Brooklyn Brewery was founded in 1987 by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter. It is now the #12 craft brewer in the US (according to figures from the Brewers Association based on 2015 beer sales volume).
Johan Bunner, head of Europe, Brooklyn Brewery, spoke at Canadean’s International Beer Strategies Conference in Brussels last week, outlining the issues that craft brewers have to consider as they grow.
Brooklyn Navy Yard
This week Brooklyn Brewery announced it will take up residence in Building 77 in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard, opening a brewery, offices and 'truly massive beer garden on the roof' by early 2018.
It will retain its Williamsburg home.
Brooklyn Brewery is still planning to expand brewery operations to Staten Island as well.
"Once we harness all of our brewhouses, we will be able to send forth even more Brooklyn Brewery beers across the country and around the world," said the brewery.
Home brewing inspiration
In 1984, Hindy ended a five-and-a-half-year tour as Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press. During his time in the Middle East, he had befriended avid home brewers and, on moving to Brooklyn, founded his own brewery with his neighbor, Potter.
The brewery’s beers are now sold in 25 US states and in 20 countries.
1. Quality and consistency
Small brewers can work with small variations in the taste of their brews, said Bunner. However, a bigger, more mainstream audience demands consistency.
“Beer needs to taste the same week after week after week, this is a big challenge for many brewers,” he said. “And also as you increase your geographic reach, you need to consider what happens with quality – what happens when you have to send beers from US to Europe.”
2. Capability building
Craft brewers may start with just 5-10 people, and be a relatively simple business to run. As a brewery grows, it becomes a more complicated body to organize, said Brunner.
“It comes to a stage where you have more than 100 people and you don’t know everyone’s names any more. You need to actually embrace some of the things you were fighting at the beginning and rebelling against – you don’t like policies and procedures but you get to the stage where you need to take these into consideration.
“You need to give people careers, train them, and so on.”
A growing brewery will need to find more space to brew larger volumes. But expanding is more complicated than that, said Bunner.
“It goes without saying, if you're successful you’re going to grow out of your capacity, you need to grow more capacity and expand.
“But it’s not only that: If you increase your geographic reach, you need to consider if its OK just to stay where you are and brew at one location. Or does it makes sense to start brewing at another location? So we’ve seen a lot of West Coast brewers in the US actually open up facilities on the East Coast.”
These can be hard choices for craft brewers, said Bunner: on the one hand a brewery has to consider its local fans, but also the impact larger distribution could have on quality and logistics.
“It’s a tough choice you face as you become bigger,” he added.
Craft brewers who grow are going to become more dependent on the people around them - whether this is suppliers, distributors, or alliances with fellow craft brewers. And there are also craft brewers who have been acquired by larger companies.
From Brooklyn to Scandinavia
A series of collaborations has opened up opportunities for the brewery both at home and abroad: for example, Carlsberg assumed responsibility for distributing Brooklyn beers in Scandinavia in 2003. In 2014 Brooklyn Brewery and Carlsberg opened their joint venture brewery Nya Carnegie in Stockholm, and a second joint venture is being created in the E.C. Dahls Brewery in Norway.
For Brooklyn Brewery it’s ‘super important’ to them to stay independent, but the brewery does use partnerships to help it expand, said Bunner.
“It’s a choice you need to make if you want to grow,” he said. “For a lot of craft brewers, growth is not maybe the number one priority, they want to stay small.”
5. Maintaining authenticity
And such partnerships need to be chosen carefully to maintain the brand’s authenticity and reputation, said Bunner.
“Most craft brands are really dependent on authenticity, we are for sure, how do you keep that as you grow bigger and are dependent on other people to sell your beers?” he said. “You need to make sure you have people who protect the brand, you need to be sure that distributors and people selling your beers really know what they’re selling.”