Yeah So, About Craft Beer (A Connecticut Yankee In A Market Nearing Saturation)

“Where most businesses usually suffer due to internal struggles, or an inferior product, saturation in craft beer is when the market has reached its capacity and breweries start to suffer because of it. Saturation is a naturally occurring outside force that has internal impacts, out of your control. It can only be countered by amplifying your presence and offering a superior craft beer experience.”

Craft beer, nationwide, has been growing steadily in the past decade – to the point where I like to refer to it as “America’s NEW pastime”. It’s more widespread and more accessible to anyone and everyone then ever, and though it’s bound to plateau, it’s here to stay.

In Connecticut, we’ve added nearly 100 breweries in the past decade, and that’s still on the up and up with more breweries filing for licensing and buying up old buildings to rehab, across the state, weekly.

It’s been a boost to the economy and has also created a well-blended micro-culture of people who have adopted craft beer as a lifestyle. Now, more than ever, people are are well-informed of what goes into their craft beer, what styles they like, and who’s brewing what. Most enthusiasts are in-tune and educated – having either gone out and sampled a ton of oat sodas, studied up on the various facets of craft beer, or – more commonly – a mix of both.

From the outside looking in, and even while on the inside – it seems like a bit of elitism ruling over the rest of the rising class. And that’s not a knock or a negative, it’s the best way I can describe the customer base in the demographic I work within: some folks come in, order what they know they like, and enjoy it. Other folks come in and ask for a beer based on a specific ingredient – usually hops – confirm the presence of an expected set of specific tastes and mouthfeel’s, and then enjoy it.

I liken it to sports. Some folks enjoy watching a game, other folks commit player and team statistics to memory.

I think there’s room for both types of followers and welcome them as they riff off of one another to (usually) create a bigger and better experience, as well as keep the ball rolling in terms of organic business and brand growth – a lot of which happens on social media.

Three years ago, I was brought into Kinsmen Brewing Company, in Milldale, Connecticut to help create a customer base while they were still under construction. They already had the foundation of their brand built and wanted me to create the voice and spread the word of “Kinsmen”. So I began writing copy and posting to their social media platforms all while the brewery was still being built (this is “Brand Amplification” in it’s purest and most enjoyable form).

This role grew into many more positions – bartender, manager, event coordinator, construction worker, and mascot. It became my life after years of craft beer being my lifestyle. The whole thing was – and still is – surreal.

In a short period of time, as Kinsmen grew, other people came on board, or rose to the occasion, to take on different roles and even out the workload, and I became the sole, driving force behind their social media outlets. It allowed me to express my creative writing and photography talents for a good cause, but it also kept me close to trends and changes within the market, which allowed the brand to be proactive and stay relevant.

I was recently asked – in so many words – how to open a brewery and be successful in a market that’s nearing saturation. There’s a million ways I could have answered that question, but I kept it close to the vest – and stuck to what I knew, as opposed to what I assumed.

So, having a good financial backing and stellar craft beverage assortment aside, this is how I see it:

Opening the brewery and establishing the Kinsmen brand and voice seemed easy compared to creating a differentiation between our brand and other brands in a market nearing saturation. But it requires constant upkeep. Nothing in this market can go on “autopilot”. You need to stay relevant to keep the lights on.

To do that, we continually research what other breweries are doing in terms of beers they’re brewing, social media efforts and trends, as well as how they set themselves apart, or if they do at all. Additionally, we visit other breweries and try their beers and attend any and all relevant beer tastings and brewfests, either as the brand or part of the crowd.

It’s hard to not develop a “house palate”, but if you’re supporting a brewery – in our current market – you need to have knowledge of what’s going on around you – and that includes tasting notes. Essentially – your brand needs to be your primary focus, but the customer base is so in-tune with trends, popular hops, etc – they will eventually quiz you on other brands. And they’ll call you on your bullshit, so you need to be relevant as well.

Bottomline: If you want to succeed in craft beer – and want your brand to succeed – you need to be part of the craft beer culture. Beard and Flannel Optional.

It’s important to note that most of us – across breweries – even across state lines – are friends. We may start off as strangers, but once you talk about your common bond in beer, then the friendship quickly forms and rarely dwindles. We’re constantly talking about what we see in the industry and how we employ particular tactics to stay organically viable. And we’re always supporting one another – either directly, or indirectly – most obviously seen in the myriad beer collaborations out there today – but also by hanging our trying one another’s lab samples and giving honest feedback.

We also benefit from bunch of enthusiast groups and official organizations – such as The CT Brewers Guild – who promote various brands and keep us all connected either through social media, or boots on the ground efforts – like throwing their own brewfests. These factions are all borne out of their adopting of the craft beer culture as their way of life. It’s like being a Jedi, really..

If I had to end this whole thing with one message to my friends and family in craft beer:

Having gotten into craft beer, and then into homebrewing, way back in 2000, I feel like an old man out here. But, I’m rooted, open-minded, and make my rounds in the scene – and that helps me stay relevant. I thrive on writing about our beers as well as photographing them and thinking of new and different ways to present those beers to the public. With people’s spans forever shrinking, and the market forever expanding, I can only hype the Kinsmen brand so much as a person. But social media – just like print before it – will exist forever and has the uncanny ability to spread its wings damn near anywhere. So make sure you’re getting out there and getting people’s attentions in the most organic way possible – Instagram, Facebook.. Visiting other breweries… OH! And cool merch. Don’t skimp on the merch. Especially stickers!

If I had to end this whole thing with one message to the craft been enthusiasts:

Make sure you’re out there having fun. If you’re dreading waiting in lines to mule beer, and you need to put a pause on a mortgage payment – for beer – then you’re making it more of a miasma then something that could easily allow you to flourish socially and culturally. We’re brewing it and marketing it because it’s something we enjoy – and want you to enjoy. After all, it’s just beer. It’s here to make you happy. Also, don’t let it become an addiction – and I don’t mean the fact that this stuff is alcohol – I mean, don’t let it run you around. There’s plenty of IPA’s, Lagers, and Stouts for everyone!

Published by Ragged

I’m here in the now, trying to experience life while living it...

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