March 23, 2016

Getting Hyped: How Arkansas Brewers Are Using Events to Meet Growing Expectations

Here's another fantastic post by guest blogger Fayettebrew on the outstanding beer scene up in Northwest Arkansas!

Getting Hyped: How Arkansas Brewers Are Using Events to Meet Growing Expectations

The start of the year has seen an unprecedented level of activity from northwest Arkansas breweries. Whereas in previous winters it felt like the community would shift into a lower gear after the new year in terms of events (perhaps waiting on the return of patio weather and the festival season) there has been no less than eight significant local beer events since the start of February. Given how relatively fallow this time of year has been in the past, it has been encouraging to see these events draw interest. A select few have even garnered some broader exposure.

This exposure comes at a favorable time for the Arkansas beer and it’s sibling-esque local beer communities as local beer has become steadfastly ingrained in the ethos of “eat/drink/shop local” within each community. There is a growing expectation to be able to find local beer on tap at a local restaurant and festivals of all type regularly incorporate local brewers as sponsors or vendors. With this increasing community presence does comes an increased set of expectations. Beer fans in Arkansas are coming to not only expect access to local beer but also a high level of quality and variety that matches the national craft beer spectrum. This elevated set of expectations extends from the beers to the beer events in our communities as well.

A lot of time is spent considering how Arkansas beer compares to regional neighbors and national standard-bearers but it is also worth considering how Arkansas breweries are managing the elevated expectations for limited releases, special events, and openings. No longer will the novelty of local beer satisfy the expectations for a memorable event. Great beer events now need to begin to live up to the hype the event generates. This is an inevitable positive of living in a growing beer community. Events should be getting better because interest has grown. Breweries should be more than comfortable with their identity. They should be confident in engaging the public in how they celebrate their beer.

For the time being, Arkansas may very well be at a place where a local brewery will get by simply meeting expectations. There is still a benefit of doubt that exists that grants at least two or three chances to each brewery. Where Arkansas breweries can begin to distinguish themselves from each other is hosting events that generate hype - even on a local level - and then capitalize on that hype by leveraging it into increased long-term attention on their products. When a brewery leverages “hype” it emphasizes the story they want to tell through an interactive, status-worthy experience for its customers. To put it one way: if people are still posting about the event on their favorite social media network well after it is over, the event is leveraging its hype.

With this in mind, here are four observations from attending these events on how Arkansas breweries have recently leveraged the hype around an event to best fulfill customer expectations and share their story. (Note: The events referenced likely succeed because they fit most, if not all, of these observations. When an event is specified it is because they presented an unique and clear example.)

Embrace Each Type of Customer
Events that create a memorable, status-worthy experience find a way to embrace all customers - whether they are new or returning customers. This can be a tricky balance to establish but if a craft beer fan thinks a certain event would be a good fit for a new-to-craft friend, then it is probably striking that balance. Even with the growing number of craft-only customers, the majority of Arkansans are unfamiliar, new, or just partial to craft beer. And the way craft beer is perceived within our state goes a long way toward how it is perceived outside of the state.

When a brewery thinks about how to engage all potential customers, it is taking a beneficial first step toward leveraging any hype it generates. Recently, the Nutty Runner 5k hosted by Columbus HouseBrewery capitalized on this opportunity. In addition to the standard 5k race - a distance achievable to new runners and still worthwhile to some year-round runners - the Nutty Runner 5k featured a division where participants drank one 12 ounce pour of Columbus House’s Nutty Runner Brown Ale after each mile of the race. Hosted on and partnered with a local Fleet Feet store, this event drew a crowd of experienced and novice runners alike in an adventurous, well organized event. As Columbus House Brewery continues to leverage both the craft beer and active lifestyle communities in Fayetteville, it should have more opportunities to grow its still young community presence.

Be Communal With Your Layout, Not Generic
It is easy to set up some jockey boxes in a covered area and have something resembling a craft beer event. At their worst, these events feel like a cattle run where beer fans merge from line to line almost implicitly following the person in front of them in hopes of procuring a fresh beer. While the line may lead to conversations among those in attendance, these are mostly happenstance depending on your familiarity with each other or mutual anticipation for a beer being poured. An alternative to this standardized assembly line of a beer experience is to create a layout that emphasizes a communal setting around the dispersal of tasty brews. Whether at a bar, a cookout, or a bottle share, most of our experiences sharing and talking about craft beer do not take place in a line. A beer festival or event should be no different. When a brewery can create an event setting that does not feel like it came fresh out of the “beer event” starter set, it stands to leverage the experience into something more memorable beyond the new style experienced or whale finally captured.

The layout to Frost Fest, the winter beer festival hosted by Fossil Cove, intentionally disrupted the beer festival standard and wound up providing a centerpiece for the event. Once you entered Frost Fest you were not met with an array of tents pouring beer. Rather, a large tent outfitted with space heaters and the live music stage welcomed you. The tent was outlined with sponsors on one edge and some participating breweries on the other. Beyond the main tent were the aisles of breweries standard to most beer festivals. During the second half of the fest, as the sun set and air cooled, the crowd was increasingly soaking in their experiences under the tent; face-to-face in conversation and celebration rather than in a line, facing the back of someone’s head. Fossil Cove was hardly revolutionary with the Frost Fest layout but by going beyond what could be expected from similar festivals in the community, they set a standard they can routinely provide their fans events in their taproom or at future editions of Frost Fest.

The Value of Early Information
A customer’s expectations for an event rarely suffer from knowing: the essence of a rivalry; the genre of music a band plays; or the particular strengths of a restaurant. Similarly, customers and fans of a brewery can only benefit from being introduced to what to anticipate from an event. This is accomplished by the brewery providing information early and often. When a brewery can get details out so customers can begin to envision the experience they will have, the brewery creates a chance to capitalize on expectations. If changes are necessary prior to the event taking place, it is best to revise any information as early as possible and confirm the change. The early availability of event information, and frequent updates, outlines the space the customer experience will take place in.

In anticipation of demand for the 2016 release of its Bourbon Barrel Double Cream Stout (BDCS), Ozark Beer Company intentionally crafted its promotion of release events to inform the local and at-large beer communities. In addressing its “neighbors” and the “beer travelers”, Ozark created avenues to experience the release of BDCS that were at once familiar to both groups yet tailored to the ethos Ozark Beer wants to achieve through its work. When demand for case purchases exceeded initially anticipated levels, Ozark made the difficult decision of further restricting purchase limits. In announcing the change, customers were notified over two weeks in advance of the release (and one day after ticket sales to the private event) with an offer for a refund with additional compensation. Most importantly, Ozark Beer Company owned the decision by emphasizing the importance to them to provide the opportunity to enjoy BDCS to as many neighbors and beer travelers as possible. Rather than simply turning the quickest profit possible, Ozark leveraged the growing national hype for BDCS to bring to life “hard work, honest beer”.

Build Expectations Through A Narrative
If event information outlines the customer experience, then an event narrative builds expectations and fills in the features that distinguish the event. The narrative can be simple or grand as long as it is 1) consistent and 2) contributes to the anticipation for the event. An event’s narrative is a lot like a beer’s can or bottle: it builds expectations by providing a template for the experience. A beer’s can/bottle provides a template through the visual and descriptive components of its label. An event’s narrative provides a template through the visual and descriptive components of its promotion. One of the most viable assets local breweries have to promote events and build expectations are the social media platforms that already connect them with their local community.

While routine posts and updates regarding fresh releases and small events are an essential part of business, this is really the new minimum when it comes to beer and social media. If the local beer message only focuses on new beers, off-premise tastings, and tap takeovers then the message is always going to compete with regional and national breweries doing the very same thing - especially in a younger market like Arkansas. When local breweries share about the intricacies of their process, the inspiration for their beer, and the intentions behind their events, they build expectations they can capitalize on when customers visit. In a market like Arkansas it is important for local brewers to capitalize on the opportunity for in-person access in a way that out-of-state regional and national competitors cannot. When it comes to special events, this starts with the narrative the brewery tells potential guests.

Telling these narratives takes reiteration with a bit of variation. It takes planning. Simply repeating the ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ ad nauseum will not cut it because there are multiple events doing the same thing, across the state, each week. Each of the events mentioned had narratives that emphasized something more than the beer that would be filling people’s glasses.

      When Fossil Cove announced Frost Fest, they did more than just talk about the unique time of year for the event. They emphasized the role brewers and brewery representatives would have serving their beers and interacting with attendees (rather than having event volunteers doing the pouring).This was a part of the initial announcements about the event, the local media attention the event garnered, and their social media marketing efforts on facebook, where they provided daily introductions to the breweries that would be in attendance. Promoting this aspect was a part of distinguishing Frost Fest from other events as well as building expectations for those who were attending.
     Before Ozark Beer Company’s inviting words to its “beer travelers”, they started the BDCS narrative with an look at what made the beer so special to them and their neighbors. That narrative was shared across multiple platforms. These videos, stories, and posts provided an understated emphasis on the interactions and atmosphere Ozark aimed to achieve through the BDCS release events.
     Organizing a race like the Nutty Runner 5k for the first time, Columbus House Brewery kept the plan simple and openly shared how the experience would likely be a first for everyone involved. A participant cap was established from the beginning along with the rest of the race details to keep things practical. This also allows the Columbus House to scale up future versions of the race. By inviting participants to join on a new adventure with them, Columbus House created a loose, excited, and informed template for experiencing the Nutty Runner 5k.

While increased social media use and attention from local media will give breweries a chance to inform and guide expectations, the final proof as to whether the event lived up to the hype will come from the in-person experience. Breweries that define their events in advance, and give them a narrative, craft expectations they can meet. These expectations lead to a positive sense of anticipation about how things will operate which, in turn, frees both the staff and guests to get the most out of the sense community the event creates. And when that specific event’s narrative is consistent with the other stories the brewery shares, it inevitably creates a stronger relationship with the communities it is a part of.

These are by no means the only way a brewery can create and leverage hype through an event. They are just a few observations on how some of the growing breweries in the northwest Arkansas community are attempting to turn growing expectations into hype for the beer and culture they want to create. In the end, no event may be perfect in its planning or execution but when the intentionality and effort behind an event shows, it sure does make it worth the hype.


March 14, 2016

Oberon: A Celebration of Summer

Just one more month until yet another of the best breweries in the world, Bell's Brewery, arrives in Arkansas. Their Kalamazoo Stout and Two-Hearted Ale are big favorites of mine, but all of their beers are high quality in my experience. Granted I've only had about 5 of them, but I'm looking really forward to finding out about the rest.

Here's a new video on their Summer seasonal, Oberon:

"Bell's Brewery: Here's a little about our perfect pint of Oberon. Tell us about yours.

The color and scent of a summer afternoon, Oberon is made with just four ingredients - water, malt, hops and yeast. That's it. No spices, no fruit (although if you want to enjoy your Oberon with an orange, go right ahead). All of those fruity and spicy flavors come from the hops and our house ale yeast. Oberon is an American Wheat Ale that compliments all summer has to offer. Cheers to a summer full of adventures! #FromOurSummertoYours"

March 13, 2016

Some Arkansas Beer Updates

It's certainly a great time to be a craft beer lover in the state of Arkansas with so many new breweries, new beers and beer-soaked events taking place lately you really do need a program to keep up. Follow along on my Twitter feed and I'll do what I can to keep you informed, but here's a compilation of some things that are on my mind this morning.

One of the reasons I've not been regularly updating the blog here is that the bi-weekly radio show I co-host with my man Bryce Nall, Tap Time on 103.7 The Buzz, has been taking up time. We've just finished our first 3 months and it looks like we have 5 more months worth for sure so that should keep going through the summer. Last week's show was my favorite yet possibly, with guest Founders Brewery, but it hasn't made it to Soundcloud yet. Here's a link to the previous shows though, all except the first one we did:

The next show is March 21st and Rebel Kettle Brewing will be the guest. You don't want to miss this one!

Speaking of Rebel Kettle Brewing, they seem to be opening on an "any time now" sort of thing. I feel pretty sure that we'll be in there drinking their killer line-up of beers before March ends, but there's no official word yet. My fingers are crossed as I couldn't be any more excited about this awesome brewery getting going.

The newest Core Public House opened in central Arkansas on Friday at 411 North Main Street in North Little Rock. That's in the Argenta area if you're not familiar and it's not far from Flyway Brewing and Diamond Bear's tap rooms. The place looks great, has a cool staff and plenty of Core beers, with at least 10 taps flowing all the time and 12 total. Most of the beer lovers in central Arkansas are already familiar with Core beers as they've been available here for years, but we should see a lot of beers we wouldn't normally get to try plus there will be all sorts of special events and such going down. Here's a rundown of what's on now from my opening night visit:

Up in northwest Arkansas, Rogers to be more exact, New Province Brewing Company got their doors open last week and although I haven't been there it looks really cool in all the pictures I'm seeing. I can't wait to see it in person and try some beers, hopefully soon. They're on a 15bbl system and are starting with 4 beers.

We're just over a week away from Stone Brewing Company and Arrogant Bastard Brewing joining the state and for me this is going to be HUGE. I love their beers and have for many years. The big news for Little Rock is the “Arrogant After Party” at Sticky Fingerz, which will be following Foam Fest on Friday, April 1st. Boom! Put that on your calendar. Can't wait.

Bell's Brewery will be in Arkansas in late April! That's two of America's best breweries to launch here in a month.

Here's a few festival dates for you, click the links for details:

Friday April 1st - 19th Annual Food & Foam Fest at Dickey Stephens Park in NLR
April 7th - 10th - Fantastic Cinema and Craft Beer Festival
Friday May 13th - Arkansas Times Spring Firkin Fest (more info to come!)
Saturday May 21st - Hot Springs Craft Beer Festival

That's all I can think of right now. Follow the Twitter feed for updates!

March 12, 2016

Greg Koch Is My Hero

The word hero is thrown around a lot these days, but Stone Brewing's Greg Koch is one badass mofo. And I salute him. Usually with his excellent line of brews (due in Arkansas in a few weeks!!!).

Stone Brewing: "In the wake of numerous acquisitions of Craft Beer by Big Beer, we sat down with Stone Brewing CEO & Co-Founder Greg Koch to inquire about the company's choice not to sell out to Big Beer, and instead remain a true Craft brewer."

March 10, 2016

Pucker Up: Victory Brewing Company Brings Back Kirsch Gose and Sour Monkey

Pucker Up: Victory Brewing Company Brings Back Kirsch Gose and Sour Monkey
As the Weather Warms Up, Two Wildly Popular Seasonal Brews Return

Downingtown, PA, March 10, 2016- Victory Brewing Company (Victory) announces the long-awaited return of Kirsch Gose, their refreshingly imaginative cherry fruit session ale and Sour Monkey, their sharp twist on their Belgian-style Tripel, Golden Monkey. Sweet, tart, salty and refreshing, Kirsch Gose incorporates natural tart cherry juice with a classic German-style gose while Sour Monkey incorporates multiple fermentations via three different yeasts to create an exhilarating flavor combination. The introductions of Kirsch Gose and Sour Monkey last year made waves in the craft beer world when both existing sour beer lovers and newcomers to the style embraced the new seasonals. The new brews quickly became sought after, in demand warm weather beverages.

Kirsch Gose was a new release for Victory in 2015 and their first bottled gose. The reaction from fans and critics was immediate and the limited release remained highly coveted throughout the summer and into the fall. Receiving 91 points from Wine Enthusiast, Kirsch Gose was described as “lively, bright and extremely effervescent …with raging acidity and a hint of salinity holding onto the finish.” With its sharp, slightly sweet cherry flavors against flavorful briny notes, the brew is a modern twist on a traditional German style that dates back to the 1500s. Victory pays further homage to gose’s German roots by using the German word for cherry, aka ‘kirsch’, right on the label of its beloved standout seasonal. The kirsch adds a sweet element that creates a pleasantly sharp balance of flavors. Featuring a variety of wheat malts, Czech-grown Saaz hops and natural cherry juice from King Orchards of Michigan, Kirsch Gose creates a distinctly bracing, light-bodied beer with an ABV of 4.7%.

Sour Monkey is also returning for year two. The sour, Brettanomyces-infused Tripel is a transformation of Victory’s beloved and GABF Gold Medal award-winning brew, Golden Monkey. Sour Monkey combines juicy Tettnang and Hallertrau whole flower hops with Pilsner malt and coriander seed before adding the fun and funk of non-standard yeast varieties. These yeasts are known for their volatility and are often left out of the brewing process due to their hard to control nature. However, the brewers at Victory have harnessed the power of the yeast with a unique recipe, fermentation control, and final blending within the brewing process, to create exciting, savory nuances. With an ABV of 9.5%, Sour Monkey delivers a punch with the pure taste of Victory.

Available April 1 throughout Victory’s 37 state distribution footprint, Kirsch Gose’s suggested retail price for a 12 oz. four-pack is approximately $9.99, but varies upon location and is also available on draft. Sour Monkey will be available July 1 in 750 ml bottles and the suggested retail price is approximately $9.00 and is also available on draft. Use Victory’s Beerfinder to discover a nearby location, or download the free Victory Mobile app for Android or iPhone.

“We’re thrilled to bring back Kirsch Gose and Sour Monkey. We thought we had created two uniquely delicious ales and the customer response loudly echoed our belief,” said Victory’s Founder and Brewmaster, Bill Covaleski.

March 9, 2016

Bourbon County Stout: History Ever Since

Sharing another fun video from The Craft Beer Channel folks on one of my favorite brews:

"Jonny meets Goose Island's Innovation brewer Tim Faith to talk about the making of Goose Island Bourbon Country Stout, one of the best beers in the world.

But the beer is so good he tunes out for most of it."