question_mark.jpgA buddy of mine is starting up a new brewery in Massachusetts and was asking for some advice as he moves forward with selling his beer. While a lot of what I say seems pretty obvious, it’s amazing how many start-up breweries make some of the critical mistakes I mention below.  I apologize for the slightly bawdy language.

Hey Mike,

We’ve really started to get rolling with our brewery and was wondering if you could offer any insight as far as gaining traction, getting accounts, keeping accounts, etc. – things that I don’t already know.

I know you need to sell the bar managers, educate the staff, host tastings, blah blah blah. But when you really get down to it, is there a piece of the puzzle that I might be missing? How much should I truly give up to get accounts (merchandise, glassware, swag..) ?

Any and all help would be great.

Thanks man,

In the days of craft beer, loyalty is difficult. While you guys are probably experiencing tremendous growth, a lot of that is going to be due to a “newness” factor. Craft beer drinkers and bars are always looking for what’s new. This doesn’t mean you’re not going to have growth, but just be aware that at some point things will cool a bit. You’re no longer the cool new toy.

But what that means is that you’re going to need to be the best toy out there. You’re going to want to make the best beers possible, because why else would someone want to keep drinking your beer? You need to be your toughest critic and you need to surround yourself with opinions that will be tough but fair.

I’m always shocked by breweries making sub-par beer that seem to think they’re making some of the best beer in the world. I don’t understand how someone making a sub-par IPA doesn’t taste something like Firestone Walker’s Union Jack, or Odell IPA, or Green Flash West Coast IPA and think, “Damn, why doesn’t my beer taste as awesome as these?”

Part of this is taste. You should absolutely brew to your taste, but your taste isn’t everything. The consumer will dictate more about your beer than your tastebuds ever could. Always listen to opinions. Doesn’t mean you need to change the beer to fit everyone’s taste, but if enough people are saying something, then you probably need to take a hard look at your beer.

The best way to maintain loyalty is to remain loyal to the places that are selling your beer. While all of the POS in the world will certainly help a lot (because who doesn’t like getting free shit?) having face time with bar owners, restaurants, and beer drinkers will mean more to some people than a stupid tchotchke.

Face time also means sampling. Get as many people as possible to try your beer. A sell sheet (an informational pamphlet used to sell beer) means jackshit to most people because most people still say stupid shit like, “I love stouts, but I don’t like ales.”

But honestly, the biggest piece of the puzzle I’ve found is that you need an army of people requesting your beer. There is no better way to convince a bar or restaurant manager into bringing in your beer than having 3 or 4 people asking for it. Creating a buzz is easier now because of social media, but it’s still important to emphasize to your fans to request your beer in places where it currently isn’t on.

There isn’t a single secret to selling beer, but having great beer will be much easier to sell than mediocre beer. Good luck.