Advice from the Father of Craft Beer, Jim Koch

Last night, I attended a Networking and Speed Coaching Event for food and beverage entrepreneurs, like myself, co-sponsored by Samuel Adams and Accion USA, as part of the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Program.

Members of the Boston Beer Company, Accion staff, and local experts across multiple disciplines were available to meet with you one-on-one for twenty minutes each to talk about your business and how they may be able to help or provide advice.

First of all, I must say that this was an excellent event! The individual attention and the quality of the coaches made it a fantastic opportunity to receive immediate feedback and gain access to additional resources. I have attended previous events that were coordinated by the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Program and this was truly one of the best. Not to mention that one of the coaches available last night was Jim Koch himself!

I had met Jim on a previous occasion last September but our meeting last night more memorable for both of us. Additionally, a friend of mine who is opening a meadery in Massachusetts also sat down with us to talk shop.

Here are the golden nuggets from our conversation:

1) Brand building happens on premise

Brand building for beer (and mead) happens on-premise with draft accounts and not in the off-premise package stores. Even though breweries will be able to sell greater volumes off-premise, if customers are not looking for your product, they won’t buy it. People are more willing to try something new in a bar or restaurant than purchase a 6-pack or more in a package/liquor store.

2) Always build relationships

Period. Just do it. When a brewery is just starting out, make a list of 100 places, that you would love to have your product. Go after them all, hope for the best and keep them in mind when the tides turn. When Samuel Adams started, Jim found his way into 30 places on his list of 100.

3) Upsell, Upsell, Upsell

Add value for the consumer experience and help the venue sell your product once in there. Know your numbers and that a restaurant/bar will make a greater margin by selling a craft beer than by a national brand or import. Samuel Adams had table tents printed and went to all of his accounts to place on the tables and high-tops. Make it as easy as possible for the venue to sell your product.

Fun fact: A champagne cork costs about 50 cents per 750 ml bottle, but adds $2.00 in perceived value to customer!!

4) Educate everyone on your product

This includes the waitstaff and bartenders. Hold short but effective training sessions during shift changes to talk about the product and make them more comfortable selling it. Staff want to increase their own sales and being knowledgeable about product offerings helps facilitates this. No one wants to look stupid.

5) Befriend the TTB (Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau)

Samuel Adams’ Annual LongShot Homebrewing Competition is just around the corner. The grand prize winner will have their beer brewed by Sam Adams and sold in one of their mixed packs. When taking a recipe from homebrew to commerical, make sure to check that all of the ingredients and adjuncts are approved by the TTB before you start. This will make your life much easier. Homebrew competitions bring out great beers, usually bigger and heavier styles and keep in mind that a homebrew beer will never be exactly replicated in a commerical system. Think about that when judging if the intent is to brew the recipe commercially – how will the taste be altered?

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