The Firkin for August 2019

Before you do “hard” seltzer

Despite my anti-“hard” beverage stance, I am not against a brewery testing or going all in on seltzers, coffees and their ilk.  But I do hope that these breweries are sitting down and analyzing the decision before embarking on it. First though, you need to back up to before the brewery opened.

There will always be a tension between what the brewery wants to brew and what the customer wants to buy.  Finding a balance (the eye of the storm) in the middle is difficult.  It is made much easier if two questions are asked though:

What Kind of Brewery do we want to be? And What Do Our Customers Want?

The first is the more fun and easier of the two questions.  Customers wants are moving targets and hard-earned affection can be easily lost even if you do everything right. But if you are true to who you are, the fans will realize that even if only subconsciously.

So, if you want to jump on the “hard” seltzer train you need to ask, is it on point for your brand.  Can you bring your vibe to it?  Maybe you use local fruit, maybe you use herbs, maybe they are named after employees or customers.  Then, are your customers asking for it.  Maybe this is an annual summer fling, where you do a few during the hot months.  Or you have one seasonal seltzer on tap throughout the year.  Make sure though that this is being done for Customers and not for “customers”. 

The difference is that the former are your regulars, your unpaid cheerleaders.  The latter are there for a day or are social media trend.  This is not to imply that trends are to be avoided but you do need to strike that balance between chasing the new, new thing and creating that new, new thing.  It is painfully easy to spot when a product is launched to make money for the rest of the company to live on vs. a product that takes off and is actually part of a portfolio of drinks.  805 and Hazy Little Thing from Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada leap to mind.

This leads to one final question that needs to be asked and discussed.  What happens when the “hard” trend starts fading or when the market becomes glutted with the stuff.  Because both of those economic factors will happen.  The supply and demand will find their equilibrium and it will be lower.  Will making the “hardened” beverage still be worth it in those circumstances?  Or will your brewery already be onto the next trend?