How Grassroots Marketing Put This Craft Brewery On Tap for Success

“If it ain’t fun, I ain’t doin’ it.”

That’s the business mantra that guided Meg Gill and Tony Yanow while building their Los Angeles-based craft brewery. In a little more than two years, Golden Road Brewing has become a $15 million-plus business with 155 employees.

Gill credits her first boss in the beer industry, Dale Katechis, founder of Lyons, Colo., brewery Oskar Blues, for this approach to business and for giving her the responsibility, at age 22 and with no industry experience, to become Oskar Blues’ first California market manager.

“It was my job to open the West Coast market to craft beer in a can, which was, at the time, still very controversial,” Gill says of Oskar Blues’ signature aluminum packaging. According to Katechis, Gill built up the market from nothing to 8 percent of the brewery’s overall sales. That success–as well the local wholesale distributor contacts that came with it–convinced Gill that she could strike out on her own.

In 2011, she connected with a brewmaster to make the beer, and with Yanow, who two years earlier had opened Tony’s Darts Away, a thriving craft-beer pub in suburban Burbank. Yanow drew on his experience to persuade Gill that Los Angeles was one of the biggest overlooked craft-beer markets left in the country.

“There was a bar in Santa Monica and one in the Los Feliz district that specialized in craft brews,” Yanow says. “But that was really it. When I first opened Darts Away on a Tuesday afternoon, there was a line out the door. There was a huge demand for good beer in L.A.”

Gill adds that at the time, the wholesale beer distributors in Los Angeles weren’t very receptive to craft beers. “It was my job to convince them,” she says.

And convince them she did, eventually getting shelf space for cans–yes, cans–of Golden Road’s Hefeweizen and Point the Way IPA in Whole Foods Market, Costco, Vons, Ralphs, Albertsons and Trader Joe’s, and taps hooked up at Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, the Forum and Los Angeles International Airport. (LAX is now the brewery’s No. 1 account.)

“Everything came together very quickly,” Yanow says. “We signed a lease for our brewery, and within six weeks, we had our equipment installed. Then three months later, we were brewing beer. That’s a process that usually takes more than a year.”

Yanow and Gill credit the brewery’s success to the quality of their product and the generosity of a partner who supplied ample funding (they wouldn’t reveal how much) to help set up the business. But credit also has to go to Gill’s ability to crack Southern California’s distribution network and to her guerilla-marketing skills. “Grassroots marketing with zero budget–it’s all I know,” she says.

Gill’s savvy has led to some unique product placement, such as Golden Road being featured prominently in an episode of Comedy Central’s sitcom Workaholics. The idea evolved from a chance meeting between Gill and Anders Holm, one of the show’s stars, at the swim practice they attend in Pasadena (both were collegiate swimmers).

Gill also has taken an active role in sponsoring events–supplying a keg or two of beer to high-profile charity functions and sporting events to increase name recognition and get people to try Golden Road’s brews. It all adds up to an aggressive strategy that catches distributors’ attention. “Meg understands how wholesalers and retailers play,” Yanow says.

Additionally, Gill has worked out a shortcut to take Golden Road national by partnering with HMSHost, which manages airport-restaurant concessions around the country. “By the end of the year, you should be able to find Golden Road at airports in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and across Florida,” she says.

None of this surprises her former boss at Oskar Blues. “She has an infectious personality, but she’s also aggressive, a great learner, and she executes,” Katechis says. “And she’s having fun.”

No money down

Launching a brewery is a capital-intensive proposition, according to Meg Gill, co-founder of Golden Road Brewing. “And if you’re planning to scale up quickly, you need even more money to get started,” she says. “Then, once you get going, all the cash flow goes into the product. There’s nothing left for marketing.” Sound like your startup? Don’t worry; follow Gill’s lead on zero-budget marketing to grow your business.

Work your business partners, vendors and even your customers for new business leads. “Everyone knows someone who knows someone,” Gill says. “You just need to keep asking.”

Be prepared to stand up for your product. “To get established in Costco, I would do four to eight appearances in stores every weekend to talk about the beer,” Gill says. While she can’t exactly pinpoint how much more beer she sold during her stops,
that was never the point. It was to leave a good impression on the store managers who now regularly stock Golden Road on their shelves.

Donate your product to a fundraiser or other event that will generate good will and free publicity, particularly when it’s being supported by a vendor or distributor you’ve targeted. “If I knew a distributor was supplying beer for an event, I’d ask them if they could throw in a couple kegs of my beer with the delivery,” Gill says. “That showed the distributor that I was willing to spend money (in beer kegs) to promote my beer, and it made them more willing to work with me in the future.”

Target the influencers

“We didn’t have salespeople when we started,” Gill says. “But we did have a part-time social media person whose job was to identify and reach out to the beer geeks, those early adopters who were super social media savvy. They helped get the word out and that led to new accounts.”

This Brewery Had A Hilarious Response To Indiana’s Mandatory Food Service Requirement

Liquor laws vary state by state, and I live in Florida which is second only to like, Utah in its ridiculously strict and cumbersome liquor laws — so don’t even get me started on that. I don’t know what Indiana is like on a whole, but one area where we’ve got them beat is that you can get away with having bars that don’t serve food here. Apparently, according to Indiana state liquor licenses, establishments that serve alcohol are also required to have minimum food service available, which includes hot sandwiches, soups, coffee, milk and soft drinks.

Honestly, you’d think most session drinking establishments would want to have munchies available, because otherwise people are going to get hungry and go someplace else — but the Bank Street Brewhouse in New Albany found a way to give a triumphant middle finger to Indiana’s liquor laws.

bank-street-menu

Mmmmm. A $10 microwaved hot dog with no condiments. As much as I’d like to say I wouldn’t eat this with someone else’s mouth, as one Redditor pointed out: “When sh*tfaced I’d probably be like ‘Yeah this hotdog seems like a solid deal. Barkeep, four hotdogs please!’” Knowing me when I’m drunk, he’s probably right.

‘Drought’ Beer: California Breweries Hit a Dry Spell

How many bottles of water go in that beer on the wall?

A lot.

“Beer has to have water,” said Luis Cayo, general manager for the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Los Angeles, which has survived many droughts over the last 60 years. “The amount of water in a standard can of beer is about 92 percent.”

This drought, however, is the most severe on record, and there’s no end in sight. Agriculture operations and manufacturers across California are drilling deeper, paying more, and competing with each other, with wildlife and with residents for water. But in the brewing business, it’s not just the water going into the cans which is now at a premium. It’s the water used to clean tanks.

At the Budweiser plant, Cayo said the company has started using reclaimed water to clean tanks. It also ripped out landscaping and replaced it with drought-tolerant plants: “Believe it or not, it saved about five million gallons of water.”

The brewery encourages employees to come up with more water-saving measures, which Cayo said reduced water needs by 3 percent “without any capital expenditure.” They’re even working with barley farmers in Idaho to manage irrigation more efficiently.

“Every day we track our water usage,” Cayo said. “Since 2009 we’ve reduced our water usage 31 percent, 9 percent in the last year, and we’re targeting 10 percent in the following year.”

It’s not just beer giants like Bud that are struggling to make beer with less water. California’s fast-growing craft brewing industry is having the same problem.

Up in Cloverdale, business had been so good at Bear Republic Brewing that CEO Richard Norgrove wanted to double capacity. However, the city said expansion would be impossible without more water. The nearby Russian River, which supplies most of the local water, is running low, and even though the brewery said it reduced water usage by half with a “state of the art waste water treatment system,” it wasn’t enough.

Cloverdale applied for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to drill two new wells, but that process was taking a while. So Bear Republic decided to pay $450,000 in development impact fees in advance in order to give the city the cash it needed to drill right away.

“The brewing company came forward and said they wanted to be in Cloverdale, this is where they wanted to put their brewery, this is where they wanted to have their employees be, this is where they wanted to produce their beer,” said City Manager Paul Cayler.

Standing by one of the new wells created with the brewery’s money, Cayler said Cloverdale was able to drill last October before the drought became especially severe. “It’s not a loan, it’s not a gift, these were fees that any developer who would come into our town would have to pay,” said Cayler. “What Bear Republic did was made the investment now rather than later.”

Both Cayler and Norgrove believe there is now enough water for the next 3-5 years, but what about after that? Other breweries are expanding back east, in part to reduce transportation costs to new markets, in part to have access to more water. Norgrove said his company has at least considered moving, too.

“I mean, can you imagine a drought like this going over the next 10 years?” he asked. “I think you’re going to see a lot more than breweries leaving this area. You’re going to see your major agriculture areas picking up and going somewhere else.”

That could leave California high and dry and crying in its beer.

Pro golfers crafting new beer product line

A threesome of pro golfers have teamed up to create some new options for the 19th hole.

With the help of Florida-based brewer The Brew Hub, PGA tour members Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley and Freddie Jacobson are teeing up a line of new craft beers targeting golfers.

The three beers — G-Mac’s Celtic Style Pale Ale, Keegan Bradley’s New England Style Lager and Freddie Jacobson’s Scandinavian Style Blonde Ale — will initially be available this month on draft at select Florida golf courses and on-site restaurants and country clubs. The beer will be available in cans in December and bottles during the first quarter of 2015. Distribution will expand to grocery stores, bars and other restaurants in Florida and then to other regions.

Golf and alcoholic beverages have gone hand in hand for years. Twenty years ago, David Frost bought his own winery in South Africa, and in 1996 Greg Norman started his own, too. Since then, golfers from Annika Sorenstam to Mike Weir have launched wine labels.

But this is the first swing at beer for golfers. “For some reason, all the golfers previously have always ended up in wine, and we just felt there was a natural gap with the golf-beer connection,” Jacobson says. He hatched the idea after talking with friend and business associate Patrik Waxin, a founder of the National Golf Course Restaurant Association. “We wanted to create a product that was really refreshing and drinkable, a craft beer for the outdoor living we participate in all the time.”

Once the idea was brewing, the Swedish-born Jacobson, who has several start-up companies, asked McDowell and Bradley whether they might want to join in. The plan appealed to Bradley, who says, “I grew up in New England drinking craft beers watching the Celtics, Patriots and Bruins. All my buddies and I loved drinking them, but I had trouble finding one that was drinkable and had a lot of flavor.”

Each of the beers is between 4.5% and 5% alcohol by volume. The Blonde Ale is a light ale made with European hops, while the New England lager uses North American hops. McDowell, a native of Northern Ireland who like the other two has a home in Florida, says his beer — the Celtic Style Pale Ale — is “the punchiest of the three. But it is very approachable and very conducive to drinking a few on the golf course or one in the clubhouse.”

Typically produced locally and more flavorful than mass-produced brews, craft beer is a growing market in the USA. Craft beer’s share of the nearly $100 billion U.S. beer market rose to 14% in 2013, up from 10% two years ago, while overall beer sales have been flat.

Craft beer’s share of the beer market is expected to increase to 20% this year, says Tim Schoen, CEO of The Brew Hub, the Lakeland, Fla., brewery, which helps fledgling brewers and companies with new product launches.

Golf courses have begun offering craft beers in addition to major-label beers such as Miller Lite and Budweiser. But often the alcohol levels of the craft beers offered are higher than golfers might want, Schoen says. “We thought we could do something with a very sessional taste profile that is directly linked to the golf community through these three guys.”

Brew Hub arranged some tastings for the golfers to help them refine the flavor they wanted. When the three golfers converged earlier this month for the final tastings, “It was really a fun moment,” Bradley said. “And it was a proud moment for all of us, to see a beer with my name on it.”

The three have formed a company, GolfBeer Brewing, for the venture. “We feel like the golf market is such a huge beer market and especially young golfers are the next big craft beer market,” McDowell says. “We think if we can make a refreshing, approachable craft beer that is synonymous with PGA Tour players like ourselves that golfers can relate to, we certainly feel there is potential for the market to become so much more educated about craft beer.”