In this episode of Thirsty Thursday I talk about a few key issues that contract brewers have and how your business can overcome these issues. If you'd like to listen to the podcast or watch the YouTube video versions of this blog, please scroll all the way to the bottom of this post and you'll find them there.
A contract brewer is someone who pays a production brewery, sometimes known as the contract brewery, to brew their beer for them, typically under their own brand. These interactions may act in many different ways as you work out your own specific details with pertaining people.
In my specific case, I pay a brewery to brew my beer for me. I can choose to be there when it's brewed of not. I give them my recipes and then they do their own SOP's, each brewery will most likely stick to these SOP's. If you don't like them, bring it up and see if they may be willing to change some SOP's for the production of your own beer. I pay half the total cost, as a down-payment, for each beer brewed, and the second half as the beers get sold to distributors and other sales come in.
Here are my top three issues I've noticed as a new contract brewer:
I rank logistics as the single handed hardest bridge to cross for any contract brewer who doesn't have a taproom of their own. A huge necessity to being a contract brewer and selling beer is the transportation of your finished beer. Ideally you'd have a van or trailer, to distribute the cans or bottles.
If you don't have your own car, van, or means of transportation that really limits what you can do. Going to beerfests would be difficult and is very important for contract brewers to get the personal feel on your new beer brand. You won't be able to drive to the the brewery and back if it's not a easy area to travel around without a personal vehicle. This means someone will have to come pick you up and drop you off every time you want to go to the brewery...
Another important thing about logistics is the storage and distribution of your finished beers. Kegs, Cans, Bottles? Whatever your packaging, you're going to have to store your beer until it's all sold. Ideally the beer is stored in a cold environment. Hopefully wherever the beer is stored will have the capabilities to ship your beer to customers such as bars, distributors, bottle shops, or wherever you need it to. If they can't ship it for you, you'll have to find someone who can.
Self distribution is the easiest way to solve to distribution issue but this requires a lotttt of driving around and face to face interactions, not to mention a vehicle filled with beer and possible marketing stuff if you expect to do some promotions while you're driving all around.
If you can have your beer shipped out in pallets, already sold to distributors or wherever, right after you finish packaging the beer, this is best case scenario as you don't have to pay for warehouse storage much and the beer will be as fresh as possible. If you can't sell the beers quickly, they start to deteriorate with time sitting in a chilled warehouse.
Make sure that the labels are finished at least 1 week before you plan to package your new beer in to cans or bottles. Ideally you give your graphic designer a month notice of the beer so she can draft up some drafts of the new beer labels with the info you provide to her about the new beer about to be produced.
Depending on how many people you have helping you out as a contract brewer this may vary in difficulty. As a one person marketing team, it's very difficult.
As you don't have your own taproom to showcase your beers at, that limits your marketing potential, if you don't have a car that limits your marketing potential even more. You will have your beer in craft beer bars and bottle shops most likely. Beerfests can also be a huge revenue stream for your business but without a car it's difficult.
You should follow the market and right now what's selling is nice graphic design, good beers like NEIPA's, IPA's, Stout's, Sour's, and all the trendy beers, and in tall 16oz, 44cl, cans.
With the beers labels you have to start to develop your brand. When someone remotely peeps at your beer you want their brain to know it's a "Your Brand Name" beer as quick as possible. Branding. Use the same font, same atmosphere and feel, and maybe you include a small funny design or something on the label to make it uniquely your own. Try to hit an emotion within the beer label as much as possible.
Social Media should go without saying at this day in age. If you're not on social media, get on Instagram, Facebook, and whatever other platforms you can. Here's what you do, it's magic. Document the Process. Film yourself doing what you love. Document brewing, distribution, bars you visit, your analysis of your own beers, whatever you need to do to document the process and make it readily available for your customers to view.
You can try starting a blog, vlog, podcast, YouTube channel, whatever you can to document your experiences and share them with others to learn. These are known as pull strategies, they pull customers to you by giving them useful information. A push strategy would be like putting a sale out there and sort of pushing your brand and business on them to try to lead to sales, advertising most the time.
I only mention brewing as a difficulty if you aren't completely in charge of your brew. Most brewers/breweries may have Standard Operation Procedures that may have been formed when they first started brewing on the system and do certain brewing maneuvers specific ways so they are on point every time by their standards.
These SOP's by the brewers/breweries may not go exactly with how you want your beer to be brewed. They may waste more beer then you'd like through the brewing/fermentation process. They might be a little unsanitary in their practices or may simply be a tough brewery to work with for other things besides the brewing. Maybe the management/owners structure needs some leadership training and is a toxic environment.
The water may be mildly hard, and to get it to be soft would require an investment on a better water filter but they might not have the money or time/energy for that investment/switch of SOP's at the moment.
If you aren't there for the full fermentation cycle and watching every day, you may notice they add chemicals or additives to all beers, against your liking. You might not know if they dry hop your beer exactly when you want and the quality of the hops they use.
The relationship between you and your contract brewery is one of, if not the, biggest relationships that the contract brewer has. Make sure you can be friends and work together. Have open and free communication. You will be talking most of the time.
The contract brewery might have contracts with suppliers of brewing ingredients who only distribute certain ingredients and maybe you prefer other, higher quality, ingredients but can't easily obtain them...
Each relationship with the contract brewery is going to be different and you may sign different contracts with different payment methods, if even at all.
I hope that little blog, vlog, or podcast episode provided some value to you in some way shape or form! As always, a subscribe, like, comments are always welcome. Maybe tell someone who could benefit from hearing this info.