Custom Brews- “Your Name Here” Beer

6 Mar

In and around my neighborhood in Washington DC, there are numerous bars and restaurants that sell their own branded beers: Stoney’s Amber Ale (which is actually Michelob- my taste buds tell me it’s their Amberbock- according to the bartender), Darlington House Ale, and Front Page Ale. Obviously, these businesses don’t have brewing operations in the basement, so they must have contracts with someone to brew their beers. That, or they just put their name on someone else’s beer, which apparently isn’t that big of a deal (ahem, Stoney’s).

Lot’s of start-up craft beer companies that do not have the capital to open full-scale breweries start out by brewing their beer at larger, established breweries. Brooklyn Brewery, who produces my all-time favorite Brooklyn Lager, started this way in 1987; Matt Brewing Company produced Brooklyn Brewery beers for years, and Brooklyn Brewery didn’t even open a working brewery in its namesake neighborhood until eight years later (side note: I highly recommend reading Beer School by the Brooklyn Brewery founders Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. It’s equal parts a corporate history and a lesson in starting a business).

Clearly, there is proof of a contract brewing model for start-ups that need to minimize costs, but what about the contract brewing partnerships with restaurants like the ones in my ‘hood? I’m reminded of the Virginia artisanal coffee Roasters Central Coffee, which offers unique blends, and also the opportunity to create unique blends dictated by its customers (for example, upscale P&C Market in DC’s Capitol Hill neighborhood created the P&C Blend that it serves and sells in the shop). Could that model work for beer?

What if you could get the Darden Restaurant Group as a client, and work with them to create custom beers for each of its many national restaurant chains? You could imagine that a crisp Pilsner-style beer would be ideal for the Italian fare at Olive Garden, and maybe a more complex Lager would compliment the fare of its upscale Capital Grille restaurants. The key would be locking in clients with big chains, so you could brew the custom beers on a large scale. A key question would be whether or not big restaurant groups have exclusive partnerships with distributors that would prevent them from buying from competitors (thoughts on this?).

The “your name here” beer brewing model is pretty interesting, and completely shifts the burden of marketing and branding from the brewery to the client. The brewery would need to hire a very talented brewmaster that would educate and work with potential clients in order to co-develop uniquely tailored beers.

Why stop at restaurants as the sole client base? Trader Joe’s branded beers have shown that there is a market for grocery store branded beers (Josh Noel over at the Chicago Tribune and a panel tried them out and tried to guess what brewery was behind each offering).

All this beer talk has made me thirsty- I wonder what an “Ifyoustartmeup” ale would taste like?

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