how many cases you need sell. Reasonability account for year over year growth and calculate how big your still needs to be to keep up with demand.

Source or Not, but be Transparent

  Large distilleries know they can make vodka from scratch for $15-$35 per proof gallon. They also know they can buy beverage grade Grain Neutral Spirits (GNS) that can be used for vodka, gin, liqueurs, or “moonshine” for $1.50-$4.50 per proof gallon. Instead of aging spirits for years, if available and cost effective, sourcing aged spirits from established distilleries can allow start up craft brands to add aged whiskey to their portfolio immediately. Without debating the pros and cons of sourcing spirits, it is important to follow all labeling guidelines and regulations. If you take pride in making it from scratch, let the world know. If you don’t distill the spirits at your distillery, do not imply as such on the label.

  Sales and Marketing

  Once you’ve distilled or blended an award winning craft spirit, you have to get the consumers’ attention. The most successful craft distilleries with growing market share know that marketing dollars are key. Tasting events, radio promotions, print advertisements, and social media blasts are not only expensive, but take up your time.

Distributors can be great partners to help open new markets but the ultimate responsibility is on you to provide boots on the ground support for your brand. Convincing brand-loyal consumers to try your product is hard and expensive. Sharing the cost of promotions, samples, and incentives with your distributor is common, especially for new brands, but can take a big piece out of your margins. A rough estimate for a marketing spend budget is 10% or more of your annual revenue.

  As a new generation of craft distilleries open, standing on the shoulders of those who opened before them, they have an incredible opportunity to be a part of rapidly growing industry. The path has been lit by history’s pitfalls trying not to repeat themselves.

The time is right to start a new craft distillery while learning from the most successful in the industry. No matter what your background, find your strengths and create your story. Find a location that is both craft-friendly and draws visitors. Make smart business decisions about equipment and marketing. But most of all, embrace your responsibility to ensure your product tastes good and be a positive reflection of the craft community.

Contact Donald Snyder at Donald@TimeAndTasks.com

Starting a New Craft Distillery: Part 2

By: Donald Snyder

There has never been a better time to start a craft distillery. As previously explored, new distillers can stand on the shoulders of established craft distillers who have paved the trail over the last five years. There is an abundance of resources available including online forums, distillers’ conferences, craft-focused trade shows, local distiller guilds, experienced consultants, and a Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that has never been more approachable.

  However, this is by no means an easy and well-lit path. It can be a very expensive and frustrating adventure. What can we learn from others who have successfully accomplished the startup gauntlet? Hopefully the history of toe stubbing and blindly stumbling through starting a new craft distillery doesn’t need to repeat itself. Here are some of the most common pitfalls of starting a new distillery:

1.   No Business Model or Minimal Operations Cash Reserve

  This is the most common issue I have seen. Distillers should ask themselves some fundamental questions like: What are your revenue goals? How many cases do you need to sell to make those goals? What are your Costs of Good Sold (COGS) for the raw materials needed to make those cases? What are your fixed expenses like rent, full time labor, and loan interest? How much capital investment do you need to start up? How much cash do you need in reserve to run the business until the distillery starts shipping orders? An easy to understand business model is invaluable to setting sales and production goals, getting a loan, or enticing investors.

2.  No Chilling System

  Distillers will spend lots of time and money to add heat, steam, and energy to cook their mash and to run their still but completely overlook the equipment needed to remove that same heat from the system. Crash cooling a hot grain mash with chilled water can help to minimize bacterial growth. Having an abundant supply of cold water keeps your chiller running efficiently. Cold water can also be used to cool your fermenters to help avoid overheating and stalling fermentation.

3.  No Thought to Waste Water

  I have seen many craft distilleries rely on cheap, abundant municipal city water to cool their condenser but run that water straight down the drain. Many distillers waste thousands of gallons of water daily. Even if waste water is practically free to dump down the sewer, that water could be re-used and recycled. Try using the hot, clean water from your condenser as the water for your grain mashing. Investing in a cheap poly tank to hold some of the water as part of a recycling system can save thousands of gallons of water every day.

4.   Not Understanding TTB Compliance and Reporting Regulations

  This issue appears to be systemic with new craft distillers. Passing the DSP application process is only one of many hurdles to running a federally compliant distillery. Meticulous records must be kept and Operations Reports must be filed monthly. Excise taxes must be calculated correctly and paid on time. It is not a requirement to memorize the CFR chapter and verse, but a deep understanding of the regulations is a must to avoid penalties, interest, or even being shut down. Like other resources, there are systems available to help craft distillers manage their TTB reporting, operations tracking, and excise tax liabilities to minimize the learning curve and headaches.

5.  Not Involving Local Regulators

  A local craft distillery is not something that most county or city regulators have ever had to license. If you are the first craft distillery in your area, the odds are your local zoning, health, environmental, and fire regulators will have to create new codes to accommodate your operations. Getting the officials involved early on in your planning and development is key. After completing all your building renovations is an unfortunate time to discover the fire marshal requires installing an unbudgeted $20,000 sprinkler system.

6.  Difficult Layout, Too Small of a Space

  Distillery equipment is big. Vodka columns can be 20+ feet tall. A 600 gallon pot still kettle can be 8 feet wide. Fermenters, pallets of glass, racks, grain sacks, bottling equipment, finished goods, mash cookers, storage totes… they all take up space. Can you access and move everything with a forklift? Are your doorways big enough to move equipment and materials? Do you have a dock door for truck loading? Don’t underestimate the space needed to operate an efficient distillery.

7.  The DJ Dilemma

  While sitting in a dark studio it is very easy for a radio disk jockey to play the music he wants to hear, even though it may not be the music his audience enjoys. Just because a distiller wants to make something, doesn’t mean it will sell. I know a distiller who adamantly wants to make brandy even though the market for brandy in his area is next to nothing. It is important to be passionate about what you make but don’t let that blind you from making a solid business decision. Find the line between running a profitable business and having a hobby.

8.  Making Whiskey with No Available Barrels

  Whiskey is hot right now. Brown spirits like bourbon are experiencing double digit growth with record high shelf prices and consumer demand. But there is a serious problem for new craft distillers hoping to jump on the whiskey bandwagon. There are no new oak barrels available. In order to make bourbon, you need a consistent supply of new, charred, white oak barrels. Although cooperage capacity is slowly opening back up, the waiting list for barrels is anywhere from six months to over a year. If you want to open a craft distillery today, white spirits like gin, vodka, rum, non-grape brandies, corn whiskey, or flavored liqueurs may be your only options to make for a while.

  A common lesson I hear amongst the established craft distillers who survived starting up is, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” While there is no way to predict every issue while starting up any new business, these are some of the common obstacles that future distillers can avoid. We are in an exciting period of growth for the craft distilling industry as more and more consumers are seeking something new and different. The first distillers muddled through complete darkness and came out successfully on the other side. We may all stub our toes while wading through the unknowns of beginning a new distillery but learning a few of these cautionary tales will help light your path.

Contact Donald Snyder at Donald@TimeAndTasks.com.

Technology and the Benefits of a Digital Marketing Strategy

By: Robert Frost, Principal, Boelter Blue

Competition is fierce! With the number of craft breweries and brewpubs continually on the rise year-over-year, it should come as no surprise that current bar owners and operators must focus on more than just word of mouth, radio ads or the occasional 30 seconds of air time on the local network to create buzz about their business. Developing a marketing plan to maintain visibility and relevance is key to both the initial and ongoing success of your business.

But not just any marketing strategy will do.

A robust and diverse digital marketing plan, one that also leverages mobile technology, will play a significant role with effectively attracting and retaining customers. Utilizing loyalty apps and a variety of marketing automation initiatives will ultimately allow you to spend less time and money on your overall marketing efforts, while simplifying and maintaining your path for continued growth and success.

All of this speaks to the advancement of technology within this space. As such, it should come as no surprise that the role of technology continues to be on the rise, both in terms of what is in the hands of you and your loyal customers – on their phones and through a more personalized interface with your business – as well as the technology your business may currently be utilizing.

The increased involvement of technology is very much a generational change and one that craft brewery and bar owners are recognizing as a means to become better and more productive at what they do. The old saying, “work smarter, not harder” rings true across the board.

Align yourself with mobile technology and mobile marketing

By 2020, 77% of the US population will be using mobile technology daily. It’s the go-to technology for personalized communications. Adding to this impressive statistic is the notion that thirty-five percent of smartphone users are already claiming to use their phones more than 50 times a day—this is where craft brewery and bar owners and operators can make the biggest impact. Personal means connecting with customer routines, moods and of course, discerning taste buds. Data makes it possible—mobile makes it deliverable.

Most consumers expect information to be available at their fingertips. The vast majority of consumers are searching for information about a particular business on their smartphone, with 84% of them contacting that business as a result. An app with your menus, reservation, ordering, payment and delivery capabilities maintain accessibility and convenience. And convenience is a big part of the overall experience that customers are looking for. If too much is being asked of your customers they may abandon your business before ever stepping through the front door.

Attracting new customers, building loyalty and running a variety of continuous promotions requires a heavy investment of time and energy. An automated marketing strategy allows you to focus on what you do best—providing great craft brews and exceptional service. Capture your guests at every touch point with pre-scheduled communications, photo push messaging, social media posts and more. Utilizing a robust app for your business allows you to capture more first-time guests, make your regular guests feel like insiders and remind customers who haven’t visited with you in a while why they should consider returning.

Utilizing technology does not necessarily equate to an entirely new business plan. However, it does mean that you now have an option to execute your current plan better, while also being able to expand and grow them quicker. An example of this is identifying those efforts that you may currently be doing with email, paper punch cards or in-house only promotions and taking that to a mobile and digital platform as a means to obtain more control and visibility for everyone involved – customers and owners alike.

An app has the ability to act as your personal, day-to-day assistant. If you don’t have the time or money to hire and manage another employee, it might be time to look at technology as the employee that never gets tired. With it you can send your loyal customers birthday wishes, offers and alerts, giving them the personalized experience they prefer and deserve. With an automated marketing strategy, you can create a series of push notifications triggered by their activity. Notifications can be sent right away, pre-scheduled or programmed to be delivered in certain scenarios. Either way, it communicates why your business is the perfect option for that moment.

Being social with your media

Customers love to see what is offered before deciding where to go. Show them, don’t just tell them. Instagram and Pinterest are fantastic options for enticing people with tasty-looking and thirst-quenching photos. It’s also beneficial to develop short, unique videos – such as a quick recipe or a behind-the-scenes look at your brewery. And don’t forget to use trending hashtags to increase post visibility. For example, include #happyhour, #newbrew, or #foodielife, along with the name of your craft brewery or bar. All of this will help keep your establishment top of mind with both your regulars and first time customers.

Your customers are always looking online to get ideas when thinking about visiting a new business. To ease this process, make sure that all of your social profiles are up to date and easy to read, as well as portray your business with the correct ambiance. It’s not uncommon for new customers to be hesitant about visiting the unknown. Your social presence needs to provide a compelling reason for them to engage with you. However, never sell your business through a clouded social media lens. Customers expecting one experience based on how your business is represented on social media, only to walk in to something entirely different, will likely result in negatively affecting your business as a whole.

Your social media promotional efforts should also be backed up with an engaging customer-facing website in order to complete the experience. This will further provide your customers with an even better idea as to what they can expect when choosing your business over the competition. Think of a great website as a first handshake, before they commit to visiting your business for the first time. Your website must be mobile friendly so that it can easily be viewed from your phone without distorting the message or making the experience inferior in any way. 

Technology that’s here to stay

This growing trend in technology is a strong reflection as to how business owners are looking to maintain their operations with their distributor – online, expedited, quick-to-answer and respond and capable of addressing all of your needs through a variety of technological channels and initiatives. It would be unfair and, quite frankly, unacceptable, for a distributor to suggest that you engage with your customers through the advancements of technology if they themselves are not capable of providing the same level of service to meet your day-to-day business needs. Technology will continue to impact and affect buyer behavior. This can be seen both from the customers that frequent your establishment, as well as the way that you engage (or want to engage) with them.

Consumer preferences are changing faster than ever, dictating how your business must respond. The distributor that you have chosen to partner with should be in the business of delivering value. When they deliver on value, it demonstrates an understanding of what is truly important. A distributor capable of delivering value and unforgettable experiences is infectious, and it will help you, in turn, deliver unforgettable experiences to your own customers.

A thoughtful and in-the-know distributor should always have the pulse of what consumers want as a means to help you innovate and continually reinvent yourself in order to remain relevant in a highly competitive landscape. When they can adapt and respond with speed and agility, they help you to keep pace, stay relevant and often outpace your competition. Ultimately, their business should be dedicated to helping you succeed with yours, utilizing non-traditional methods to better serve your needs through more interesting and engaging uses of product management, technology and education. While it’s true that people do business with people they like, they also look to do business with the people that are committed and able to execute. Finding a distributor that can serve you better and become a comprehensive, go-to resource for all of your business needs is the end game.

Technology is advancing faster than ever before and it’s here to stay. As a business owner, your digital media strategy should be flexible to more easily respond to what does and doesn’t work. Discover how your customers found out about you to gauge where they’re spending time online in order to maximize those platforms. Cross-link all of your online profiles and link your website to your mobile app and social media pages. In doing so, you’ll be able to strategically cover more ground while building a base of followers on their preferred platform. The end result will likely translate to an increase in new traffic, while also building upon an established foundation of regulars.

Contact Robert at (262) 523-6210 or email him at rfrost@boelter.com.

A Clear Alternative: The How and Why of Hard Seltzer

By: Erik Myers

It’s hard to deny that this past summer was the summer of hard seltzer. In fact, it was a summer that saw hard seltzer grow to more than $1 billion dollars in sales. In just the week of July 4 this past summer, White Claw and Truly seltzers combined sold over 100,000 barrels of product. That’s enough to put them in the Top 50 Craft Breweries for production over the whole year. It’s no surprise that craft breweries large and small are looking to tap into the apparent gold mine that is hard seltzer, but how they approach it doesn’t quite seem to stand up against the segment’s largest competitors, and that’s worth thinking about. At a recent industry panel in Charlotte, NC, several craft brewers who make seltzers spoke about their perspectives on this new slice of the industry.

But… Why?

  This might seem fairly obvious with the sales numbers that hard seltzers are putting up, but a closer look at the craft beer industry tells a slightly different story. Recently in an interview, the senior vice president of marketing for Mark Anthony Brands (the makers of White Claw) noted that though White Claw has incredible penetration in grocery stores and liquor stores nationwide, only about 20 percent of bars and restaurants are currently selling hard seltzers. For the average small craft brewer, the opposite is true – while the limited shelf space of grocery is locked behind the arcane process of distributor-led Planograms, inaccessible to most small breweries, they are nearly ubiquitous on draft systems in bars and restaurants eager to serve local beer. So, why chase a segment which shows so little relevance in their primary market?

  “After the surge of LaCroix in the non-alcoholic market, we took a hard look, and it’s what our market research showed our customers wanted,” said Colleen Quinn, of Craft Beer Alliance (CBA). Their market research showed something else interesting – that while most hard seltzers are marketed specifically toward young women, their targeted demographic tended to skew almost 50-50 male-female. It led to CBA’s decision to package their multiple seltzer brands in regular 12 ounce cans, rather than slim cans like their competitors.

  “I’m looking for one more reason to keep the customer in their seat,” says Mike Rollinson of Joymongers Brewery, a brewery that enjoys two taproom locations in Central North Carolina, but no off-premise distribution. “I don’t see it as craft. I’m not making a seltzer for beer drinkers. I’m making a seltzer for the one person in a group of 5 people who will pressure the group into leaving if there’s not something for them to drink.” Rollinson just started making seltzers this year as he saw the trend grow, noting that one of his business partners is on a Keto diet and now drinks his seltzer almost exclusively – as a healthy alternative to beer.

Clear or Colored – the Question of Craft

  While the two major market players, White Claw and Truly, are both crystal clear beverages, two of the producers on the panel noted that color helped them differentiate. Both Brian Quinn of Town Brewing Company and Lindsay Sprick of NoDa Brewing Company pointed to their process as an advantage over the big seltzer makers.

  “I can guarantee that nobody at White Claw was sitting down last week processing a ton of raw ginger,” Quinn noted with a smile. “We’re small enough that we can use natural ingredients as a base for these seltzers.” Those natural ingredients come with their own colors and – he thinks – customers want to see the presence of those ingredients in the product when they’re ordered. “When you get something that’s wild cherry flavored and it’s clear, you ask yourself: where’s the cherry in this?”

  Sprick, of NoDa, shared a similar feeling: “We stand out because we’re using the same ingredients that we use make our beer.” She felt that it was more true to the brand and brewing ethos of NoDa Brewing Company than a clear, sparkling beverage. NoDa’s Brizo Seltzer, unlike other seltzers represented on the panel, is barley-based, which lends even more color to the finished product than the others.

  Rollinson had a different take at Joymongers. “When I see a color, like red or blue or purple in a glass, that reads ‘sweet’ to me, and that’s not what this is.” He mentioned that because his primary customer is not one that’s seeking this for a fruit flavor, but rather as an alternative beverage or a more healthy choice, that the neutral color was a better choice. “The only people who have complained about it being clear were bartenders because they throw it out by mistake because they think it’s water.”

Regulatory Loopholes

  Interestingly, hard seltzers fall into a slight grey area of regulation from both the Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hard seltzers are the product of fermenting sugar into alcohol and fall under the manufacturing umbrella of a brewery, but labeling considerations vary based on what sugar base is used as the basis of fermentation. A brewer who uses a barley base – even a very light brewer’s malt – still falls under the definition of a beer, requiring a pre-market Certificate of Label Approval (or COLA) and is restricted by certain advertising laws. A brewery who uses sugar as the base for their seltzer is not required to obtain TTB approval as it is not a malt beverage. However, they do fall under FDA labeling guidelines which require a nutrition panel and a list of ingredients.

  While it might seem attractive to a brewery to skip TTB approval and jump straight to FDA labeling because the FDA does not have pre-market approval requirements, it’s important to know that FDA labeling is required to be in compliance before sales and that manufacturers can be held liable to both financial and regulator consequences. Consult your lawyer for best practices.

  None of the panelists chose to share which path they had taken from a regulatory standpoint.

What’s in the Mix

  Clearly, there are as many ways to approach making hard seltzers as there are reasons to make it. Fermenting white sugar seemed to be the preferential approach to creating a fermentation base for hard seltzers. Of the panelists, NoDa was the only one using barley.

  Most of the panelists spoke of these seltzers as good gluten-free alternatives to beer and marketed their seltzers as either gluten-free or gluten-reduced. NoDa used ClarityFerm from White Labs to reduce gluten content in their barley-based seltzer but others simply brewed on their normal equipment directly after “CIP day” in order to guarantee no gluten would be present in the final product. Quinn of Town Brewing shared that lab results showed no traces of gluten in his products.

  From there, the small producers all had a similar strategy of using whole ingredients to flavor as they would for any flavored beer, whether that’s the addition of aseptic fruit puree or hand processing ginger for additions during fermentation. They seemed to feel that the use of “real ingredients” was a way to stand out versus large scale competitors from a flavor standpoint as well as an ethical one. They appeared to share the belief that it “felt more like craft.”

  Yeast was a large differentiator between the producers. While Rollinson at Joymongers used ale yeast to ferment his seltzer, making a note that harvested yeast seemed to perform much better than a fresh pitch, Quinn of Town used Distiller’s Yeast, seeking a strong, healthy fermentation that would get as dry as possible. Both mentioned the need for high amounts of yeast nutrients. “As it turns out,” Rollinson joked, “yeast doesn’t really like to digest straight glucose.”

Where It’s All Going

  All of the panelists agreed: hard seltzer is a trend that is doing nothing but growing, and they all agreed that their futures had more and varied seltzers in it. Each of them was excited to experiment in the market and push the bounds of craft’s involvement in the segment.

  The question remains for you – will we continue to see on-premise growth in a meaningful way that the craft market can take advantage of, or will hard seltzer grow only in larger and larger stacks in grocery stores? We’ll have to wait for the next White Claw Summer to find out.

Lessons for the Start-Up Brewery

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Modern beer plant brewery , with brewing kettles, vessels, tubs and pipes made of stainless steel, monteiths beer factory, south island in New Zealand.

Three beverages are the most consumed in the world: water, tea…and beer.  Regional breweries, brewpubs, microbreweries, and contract brewing companies all experienced growth in 2018. In the United States, 219 breweries closed, but 1,049 opened last year. In Canada, there was a slight decline in domestic beer production last year—3.4%—and only a scant increase in sales—0.3%. Nevertheless, 178 breweries opened.

  Producers and consumers alike want the diverse selection, high quality and community connection craft brewing provides. This makes entering the industry an enticing option. So to answer some brewery start-up questions, we’ve compiled a few experts to share their acumen. They include:

•   Jeffrey Gunn, president and CEO of IDD Process & Packaging, based in Moorpark, California. IDD is a family-owned corporation that provides the consultation, design and manufacture of complete brewery and beverage plant systems.

•   Lindsay Johnson, operations manager, and Shawn Johnson, head brewer, Birds Fly South Ale Project (BFS) and tasting room in Greenville, South Carolina. Named one of 2019’s Top 10 Breweries by the U.S. Open Beer Championship, BFS specializes in Farmhouse and Saisons, along with sours, funky IPAs, barrel-aged brews, and range of wild and traditional styles. BFS is also on the 2019 Thrillist “Most Underrated Brewery in Every State” list.

•   Ben Parker, CEO, Scan American Corporation, located in Kansas City, Missouri; and Aubrey Dyer, business development manager, Flavourtech, represented by Scan American in North America. Flavourtech is a global technology manufacturer that specializes in aroma recovery, extraction and evaporation solutions for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries.

•   Christian Riemerschmid von der Heide, president and CEO of the Siebel Institute of Technology (SIT) in Chicago, along with John Hannafan, vice president and director of education. SIT is a for-profit vocational school for brewing education and brewing services. Founded in 1868, it’s oldest brewing school in the United States and home of the World Brewing Academy program, offering campus and web-based courses jointly developed with Doemens Academy of Munich.

  The three primary start-up takeaways they want you to remember:

1.   Take time to learn. Whether it’s refining your processes or understanding how to scale up, knowledge is power.

2.   Choose equipment wisely. Everyone makes different choices—research and compare to make the right decision for your business.

3.   Be patient, young Jedi. Slow, budgeted growth and the right partnerships make more sense for long-term sustainability and adaption to trends.

  These experts provided much more valued insight than print space allows, so we’ll highlight some of the top aspects.

Take Time to Learn

  The Johnsons were a Coast Guard family for more than 20 years, all the while gradually expanding their brewing and business knowledge. “We invested sweat equity first,” Johnson said. “We started home brewing while in Alaska. As we lived in different locations with the Coast Guard, Shawn was able to volunteer at several breweries, learning different aspects of business.”

  In 2016, Shawn officially retired from service, with a year or so of professional brewing experience as a contract brewer for Thomas Creek Brewery, also in Greenville. “This provided us an opportunity to test the idea and see how we wanted to proceed with a brewery buildout,” Johnson told Beverage Master Magazine. “This period of time made it simpler for us to find funding through investment, as we were an established brand and gained some national level recognition early on.” BFS has since received top medals in the Best of Craft Beer Awards, the Great American Beer Festival and the North American Beer Awards.

  Contract or nomadic brewing often reduces start-up risks. Some craft producers try the industry on for size, like the Johnsons. Others do it to gain gradual packaging and distribution knowledge and capital—a wise idea, since a full-scale packaging operation averages more than $300,000.

  Some brewers develop contract partnerships because their current facilities are out of capacity, but budget or geographical constraints prevent expansion. In rare circumstances, a contract partnership with a local brewery happens when someone only has interest in running a taproom.

  “We anticipated being small and niche and allowing the education and evolution of our products to happen slowly and organically,” Johnson said. “However, we quickly grew past all our projections and expectation models, and continually have to be extremely agile as our product line expands and as trends in the industry change. Our production model hasn’t found a ceiling yet.”

  Hannafan/von der Heide believe that every good brew begins with one key ingredient.

  “’First, you add knowledge’ is one of our favorite tag lines. A producer should begin their journey with education, and not after they run into issues,” Hannafan/von der Heide said. “Hopefully they come to us sooner than later to avoid many of the common pitfalls experienced by others. The same process applies brewing theory and understanding the ‘why’ of brewing. It’s not enough to open this valve or turn that pump on—there’s far more to brewing than the equipment side.”

  SIT creates viable paths for new producers through extensive courses on everything from the art and science of brewing to the nuts and bolts of business operations.

  “We share our knowledge by having assisted in numerous start-ups and real experience, not just theory. We offer a consulting arm which assists with recipe formulation all the way through to test batches and evaluating the product,” Hannafan/von der Heide said. “We assist with brewery start-ups and build-outs, supplier evaluation, business case review and staff training. We like to think that the art and science of brewing beer makes lifelong learners out of all in the brewing sector.”

  Hannafan/von der Heide said there are relatively short courses that can dramatically enhance your probability for success. These include the two-week “Siebel Concise” course, “Start Your Own Brewery” and “Executive Overview.”

  SIT also provides another valuable service: yeast banking. “Selecting the right yeast strain can be a key differentiator for better flavor profile, product innovation and brewery capacity utilization. Yeast banking, strain profiling, yeast propagation, fermentation optimization—you can never know enough about yeast,” Hannafan/von der Heide said.  

Choose Your Equipment Wisely

  Evolution in trends, products and other aspects of the brewing industry greatly influence how to source equipment. Spend time to evaluate options based on your ultimate goals and budget—not necessarily what everyone else does. 

  “For too many years, craft brewers grew up with the idea that the two-tank combi-brewhouse doing three–to–four brews in 24 hours was the only way to brew beer,” Gunn said. “As the industry grew, the systems expanded to four or five vessels, but were still stuck in the four–to–seven brews in 24 hours process, with low efficiencies in malt extract, water, energy, labor, effluent and so on.”

  IDD specializes in high-efficiency brewing systems, or HEBS. “HEBS mash filter brewhouses were an unknown entity to most and misunderstood by many that were aware of them. It continues to be an educational project, because it’s difficult for many to believe the efficiencies we publish and the misnomers perpetrated by conventional lauter tun brewhouse manufacturers,” Gunn said. “With HEBS capable of 95–to–98% extracts, up to 40% overall more efficiency and up to three times faster than a combi-brewhouse, there’s such a high ROI for a start-up or expanding craft brewer. Obviously, size has to be adjusted down from a conventional system because of the reduced turnaround time per brew. But 12–to–15 brews in 24 hours are the norm for HEBS.”

  If you’re planning a low-alcohol or non-alcoholic line, your equipment choice is even more specific. For example, Flavortech uses spinning cone column (SCC) technology to enhance flavor, efficiencies and budget. 

“The day-to-day operating expenses of the SCC are low, as it’s very energy efficient. The first two years of maintenance are also included, so these don’t need to be budgeted for until year three,” Dyer/Parker said. “The other main cost is dealing with the alcohol removed from the beer. Disposal can be expensive—however, it can be a valuable income stream if re-concentrated, or could potentially be used to fortify other products in the portfolio. It’s important to work through this part of the equation in advance to maximize the ROI of the system.”

  Scan American/Flavortech allows producers to test all its equipment. “We can teach the customer how the system works and showcase the different outcomes. A beer trial can be run with as little as 60 gallons of product,” Dyer/Parker said. “After each trial, we’ll complete a product tasting to see how it responds to the process. Typically, these trials are proof of concept.”

  Gunn noted an interesting trend that influences equipment choices. “Smaller, more efficient breweries and cans. HEBS, for example, have gone from 20–to–40 Hl brew capacity systems to 5 and 7.5 Hl brew capacity systems. This reflects on the matured craft brew market reverting back to brewpub/restaurant and taproom style operations: local market supply through their own establishment,” he said.

  BFS took a completely different approach to equipment. “Budgeting a brewery start-up is difficult. We’re so capital heavy,” Johnson said. “Don’t rush into purchases. A lot of times you see a deal, but it’ll come back. Some producers are better off sourcing used equipment when applicable.”

  Hannafan/von der Heide offered this important reminder. “If you don’t know about equipment or sizing or space planning, hire a seasoned, independent consultant. Don’t let your emotional side pick the equipment suppliers. There’s a lot of unsafe, poorly-designed equipment that will haunt your day-to-day operations and product consistency.”

Be Patient, Young Jedi

  Our experts offered numerous tips for new producers—here are just a few.

  “We always advise the producer to focus on employing a good industry experienced general contractor, experienced industry-related architect, an experienced industry equipment supplier and themselves doing their due diligence,” Gunn of IDD Process & Packaging told Beverage Master Magazine. “The four parties working together can achieve the best system, the right location and within budget.”  

  “Our initial vision was quite different, or I’d say 60-70% different,” said Johnson of Birds Fly South Ale Project. “We call ourselves an ale project because we’re constantly exploring new styles, techniques and flavors. Our process is unique in that we’re continually blending, and our beer has a chance to evolve through different fermentation processes.”

  “We knew from the beginning we wouldn’t have a ‘set’ product line,” Johnson continued. “This can cause some educational issues when first entering into a distribution partnership. Our brands slowly became a steady product line, but patience was key in our relationships with distributors and retailers. So be patience in all aspects, from hiring and budgeting finances to decision making. We like to say, ‘The beer takes two weeks or more to make—let’s give ourselves an extra hour before we make a decision.’”

  “My advice to someone coming to us with a new product idea would be for them to sit down with us and work through the processing details to make it a reality. The next step is to book some time in our pilot plant and produce some product,” Dyer/Parker with Scan American/Flavourtech said. “We have a great team of engineers with a real depth of knowledge and can assist with the practical realities of turning ideas in successful products.”

  Dyer/Parker also pointed out two exciting trends. “One is the move towards much higher-quality beers. I was in Brazil last month, and the local beer we were served was so good that we cancelled our wine order and continued to drink beer with our meal!” Dyer/Parker said. “Parallel to this trend is the development of the zero-alcohol segment. This fits really well with the SCC, as we enable zero-alcohol products to meet exact quality requirements.”

  The educators from the Sieble Institute of Technology offered two final thoughts. “Create a realistic business plan. Then, have others with industry knowledge challenge and build your plan,” Hannafan/von der Heide said. “The craft and brewing industry is an amazing place to be creative and excel in entrepreneurial activities. It is, however, a place for the long run, despite the hype—there are no quick sustainable wins. Product and process knowledge reigns.”

The Rise of American Single Malt Whiskey

By: Becky Garrison

While both Scotch and American single malt whiskey possess some similarities in terms of taste, their origins are quite different. Scotch is a spirit born of tradition and known for its heterogeneity and consistency, with brands distinguished by their geography (the Highlands, the Lowlands, the Isle of Islay, Campbeltown, and the Speyside). Furthermore, the majority of Scotch distillers are distributed by four companies: Diageo, Pernod Ricard, William Grant and Sons, and Bacardi. A similar vibe besets its cousin Irish whiskey.

  Conversely, American single malt whiskey possesses a more pioneering spirit and is distinguished more by the style of whiskey than any particular geography. While the TTB has not formalized strict criteria for what constitutes an American single malt, the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, founded in 2016, established a standard of identity for American single malt. Currently, over 140 distilleries have signed on as member producers of the ASMWC. 

  For a distiller to use the term “American single malt” to describe their whiskey, the ASMWC recommends that the spirit fit the following criteria:

•    Made from 100% malted barley.

•    Distilled entirely at one distillery.

•    Mashed, distilled, and matured in the U.S.

•    Matured in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters.

•    Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof, or 80% alcohol by volume.

•    Bottled at 80 (U.S.) proof or more, or 40% alcohol by volume.

  While the ASMWC has not issued a specific recommendation on maturation time, producers are aging their American single malt whiskeys in barrels at a variety of ages, from three months to 10 years. Some American distillers get creative with the maturation process by experimenting with used casks from breweries, wineries and other distilleries. 

  Terms like “handcrafted” and “produced” may be found on a bottle by those distilleries engaged in producing mass-market spirits. Unless the bottle contains the word “distilled,” the product cannot be considered a product made from grain to bottle by a single distillery.   

  Before prohibition, one could find thousands of distilleries and breweries in the U.S., particularly along the Eastern seaboard. During this period, rye whiskey emerged as the dominant dark spirit. After prohibition, the whiskey movement took off in Kentucky and Tennessee, where bourbon became king. 

  While bourbon is part of the whiskey family, this product differs from American single malt in several ways. In addition to being made with at least 51% corn, the mash is distilled using a column still. The barley mash distilled for American single malt whiskey is typically done with a pot still, though a few distillers use a column still.

  Through consolidation and mergers, the quality and production of all American whiskey resembled that of mass-produced beer. However, the advent of the global food revolution in the 1950s and 60s, coupled with federal legalization of homebrewing in 1978, led to the implosion of the craft brewing industry. Concurrently, Americans became acquainted with beers, wines, and spirits hailing from Europe and the UK thanks to pioneers such as Charles Finkel, co-founder of Seattle based Pike Brewing Company, who introduced these products into the United States market. 

  Many distillers of American single malt, like Christian Krogstad of Portland, Oregon-based House Spirits Distillery and Jason Parker of Copperworks Distilling Company in Seattle, came out of this craft revolution, beginning their careers as brewers. Both distillers use a hundred percent malted barley and brew their wort using the same technique employed in brewing beer.

  While Krogstad waited for his whiskey to mature, he became known for distilling Aviation Gin. The first bottle of Aviation Gin came out in 2000, well before their first bottle of whiskey was released in 2008. In 2016, House Spirits Distillery sold Aviation Gin’s distribution rights so they could devote their energies to producing Westward American Single Malt Whiskey.

  Parker, Co-Founder and President of Copperworks Distilling, followed a similar trajectory of distilling gin and vodka until their single malt whiskey was ready for release. For the past three years, they’ve produced whiskey from single farm, single variety, and single vintage malts. Each batch is given a unique number and has a slightly different taste from other batches.

Traditional Scottish Style American Single Malt Whiskeys

  Other brands like McCarthy’s Single Malt Whiskey and Westland American Single Malt Whiskey are distilled using a traditional Scottish style. This style requires that the whiskey be made from a mash of malted barley, distilled at a single distillery using pot still distillation, and matured in oak casks.

  After a damp trip to the Isle of Islay where he visited several local distilleries as a way to avoid the rain, Steve McCarthy returned to Oregon where he had the distinction of being the first distiller to bring an American single malt to market. His whiskey, distilled in 1993 using 100% peated barley from Scotland, was released in 1996. While the mash used in most Scotch is distilled twice, the type of still they use allows them to reach desired proof in a single pass. That still is often referred to as a “hybrid pot still” or “eau-de-vie still” as it has a short multi-chambered column above the traditional pot. 

  According to Steve Hawley, Director of Marketing for Westland Distillery, their distillery was founded in 2010 with the ambition to add a new and uniquely American voice to the world of single malt whiskey. “When we began, we adopted the same basic processes used for generations in the whiskey-making of the old world, but we don’t simply seek to replicate the results. Instead, we work to create whiskeys that reflect the distinct qualities of our time, place, and culture here in the Pacific Northwest.” 

Developments in American Single Malts

  According to Adam Foy, Vice President of Business Development for Skagit Valley Malting, “Barley grown for yield is about sameness, whereas, we grow barley for distinction by searching the globe for unique and distinct barleys that provide varietal nuances.” Connecting the origins of the barley used in the mash to a single farm or variety adds another dimension to the term “single malt.”

  Distilleries like Copperworks partner with Skagit Valley Malting and other like-minded companies to craft what Parker refers to as non-commodity malts. “Instead of measuring our efficiency from farm-to-bottle, we measure the flavor from unique malts to bottle, and share these flavors as different whiskeys, rather than a standard release whiskey.”

  Currently, Copperworks is maturing whiskey that was produced using locally-grown malt from the Skagit Valley and infusing it with smoke from Washington-sourced peat. They brewed the malt into a beer with no hops, distilled, and matured in new, charred American Oak barrels with a number one char, the lightest of chars, so as not to overwhelm the peat flavors.

  Currently, Westland is working with partners on a holistic barley program that focuses on flavor and includes breeding unique varietals suited to the Pacific Northwest region. “We’re malting them using innovative new technologies, and building a sustainable—both agriculturally and economically—model for bringing those barleys to market for use in distilling,” Hawley said.

  A few distilleries have begun to experiment with imparting smoke instead of peat into their barley through the use of cherry wood, mesquite, or scrub oak. In particular, mesquite lends a natural smokey and spicy flavor without adding artificial flavorings found in commercial cinnamon whiskey.

  Then comes Wanderback Whiskey Company, a distillery with a unique production focus. They partner with various single malt producers in the United States to make their whiskey using a bespoke grain bill that’s grown in the Pacific Northwest. Then they age, blend, and bottle small batch releases on their family farm in Hood River, Oregon.

Pushing the Boundaries with Innovative Cocktails

  While Scottish tradition maintains that one should drink Scotch neat, adding only a drop or so of water to help bring out the flavor, some American distillers are blazing new territories by creating craft cocktails. At events, such as PROOF: Washington Distillers Festival, participants can sample a range of single malts, as well as unique cocktails while sitting in on educational sessions. A trek to Tankard & Tun, Pike Brewing Company’s Seafood Restaurant, features beer cocktails made with spirits from Copperworks Distilling. Historical tidbit: Parker was the first brewer for the Pike Brewing Company when it opened in 1989.

  In addition to offering tasting flights, House Spirits Distillery serves up a range of cocktails including a Boulevardier (a Negroni for whiskey lovers). Also, during their repeat appearances at Feast Portland, they showcase their traditional side by featuring Westward at one of Feast’s signature BBQ events, Smoked. But then they’ll display their more flamboyant side by demonstrating how a quality spirit can enhance the cocktail experience. For example, at Smoked 2019, they featured a S’Mores Old Fashioned made with Westaward American Single Malt Whiskey, graham cracker honey, chocolate bitters, and toasted marshmallow.

  As members of the ASMWC continue to win national and global awards and competitions, this commission continues to push for the formal establishment of a “single malt whiskey” category. Already, the American Distilling Institute has established the “American single malt whiskey” category for those whiskeys made according to ASMWC’s proposed statement of identity.

WOMEN AND CRAFT BEER: Brewing Networks & Profits One Beer at a Time

By: Cheryl Gray

When Meghann Quinn’s great-grandparents planted their first acres of hops in 1932, little did they know that their great-grand-daughter would be responsible for the business side of what is now Bale Breaker Brewing Company, a family-owned enterprise ranked last year as the fifth-largest independent craft brewery in Washington state.

  At Bale Breaker Brewing Company, women play an integral role in nearly all aspects of the business, from the farm to the tasting room.  It is a tradition that Quinn traces back to her great-grandmother, Leota Mae Loftus, the namesake of the brewery’s Leota Mae IPA.

  “It never occurred to Leota that there was a job she couldn’t do,” Quinn said. “If an irrigation ditch needed to be dug, crops needed to be picked, or workers needed to be fed, she was the lone woman on the crew beside—or in front of—the men, getting the job done.  In fact, throughout the 1940s, she was the only woman hop drier in the Yakima Valley.” In those days, Quinn says, hops drying was done by hand.

  Fast forward to the 21st century. Bale Breaker Brewing Company operates out of a 27,000 square foot facility housing a 30-barrel brewhouse. The brewery’s tasting room is right in the center of Hop Field #41, part of roughly 2,200 acres of the family farm in the heart of Washington’s Yakima Valley, where Quinn and her three brothers grew up.

  “My dad always says that when you grow up among them, hops become part of your DNA,” said Quinn. “I guess my brothers and I are pretty good examples of that.”

  Quinn earned a degree in Business Finance from the University of Washington. She now handles all things business at the brewery, including finance, accounting, reporting, marketing, public relations and the like. However, she proudly points to the team of women whose expertise gives Bale Breaker Brewing its competitive edge. 

  “Jackie Beard is our Quality & Sensory Manager. She has a degree in microbiology from Northwestern, has developed a robust in-house sensory program from scratch, and makes sure all of the beer we send out is up to our high-quality standards,” said Quinn. “Erin Schlect and Shayna Koch are two young moms who run our accounting department.  Our marketing department consists of Danika Norman (Marketing Manager), Sara Gottlieb (Social Media Manager) and Marguerite Washut (Marketing and Events Coordinator).  These three women are essential to driving our brand forward and effectively communicating to and connecting with our consumer base.”

  Quinn also said three of the company’s four-person outside sales team are women. Sara Verdieck covers western Washington, Kat Finn handles Oregon, and Justine Malland tackles eastern Washington and northern Idaho. “These women are the face of Bale Breaker with our distributors and accounts throughout our distribution footprint.”

Pink Boots Society

  Quinn and members of her team at Bale Breaker Brewing are among the more than 2,000 women worldwide who network through The Pink Boots Society. This nonprofit organization,  founded by brewing pioneer Teri Fahrendorf, supports women engaged in the brewing profession and, in particular, the craft brewing industry. The group, which began in 2007 with fewer than 20 members, helps women brewers connect with mentors and advance their brewing knowledge through education. Educational opportunities receive support through scholarship money the group raises to help women advance in the industry.  There are Pink Boots Society chapters across the United States and global chapters in Canada, Europe, Asia, South America, New Zealand and Australia.  

Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company

  Be it a global enterprise or a blossoming start-up in the U.S., women have come into their own in the craft brewing industry. Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company is among the latter, a fast-rising brewery and restaurant owned and operated by the Hatton family, who’ve called Yakima Valley home for seven generations. Annette Hatten, whose husband, Mike, had been a homebrewer for more than a decade, decided to turn an old fruit stand into a brewery with a restaurant. Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company opened for business in 2013 and the Hatten children, Zach, Amanda and Trevor, gave up their day jobs to pitch in and contribute to the brewery’s success. They’ve focused on capturing space in the competitive craft beer market by combining its brewery offerings with innovative restaurant fare, ranging from its popular pizza varieties to its beer brownies. 

  Annette Hatton is involved in day-to-day operations, brewing recommendations, as well as recipe development for the kitchen and distillery. Daughter Amanda, co-owner and Operations Manager, was recently awarded the Yakima Valley Tourism Ambassador of the Year Award. She sees to it that Yakima Valley produce gets featured on the restaurant menu. She also manages the brewery’s community outreach, creating innovative partnerships with local organizations and small businesses.  Amanda says that the opportunity to work side by side with her mother is a gift.

   “Not only do I get to spend time with her every day, but we get to collaborate on many great ideas and have a ton of creative energy flowing, which I love.”

Cowiche Creek Brewing Company

  Maria Nordberg worked side by side with husband Derrick to build the Cowiche Creek Brewing Company, which opened for business in 2017. What started as a homebrewing project evolved into a full-fledged business plan to launch a brewery that’s products would showcase the citrusy, piney, and tropical hops varieties of Yakima Valley. Nordberg has a background in food safety management from her position at Yakima’s Green Acre Farms, a fourth-generation family operation with a vineyard, orchard and hopyard, as well as row crops. Cowiche Creek Brewing gets much of their hops from Green Acres, although the Nordbergs also grow and use their own varieties of hops. 

  To keep a firm hold on construction costs, The Nordbergs built the brewery’s 20 barrel brewhouse and taproom by combining their own sweat equity with their skilled tradesmen friends who knew how to do tile work, plumbing and other construction trades. 

  Marketing strategies for Cowiche Creek include electronic gift cards available online, as well as business partnerships with restaurants, bars, hotels and casinos in the Yakima Valley area that feature the brewery’s products. Maria says that at the end of the day, it’s the customers ‘ appreciation for the brewery’s offerings that count. 

   “All the hard work is worth it when you see a smile on someone’s face and knowing you helped put it there. “

Like a Lady Boss

  Women who don’t directly brew craft beer have still found a way to incorporate it—or its ingredients – into their businesses. A prime example is HopTown Wood-Fired Pizza, which features pizzas sprinkled with hops from Yakima Valley.  Co-owners Lori Roy and Carrie Wright serve wood-fired fare, showcasing fresh-from-the-farm ingredients paired with local craft beers, wines and ciders. “We celebrate the hop heritage of our community with our award-winning pizzas and our local brews,” said Wright.

  There are also the women who keep the taproom flowing, responsible for everything from managing staff to operations. Such are the responsibilities of Rachel Verhey-Goicoechea, Taproom Manager and Cellar Assistant at Varietal Beer Company, located in the Yakima Valley community of Sunnyside, the second-largest city in Yakima County.  Varietal, which opened last year,  joins an already crowded field of craft beer establishments in the Lower Yakima Valley area but is holding its own as a popular gathering place. It’s headed by Verhey-Goicoechea, who not only runs the taproom but also assists in the cellar CIP, transfers, dry hopping, kegging and other related duties. 

  In addition to the Pink Boots Society, women are teaming up for special events that champion women in the craft brewing industry. Last year, Atlanta, Georgia was host to Dregs and Dames, a festival aimed at empowering women in craft brewing by presenting beers brewed by women and discussing community, business, brewing and legal issues affecting women’s success in the craft brewing world. There is also a push for more diversity as minority women enter into the craft brewing scene.

  For all of recorded history, women have played a role in craft brewing. The earliest civilizations considered brewing beer a “woman’s job.”  Today, according to an Auburn University study, women comprise 29% of beer industry workers. Women who have been in the business the longest say that mentoring is the key to sustaining and expanding the number of women who own, operate and work in the field of craft beer brewing.

Hard Seltzer: Making a BIG Splash!

By: Nan McCreary, Sr. Staff Writer

Listen up, fans of wine, beer and spirits: there’s a rising star in the beverage universe, and it’s taking the market by storm. It’s hard seltzer, a ready-to-drink cocktail made from three essential ingredients—carbonated water, fermented malt or sugar, and fruit. Described as light, crisp and refreshing, the drink has become so popular that beverage pundits named this past June, July and August “the summer of hard seltzer.”

  While seltzer has been around for years, hard seltzer first bubbled up in 2013 when a brand called Spiked Seltzer—now known as Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer—hit the market. The drink was such a success that other popular brands followed, and the industry exploded. According to Nielsen, from March 2018 to March 2019, sales of hard seltzer totaled $585 million. This represents a 200% growth, with 164.3% happening in July alone. Some analysts predict sales could expand to $2.5 billion by 2021.

  So, what’s with all the buzz? It’s really pretty simple: hard seltzer is low in sugar and alcohol, usually gluten-free, relatively inexpensive, sold in convenient cans, makes a great mixer and, oh yes, tastes good. With today’s health-conscious millennials as a key consumer demographic, that’s a definite formula for success.

  Let’s start with the better-for-you benefits. Hard seltzer is almost always made from fermented sugars, while beer is made from fermented barley and other grains. During the fermentation process, most of hard seltzer’s sugar converts into neutral alcohol, as opposed to grain-fermented spirits which don’t wholly ferment, leaving behind more sugar and, of course, more calories. Typically, hard seltzers contain 100 calories or less per 12-ounce can, with only 4-5% ABV, about the same as a light beer. With no barley or wheat, hard seltzers are also gluten-free.

Besides being lower in calories, spiked seltzers come in many fruit flavors, offering a refreshing alternative to beer, wine or cocktails. White Claw, currently the dominant player in the market, owned by Mark Anthony Brands, has six flavors: black cherry, ruby grapefruit, natural lime, raspberry, mango, and Pure, the latter made to mimic a vodka soda.

  White Claw’s primary competitor, Boston Beer’s Truly Hard Hard Seltzer, produces four styles of 13 hard seltzers:  four berry, four citrus, four tropical styles, and a Rosé, described as “delicately sweet with a hint of California Chardonnay grapes.” 

  The flavors in hard seltzers come from extracts, natural flavors, real fruit juices or concentrates. For the brewer, experimenting with flavors of sparkling water is a blank canvas; while with beer, pushing the limits with fruit or botanicals can upset the flavor of the malt base.

  While hard seltzers can be delicious in themselves, the beverage is very versatile and mixes with just about anything to make an outstanding drink. Some mix it with classics like vodka soda and tequila soda, which adds depth and complexity to the drinks. Others replace the nonalcoholic seltzer in any cocktail with an alcoholic one. Another option is to create a spritzer by adding white wine to your favorite hard seltzer. For all of these drinks, ingredients can be adjusted to each person’s tastes. While the mixes will be a little more “boozy,” they’re still a low-calorie alternative to a cocktail.

  Hard seltzers are especially appealing to those with an active lifestyle because they are portable. The 12-ounce cans are ready-to-drink and ideal for camping, beach outings, boating, stadium events, or any destination where glass is not allowed or discouraged. Like canned wine and canned cocktails, they also offer the advantage of no mixing and, in the case of wine, no corkscrews. Plus, aluminum cans are shatterproof and easier to maintain and transport than glass.

  Hard seltzers offer one more advantage: they are often cheaper than craft beer and certainly less expensive than a mid-range bottle of wine or spirits. A 12-pack of White Claw 12-ounce cans sells for about $15, which is the same price as a domestic light beer and an average cost for a bottle of wine. Canned cocktails retail for $12 to $15 for a four-pack of 12-ounce cans, while a four-pack of 250 ml canned wines averages at $16.

  With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder that hard seltzers are having a moment. Plus, with craft beer sales going flat, brewers are turning to alternatives to expand their sales. Today, there are dozens of brands of spiked seltzers on the market, with the numbers growing by the day. Even big beer is jumping on the bandwagon. Anheuser-Busch acquired Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer in 2016, Constellation Brands owns Svedka Spiked Premium Seltzer, Diageo touts Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer, Oskar Blues has Wild Basin, and MillerCoors has Henry’s Hard Sparkling. In August, Pabst Blue Ribbon announced the release of its first spiked seltzer drink, Stronger Seltzer, at 8% ABV. Four Loko, known for its colorful cans of high-alcohol malt beverages, is releasing a spiked seltzer with a 14% ABV. They’re describing the product as the “hardest seltzer in the universe.” 

  Of small breweries entering the market, one of the more noteworthy is Braxton Brewing Company, whose nationally acclaimed seltzer, VIVE, was just named “Official Hard Seltzer of the Cincinnati Bengals.” Based in Covington, Kentucky, Braxton is the region’s first brewery to release a hard seltzer. The spiked seltzer has only 100 calories and two grams of carbohydrates per 12-ounce can. It’s available in four naturally flavored varieties; mango, lime, dragonfruit and grapefruit. In honor of its partnership with the Bengals, the brewery recently released a Tailgate Variety Pack that includes four flavors: blood orange, cherry, peach and black raspberry.

  For Braxton Brewing, described as “a place where ideas are born and fermented,” entry into the hard seltzer market in 2018 was a natural extension of the entrepreneurial spirit of brothers Evan and Jake Rouse, who founded the craft brewery in 2015.

“We pride ourselves in innovation, and we like to create products that our customers really want to drink,” Jake Rouse told Beverage Master Magazine. “Hard seltzer plays toward the health and wellness trend that is sweeping the country, so we wanted to offer a low-calorie alternative to beer and a ‘better-for-you’ beverage.”


  Braxton Brewing has enjoyed success with its hard seltzers similar to the explosive growth it experienced when the brewery first opened three short years ago. “VIVE has been very successful because of the quality of the product,” Rouse said. “It’s all-natural, and we’re using real fruit. It tastes like water with fruit in it, and that flavor profile works really well in competition with the big producers.”

  Hard seltzer, with three simple ingredients, may seem like a simple beverage to produce, but in fact, “getting it right” is a challenge, according to Rouse. “It’s really difficult to make a great hard seltzer because you’re creating a product that tastes like water,” he said. “While you need to have that 5% alcohol flavor, you don’t want it to taste like there’s a bunch of alcohol in it.”

  Rouse explained that their process for making hard seltzer is a proprietary process developed during beer-making. “The result,” he said, “is a product that’s clear and easy to drink and flavorful without that alcohol sting to it. All brands have their own processes, so they’ll all be different.”

  Hard seltzer’s popularity is rising in the beverage industry and showing no signs of abating. Experts note that consumers of all ages and genders are counting calories and watching their alcohol consumption, giving hard seltzer a leg up in the search for a good tasting, low-calorie, low-alcohol drink. Beverage professionals predict that big beer will seek more opportunities for hard seltzers, and even small breweries will try to lure local customers with a better-for-you alternative to beer. Braxton Brewing Company, which already distributes to three different states, told Beverage Master Magazine that they are seeking opportunities for greater distribution of VIVE, and are considering adding new flavors to their portfolio.

  With these trends in mind, it seems that there only one place for hard seltzer to go—and that’s upwards!

The Best Canning Systems & Machines for Modern Breweries

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Eugene, OR, USA – July 17, 2014: Can and bottle filling machine on an assembly line at Oakshire Brewing.

Canning has become an increasingly popular way to package craft beer, and more breweries than ever before are either exclusively moving to cans or incorporating cans alongside their traditional bottle offerings. Many brewers prefer canning over bottling because of the increased protection from light and oxygen, cost, portability, recyclability and freshness. However, a brewery needs the right type of canning system in its space to make this form of production profitable and efficient.

  With the input of top industry experts at SKA Fabricating, XpressFill Systems and OneVision Corporation, here’s what breweries should know before investing in a new canning system for the first time or upgrading a current machine.

Canning Products Available to Breweries

  Smaller and newer craft breweries may start off with manual canning systems that have a two-head filler and that can fill about 10 cans per minute because of these systems’ affordability. An upgrade from this is a micro-automated canning system with a three-head filler and capacity for 25 cans per minute with multiple can size options. Meanwhile, automated canning systems may have up to 10 head fillers and be able to fill more than 70 cans per minute. To operate a canning line, a brewery may also need to purchase blank or printed cans, can ends and lids, PakTech can carriers, shrink sleeves and corrugated case trays.

  One canning machine company based in San Luis Obispo, California, XpressFill, manufacturers affordable table-top machines that are used by craft breweries to fill both cans and bottles. Rod Silver, the marketing coordinator at XpressFill, told Beverage Master Magazine that his company has experienced a significant increase in can fillers from its brewery customers this year.

  “Our counter pressure fillers fill the cans in a pressurized environment to maximize the CO2 in solution,” Silver said. “Our open fill units have become increasingly more popular due to the lower cost and faster fill rate. Controlling filling conditions are critical in achieving optimum fills using either system. Both units purge the can with CO2 prior to the fill cycle.”

  Another relevant company that breweries will want to learn about is Ska Fabricating, which is based in Durango, Colorado and has over 700 customers worldwide. Matt Vincent, a partner in Durango’s largest and most award-winning craft beer brewery, told Beverage Master about Ska’s primary and most popular product called the Can-i-Bus Can Depalletizer. It is paired with either a water twist rinser or ionized air rinse and is an industry-leading depalletizer and rinser combo that covers the speed range of 30 CPM up to 400+ CPM. 

  “It allows for the opportunity to grow as your production grows, due to the wide range of speeds that it can handle,” Vincent said. “It also is a necessary part of a canning line because it eliminates the need for hand-loading cans onto a filling line, allowing operators to focus on quality by eliminating menial tasks.”

  Vincent also said that Ska Fabricating offers an extensive line of conveyance solutions, date coders, handle applicators, can and bottle drying equipment and machinery integration to assist in the post-fill needs of the brewery.

  Meanwhile, Neil Morris of OneVision Corporation in Westerville, Ohio told Beverage Master Magazine how OneVision “manufactures and markets inspection systems that empower beverage canners and food canners produce quality double seams.” This company’s expertise includes double seam evaluations, inspection systems and training and support at system installation, as well as electronic and phone support after installation to prevent seam leaks and keep products fresh.

  Ben Anacker, who manages sales and services for OneVision in the western U.S. and Canada and who is an expert in can manufacturing, said that OneVision arguably provides the most cost-effective craft brew system and support to empower brewers to have confidence in their canned products.

  “Evaluating double seam overlap and tightness is imperative to comprehensive analysis of seam integrity,” Anacker said. “The OneVision SeamMate® Inspection System, in combination with the Mini Drive Seam Stripper System, is unparalleled in performing the destructive seam dissection to allow close examination of these attributes.”

Important Features of Canning Machines

  Overall, canning systems feature a complex set of machines that share some similarities but are also very different in many ways. These differences lie in their speed, efficiency, size and other capabilities, such as low DO pickup, 15-20 ppb, dual cam driven seamers, nitro with a widget or no widget and monitors. Considerations to keep in mind are oxygen and light penetration, seamers, reliability, the ability to upgrade later and integration with your current system.

  Silver of XpressFill said that the most important features to consider are “cost, fill consistency, oxygen uptake, user-friendly, reliability, ease of cleaning and sanitizing and support by the manufacturer (both pre-sale and after).”

  Vincent of Ska Fabricating said that first and foremost, the most important factors for making a canning machine decision are identifying the proper speed line that works well with your budget, batch size, labor pool and desired level of automation. He said that the second priority is to make sure you understand the differences in the fillers and what level of quality you can expect from them. 

  “In the end, you get what you pay for,” Vincent said. “Rotary fillers tend to provide a higher level of fill quality than inline fillers, but they are typically four to five times the cost. 

  “All businesses evaluate the cost-competitive options when procuring capital assets to support their business,” said Anacker of OneVision Corporation. “For the craft brewery industry, there are many options for these canning investments. Sustainability versus initial investment cost is widely overlooked and should be evaluated more closely.”

Questions to Ask Before Buying a New Canning System

  There are many questions to ask before buying a new canning machine, either for the first time as a new brewery or to upgrade existing equipment. Here are some initial questions to start with:

•    Is the machine the right size for your needs?

•    Will you use printed cans or labels?

•    Are pneumatic seamers your best option?

•    How easy is it to clean the machine?

•    What other accessories are needed to operate the machine?

•    What are the financing options?

  Silver of XpressFill said that while many craft breweries are shifting to cans instead of bottles because of customer demand, switching production from bottles to cans is a significant undertaking that should not be taken lightly.

  “Canning lines and mobile canning could be prohibitively expensive depending on the initial scope of your production,” Silver said. “Table top units, like the XpressFill fillers, can be a cost-effective initial effort to meet the initial demand. Questions should be asked regarding the production capacity of the equipment, ability to upgrade, sell-back policies and warranty information to ensure a prudent investment.”

  Vincent of Ska Fabricating said that the most important questions to ask are about the machine’s cost, level of support offered, how many people it takes to operate the line efficiently and what level of dissolved oxygen the filler can maintain while filling.

  Anacker of OneVision Corporation recommends looking into the track record of the supplier company as well as the actual system being considered. He said to ask about if the system can be upgraded to match future growth and to check references of actual users with at least three years of experience using the system. How a “micro-canning” system compares to larger commercial canning systems and whether the system has the same fundamental function and repeatability to have confidence in long-term production capability and integrity are other considerations that Anacker recommends.

Expert Advice About Canning Machines & Lines

  With all of this information in mind, you may decide that now is the right time to start looking at new canning machine options, or it may be best to hold off for a while until you have fully assessed your needs. However, it seems that canned craft beer is here to stay and will only continue to increase in popularity in the future.

  Vincent of Ska Fabricating recommends that breweries do their homework in researching canning line equipment and identify reputable vendors that will provide the levels of customer service and project management that your brewery needs.

  “Budget for the suppliers to do the installations and training for their machinery,” Vincent said. “Many mistakes are made and inefficiencies are created without proper installation and training on the machinery. We have seen many customers that try to do the installations on their own and it ends up creating more problems in the long run, resulting in down time and/or machinery that doesn’t operate as well as intended.” 

  In terms of advice for craft breweries, Anacker of OneVision Corporation said,” Contract or employ resources with canning experience to help make procurement choices, develop production layout, oversee the production to get this business phase started well and develop other resources for sustainability.”

  Silver of XpressFill recommends finding other breweries that have worked with the particular machine and manufacturer that you are considering and asking them about the machine’s reliability and overall satisfaction with the canning equipment.

  “Also, search online for reviews of the equipment,” Silver said. “Real world experience is the best insight into what can be expected with purchasing and operating a new canning system.”