Can You Reinvent the Beverage Marketing Wheel?

2 people holding 2 small wheels

By: Hanifa Anne Sekandi

A lot of people believe that marketing a brand is an arduous task. Yes, it requires work. But if you hate this part of building a business, you may find yourself in the marketing denial loop. What is this?

  It is when brands do extraordinarily little marketing and expect big results. It is when brands put in less than what they desire to receive. This mindset leads to a sense of disillusionment and disappointment. We are sure you have encountered individuals who say running a brand is hard. The truth is, creating and growing a brand requires work. But the work should not be regarded as hard. It is important to eliminate this mindset. Embrace a simple, thought-out marketing plan and strategy whether you are a new brand, a mid-range brand or one of the big guys. Understanding how to market your brand should never be approached begrudgingly or negatively. Last Beverage Master issue, we focused on the “why,” as in why is your brand so unique? Why should consumers purchase your beverage rather than Bob’s beverage? Why is your brand making this beverage? Is there a story? The “why” is your first building block, and this will lead you to the most important phase of your simple marketing strategy — who is this for? 

  Nowadays, you do not have to look too far to see the dos and don’ts of marketing. You are in a time where the triumphs and tribulations of top-tier brands are well documented. As of late, major marketing blunders have been put to the forefront. The common mistake among all these brands, not just those in the alcoholic beverage industry, is that they forget the most important marketing building block: the “who,” and I’m not referring to the classic and iconic English rock band. In this case, the “who” refers to your audience, the consumer. Understanding their buying decisions and why they select your brand or your competitor’s brand when purchasing beer and liquor should be at the forefront of your marketing strategy. 

Who is Your Consumer?

  All your marketing initiatives are built from understanding who your consumer is. A concept that seems obvious and basic, yet both new and old brands make it complicated. Since you and your beverage experts are creating the beverage, tasting it and perfecting it, start here. What would appealto you? What would make you run out and purchase your alcoholic beverage over a top-shelf or legacy beverage? Also, what do you wish some of your favorite beverage brands did? How does your brand fill this missing element? A large list is not needed. You are not going to be loved by everyone. Focus on three key features your “who” (consumer) would look for. Look at their lifestyle and how you can highlight that your beverage compliments their personal ethos. Remember, people attach feeling to their purchases. This is why the “why” story is such an essential first step in brand development. It lets you clearly map out how to appeal to and reach the “who.” 

  There are many ways to find your audience. The above is a simple and effective method. If you cannot sell this magical beverage to yourself or your team, then you will not sell it to anyone else. For those who have an existing brand and are struggling with your brand in a marketing landscape, which has become quite cutthroat with the advent of social media platforms, taking a trip back to where you started and your initial goals will help you zero in on your consumer base. Do not be greedy. Do not strive to be all things to everyone. If your brand has been performing relatively well and you are looking for more brand visibility to boost sales.

  Simple changes, more times than not, are needed. Creatively amplifying your existing message can increase your reach and growth. You do not need to burn the building down and start again, so you target a new demographic to buy your beverage. What about the people who have kept you afloat? Your loyal consumer bases? Some brands conduct surveys. Ask the people who have already purchased your drink what you can do better. Or what is on their wish list? Conduct a poll. This will give you some great ideas or help you re-strategize and expand your existing marketing methods.   

Should You Reinvent the Wheel?

  If you are a new brand, the alcoholic beverage world is truly your oyster. You can be outlandish and try something new. You have leeway to reinvent the wheel. Why? Aside from making a quality beverage, there is no sense in trying to copy the marketing strategy of a legacy top-tier brand. Their consumer is loyal. This does not mean that they will not become a fan of your brand. It is like football; people love the team they love, but when it is the Superbowl and their team has not made the cut, they will root for the team they like second best. Some people drink the beer their granddad drank and pass the love of this beverage on to their kids. It is a staple beer at all family events and their go-to beverage when dining out. Whatever the hook was that appealed to their granddad was passed on to them, and so on. Consider this a legacy brand. Legacy brands must strive to expand the wheel, but they should not reinvent it or break it unless they want to lose a loyal consumer base. Ignoring your “who” so you can reach a new consumer is sloppy marketing and a hasty marketing method often spurred on by newer brands going viral on social media. 

  You might be wondering how you would know who your consumer is. What other methods can you use to understand them better to build a formidable marketing strategy? This may sound contradictory to what was stated above. Start by identifying three brands that you are comparable to, your competitors. Study them, but do not copy them.

  Moreover, analyze them and look for what you do not like first. What would you do better, and what is missing? Make this list small. Next, look at the elements you like and what you would do better from a consumer’s perspective. For example, some beverage brands have made different-size offerings for their beverages. This is a simple yet effective difference that sets you apart and boosts sales. Who does not love those single-serve wines or a small-can imperial stout? Your consumer’s needs are not hard to understand if you start with yourself, assuming you are making a product you believe in, and then look for like-minded individuals with the same sensibility. Stay faithful to your plan, even when no one is looking, because someone looking for what you are offering will eventually turn into a large, loyal consumer base that will tell their like-minded friends to purchase your beverages too.

Is Your Brand Something to Talk About?

woman in shocked

By: Hanifa Sekandi

In the overly social world that we now live in, it can be hard to stand out. How does a brand become noteworthy? What makes a brand worth talking about?

  While you diligently craft your new alcoholic beverage, with hopes of becoming a formidable brand, it is important to remember as good as it may taste on the palate, it must also be as memorable to the imbiber. What do people see when they think of your brand? What feelings are evoked beyond an inebriated mind? Will people run to their local liquor store to purchase it? Now that production has finished, you know you have made a quality product. It is time to build a brand that is indeed something to talk about. 

  Fortunately, you have access to millions of people worldwide in the palm of your hand. One social media post can turn your brand into an overnight success. The truth is it does not happen overnight. There are strategies implemented before top-tier brands disseminate their marketing campaign to the masses. But, with just one post or compelling article written by a reviewer, a brand can quickly become a household name. Should you consider influencer marketing? It is an effective tool, but it is not necessarily the only way to spread the word. Instead, consumer reviews and testimonials are part of a long-term marketing plan for sustainable growth. View your customer as a micro-influencer who will host parties at their home, for example, and share your beverage with guests. They will also share photos and videos with their family and friends on social media. It is up to you to guide them, so let’s get started.

Build a Sustainable Strategy

  What most brands learned once social media became a tool to advertise is that it can be quite exhausting. Let us be honest; it is a free advertising tool that can yield impressive results when used wisely and innovatively. But guess what…social burnout is a thing! Most brands hit the ground running only to find out that they have run out of stamina and, more importantly, marketing content. It is important to build the ship before you set sail. Further, you must be building marketing materials that can be used for the entire year! If you are fortunate to hire an editorial or marketing manager, they will help you plan and execute marketing strategies that are viable daily, monthly and yearly. The biggest mistake that new and old brands make in modern marketing is thinking they can build as they go or create limited marketing resources. Remember, view your brand as a ship. Would you set sail with holes in your boat or without life jackets? Would you trust a captain who just goes where the wind blows or someone with skills, expertise and instincts? Of course, you will have to take risks, but your ship should still have an anchor. 

  So, how do you build a sustainable brand? Your first task is to discern the “why”? What makes your alcoholic beverage unique? Is it premium gin? Does your brand use sustainable production methods? Is it a family-owned business? You need to build the story to draw a connection to your brand. White Claw is a notable example of a low-cal RTD beverage that jumped in front of the line from what seems like out of nowhere. Their brand is built around a health-conscious consumer who enjoys drinking without worrying about the scale. They found their “why” and then focused on reaching their targeted consumers. Some consumers gravitate toward brands that have a compelling story. Some brands have attached their beverages to an impactful cause, pledging that a portion of their profits will go towards it. Back Country Brewing, a brewing company located in Squamish, BC, has effectively incorporated giving back to the community as part of its brand ethos. They have also effectively created a brand built off creatively thought-out branding. The continuous colorful and playful references to the outdoors are displayed on beer cans and paired with names that complement the brand’s rustic outdoors theme. Damn Alligator Just Popped and Don’t Cross the Streams are great beverage names that stand out but are in alignment with what their consumer would expect.

  Once you have figured out the “why” and what makes your brand unique, you can start to build marketing materials around this. It will also help you design a logo and select colors that you will utilize throughout your marketing initiatives. This stage is just as important as the product development stage. The same amount of care you put into ingredients, quality and taste must also be applied now. So, you are ready to get started. What is next? Consistency!

Stay Consistent

  Stick to your plan and only make minor adjustments. The foundation of your marketing strategy should be solid. It is okay to make minor variations, but your goal should be to build and evaluate your initial plan. It is easier said than done because this is a competitive industry. Do not forget your “why.” Focus on who you believe would enjoy your beverage and stay laser focused. Devise a marketing plan that includes a calendar that you religiously follow. Always be two steps ahead. What does this mean? Some months of the year have holidays or special days like National Pancake Day. When creating marketing materials with images, blogs and videos, mention and highlight these designated days.

  Unfortunately, there are no days off. There is nothing worse than looking up a brand online to find that they have not posted on their blog for a year or last posted on their social media a week ago. Curate behind-the-scenes features that allow your consumer to see how the beverage is made. You can also give them a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of your business experiences. Do you label your bottles by hand? Share this! It is easy to get discouraged initially. The idea that no one is looking will cross your mind several times. What you do not see during this time is the opportunity to push boundaries and try things that are out of the box before your consumer has an attachment to your product, and then there is little room for change. If you decide to build a blog to support your alcoholic beverage, view it as a mini-magazine and schedule a feature at the same time every week. Be sure to include it in your newsletter along with new product launches or sales. 

  As you build a consumer base, predictability is the only way to stay afloat. As stated above, White Claw appeals to the wellness consumer, and Back Country Brewing the outdoors consumer. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Expand and elevate your initial marketing strategy. Add new elements or products that complement it. This will help you stay consistent, give you more time to engage with your consumers and build a brand that is not a one-hit-wonder.

Imagine Your Brand in the Future

  Where do you see your brand five years from now? Ten years from now? Do not get caught up in current trends. This is why a sustainable strategy and consistency are the gold standard. You may have wondered why that blush wine in the odd shape bottle still does well with little marketing. This is what long-term, effective brand development looks like. This vineyard’s goal was to design a bottle that was aesthetically pleasing to the eye so it would be a great decor piece, while at the same time elegantly displaying the wine. This is a brand that understands that it appeals to a consumer who likes the finer things in life. Consumers will stay loyal to a product because it is consistent and because they feel connected to the brand’s mission. 

  Will the consumer tire of your product in the summer? Or are you a lifetime brand, like many exemplary legacy brands built around sports or music? If you would like to be the go-to campfire brewer, keep an eye on this consumer’s changing habits and desires to grow with them. 

TAKEAWAYS

Strategy: A solid blueprint will steer you toward success.

Consistency: Keep going even when no one is looking.

The Future: Can you stand the test of time?

Craft Beverage Philanthropy: Brewing with Purpose While Giving Back

person giving alms

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Of course, the primary goals in the craft beverage industry are to drive a profit, make money and sustainably secure the business. However, an increasing number of breweries and distilleries have become so entrenched in their local communities that it only makes sense to give back to charitable causes when possible.

  Craft beverage philanthropy is on the rise in the U.S., and there are many creative ways in which brewers and distillers can embrace this trend of doing good while drinking well. There are some valuable lessons to learn from beverage businesses that are focusing a portion of their efforts on philanthropy, which are inspiring if you are looking to host a charity event or donate a portion of sale proceeds to raise money for local causes in your community.

How Breweries & Distilleries Can Approach Philanthropy

  Breweries and distilleries can take a variety of approaches to add a charitable element to their operations. The level of community involvement may vary based on the owner’s interests, the size of the craft beverage establishment and the number of staff members available to help with projects outside the realm of making beer and spirits.

  Some craft beverage businesses are skilled at hosting events, partnering with local nonprofits and using social media to get the word out about needs in the community. Other establishments are willing to try profit sharing with partner charities and give direct donations to organizations working in specific fields of interest, such as early childhood education, homelessness or workforce development. A craft beverage producer can also give back to the community through beer or spirit collaborations, supporting local growers by purchasing homegrown ingredients and hosting art shows featuring local artists. Meanwhile, some beverage producers choose to focus on their own internal sustainability practices instead to make their operations eco-friendlier through recycling, water conservation and energy-saving programs.

  Besides just feeling good about what you do and what you brew, there are many benefits to embracing philanthropy in the craft beverage industry. Getting more involved with local causes increases exposure to a business and builds brand awareness. A brewery or distillery can build greater support among like-minded and community-supporting patrons while engaging with customers on a deeper level. Adding a philanthropic element to a business can help create a more community-centered taproom, generate good press to compensate for a past issue and even result in valuable tax benefits at the end of the fiscal year.

Examples of Craft Beverage Philanthropy

  All across the country, you can find excellent examples of how craft beverage businesses engage in philanthropy without sacrificing product quality or putting a compromising strain on their budget. For instance, Ex Novo Brewing, which launched in Portland, Oregon and also has a presence in New Mexico, was the first nonprofit craft brewery in America and has referred to itself as a “permanent fundraiser to support causes.” Charitable causes supported by Ex Novo include Oregon Wild, Friends of the Children, Mercy Corps and Impact NW.

  Deschutes Brewery in Portland, Oregon, teamed up with Dovetail Workwear to support women’s success in pursuing non-traditional occupations.

  The Phoenix Brewing Company in Mansfield, Ohio, has been involved in philanthropy since it opened in 2014 through special beer releases, apparel sales, sponsorships and fundraising events. It has supported summer camps for children with special challenges, a community theater, a winter coat drive, a homelessness initiative and a brain cancer research organization. Phoenix Brewing is unique in that it accepts requests for donations and sponsorships directly through its website and is a non-tipping establishment. If customers leave cash behind as a tip, the brewery donates it to a designated charity each month.

  Pennsylvania’s Tired Hands Brewing Company is another beverage business that streamlines the funding process and outlines its donation guidelines and application protocols on its website to be refreshingly accessible to local charities.

  Service Brewing, started by an army veteran who served in Iraq, is a Savannah, Georgia brewery that has donated a portion of brewery tour profits and promoted charities that include police, fire and first-responder organizations. Over the years, the brewery has raised over $110,000 for local, regional and national groups.

  Franklins, a family-friendly brewery in Hyattsville, Maryland, is dedicated to giving back to its local community and donated over $200,000 through a fundraiser program for local schools, environmental groups and progressive advocacy organizations. It also supports its community by partnering with local farms to source ingredients and the town’s art alliance organization to showcase the work of local artists.

  Finnegans Brewing Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has a policy of supporting local food banks and helping food banks work with farmers in the area.

  In Milton, Delaware, Dogfish Head is a large and well-known brewery that launched a Beer & Benevolence program to support over 150 nonprofits annually. Funded organizations include the Delaware Historical Society, Delaware Nature Society and Nature Conservancy.

  To dip a toe into the realm of philanthropy without going overboard right away, breweries and distilleries might consider centering giving around just one special, limited-release beverage.

  For example, an Ashland, Virginia brewery, Center of the Universe Brewing, made a Homefront IPA and donated all proceeds of the beer to a nonprofit that helps military troops and veterans. It often makes the most sense to link a beverage company’s history and the founders’ interests to philanthropic engagement.

  An example is SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta, Georgia, which started a long-term, multi-year clean water campaign to improve the local water supply and focuses its giving on environmental groups in the region.

  You might also tap into the intersection of craft beverages and art, like Horse Thief Hollow in Chicago, Illinois, which has partnered with a neighborhood art alliance to turn the business walls into an impromptu art gallery that displays the works of local artists. 

  Another way beverage businesses can boost community involvement is to partner with local sports teams. In Indianapolis, Indiana, craft breweries have created beers that pair with the charitable efforts of local sports teams, including the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The local brewery and bistro, Triton, created a Pink Ribbon Saison with pink and white peppercorns to celebrate Women’s History Month and compliment the breast cancer research funding of the city’s professional football team.

Creative Ideas and Looking Ahead

  For breweries and distilleries that have a handle on their essential operations and are ready to take the next step in community involvement, now is a great time to establish partnerships with local charities. Business owners can harness the trendiness and popularity of craft beer to spark awareness about people, animals and natural resources in need of attention.

  Yet there is no shortage of challenges that come with pairing craft beer and spirits with philanthropy. Selling products must always remain the top priority for these businesses to stay operational, and there will always be public scrutiny about which charities they support and transparency with regard to how the money is used. The quality of the beer and spirits produced must come first so that customers keep coming back and supporting the business and the affiliated charities. If the quality declines, craft beer fans may just as well donate to charities on their own without any craft beverage connection.

  There are also challenges with finding staff members who can manage charitable work, getting the word out about philanthropic efforts, establishing donation guidelines and having enough money to go around. However, this is an exciting time to get involved in the world of craft beverage philanthropy because of how prominent beverage producers have become in their local communities and the potential power and influence they hold for rallying community members to enjoy their favorite drinks with a greater purpose.

  As a craft beverage producer, one of the best ways to launch a philanthropic campaign is to learn from the examples of what other breweries and distilleries have done in the past and contact their teams for details, feedback and mentorship. If corporate philanthropy is an interest within your ownership and staff, it may also be worth reaching out to the local community foundation in your area to discuss options for opening up a fund, donating to specific programs or starting an endowment. Most major cities and even broader regions serving multiple counties have well-established community foundations that can offer advice, resources and training about taking a more philanthropic angle as a charitable side venture.

  Despite hard hits from the pandemic, recession and labor crisis, specialized companies are also emerging to connect the business industry to the nonprofit sector. One example is Positive Legacy, a collective group of nonprofit and event industry professionals that created the Pours for Positive campaign to engage craft beverage companies in nonprofit engagement and outreach for mutually beneficial results and a more vibrant and sustainable community. The Brewers Association also provides resources and tips for producers navigating the complex world of philanthropy. Industry-specific recommendations include adding an online donation request form to your website, hosting events that bring a charity into your business and ensuring donations boost taproom sales with silent auctions and gift cards that draw more business to your doorstep.

Start Your Brand Sooner

woman signing contract

By: Kris Bohm, owner of Distillery Now Consulting

There is nearly a new beverage alcohol business opening every day in North America. Craft beer, wine and spirits are growing immensely in popularity and many people are entering the industry with hope to capitalize on this opportunity. Starting a new business and entering the beverage alcohol industry is challenging to do well and succeed at it. Many new entrants start by building a business that handles all aspects from manufacturing, branding, packaging, marketing, sales, and even distribution. For a new entrant to the business, learning all these aspects of business and succeeding at them is a huge challenge that requires a team of experts. There is an alternative way to get a new beverage alcohol business started without nearly as many challenges to overcome from day one. This alternative is called co packing. It is possible to work with a manufacturer who will make your product for you. By contracting out the production of your product you can focus on the two most critical aspects of a beverage business which is sales and marketing.

What is Co-packing

  Co-packing comes in many shapes and sizes. In essence a co-packer is a facility that produces beverages that offers services to manufacture products for other brands. Essentially you can contract a manufacturer to make your product for you. This can be beer, wine, distilled spirits, ready to drink cocktails or nearly anything else.

  Co-packers offer the opportunity to launch a brand for far less capital outlay than the common path which is building your own manufacturing facility. By removing the capital intensive aspects of manufacturing a product, the owners of a new product gain the freedom to focus on the marketing and sale of their product.

How Copacking Works

  If one would like to create a brand new product and bring it to market the copacker does the manufacturing for you. You can bring an idea for a product to a manufacturer and they will create the product for you. Let’s explore the process step by step you would take to bring a new brand of vodka to market through a co-packer.

•    The first step is to find a co-packer that is a good fit for you.

•    Search for companies that offer co packaging services as not all manufacturers co-pack.

•    Once you have found a company to work with, the next step is to find out the constraints of the copacker.

•    Copackers will have constraints on certain sizes and shapes of bottles, corks and labels that they can work with, understanding these constraints is essential to the design phase.

•    Determine what type of packaging will work with your co-packer.

•    Select packaging the works and fits for your brand and your copacker.

•    Design your brand, including logos, names and artwork.

•    Take a break and have a drink.

•    While you are stopping for a drink, now is a good time to consider the liquid in the bottle. You need to select what the product will taste like and where it will come from.

•    Select the sources and recipes for the liquid that will become your product.

•    Sign a contract with your co-packer and put the pieces together.

•    Have your copacker manufacture the product.

•    Launch your brand.

  Just like that you now have your very own brand new shiny brand of vodka and in most cases now have several pallets of vodka to sell. These steps all sound quite simple, but there are many layers of work underneath this list. Beneath every step there are decisions and details that are critical to the product. Let’s explore some of these key steps and how to best make those decisions.

  The liquid in the bottle is important but more important than the liquid is the brand itself. Putting in work to create a professional looking brand along with label artwork and selecting design elements are all crucial steps to creating a successful brand. Unless you have extensive experience in beverage branding and marketing the creation of a new brand is best handled by people who have experience in the industry. The look and feel of your new product is the biggest opportunity to get consumers to consider trying the product. If you take a minute and walk through your local liquor story you will likely find a few bottles that do not look professional or polished. These not so great looking products are often born out of someone starting a new product without any experience or professionals on their team with alcohol branding and design experience. Hiring a professional at this stage is a good investment to help your brand put its best foot forward. The next step is selecting the liquid that goes into your bottle. There is an abundance of distilleries that will sell spirits to you in bulk that can be packaged up into your own brand. Whether its Vodka, Gin, Rum or Whiskey, all types of spirits can be bought in bulk. Tasting a variety of bulk spirits and looking closely at cost is key to selecting your spirits.

  At this point you should have all the pieces designed and selected including the bottle, label, cork, case, spirits and brand. With this all lined out your copacker can go to work and produce your product.

  There are strong arguments that co-packing is the smart path to launch a brand and some folks will say that co-packing is not the best choice. Let’s compare and contrast the pros and cons of co-packing, as knowing the good and the bad can give you the knowledge needed to weigh your options and make the best choice possible.

The Case for Co-packing

  It takes extensive time and financial resources to launch a brand. Much of the resources needed to launch successfully must be committed to marketing and sales to get a brand into the market and onto store shelves. Co-packing allows new brands to conserve money, time and energy that would be put into manufacturing and direct that energy into sales and marketing. This approach affords a new entrant into beverage alcohol the chance to learn the nuances of the business with much less overhead. Mistakes are expensive to make and outsourcing the production work of a new brand ensures that you will make less mistakes when it comes to producing the product. The strong advantage of not producing the product is you do not have to carry the high overhead of funding a manufacturing facility.

The Case Against Co-packing

  Co-packing is expensive. If you are paying a company to manufacture your product, it will cost more per unit to produce a product than it would if you took the manufacturing process under your wing. Co-packers markup the cost of producing a product to cover their costs of overhead, labor and to turn a profit. Another argument against co-packing is control. When a co-packer is producing your product you will not have direct control over every aspect of the manufacturing process. It is easy to make mistakes that might not be made if the manufacturing is handled in house. A key step to mitigating this risk is working with your co-packer to define their quality control in the manufacturing process to protect against mistakes.

What Should a New Brand Do?

  It is not an easy question to answer what is the best way for each individual business to create and launch a new product. Many factors must be considered to make an informed decision. While co-packing is perfect for some it can be a bad fit for others. A consultant or person with extensive industry experience is the best way to make an informed decision on how to launch.

  Creating a new brand can be a challenging and also extremely rewarding business endeavor. Doing it the right way and finding success will make it that much more rewarding.

Make Your Product Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace

stacks of beer in a store
Barrel Chest Beer & Wine Store – Roanoke, VA

By: Scott MacKenzie, Founder and CEO of Gaslight Studios

Walk into the local supermarket or liquor store and its beer and wine sections all have one thing in common – a diverse array of macro, micro and craft beers all competing for the customers’ attention.

  With all this visual noise, how can you ensure that your beer will stand out in a crowded and highly competitive marketplace? While product quality and taste are important, it is not always  a guarantee for success. Often, success comes from a combination of factors that are led by an impactful visual identity that connects with your target audience.

  Developing a successful brand is not simply designing an eye-catching label or logo. It requires the development of a powerful narrative that authentically connects with and motivates your existing and potential customers. What is your brand story? What promise are you making? What are your key attributes and fundamental pillars? What is your brand personality? Are you refined and sophisticated? Are you bold, edgy and sarcastic? Are you heartfelt, understanding and caring? Maybe you are a combination of all these traits.

  Brands aren’t born iconic, but they do need to be strategically and meticulously crafted and launched with intention so as to allow for the opportunity to become widely recognized and well-established. With this in mind, the first step in developing your brand is understanding who you are, what you stand for and what values you wish to convey. As you solidify these fundamental tenets, you also need to dive head-first into the world of your customer base. Who are you selling to and what are their wants, needs, preferences and expectations?

  Does this all sound overwhelming?  Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be. Whether you’re preparing to launch your first craft beer brand, opening a brewpub or taproom, or have been in the beverage business for years and decided now is the time for a thoughtful re-branding, it’s imperative that you do your due diligence to guarantee that the brand you cultivate is the correct brand for the market. And how do you do that?

Understand the Sandbox You’re Playing In

  Knowledge is power. Gather all available data on your marketplace, customer base, competition and if you’re an existing brand, your own history of successes and failures. What is your consumer looking for? What are your competitors providing? What is the market demanding and missing? Conducting extensive discovery and market research will allow you to make more informed and better decisions as you craft your own brand.  Nothing happens in a vacuum and ignoring external factors as you cultivate your own image is a recipe for failure.

Beware the Lure of Trends

  Trends come and go, so while you can ride the trend train in some of your marketing efforts, it’s best to ignore that tempting, low-hanging fruit as you develop your core identity.  If what is popular in the moment is fundamentally tied into the foundation of your brand, the minute those trends go out of fashion, your brand will feel old and outdated. Brands that last feel timeless.

Strike the Right Balance – Be Different – Feel Familiar

  Your brand needs to stand out from the crowd, but it should also feel like it belongs. Be new and fresh and different, but not to the point that it feels completely out of place. Strong brands differentiate themselves from the competition but also evoke a sense of familiarity and connectedness.

Don’t Try and Be Everything to Everyone

  Know who you are and connect with your target customer base where they live through a sense of shared values and common sensibilities. While you want to cast the widest net possible to maximize potential sales, you also need to drive in the appropriate lane and take the right route to get where you want to go.  Sometimes, trying to create a ubiquitous brand that is everything to everyone makes you nothing to no one.

Verbalize and Agree Upon Your Company Goals

  It is essential that you and your branding team are on the same page. Work together to ensure a mutual understanding of your short and long-term company goals. Do you want to always be a local or regional brand? Do you have lofty goals of national and international sales? Do you want to maintain an existing customer base while opening new markets? While this may not necessarily influence your brand narrative, it’s important to fully understand the factors that require consideration.

Set Brand Boundaries

  To guarantee that the brand remains consistent over time, it is important to develop strong brand guidelines that will ensure proper representation of the brand through the various channels of execution over the life of the brand, such as advertising, public relations, digital, signage, etc. If these brand boundaries are not firmly established, the brand can easily veer off course as you implement new campaigns and diversify your product offerings.

Remember

  Crafting a new brand takes the same level of care and attention to detail as making an award-winning double IPA. It also requires slight adjustments throughout the development process to ensure that the end result is what you want and need. So, assemble the right team, get crafting and never underestimate the power of a good tagline.

Retaining Loyal Customers

customer retention statement

By: David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten

Nearly every industry has been impacted by rising prices. While the price of craft beer, hard seltzer, and cider has not risen nearly as quickly as gasoline or groceries, prices have gone up. In addition to ongoing shipping delays and labor shortages, rising prices for grain and fertilizer after Russia’s war against Ukraine is intensifying price increases. Restaurant prices have had the largest gains since the 1980s, also reflecting higher costs for food and workers. As consumers become more discretionary with their spending, they have been paying more attention to prices across brands and have even been willing to ditch brands they have been loyal to for years to spend less whether they are enjoying a beverage at home or at a restaurant.

  Retaining loyal customers and recapturing their purchasing power once their budget can afford it or prices return to lower levels is reliant on brands having open and transparent communication with customers during inflation. While no one enjoys paying more for goods and services, it is something everyone is being impacted by, creating a universal understanding and acceptance that prices must go up. However, that does not mean that customers will be amenable to drastic or sudden price jumps, increases that seem out of alignment with competitors, or higher prices that appear to last longer than necessary.

  Most marketing and sales experts would agree that customer retention is more cost-effective for a business than new customer acquisition. As consumers and businesses watch their discretionary spending and cut back on perceived extras, savvy companies will invest more effort into maintaining positive relationships to protect their bottom lines. However, receiving an email, text message or phone call may be the last thing a customer wants. 

  They might also be the last thing a customer pays attention to. The amount of promotional email the average person receives on a daily basis can be overwhelming. Not to mention that many email services now allow users to filter emails considered to be promotional into folders where they may never be seen, let alone opened and read. Text messages from unknown numbers typically stir feelings of suspicion. An unexpected text message might even be viewed as a smishing scam trying to steal personal information. A handwritten note is entirely different, it invokes curiosity versus fear or annoyance.  

  Nothing says “pay attention” like a personalized handwritten note. No one flips past or does not see a handwritten envelope in their mailbox. These stand out from everything else that was delivered. Recipients wonder what could be inside and while envelopes that look like bills or advertisements and graphic postcards are set to the side, handwritten envelopes are usually opened immediately. The attention-grabbing nature of a handwritten envelope provides an instant advantage that even the biggest and most prevalent direct mail marketers cannot overcome.  

  Spending hours writing notes by hand can be prohibitive, especially for businesses that have been struggling to hire, so consider hiring a robot to pick up a pen and do the writing instead. Handwritten envelopes have been found to have a 300% greater open rate than standard envelopes. And handwritten marketing has response rates 7-21x greater than printed mail, with a return on investment 3-7x greater than print. Some companies have even found that retention rates are 50% higher for customers who receive a handwritten thank you note.  

  The value of sending a handwritten note is enhanced by integrations with CRM systems that automate the process of when to send a note to a customer and what message to include. For example, a brewer can automate notes to send to customers on the anniversary of their joining a loyalty program, when there are special deals or limited time offerings, events taking place at local tasting rooms, or on other special occasions like customers’ birthdays. 

  A handwritten note could even be used to explain to customers why price increases are happening. While an end consumer might have heard that the cost of fertilizer has gone up, that there is an aluminum can shortage, and that labor costs are rising, that does not mean the will think of these things when they are standing in the refrigerated section at the grocery store or ordering from a menu at a restaurant. In that decision-making moment, brewers do not want to be a faceless corporation that is raising prices to take advantage of a consumer. A more advantageous situation would be to be the brewer who sent a handwritten note thanking that customer for remaining loyal to the brand, when possible, despite price increases that were necessary for x, y and z reasons. Reminding customers of the people behind the production scenes of their favorite beverage and explaining the challenges being face humanize the situation and remind customers that everyone is in this together.

  Not all of the information a brewer may want to communicate to customers could be explained in one card, but that tool could be the gateway inviting a customer to visit a landing page that breaks down the need for price increases. Instead of just skirting the issue with a message from the founder, dive into the issue. Profile employees who go to great lengths to get to work on a daily basis and highlight the increased cost for them to put gasoline in their vehicles. Explain the challenges being faced by farmers who have had to pay more for diesel to run farm equipment, on top of fertilizer costs that rose 80% in 2021 and another 30% or more in 2022. Provide insights into the costs of operating the brewery and how higher energy bills might be impacting the bottom line. Knowing they why and how behind price increases will certainly not help retain or win over every customer but making the effort could be the difference-maker for some people. And if others cannot afford to continue buying while prices remain high, the good intentions of a brewer’s transparency could be what brings that customer back sooner or wins them over from another brand once prices are reduced. Especially if they feel a brand that they were fans of in the past took advantage of the situation and turned inflation into “greed-flation”.

  In addition to providing insight to customers about why price increases are happening, invite and give them the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions. Ensure that customers have multiple avenues to contact a customer service representative at the company and that feedback and answers are provided in a timely manner. Allowing customers to provide feedback makes them feel more invested in the brand and can help build stronger relationships that can withstand difficult times.

  By offering customers opportunities to provide feedback via the company website, email, or social media channels, brands can have more control over their ability to monitor and respond to the feedback they are receiving compared to customers leaving feedback and reviews on public forums or other social channels that are more difficult to track and can damage reputation. Responding to customer feedback is just as important as asking them to provide it.

   Customers will feel more valued, appreciated, and heard by a company that thanks them for supporting the brand. And if feedback is negative, a brand might be able to win over a new customer while impressing those that are already loyal by listening and maybe even implementing change based on customers’ opinions. This makes customers feel that their feedback did not go to waste and was important. Building a feedback loop with customers creates more of a community, can help with customer retention, and is what brands that last the tests of time get right. Imagine getting a thank you note from a brand because of a review left on a website or commentary posted on a social media channel. Most customers would be amazed that a brand would care enough to go to that effort and would remember it.

  There is no quick fix to help businesses recover from pandemic complications and now inflation. How deeply inflation will impact consumer spending habits remains to be seen. Identifying ways to recruit and retain employees as costs increase and labor shortages persist will take creativity and new approaches. As brewers develop solutions and evolve to thrive in the post-pandemic era, the need for effective communications will not diminish. After two years of a seemingly never-ending stream of new problems, making the most of upcoming opportunities will be critical to making 2022 as successful as possible.

Customizing Beverages the Easy Way

can beer in a beer table

By: Angelo Coletta, CEO – Zakeke

Enabling customers to customize their purchases is a quick and easy way to expand into new markets and boost profits. Some distilleries and craft brewers are beginning to take advantage of this innovative approach to scale their businesses. For example, Silent Pool Distillers increased their orders fivefold in 2020 in part with the help of product customization.

  Possibilities abound for other distillers and craft brewers to do the same. Moreover, it’s easier to enable customization than most business owners think. Today’s product customizers offer automated processes that reduce the required amount of attention and manual labor to little or nothing.

What is Product Customization?

  Product customization allows customers to change the visual appearance of products according to their own individual needs and desires. Sellers empower consumers to build their own unique products, perhaps by adding their names or those of others. Depending on the specific product and customization service, customers may also be able to add photographs or longer messages of their own writing. In a sense, the product becomes a canvas for them to create upon.

  Some of the beer, wine, and spirits industry’s biggest names allow their bottles to be customized, offering proof of concept. Tito’s Vodka and Hennessy VS Cognac bottles can be etched, and a large selection of bottles can be engraved, including Don Julio tequila, Woodford Reserve bourbon, and Dom Perignon champagne. Other makers, such as Maker’s Mark, Jameson, and Jack Daniel’s, offer bespoke labels. Silent Pool Distillers does this for four of their distinctive gins.

  A wide range of items can be customized, including purses, jewelry, keychains, apparel, towels, and bedding. There are even services that customize things you wouldn’t expect, like USB drives, coffee sleeves, drinking straws, bobbleheads, and — believe it or not — cookies or cakes.

Why Enable Product Customization

  The answer is simple: product customization improves the bottom line. According to a 2019 Tech Clarity survey of 285 companies that offer customization, 71 percent listed increased sales as one of its benefits. More than 50 percent pointed to differentiation and higher margins. Thirty-five percent nodded toward customization’s “cool factor,” and 34 percent said they experienced higher close rates. Forty-two percent indicated that offering customization had become a necessity in their industry to stay competitive.

  Product customization elevates profitability for a number of reasons. First, customers are willing to pay more for customized products. According to Bain & Company, they will reach into their wallets to the tune of 20 percent more than the uncustomized version. This means manufacturers who customize can set higher prices. Meanwhile, they don’t incur new costs, since automated processes minimize the work required. While customers may only purchase a single customized item or a small lot, these sales are a painless way for the business to expand, and they do add up.

  Secondly, product customization encourages customer loyalty. The same Bain & Company report also found that, “customers who had customized a product online engaged more with the company. They visited its website more frequently, stayed on the page longer and were more loyal to the brand.”

  Happy customers can result in repeat business and referrals to their friends and family. The ability to customize sets a business apart, distinguishing it from competitors in the eyes of consumers.

  If that wasn’t already enough, Bain reported lower rates of return for customized products than for their mass-produced counterparts. When customers take ownership of the look and feel of their purchase, they tend to be more satisfied with the outcome and less likely to change their minds.

  All of this adds up to increased sales and a better business.

Why Customers Love Customization

  Customization appeals to customers for many reasons. Part of the draw is that it makes customers feel special. They are willing to invest their time and effort into creating a unique product that is tailored to their own tastes and exacting requirements. Since they are the ones who determine what the final product looks like, it is sure to please them.

  Another reason is that customization provides customers with a sense of control, that all-too-scarce commodity in today’s hectic, stressful, and sometimes overwhelming world. They are in the driver’s seat throughout the process. This is one element of their lives that they can impose their will upon and be confident of receiving gratification.

  It can also be just plain fun. For instance, Silent Pool Distillery’s user-friendly website steps prospective customers through the creation process. After clicking on the option to personalize their gin, they are taken to a new web page with four varieties that may be customized: Original Juniper, English Garden, Fresh Grapefruit, and Spiced Pepper. When customers click on the name of the flavor they want to purchase, a new page comes up with the product’s specifications.

  Beneath the “Add to Cart” button, a “Customize” option takes customers to an interactive interface where they design their bottle’s label. A large button with an upward-pointing arrow invites them to upload photographs of themselves, their loved ones, pets, or places special to them. Alternatively, they may choose from a library of 140 million stock photos arranged by helpful categories like “Business & Finance,” “Sport & Extreme,” or “Travel and Vacations.”

  Next to the upload arrow is a button that allows clients to add text to the label, giving it a special name or writing warm messages to recipients. Customers can change the font size, make the text bold, position it anywhere from top to bottom, center the words, or align them to the left or right. They can even bend the letters along a curve of their own making. Magnifying glass icons allow them to zoom in to view fine details or zoom out to gauge the overall look.

  If a given component starts to mess up the label, then the customer can delete it. If the whole design ends up being a disaster, they can reset the label with the click of a button and start over.

  The result is a unique, bespoke bottle of high-quality, sustainable gin that’s perfect for gift-giving on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, as well as for celebrations, bachelor and bachelorette parties, showers, and weddings.

  Throughout the process, customers delight in the knowledge that they are putting together a one-of-a-kind present. Surprise is guaranteed: No matter how hard the recipient might try to guess what’s coming, they will never be able to guess what this gift is going to look like. Connection also seems assured — people tend to react positively to seeing their own name on an item, which often translates to feeling good about the person who gave it to them.

No Hassle Customization for Sellers

  Savvy distillers and craft brewers are understandably wary about adding a new feature to their already complex businesses. The last thing sellers want is to labor over a single item. Luckily, those days are over. Today’s customization services integrate with business’s existing websites and simplify the customization process itself.

  Take the case of Silent Pool Distillers. The distillery got their start offline, producing artisanal spirits with local ingredients in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a nationally protected landscape in the United Kingdom. To take advantage of online sales, they built an online storefront on the e-commerce platform BigCommerce. Thus, the distillery was well positioned when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing pubs and restaurants in droves. The spurt in online shopping boosted their sales to new levels.

  When the business sought a way to start customizing their products, they wanted a service that would integrate with BigCommerce and not force them to reinvent their online shop. They chose Zakeke, a visual commerce platform that works seamlessly with not only BigCommerce, but also many other ecommerce platforms, including Shopify, Etsy, Wix and WooCommerce. It can also employ an application programming interface (API) for integration if needed.

  Silent Pool Distillers installed Zakeke’s software and configured its easy-to-use “plug and play” system. In the context of information technology, “plug and play” means software that does not require users to understand programming or make any adjustments. Instead, it is designed to work well immediately from the moment it is brought to life.

  After this initial setup, the distillery’s preexisting online shop gave customers access to Zakeke’s cloud-based platform for designing their own labels for certain products. Since the process is automated, this personalization happens without requiring attention from the seller. Once an order is placed, all employees at Silent Pool Distillers need to do is download the customer’s file, print it out, and attach it to an appropriate bottle.

  By equipping the Silent Pool Distillery to offer bespoke labels on their bottles, Zakeke boosted their sales while allowing the distillers to remain focused on what they do best: making high-quality spirits.

The Power of Personalization

  Today’s customers increasingly expect the ability to personalize their products. A 2020 report by Dassault Systèmes and CITE Research found that 83 percent of consumers “expect products or services to adapt [to their individual specifications] in a matter of moments or hours.”

  The future belongs to businesses who can meet this challenge. Local distilleries and craft breweries stand to gain by incorporating customization, just like the big names in the industry. Branching out in this direction enabled Silent Pool Distillers to capture a valuable new market segment and increase sales even during the dark days of the pandemic.

  The power of personalization helps retailers please long-standing customers and attract new ones. That’s why distilleries and craft brewers of all kinds should consider adding product customization.

The Role of Virtual Tastings in a Post-Pandemic World

people in virtual call drinking wine

 By: Alyssa L. Ochs

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all aspects of life in 2020, from how we received medical care to how we dined at restaurants, shopped at stores and even enjoyed our favorite craft beers and spirits. In past years, craft beverage enthusiasts planned entire road trips and even flew to other countries to experience what the best brewers and distillers of the world had to offer. But during the COVID era, producers were forced to switch gears and consider offering virtual tastings as one of the many ways to stay in business due to restrictions and shutdowns.

We heard a lot about virtual beer, wine and spirit tastings during the height of the pandemic, but those conversations have dwindled as business picked back up as usual. Yet there still may be a place for virtual tasting experiences in today’s craft beverage industry, just as long as producers can evolve with the times and reestablish the relevance of this service among the mix of in-person offerings and events.

What Are Virtual Tastings?

  Virtual tastings are a relatively new concept, and many people don’t consider trying them because they don’t understand what they are. Virtual tastings are immersive, alcohol-themed experiences you can enjoy from the comfort of your home. Many of them require breweries and distilleries to ship boxes to households with sample-size portions, materials to read and opportunities for online engagement.

  During the COVID-19 shutdowns, some beverage producers turned to virtual tastings as a way to keep their customer base engaged and stay afloat as profits declined. But even during times of normal business operations, virtual tastings can be used to celebrate birthdays at home and corporate events in an office. Beyond the confines of a physical tasting room, there are also opportunities for virtual tastings at team-building activities, couples’ date nights and social gatherings to help local groups get to know each other.

Types of Virtual Tastings

  Some breweries and distilleries have created virtual tasting packages with beverage and food pairings to entice customers’ attention, particularly when in-person tastings were not an option. Recently, we have seen cooking kits emerge with alcoholic beverage samples and opportunities to participate in live online events.

  Other virtual tastings experiences involve sending a few bottles or cans of products to consumers with exclusive online access to an hour-long video call with a brewery or distillery representative. There have also been question-and-answer sessions offered with brewers and distillers, beverage judging sheets provided so consumers can rate and pick their favorites and seasonal experiences that highlight fall and winter brews, for example. To further capitalize on virtual tasting experiences, producers can offer the option of purchasing branded merchandise, such as hoodies and beanies, as part of a shipped package for an additional, discounted cost.

Benefits of Virtual Tastings

  During the pandemic times, the benefits of virtual tastings were evident because of the lack of other tasting options allowed and available. Virtual tastings enabled beverage fans to support struggling producers during difficult times while still feeling like part of the beer and spirits community.

  But even now, there are some significant benefits of virtual tastings that are worth considering for the months and years ahead. If marketed well, these socially distanced offerings can help breweries and distilleries reach new customers outside their home region who may not ever travel to the actual tasting room. During the winter cold and flu season, when COVID-19 cases tend to increase, virtual tastings appeal to some consumers as a safer and healthier alternative. If a tasting package includes printed materials that are informational and fun to read, there are opportunities here to help consumers better understand a beverage brand and its products. Since these packages can be designed around different interests and price points, they can offer something for everyone, from the casual drinker to the true connoisseur.

Challenges of Virtual Tastings

  Yet many challenges come with putting together virtual tasting packages, first and foremost, their relevance and value. Beverage producers must make these types of delivery/online tastings worth the cost and add value consumers wouldn’t necessarily get by visiting the establishment in person. There has been declining demand for these services lately and less internal dedication to marketing them since people are willing to travel more and crave a return to normalcy in the outside world.

  Meanwhile, some breweries and distilleries have been unsure of what to charge for virtual tastings. The average cost for this service is between $50 and $200, depending on how much product is shipped and other perks offered. For the virtual tasting industry to be sustainable, more effort will need to be directed to packaging and shipping beverages, which is a significant pivot from the previous experience of many beverage operations. There also need to be staff members who are tech-savvy and trained in how to plan and lead online events, as well as handle the inevitable technology glitches that so commonly occur during video calls and group chats.

Creative Ideas for Virtual Tastings

  If virtual beer and spirit tastings will survive as a side gig in the craft beverage industry, now is the time to get creative with offerings, pricing and perks. If this is something that a brewery or distillery owner is interested in getting involved with, it might be worth hiring a company or consultant specializing in virtual experiences instead of handling all aspects internally. At a minimum, it is worth researching examples of successful virtual tastings and perhaps even reaching out for a discussion or collaboration. Denver Microbrew Tour, City Brew Tours and Common Space Brewery are a few of the many groups that have excelled in this space. Other examples to learn from include Brews Less Traveled, Sierra Nevada Brewery, Fullsteam Brewery and the Sommelier Company.

  One idea to consider for future virtual tastings is to make the experience customizable for certain types of products, such as whiskey, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Promotions for the service can be centered on the benefits of receiving miniature versions of spirits so that consumers can try samples before committing to full-bottle purchases. Celebrity promoters and social media influencers may be able to help revive the virtual tasting industry if breweries and distilleries make the right connections. Also, the virtual tasting experience can be enhanced by social media participation and through educational lessons about mixology and beer-brewing.

The Outlook for Future Virtual Tastings

  At least for now, it seems that most craft beverage producers, including Fullsteam Brewery, have stopped offering virtual tastings since the lifting of COVID restrictions. With people feeling increasingly comfortable going out in public and preferring in-person experiences to virtual ones, there are significant challenges for the virtual tasting industry right now, but not insurmountable ones.

  Winter is an ideal season to revive virtual offerings because of the predicted increases in COVID-19 and flu cases. This is also an ideal time of the year for virtual options for holiday gift ideas, because of cold weather that keeps some people indoors and potentially more difficult travel with snowy conditions.

  While we don’t anticipate virtual tastings ever replacing the actual experience of drinking onsite, they could be offered as an add-on opportunity for consumers to get even more involved with their favorite beverage companies. During the holiday season, these types of tastings can take the guesswork out of planning gatherings at home with a fun activity as the party theme. As the weather warms up, forward-thinking producers may be able to expand virtual tastings to virtual festival events and online education about beer and spirits. This could lead to more formal training in the craft beverage industry and perhaps even address the staffing shortages still so prevalent in so many places around the country. Yet, in the short term, these shortages may also prevent breweries and distilleries from having the labor resources to dedicate to the tech side of beverage marketing in the first place.

  If you are interested in getting more involved in the world of virtual craft beverage tastings, you should know that this market is far from saturated, and there are openings for growth. Emerging, niche companies could assist with the production and execution of virtual experiences as a service to breweries and distilleries that do not have the time, expertise or staffing to do so themselves. But for now, these types of tastings will primarily be carried out by individual breweries and distilleries that are large enough, have ample staff and enough time and resources to expand their offerings to an online audience. If successful, those offerings could be models for an expanded online industry in the future.

  As a small sampling for inspiration, here are some resources to check out and virtual tasting ideas to consider:

•    The Drunken Grape has a team of sommeliers and offers interactive tastings, niche event planning and execution for private parties, wine and beer dinners, and weddings/corporate/charitable events.

•    Book a beer expert for your event through City Brew Tours.

•    Bourbon & Banter offers whiskey tastings for corporate events.

•    Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery is still hosting virtual experiences upon request.

The Return of In-Person Beer and Cider Festivals

social gathering in a beer festival

By: Becky Garrison

As Ann Obenchain, marketing director of the Brewers Association, keenly observed, “The past two years have been tumultuous for the craft brewing community, and COVID-19 has had ripple effects in many aspects of life.” Once COVID hit in March 2020, the Brewers Association placed the health and wellbeing of their industry peers at the forefront of all decision-making for their events. This led to the cancellation of all in-person events and festivals, including The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Pairing Experience, Homebrew Con and the World Beer Cup (WBC).

  Early on in the pandemic, their Homebrew Con went virtual for 2020. In addition, the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) launched an online version, bringing five weeks of conference talks available and free through May 2020 while everyone was in lockdown. Also, they hosted a virtual hill climb for brewers to meet with elected officials and staff. However, other festivals, such as GABF and SAVOR, could not be retooled for a virtual experience.

  With the return of GABF in Denver (October 6-8, 2022), Obenchain notes they must be ready for anything, given they host events across the country. “Each location has different safety requirements, which are subject to change at any time. Our team has learned to be nimble and flexible in providing event attendees with the best experience possible at any moment.”

  Among the offerings for the 40th Anniversary of GABF are hangouts for entertainment, live music, games, a brewers’ studio to meet with industry experts and brewers, a designated driver lounge and PAIRED, a ticketed event pairing food from award-winning chefs and beer that includes unlimited tastings of unique beers not found in the festival hall.

Cider Summit Returns to the National Stage

  Pre-COVID, Alan Shapiro spearheaded regional Cider Summit festivals in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, as well as a national cider summit in Chicago that coincided with CiderCon. All these events were canceled effective March 2020.

  In 2020 and 2021, they experimented with giving festival-goers an at-home festival courtesy of their “festival-to-go tasting kits.” These kits featured a range of two-to-three packages at different price points and cider selections ranging from modern to artisanal, with some packages including international ciders.

  The tasting kits were tailor-made for each specific festival and released in the same month as the in-person festival for that region. For example, the kits released in June featured Oregon cideries. Then they highlighted Washington ciders in September and California ciders in April.  According to Shapiro, the Chicago tasting kit was a bit harder to navigate, given this festival’s initial national focus. “We had had ciders from all parts of the country or as best as we could,” he observed.

  They distributed these kits via their partnership with Seattle-based Press Then Press, an online retailer of rare, independent, local and craft ciders. Consumers living within a particular festival’s geographic area could pick up their kit or arrange for local delivery. Nationwide shipping was available for those living outside of these areas. 

  Included in these tasting kits were promotional items and an invitation to a virtual tasting with several of the cidermakers whose wares were included in these kits. Shapiro estimates that about 20 to 30 percent of those purchasing the tasting kits tuned in to the virtual tasting. Over time, they developed a loyal and passionate following, especially as they got better at producing virtual events.

  Shapiro hoped he could return to in-person events in 2021 and announced the dates for the Seattle Cider Summit held in September. Even though this festival would be outdoors, they chose to cancel it due to an uptick in COVID cases and the ensuing governmental restrictions.  

  The Portland Cider Summit, held June 10-11, 2022, marked their return to in-person events. Audience anticipation was high, with a much stronger selling of pre-sale tickets than in prior years, though the monsoon-like rains that pummeled the city lessened the expected attendance. Also, the number of participating cideries was down from around 50 to 43, a dip Shapiro attributes to cideries that are no longer in business, as well as staffing issues.

  They will be hosting the Seattle Cider Summit on September 9-10 at South Lake Park, with plans to launch the San Francisco Cider Summit in 2023. As the Chicago Cider Summit is their one indoor event, they will decide in November 2022 if they can host this in February. Also, they will continue their partnership with Press Then Press to offer tasting kits to those who cannot attend their in-person events. 

The Oregon Brewers Festival Reopens with a Leaner Look 

Editor: As per an announcement on their home page, the Oregon Brewers Festival organizers decided to cancel the 2023 festival. They plan to bring the festival back when the timing is right. See https://oregonbrewfest.com/

  Since its founding in 1988, the Oregon Brewers Festival has emerged as the largest beer festival in Oregon and draws in over 50,000 people from across the United States. Hence, co-founder Art Larrance felt the need to maintain its reputation. So, they focused on quality, not quantity, as they relaunched this festival in 2022 after a two-year absence.

  To ensure a successful beer festival, they reduced the number of taps to 40 beers and two cideries. They also limited the size of the overall festival footprint and scaled back the number of days. In addition, they did not offer the brewers’ parade live music acts, and they had a more limited selection of vendors. They plan to keep the festival at about the same scale in 2023.

  While past festivals have spotlighted international beers or beers from specific states, they chose to focus this year on award-winning Oregon beers. They made this decision to focus on craft breweries with local distribution channels, in large part due to shipping issues. According to Larrance, “I’m glad that we made that decision because while I was looking for 27,000 to 30,000 people, we only had 23,500 people. Had we not scaled down, we would have been spending a lot of money and not broken even.” Also, at the conclusion of the festival, they were able to donate $10,000 to their nonprofit partner, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

  While the beers remained Oregon-specific, preliminary data from the festival survey shows that 36.8 percent of attendees came from outside the Portland Metro Area. In this regard, they were very close to their pre-COVID percentages of local versus out-of-town attendees.

  In addition to a heatwave and concerns about COVID that somewhat reduced attendance, the festival’s location along the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland continues to experience challenges due to the uptick in homeless camps and civil disobedience. These ongoing issues led to a 15 percent occupancy of downtown office buildings, thus significantly reducing the number of local people working downtown who would stop by the festival after work. Typically, they would get about 40 percent of their business from out of town, a number Larrance estimated was down to about 20 percent for this year.

  Despite the lower than projected attendance, brewers and beer lovers appeared ecstatic with the return of OBG. As Dan Malech, co-founder of Stormbreaker Brewing in Portland, Oregon, proclaimed, “It was so good to see so many people enjoying fantastic beer. We’ve been a part of OBF every year since we opened, and we hope to continue every year.” John Harris, owner and brewmaster of Ecliptic Brewing, also based in Portland, Oregon, concurred. “It was great to have OBF back. I’ve always enjoyed all the special beers that brewers make for the fest. The smaller size was a great way to bring the fest back.”

The Return of Local Pacific Northwest Beer Festivals

  Pre-COVID, the Craft Beer & Wine Fest of Vancouver (Washington), featured 60 beer taps, 80 wines and 35 craft vendors, along with live music all weekend and people traveling to the event from afar. While COVID restrictions prevented them from offering an outdoor festival in 2020, Rusty Hoyle, owner of Craft Nation, noted they were the only in-person Pacific Northwest festival of this type in Summer 2022. “We were really busy with the local people who were itching to get out and do stuff.” In keeping in line with consumer demand for personal safety, they offered hand wash stations, an expanded fence line that provided more room for people to be comfortable and new microphone covers for each singer. They plan on continuing these measures at future festivals.

  While many of their prior vendors are no longer in business, Hoyle observed how they are now seeing new craft vendors and also people traveling to this festival from outside the area. Each year, Heathen Brewing of Vancouver, Washington brings a fire truck with seven tap handles that contributes to the festival atmosphere.

  The 2022 festival featured over 100 wines and about 30 craft vendors, a number that Hoyle predicts will increase. Also, they narrowed their beer selection to showcase the breweries that align with their values. “We want them to be a part of this event and talk to our customers, not just drop off their beer. It allows fewer hands to touch the product while giving a better customer experience,” Hoyle opines.

  Among the other events that Hoyle organizes is Gorge Blues & Brews in Stevenson, Washington, which is held in late June with RV and tent camping available. This year’s event pulled in 2,500 people, shattering their prior attendance record by 1,000. The event features world-renowned blues artists on two stages with local craft beer, wine and spirits.

  In February 2022, Larrance launched the inaugural Over the Hills to Hillsbrew, a new local beer festival designed to highlight Washington Country and Portland breweries, along with a few other Oregon-based breweries. He believed that the local people felt cooped up and thought that a beer festival would help lift their spirits. While he anticipated around 5,000 people to attend,  approximately 2,800 came to sample beers from 25 to 30 breweries. This was an inside event held during the winter months when COVID was on the rise, so proof of a COVID vaccination was required. 

  In addition, the Oregon Trails Brew Fest, traditionally held the weekend before the Oregon Brewers Festival, returned in 2022. Hosted by the Oregon City Brewing Company in Oregon City, Oregon since 2019, this all-ages outdoor brews festival is a community-based event with lawn games, live music, 32 breweries, and three cideries. While they had a few more breweries in 2019, their ticket sales remained consistent with their pre-COVID statistics. 

  In the Pacific Northwest, an area with some of the strictest COVID restrictions in the United States, major festivals with a beer component that attract a national crowd, such as Feast Portland, are not slated to return until 2023, and festival plans are still in development. Some local breweries have begun to offer festivals, albeit often in a modified format, while others have chosen for now to focus on rebuilding their businesses.