In 2012 I began working with BJ’s Restaurants, Inc., in the Marketing Department. While initially I was hired to run the BJ’s Premier Rewards Loyalty Program and Call Center, my interest in homebrewing opened up opportunities to work on the repositioning of BJ’s Signature and Seasonal beer offerings. I was fortunate to be a part of the initial RFP process for selecting Saputo Design to reimagine all of BJ’s beer labels. I also led efforts to help market BJ’s beer in the restaurants where growler, bottle and keg sales are legal, including an award-winning holiday bottle carrier promotion that successfully spurred awareness and sales of their take-home offerings. In addition to email and point-of-sale marketing for our beers I had opportunities to work directly with the Brewing Team on event planning and competitions including the Great American Beer Festival, North American Beer Awards and World Beer Cup.
When the Brewing Team decided to open a stand-alone brewery in Central Texas I accepted a transfer to help start operations there as an Assistant Brewer, where I had the chance to brew, package and distribute to 30+ restaurants in Texas all the beers that I was previously marketing. It was a valuable move for me to understand commercial brewing, helping stoke interest in and passion for craft beer at the restaurant level, both with guests and team members. The perfect combination of my background and interests!
TELLING THE CRAFT STORY
From Texas I moved to Chico, CA, in 2016 to work with the Marketing Department at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. as the Communications Manager. There I was fortunate to work with some of the brightest minds in craft brewing while managing advertising, digital, social, public relations and our national event programs. Ken Grossman is one of the original craft beer pioneers, setting out in 1980 to change the way we look at beer quality, ingredients and styles. Fast forward to today when over 7,000 breweries are licensed to operate: 2,000 of which were new additions in 2016-2017. With all the added competition, plus the hyper-localization of craft brewing, the brewery faced challenges for the first time that weren’t present just years earlier when the product sold itself. A world-class sales team was tasked with thinking differently about the sale, working more as a partner with the buyer and distributor (see Three-Tier System) to find the right Sierra Nevada beer for the right account. And the marketing department sought to tell the untold Sierra Nevada story to a new generation of drinkers who had never heard of the brand and whose beer drinking repertoire was dictated by badges and Untappd check-ins.
Very few if any craft breweries have the rich history and story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., so one would think that the “history” or “quality” message would be the obvious foundation of any marketing or advertising efforts. And to many of the core drinkers who have been with the brand since the very beginning, that positioning may resonate very clearly. However, new drinkers are often looking for variety, innovation and perhaps a bit of an edge that prompted Sierra Nevada to go through a brand repositioning exercise to start influencing perception within this high-value target (estimated at nearly half the dollars being spent in craft beer currently). The result was a set of brand pillars for internal/cultural guidance; brand positioning to inform all aspects of trade and consumer marketing; and campaign taglines for advertising. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has a long, successful runway ahead under the leadership of Ken Grossman and two of his children, Brian Grossman and Sierra Grossman. The everyday innovation that happens at both breweries in Chico, CA, and Mills River, NC, combined with the passion and drive of every employee, will best outfit the brand to weather the current rough waters in craft and maintain a leadership position.
BREWING AS A HOBBY
I started brewing beer in Chicago, Illinois, in 2009. My first was a pale ale that came with the True Brew Starter Kit. I remember staying awake for the first 48 hours watching the fermentation. As soon as two weeks were up, I took it to Cincinnati where I suprised my brother Ryan Kolbe with bottled and labeled beer. It was called “White-Haired Pale Ale” in honor of our Grandfather’s 93rd birthday that weekend. I knew I was hooked when Ryan opened that first bottle and it looked and tasted like beer. Victory is ours!
Since then we’ve upgraded from all-extract to partial- or all-grain recipes; we’re capable of multi-batch, temperature-controlled fermentation/lagering; we’re kegging as well as bottling; and we’ve hired an extremely talented artist to manage label design. Each label tells a story with a caricature that expresses what’s happening in our lives at that moment (consider it an improved “born on” date).
In 2010 and 2011 we took home 5 ribbons in the label artwork category, and in 2012 we brought home our first ribbon for the cherry wheat beer at the Orange County Fair. We’re looking forward to more competitions as well as getting involved with the local brewing clubs. Ultimately we’ll open a brewery-restaurant and jump off the grid…but until then it’s a tasty hobby. Have a suggestion for our next homebrew?