Disclaimers: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are by the co-founder of this site's parent company, Penultimate Brews LLC, but do not necessarily reflect the views of this website, BreweryFinder.org, or its parent company. This post contains affiliate links. The author may earn a commission if you use one of these referral links to make a purchase. This involves no extra cost to you and benefits the author as a content creator.
Let’s be honest.
The American brewing industry is getting a little bit monotonous and increasingly infuriating.
Breweries are getting purchased left and right or they are merging into something bigger or they are closing down altogether due to a raging pandemic here in the US.
There’s always yet another trivia night, local band that sucks preforming, or barrel-aged beer release line to take part in while it snows.
The arguments about kids in breweries or if a hazy/fruited/hype beer is even a good idea go on and on in the same circular fashion.
This could all be noticeably more pleasant with just a little effort by those who have power in the industry and some serious effort by the little guys. You in?
This post is what I propose we all do about it.
Originally written pre-covid (and updated mid-covid). Buckle up. I’m about to vent.
But first, a little bit about me if you don’t already know who I am or why you should give me a few minutes of your time.
I’ve spent the last 5 years thinking about breweries basically 24/7. The launch of this brewery directory, a brewery focused jobs site, and soon an app has been an all-consuming process for me personally.
It is 100% self-funded and fueled by a passion for beer and the community it produces.
This has included visits to numerous breweries, festivals and production facilities in several states. I’ve taken part in several educational programs and classes focused on beer, brewing, marketing, and the like focused on the industry. I’ve also volunteered at several brewery events and beer festivals doing everything from serving beer to promotions to setup/takedown.
All of these experiences have given me a unique view of the industry that not many have right now. I’ve run crowdfunding campaigns that went into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve been responsible for events with thousands of attendees. I’ve drunk my fair share of beers and spoken/presented at a number of conferences.
I’m not “in the brewery” day in and day out, but I understand what goes on enough to debunk the excuses used to keep a brewery from success. I don’t go to a brewery as just a regular beer drinking customer anymore. I know too much.
I share these ideas in an effort to help others succeed.
My co-founder and I have yet to see a profit from our beer & brewery related projects. Mostly because we hate ads and trying to sell people stuff.
And, for those reasons, and others I share with you my thoughts below. Take each item with a grain of salt, as they say, and please challenge me in the comments if you disagree with anything I say. I can take it.
Just Making Great Beer Isn’t Enough Anymore.
There are over 9,000 breweries in the United States when counting those in operation and preparing to launch. That’s a lot of breweries. You can’t just make a good beer and expect to stay in business anymore.
There is a lot of great beer out there. Your brewery has to produce a great beer that is easy to get. It has to be priced competitively and you have to be able to make it constantly. Customer service is also key.
If a customer doesn’t feel welcome or like they belong they won’t come back. Any hiccups in production (or customer service) can spell disaster for a brewery that isn’t prepared to weather those bumps in cash flow. Hello social media shit storm.
Don’t Get Stuck Chasing Trends
There’s nothing wrong with trying something new or jumping on a trend for a few extra sales. Who hasn’t wanted to try brewing something out of the ordinary or barrel age something that isn’t normally barrel-aged? Don’t stake your business plan on it though.
Trends live and die a fast life. You don’t need to chase them unless you have money to burn, because you’ll get burned if you’re not lucky while chasing those trends. Once you become a trend-chasing brewery your audience expects it and will be disappointed if you stop.
Every Brewery Needs a “No” Person on Staff.
How many times have you seen a PR nightmare happen from a brewery’s poor marketing choices that could have easily been avoided if there was simply someone on staff to say “No, that’s a horrible idea.” and have the power to stop it?
Remember how racist Founders Brewing Co. was found to be in court? When called out on it online they just block people. That’s not how grownups operate a business. If a wrong happens, it needs to be corrected. Not ignored.
Every Brewery Needs To Be Able to Say “Sorry, We Fucked Up” When Needed
There are breweries out there that can make a mistake and make it right in a short amount of time. For example, Mikerphone Brewing made a beer name mistake that the brewery’s “No Person” should have caught but didn’t. They did the right thing and responded quickly with an apology and by renaming the beer.
Then there are breweries like Founders Brewing who take it to the opposite extreme of doing exactly what a brewery shouldn’t do in response to a fuckup. Granted, their alleged systemic offenses were much worse, but it could have been amended by taking steps to right the wrongs committed right away. Instead, they allegedly kept their victims quiet by settling a lawsuit out of court and requiring they not speak out against the company any longer.
They also hid and deleted comments of those social media users online calling them out for such alleged abuses. This included blocking fans from even seeing their online feeds (as the screencap above demonstrates.) These actions only served to make the company’s online image to become even more tarnished overtime.
Influencers (Beer Bloggers) are on your team (if you want them to be)
This is a group long ignored (or even vilified) by breweries because most breweries don’t understand what it takes to make a productive relationship between a business and a professional influencer work. Are there “bad apples” in the influencer game? Sure. But they are easy to spot if you know what to look for online.
Look at their following. Ignore their follower count.
It doesn’t matter if an influencer has 800 followers or 35,000. Take a look at interaction rates, follower locations, and demographics. If their followers are similar to your customers (or new customers you want to target) make a deal.
Cash is often involved, yes, but it can be far more flexible than that. Sometimes free event tickets or beer for reviews works too. It all depends on the amount of work involved and what the influencers are expected to deliver: videos, photos, live streams, giveaways, ticket sales, etc.
Like any relationship, it will only work if it is beneficial for both of you. It might take some “dating around” to find the right group of influencers you can turn to as needed for marketing purposes.
If you’re looking for a specific type of result from an influencer be clear about it before entering into any sort of agreement. Open and honest communication is required if you want to make a relationship work.
Unspoken expectations are often unmet.
The best relationships run on for a series of coverage projects and not just one-offs. This gives extra time for their followers to see you and for the influencer to know and understand your brewery in a way a one off project doesn’t allow. It also gives the influencer a variety of work to help out with and that keeps the feed interesting: beer releases, brewery events, festivals, merchandise items, fundraisers, etc.
Professionals are worth what they charge (Why Outsourcing Your Social Media to a Professional Matters)
Look, it’s great that you’re employee is a Gen-Zer who knows their way around a smartphone, but do they really understand your customer?
Do they know what to post that will get the hearts, shares, and ultimately positive word-of-mouth and taproom or retails sales your business needs? Anyone can take a smartphone picture, but it takes talent (the professional kind) to produce those eye-popping photos and videos needed in this saturated market to catch and keep a customer’s attention.
Contrary to what this year’s CBC sessions tried telling you, you shouldn’t do #Beerstagram on your own. Scan the results and you will quickly see who knows what they are doing and who doesn’t.
Educating your customers can be profitable
Not all beer education if equal. And not all educated beer geeks are jerks. An educated beer consumer? That’s what you want.
Offer classes online. Sure in-person tastings are best, but that’s not always possible with our Covid world. This can be done by your own staff (if you have a people person and some tech skills) or you can hire out a professional like Dr. J Jackson-Beckham or Marty Nachel.
The beauty of this is your customers understand more about your beer AND can feel more like a part of the community. Paid or free. With product or not. You decide what’s best for you.
Virtual Tours help get people in your doors (or at least to write about you)
You’ve likely gotten harassing phone calls from companies trying to sell you $1,000+ packages for virtual tours with all sorts of “upgrades” to tact on to the deal. Don’t get overwhelmed by these calls. Don’t ignore them either.
Not technical enough to do that? Google has a whole Trusted Photographers directory of folks in your area who can quote you a cost on what it would take. Many will do a decent basic tour in the sub-$500. But, as they say, you get what you pay for so look at the photographer’s portfolio of work before signing on the dotted line.
If your brewery has a taproom (or outdoor drinking space) you need a virtual tour online. This helps with your Google Maps rankings, increases taproom visits, and let’s those curious about your location get a sneak peek without having to stop by first.
Why does any of that matter? Customers will skip visiting your taproom in favor of another who has a virtual tour. People don’t like surprises. Videos and stills of your facility don’t give the full picture of what to expect when someone visits. The 360-degree views a virtual tour offers can!
Online Brewery Directories Matter (And not just this one)
Your brewery’s presence on Google, Untappd, Yelp, and Facebook is probably already managed by someone at your brewery. But, you can’t forget about the online directories like CraftCrawler, Beer Me!, Craft Beer Directory, BrewBound, BreweryDB, DrinkHe.re, and of course BreweryFinder.
These directories only need to be checked a couple of times a year, but they can be crucial to people finding you online. Every time you change your hours, update your phone number, or open a taproom location the profiles on all of these sites should be updated.
Want to take it a step further and make sure your beers on tap are also searchable? Don’t just rely on Untappd.
You should check and update BeerMenus and TapHunter too. Feature your new on taps or in-stock items on social too as they go on and as they kick. Your customers want to be informed and not disappointed.
Basics in Trademarks, Copyright & Fair Use
It’s not cool to use someone else’s intellectual property to sell shit. That’s what licensing was created for in the marketplace.
You Likely Need Licenses for the Music/TV/Movies You Use in Your Brewery
Examples of this going badly are all over the web. The answer to this is simple though:
Get the needed licensing for the content you show at your brewery if you show movies, sports, TV, have music (even live music), etc.
Crowdfunding for Your Brewery
This once labeled “wave of the future” is now. You don’t have to be launching a new brewery to take advantage of this trend either.
- Dealing with a Covid related loss in business? Launch a members only club with exclusives.
- Need to update old equipment? Launch a campaign that allows consumers to name it or volunteer for a brew-day.
- Wanting to keep some employees but having a hard time covering expenses? Launch a campaign focused on “adopting an employee” or giving them extra tips based on funny videos they can produce.
- Have a cause important to you and your patrons? Launch a campaign to advance that cause with help from your customers and give them exclusives only available at the brewery.
The possibilities are endless. And local laws sometimes govern what is and is not acceptable. Do some research and make something awesome happen. Or hire out a professional who can help!
Social Media Strategies for Year-Round Taproom Traffic And To Go Sales
So many breweries ignore social media or use it poorly. Please, don’t be one of them. Most breweries start-out intending to use social and register the usernames. They make a few posts and then something happens. The one doing is quits. The password gets lost. Its is forgotten about when something else comes up.
Better than the ones who try it and ditch it, are the breweries who at least post sometimes. The postings though are more like a street preacher screaming at people than someone having a conversation with a valued friend.
Social media is supposed to be a give and take that is mutually beneficial for all involved.
If all you try and do is sell stuff, people is likely tune you out.
Get yourself a social media planner (paper or digital) and go for it. Plan release announcements. Do contests. Giveaways are awesome (but you’ll need to check local laws to make sure you’re 100% in the clear legally on what/how you’re giving items away.) Answer questions. Ask questions. Be a brand that people want to be friends with and not just that used car salesperson type.
Every Brewery Needs A Website
First off, every brewery needs a website. I can’t believe that in 2020 (almost 2021) I have to actually say this.
Second, that website needs to be functional. At minimum the website needs to load and have basic information on it. Things like:
- Phone number
- Email (only if you respond to it)
- Hours of operation have to be on there or you will lose business
There are over 25,000 breweries listed on BreweryFinder.org. I am constantly amazing at the amount of brewery websites I visit that lack this information.
Third, helpful information to include is not limited to:
- Age requirements of taproom
- Is patio seating is available?
- Can people bring their pets?
- Do you have food?
- Can people bring their own food?
- Do you have wifi?
- Virtual tours/360 Tours of facility
Fourth, Money making items that should be on your website if you do them:
- Guided Tours
- Carry Out
- Educational Opportunities
- Ticketed Events
Fifth, Your website has to work on people’s phones. So many brewery patrons use their phones when looking for and visiting breweries this is an absolute must. Your information and content have to be easily access and sharable from a mobile device if you want to have customers that are happy.
The “Craft” vs “Macro” Beer Argument is Over
Quit beating a dead horse.
No one (well almost no one) gives a shit if you are part of “big beer” or not. They care if they like how your beer tastes.
Look at the success of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout line of products. Every year thousands of devout “craft beer fans” ditch their “morals” about buying only craft and go with the ABInbev behemoth produced BCS.
The only thing ABInbev did to Goose Island when they purchased the brewery was expand on what it already does well and make it possible for more people to get it. And don’t get me started on the popularity of Miller High Life among craft brewers.
The whole craft table is an artificially created title given the industry by the Brewer’s Association and its bigger donors like Sam Adams/Dogfish Head. Who, if you have been living under a rock and didn’t already know, have merged and are one big “craft” company.
When their numbers are compared to Miller (for instance) there seems to be validity to their argument, but when those same numbers are compared to a small time (yet badass) brewery like Solemn Oath Brewing the difference is astonishing. How can both the little guy and the big guys be considered “craft” while keeping a straight face? It’s a fucking joke. A scam. A way to keep the Us vs Them mentality that fuels the Brewer’s Associations dominance in those small circles of “beer nerds” around the country.
The Brewer’s Association isn’t helping with any of this. Sure they are good at lobbying because they are essentially an old boys club lobbying to congress (another old boys club). This only happens with money generated from big donors. Look at how slow to respond they were (and even then without any helpful actions) when that Illinois brewery spouted some totally inappropriate shit and then was called out for it by beer Twitter. The BA basically stayed silent on the whole thing. Others in the industry (including us) did not.
The diversity initiatives they push, however, are just coopted movements already happening in the brewing industry thanks to an awesome set of grassroots industry leaders outside of the Brewer’s Association. Sections of the beer community are already leading the way in inclusivity and diversity in the areas of race, gender, and conversation. Guess who’s playing catchup to seem cool?
Consider the Optics of EVERYTHING Your Brewery Does
Surly is a prime example here.
They announced on August 31, 2020 the intent of their employees to unionize. Two days later they announced 100+ people being fired from their jobs.
The optics of this maneuver have “illegal union busting” intent written all over it. The actual intent is currently unknown (although many suspect is to be a greedy corporation throwing their staff under the bus). The optics for damn sure say this.
The closing of their beer hall could have still happened on their Nov. 1 timeline and had better optics if they have waited a couple of weeks before making the announcement. They should NOT have posted these two tweets back-to-back.
Focus on the Basics
It is awesome that you love your local pub. You know, the one still using a domain to just point to a Facebook page or the one with a website that’s not been updated in three years.
That shit matters. Its opportunity lost. Its money lost.
Its sowing seeds of poor vibes that potential new customers (or out of town visitors) will keep with them and share with others. This is easily avoidable if your local brewery hires a professional (or even follows some basic best practices.)
It doesn’t matter you are a beer producer, sales person, or consumer.
Breweries can do better all around if they gave a shit about understanding the basics of business online and made a minimal effort to be more professional and helpful to their customers.
Take no sale for granted.
Miss no opportunity to grow your brand.
Be better than at least the other breweries within walking distance. But strive to be better than the beers you share shelf space with at the local bottle shop.