America’s craft beer scene has enjoyed rapid growth in recent years. Everywhere you look, there seems to be another craft brewery opening up or in the planning stages. The options at stores reflect this growth as well, with a seemingly limitless array of craft beer options, even at certain grocery stores.
Texas has watched its craft beer industry expand in several directions and one of the newer players in the game happens to be opening up in Austin under the guidance of another established operation, Adelbert Brewing. The new company is called Naughty Brewing and it plans to brew beers with a penchant for being a little naughty, but also quite nice. I had a chance to converse with Naughty Brewing owner James Vaello and got his take on his company and the state of the brewing industry in general. Here are my questions and his responses to each:
What was the inspiration for the recipe behind your first beer, I Think She Hung the Moon?
My inspiration for I Think She Hung the Moon was initially a homebrewed response to a collaboration brew by one of the nation's largest craft breweries. I found the saison to be dark, not smokey, and a muddle of tastes. I thought I would try my hand at it and decided to add Grains of Paradise, Hibiscus and Mexican Piloncillo Sugar. I named the beer "The Perfect Answer to the Perfect Crime". That first keg of it was quickly consumed as my friends and I realized how delicious it was. Knowing I wanted a beer that would make a bold statement and be able to hold up on the shelf to age well, while we built the brand, it seemed like the perfect first choice. You can't verily put yet another IPA on the shelf and have a lackluster first review based on a product that has been sitting around.
How did the relationship with Adelbert Brewing begin?
I met Scott Hovey when I worked for a large Houston based liquor chain. My wife and I were in Austin, had just left the O'Henry Pun Off which we attend annually, and I mentioned that I wanted to go visit a brewery or two. Knowing Adelbert's Triple B and Philosophizer well and recommending it to many of my customers, it seemed like the right place to visit. Little did I know how inviting and thankful they would be when I told them I sold a lot of their beers. I mentioned my thoughts of opening a brewery and after some time talking, Scott Hovey mentioned that I could brew my beers there. I guess I earned some trust in that initial conversation. We finally reached an agreement a couple of months after that.
Do you foresee opening and running Naughty Brewing as a fully functional, independent brewery? If so, where/when?
Absolutely! Our agreement is for two years with Adelbert's. We intend to use the opportunity to build our brand, learn the industry and prepare sales data for potential investors. Hopefully after 9-18 months we'll be able to have a viable product that investors will feel confident investing in and allow us some leverage to set the terms of our agreement. We will continue to brew with Adelbert's as long as they'll have us until we get the groundwork laid for opening a brewery in our hometown of San Antonio TX.
Will your brewery focus on a specific niche style or will you be open to whatever catches your interest?
I am not sure that we will settle into a niche. I have brewed many styles of beer in my 10 years of homebrewing. I really enjoy tackling a style, adding my own touch and getting folks to try it. I learn something with every batch and take criticism to heart. You can't please all the people all the time, so you must give them options.
Beer sales overall have slipped in the past few years, but craft beer continues to remain strong. What do you think the big brewers will do to improve sales and market share?
We've already seen their response. Macro beer thought that if they changed the package size, bottle or presentation of their beer, that they would be able to hold onto their shelf space and keep consumers interested. Take for example the American light beer, in order to maintain shelf space, they have a dizzying array of package sizes and container types, all containing the same tasteless contents. When I maintained a beer department, I refused many of the repetitive or useless package sizes and saved space for craft brewers. It drove my distributors bonkers when I refused to give. There have also been launches of Crafty Beer companies with no mention of their parent owners on their packaging. It's deceptive to the consumer in my opinion to hide who you really are. Our job is to educate the consumers.
Do you see the craft beer revolution continuing at such breakneck speed, or is a slowdown imminent?
There will be more expansion, but the pace is going to slow. Unfortunately, the consumer is in the mode of the seeking out the next great thing. Shelf space and tap handles are limited and I feel there will be some dirty tactics that start to come out in the competition for space. There will be some breweries, underfunded or badly run, that are likely to close. All new breweries need to realize that growth by territory acquisition does not always ensure success.
What does a craft brewer need to do in order to distinguish itself and succeed in such a competitive market overflowing with options?
I see a lot of brand loyalty regionally. It's something you can always count on if you brew great beer and are active in your community. Sure we'd all like to be the next great nationally distributed brand, but reality is you might never make it outside of your stomping grounds. You have to be present, you have to be adaptive, and you must keep your consumers engaged, educated and excited about your next releases.
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