Category Archives: Opinion

Brewery in Planning: Pitkin Point

This article is part of a series called “So you want to start a craft brewery?” organized by the Mass Brew Bros. Five separate articles published on different blogs will profile a local brewery in planning, and then a final article will cover what the authors have learned about the challenges of opening a brewery in Massachusetts. I will add links for all of the articles in the series to the end of this piece as they go live, so check back in or follow on social media.

Pitkin Point logoAfter more than a decade as an acclaimed home brewer, Pitkin Point co-founder Tayler Pitkin is excited to share his beer with a wider audience. While he has two additional co-founders who are committed to helping out with finance and operations, Tayler is essentially Pitkin Point. He will be the head brewer, run the business and even self-distribute the beer to start. He still has a number of hurdles to clear before the brewery begins operations, applications for a federal license are processing now and they will be followed by a massive amount of paperwork to receive the appropriate licenses from the state. Once those hurdles are cleared he hopes to provide local drinkers with a stable of flavorful ales, ranging from hop-bomb IPAs to rich and malty stouts.

Pitkin Point is planning to start as a contract brewery, the beer will be produced at an existing brewery (he is not yet at liberty to divulge where) and packaged for distribution to local bars, restaurants and bottle shops. Tayler and his family live in Carlisle, and he had initially hoped to open a full taproom in town, something that his community doesn’t have. Unfortunately he had issue finding a good space for a brewery. Most breweries are built in established industrial lots, usually repurposed mills, factories or warehouses. One of the reasons many residential-focused communities don’t have their own breweries is that these types of buildings don’t exist. Starting as a contract brewer has many advantages, there is a much lower start-up cost both in money and time, and it allows the brewery to establish the brand before committing to a taproom. He hopes to establish relationships with the brewery where he contracts, using the expertise of the brewers at the facility to enable seamless scale up of his developed homebrew recipes into production levels.

Pitkin Point The Doctor

One of the big issues that contract brewers can face is that they don’t get the immediate community that a taproom can generate for a new brewery. People feel an immediate connection to a brewery in their town and want to help it succeed. Tayler wants Pitkin Point to be Carlisle’s brewery and has a number of plans to make this happen without having a taproom at launch. He is hoping to set up pop-up or seasonal beer gardens in Carlisle featuring Pitkin Point beers, similar to what Trillium did on the Greenway this summer. These beer gardens will help introduce the beers to people in town and allow Tayler to receive feedback directly from his customers.

Pitkin Point is going to emphasize family heritage, each beer is named after a specific ancestor and includes a story about the inspiration for the beer. One of the flagship beers will be The General, a New England style IPA named after one of Tayler’s ancestors who was quartermaster general for the army of the Potomac. Another beer, The Doctor, is a brown ale brewed with local honey and named for Tayler’s grandfather. A rotating IPA called The Immigrant will feature a new hop profile with every batch, and is named in honor of the first Pitkin ancestors to immigrate to the US. The beers are not available for sale yet, and won’t be until the proper licenses are acquired, but Tayler has been scaling and perfecting the recipes and sharing the beers with interested drinkers, creating some positive buzz for the brewery.

Pitkin Point the general

Pitkin Point is also planning on releasing a cider named Hunter Cove. Hunter Cove is a tart cider made from wild apples and yeast sourced from Hunter Cove Cabins in Rangely, Maine, which is owned by Tayler’s in-laws, keeping with the family stories that drives the beers. This release will make Pitkin Point one of a small number of breweries that also make their own cider. This cider is slightly tart, dry, flavorful and very easy drinking, it should appeal to cider fans and as well as beer fans looking to branch out. When Pitkin Point is able to open a taproom or beer garden many visitors will appreciate having a cider option in addition to the variety of beers.

With the increasing competitive market for local brewers there are a few key factors that lead to success. The first is obviously to brew amazing beer. Outside of that it is important to develop a cohesive and interesting brand, tell a good story and build a community of support. It sounds like Pitkin Point is off to a good start, it will be interesting to watch as they take the next steps and start selling their beer in the near future!

Advertisements

Hoppy Boston Heads into 2018

The New Year is always a good time for some reflection on the past year and planning for the next, so I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick re-cap of 2017 on Hoppy Boston and set up a few things for 2018. I want to start by thanking everyone who regularly reads the blog, and my followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I have met an awesome community of beer fans through the blog and social media, and the interaction with others is what keeps me excited to continue writing Hoppy Boston.

cropped-hoppy-boston-1.jpgThe biggest change on the blog this year was definitely the new logo. I’ve been hoping to develop a professional looking logo for a while and finally took the plunge this year. I’m happy with how it came out and got great feedback. I’m planning on pasting this logo onto every piece of relevant merchandise I can think of, I already did stickers and glassware. The first batch of the stickers flew, but I got in more of the same, so anyone who is interested in a Hoppy Boston sticker (no charge) just send a email to ryan.brawn80@gmail.com with your address and “sticker” in the subject line and I will send you one.

I am trying to mix up the blog and include more different types of articles, from news about local breweries to opinion pieces. I started the random beer thoughts/links articles at the end of 2016 but it became a blog staple this year. I typically post it on the last Thursday of the month, with a collection of links to the most interesting beer writing I come across that month and other news, notes and opinions. The articles have been very well received, they are always amongst my most viewed article of a given month. You can find the log of monthly links articles HERE.

I don’t do a best beers of the year article because I recap the best beers I reviewed every 3 months, you can find the quarterly summaries HERE. While I am doing more diverse blog posts beer reviews are still in heavy rotation, with a goal of identifying the best beers being brewed in the region and passing along my recommendations. The most popular beer reviews of 2017 (based on number of page views) were the dual review of Hipster Apocalypse and Liquid Rapture from buzzy Maine brewery Mason’s Brewing and my review of Vermont standout Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids. No surprise that IPAs reign supreme. My most popular opinion article was a recent post questioning whether large and mid-sized breweries can have success brewing New England style IPAs. I think this question will be answered in 2018 when breweries like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada try to mass produce and distribute this style.

Looking ahead to 2018 I have some fun stuff planned for the blog. I am working with some other local beer writers on a series of collaboration articles. I have a special beer-related scientific study in progress right now that you’ll be able to read about this summer. The monthly links column will continue along with reviews of the best beers I come across and a variety of other articles relevant to the constantly changing local beer scene. My goal is to keep Hoppy Boston informative and entertaining, I hope I am doing a reasonable job. My life is going to get even more crazy in 2018, but I am hoping to do a little more traveling around New England and spend more time writing about less-heralded breweries and beer styles. I am always open to ideas, so if there is anything else you’d like to see on Hoppy Boston leave me a message here or on social media. Thank you again for making 2017 another great year for the blog, and I look forward to more fun exploring the world of local beer in 2018!

Cheers!

Ryan

 

The Perfect Holiday Gift for the Beer Geek in Your Life

Xmas

We have hit mid-December, the days are counting down towards Christmas and I’m sure I’m not the only one that still has a significant amount of Christmas shopping to do. It seems like every website has stock articles about “The perfect gift for the (insert name of hobby/interest) enthusiast in your life”, and beer is certainly no exception. I try to be original, so I think you will find my list to be a bit different than most. Since I imagine most of my blog followers are beer geeks themselves, feel free to pass this along to anyone struggling to pick a gift out for you. Here is my list for the perfect gift for the beer geek in your life:

  1. Beer

That is it, full list. Everything on those other lists is somewhat misguided. Brewing supplies and equipment are great for a home brewer, but they are probably very particular about what they would like (gift cards to a homebrew shop are totally OK). If you think your favorite beer fan might try their hand at homebrewing, but they haven’t explicitly expressed interest, you’re probably wrong. Brewing quality beer takes a lot of time and hard work, it’s easy to love beer but have no desire to make it yourself. Glassware and bottle openers are fine, but most beer fans have more than they need, and they like the experience that goes along with acquiring new glasses. Same goes for shirts/hats/other brewery gear. And don’t get me started on shirts that glorify getting hammered, unless your favorite beer geek is still a college frat boy those are inappropriate. This is true for most “novelty” beer products, great for dorm rooms, not for adults. The hardest exclusion from my list are beer books, I always want to support quality beer writing. If you decide to go that route just make sure you are buying quality books (if you don’t know ask someone who does). That 8-year-old “100 greatest beers” book on the shelf at TJ Maxx definitely doesn’t qualify.

Treehouse and BeerdJust because my list is short doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. Do you know a big Tree House fan who hates waiting in line? Maybe head out yourself and get them some fresh beer for the holiday week. You can also reach out to friends in other cities and have them send local standouts with limited distribution. Many quality bottle shops offer gift cards, which are always great for a beer fan on a limited budget. If you prefer experiences to physical gifts make an offer to be a designated driver to your beer enthusiast and a couple friends for a Saturday afternoon full of brewery visits. My wife did this as a birthday present one year and we had a blast. So skip the novelty cooler bags and bottle openers that make crude noises when used, and buy your favorite craft beer fan the one thing they really want for the holidays, some delicious beer!

Thoughts on Sam Adams and the Red Sox

The big news in local (and probably national) beer today was that Sam Adams has signed a deal to be the official beer of the Boston Red Sox, replacing AB-InBev and their flagship beer Budweiser. This makes Sam Adams the first craft brewery to be the official beer of a major professional sports team, although many other regional breweries have a significant relationship with their local teams. The right field roof deck at Fenway is changing it’s Budweiser sign to a Sam Adams sign, and the beer will be available throughout the park. Here is Sam Adams official release, and a great summary of the deal from BrewBound. I have a few quick thought on the deal myself:

Fenway

I love going to games and concerts at Fenway, but the beer selection has typically been terrible. It has been getting a little better over the last few years, and hopefully this is a big step in the right direction. Hopefully some of the Bud and Goose Island kiosks are now pouring Sam Adams. I also hope they offer a variety of beer styles, I’ll be disappointed if every tap is Boston Lager and Summer Ale. This seems like a great venue for Noble Pils and Rebel IPA, solid beers that would be an upgrade over many that are offered at the park.

Sam Adams 26.2

That being said, I would be really disappointed if Sam Adams uses this influence to push other craft breweries out of Fenway. I’ve recently enjoyed selections from Harpoon, Smuttynose, Wachusett and Jack’s Abby at Fenway and I’ve seen some other local options. There is no way the Red Sox are completely booting Bud, Miller and Coors, so they should keep the other craft options around too.

I hope this represents a change in strategy for the Sam Adams brand. They have had a well documented decline in sales, and have been trying many things to make up for the lost revenue. Instead of trying to win back the hardcore beer geeks Sam Adams should be courting marco drinkers, especially the people who enjoy the “crafty” offerings from big beer. The people waiting in line at Tree House every weekend aren’t going to buy Sam Adams mix packs instead, but macro beer still controls a major share of the market and Sam Adams can potentially sell them on a more flavorful option.

It is interesting that after so many years focusing on it’s national brand Sam Adams has focused on reestablishing it’s roots in Boston. First they finally opened a full service taproom in the city and now they are spending a significant sum of money to establish a major presence in one of the most iconic locations in the city. With craft beer becoming more and more focused on local brands, so it is interesting to see Sam Adams finally invest in Boston as their hometown. I am not sure how much of a dent these changes will make in the bottom line, but I think the taproom will be a success and they will sell plenty of beer at the park.

What do you all think of Sam Adams setting up a marketing deal with the Sox? How does this effect your attitude towards the brand going forward? Are you going to drink some Sam as you watch the Sox this summer? Let me know here or on social media!

Why Social Media is Critical for Breweries.

A couple weeks ago Carla Jean Lautner (@beerbabe) started a twitter discussion on the importance of every brewery having a functional and informative website. Lots of great points were made and it led me to think about all of the pieces that go into a brewery’s presence online. While I agree that a website full of information is crucial, it is also very important for a brewery to set up and maintain active accounts on social media platforms. Social media is an amazing (and mostly free) marketing tool. if it wasn’t for social media I doubt that anyone outside of a few of my friends would ever read Hoppy Boston. in theory social media is easy, customers like your beer, or are interested in learning more, they follow your accounts on different platforms and it allows the brewery to keep these customers updated and engaged in the brand. Obviously brewing great beer is the most important thing, but success engaging with customers in person and online will be crucial as the marketplace becomes more crowded.

Some breweries do an amazing job on their social media accounts. Allagash has a steady stream of beautiful pictures that accompany information about their beers and events at the brewery. TreeHouse is so popular that could probably release their beers at 2 AM on Tuesdays and still attract massive lines, but they are still very engaged with their customers on all social media accounts and keep people well informed on release schedules and wait times. Other breweries are MIA, the accounts either don’t exist or they haven’t been touched in months. Here are a few necessities for every brewery on social media, feel free to suggest anything I’ve missed.

1. Have the necessary accounts:

Every brewery should have a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter account. It is amazing that a significant number of breweries don’t have all of these. I don’t see the use of LinkedIn (at least to communicate with customers), Snapchat or Tinder for breweries, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I imagine there are other social media networks that I’m not privy to (these things make me feel a little old), but these “big three” seem to be the absolute minimum. Beer rating sites like Untappd are a different beast, I know they are important, but I am not counting them for this exercise. Just having the accounts isn’t enough, every brewery should have an employee who regularly posts on all three accounts and responds to comments and questions posted by others.

2. Have a designated person who runs social media accounts:

Bigger craft breweries tend to have a designated person in their marketing group that exclusively handles social media. A small start-up brewery probably can’t afford to hire a designated marketing person, but there should be one person in the group who takes on this role to start. This person should devote a portion of every day to the accounts, posting news, reminding people of beer releases or other special events, and most importantly interacting with customers. Social media allows direct and constant access to your customer base, and allows the brewers to get feedback on everything they put out. Building these positive online relationships can lead to repeat customers, and satisfied customers spread the good word to their friends, which leads to new customers.

3. Take good pictures:

It’s pretty awesome that we all carry phones in our pockets that come with solid cameras, you can capture any aspect of your life with a picture at any time (good God, am I glad that wasn’t true when I was in college, missed this by a couple years). While these pictures are fine, you can really tell when a talented photographer has taken picture with a high quality camera. Inevitably some of the day-to-day pictures in a brewery will be taken with phones, but every brewery should make an effort to engage a trained photographer to take professional pictures of their facility and their beer. There is no excuse for stock photos on the website or social media accounts. Chefs always say that people eat with their eyes first, and the same can be said with beer, quality pictures get you excited to try the beer.

4. On Facebook:

The brewery Facebook account should have all of the general information from the website (location, hours, etc.) but your Facebook page is NOT a replacement for a website. Posts should be frequent, but shouldn’t overwhelm the news feeds of your followers. Daily updates that include which beers are available and other special events are encouraged. Facebook is great for brewery events, you can invite all of your followers and their friends will be able to see when they respond “yes”, potentially attracting new customers.

5. On Twitter:

Twitter allows for much more regular updates, but it is important to do twitter specific posts instead of just sharing links to your Facebook account. The key to twitter is engaging with your followers. You don’t need to retweet every positive Untappd check-in (actually, please don’t do that), but it takes minimal effort to hit the like button when a customer says they love your beer, and a quick “thanks” takes just a little more time. Whomever is in charge of the twitter account should also regularly respond to questions and know when and where the beers they are talking up will be available. Twitter is also a good place for people to reach out with a QC issue, but don’t rehash the whole issue on Twitter for everyone to see, just pass along an e-mail or do it through DM.

6. On Instagram:

Instagram is pretty easy. Take cool pictures of your beer and your brewery and then share them. When others post cool pictures of your beer click the like button and say thank you. It’s also another good place to share beer release/special event info, but the key is quality photography that will catch people’s eyes.

Those are my key points, running successful social media accounts isn’t that hard, and the effort it takes will pay for itself between feedback that improves the quality of your product and the relationships you build that turn occasional customers into regulars. Plus, anytime the occasional negativity of beer social media gets you down just spend a little time on pages where people are arguing about politics and you will feel much better (about beer debates, not about the state of the world). Cheers!

Can mid- and larger sized craft brewers find success with NEIPA?

The buzz around cloudy, juicy New England style IPAs keeps growing, and while many beer snobs (and quite a few brewers) continue to dismiss the style as a fad there is no denying that a huge market has developed for this sub-style. Follow a bunch of local beer geeks on Instagram or Untappd and it will look like a majority of beers they consume are hazy and heavily dry-hopped. I knew that the NEIPA buzz had reached another level when a buddy of mine who drinks far more Coors Light than anything else was raving about TreeHouse Green. The popularity of the style has attracted the attention of breweries that you wouldn’t associate with hazy and hoppy beers. Shipyard, a brewery known for traditional British Ales brewed with the distinctive Ringwood yeast strain, now has a new NEIPA that is getting positive reviews. Even Sam Adams, a brewery that resisted the IPA revolution for many years, has announced that they are producing a hazy, juicy IPA starting in 2018. It is no surprise that so many breweries are throwing their hats into this ring, but the question remains, will these bigger breweries have success with this style?

Trillium Melcher StThe New England IPA craze has been fueled almost entirely by small breweries with limited or no distribution. If you look at the breweries that popularized the style, The Alchemist, Trillium, Treehouse, Bissell Brothers and Other Half are good examples, they sell the vast majority of beer on-site and very soon after it’s packaged. This limited distribution has driven demand, follow any of those breweries on social media and you’ll get a deluge of stories about wait times, long lines and per-person purchase limits. If people are willing to jump through these hoops for this beer style, doesn’t it stand to reason that a larger brewer without the same production and distribution constraints could sell a massive amount of NEIPA?

There are a number of advantages bigger breweries have as they begin to produce New England IPAs. The biggest advantage is the economy of scale, bigger breweries should be able to make the beers on scale and then sell them at a lower price point, which is huge when many small batch NEIPAs are routinely over $20/4 pack. These breweries also have the distribution apparatus in place to get the beers right onto the shelves soon after they are packaged. An advantage that is easy to forget is the big hop contracts large breweries sign, they should have no issues buying large lots of sought after hop varieties (this is an under-rated issue for small breweries who can’t scale their homebrew recipes due to a lack of specific hops). I think we’ll see large increases in acreage planted with Mosaic, Citra and Galaxy hops. These larger breweries typically employ talented brewers who should be able to develop recipes that are competitive with some of the better beers on the market. I assume these beers can scale, I’m not a professional brewer but I would be interested to hear if anyone with more experience in the field thinks this will be an issue.

There are also a few big disadvantages that larger breweries face when they try to compete in the NEIPA space. The biggest one is making sure their consumers buy and drink fresh beer. These beers have notoriously short shelf lives, and just because they reach the shelves fresh doesn’t mean they are still at peak flavor and aroma when they are purchased and consumed. I’ve already seen a number of NEIPAs from mid-sized breweries that have clearly been sitting on the shelves well past their peak. This is a huge advantage to small breweries, who sell the majority of beer onsite within days of packaging, so customers are always purchasing it at peak freshness. The other issue is buzz. There is a well established psychological phenomenon where people enjoy a food/beverage more when they think it’s rare, expensive or highly regarded. One of my big goals with this blog was to find readily available beers that are just as good as the whalez people wait in line for. While I think it’s been a success, the user ratings on crowd-sourced beer sites are still heavily skewed towards rare beers from a select subset of breweries. While bigger breweries can fight back on value there is no chance they will attract the same buzz as releases by TreeHouse or Bissell Brothers. The freshness and buzz issues can go hand in hand too. I read two reviews of a new NEIPA from a regional brewery, one reviewer loved the beer and the other completely trashed it. It might be a difference in personal preference, but I wonder if the writer who trashed the beer was drinking a batch that was past it’s prime.

Wachusett WallySo, back to the big question, can larger brewers be successful making NEIPA? I’m tempted to just say we’ll see, but what fun is that? I think a few will find success, the beers won’t be the envy of beer traders or cause people to stand in lines, but they will sell well and turn a good profit. I think Wachusett Wally is already a success story and the delicious NEIPAs from Springdale are ramping up production with an eye on distribution. I also think many will fail, and some will fail miserably. Some of the beers will be lower quality, or the breweries will do a poor job keeping fresh beer on the shelves and consumers will be ignored these brews in favor of other options. I also think the glut of these beers on the market will be a problem, Sam Adams isn’t going to convert Trillium drinkers, they are going to compete for marketshare with other mid-sized and large breweries making large batches for distribution. The competition is a good thing for consumers in theory, but it will probably mean more old and mediocre beer sitting on store shelves. It will be interesting to see how long the NEIPA phenomenon lasts, I think some of the popular breweries will still make the style for a long time, but the trend chasers will move away from it quickly. Regardless, I love my hazy, fruity, low bitterness IPAs, and I am really interested to see more breweries tackle the style! If you get overwhelmed by the number of options keep tabs on Hoppy Boston and I’ll try to review as many as I can. Cheers!

Cross-blog: Short Brews Question #1

This is a new type of article for Hoppy Boston, where I’ll pose a question and provide my answer as well as the answer of another beer writer. For the first question I’ve enlisted the help of beer blogger Thomas Short from ShortBrews.com. We are planning to make this a series, so feel free to pass along potential questions of give your own take in the comments or on social media. While you are at it, give Short Brews a like on facebook or a follow on twitter @short_brews. Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think of the new article style

What is an under-rated/underappreciated beer style that you really enjoy?

Allagash SaisonRyan (HoppyBoston.com): I proposed this question and had an answer in mind before I asked it. My favorite under appreciated style is definitely the saison. I understand why some people shy away from the style, I wasn’t a fan of the flavors imparted by Belgian yeasts when I first started drinking craft beer and it took a while for me to come around, but now saisons are one of my favorite beer styles. The yeast is the key to a great saison, the expressive Belgian and French saison strains can add a whole host of flavors, fruity, spicy, funky even a little sour, or some combination. After that the style is pretty wide open. The saison style started in farmhouses across Belgium and France, the beers were brewed for the farm workers, so the malt and hop bills can cover a wide range. This gives a brewer a lot of latitude as they design their beer, and American breweries have taken advantage. I’ve tasted saisons as dark as a stout or as hoppy as an IPA. My personal favorite twist on the style mixes late doses of fruity new world hops with the expressive yeast. For a while I thought hoppy saisons would be the “next IPA”, but it didn’t really happen (FWIW, there is no “next IPA”, I don’t think any beer style will hit that height of popularity). So if you haven’t given saisons a try in a while I highly recommend putting down the hop bomb IPA and boozy imperial stout and trying some Belgian ales. If you need some recommendations I am happy to help!

Aeronaut Robot Crush

Thomas (ShortBrews.com) The only answer I can give is the classic pilsner. Anyone who has been reading ShortBrews lately knows that I’ve been on a big lager kick, and I feel like some people might have gotten the impression that I don’t like lagers which is not the case. I don’t like many lagers, but I love a good pilsner – specifically Czech-style since pilsners hail from Plzen, modern-day Czech Republic. It’s a perfect lighter beer (not to be confused with “light” or “lite”), but it doesn’t lack in flavor. The crispness is perfect for the fall, the same season when I fell in love with pilsners when I (here come the name drops) went to Prague after enjoying pilsners at Oktoberfest. They should have a nice, golden color, a crisp feel, and just enough malt to complement the hop flavor. As the leaves change and the air cools, I highly recommend drinking a nice pilsner with your football. For a ready-to-go pilsner, check out Pilsner Urquell or your local German-style beer hall. Europe does these right!