Another brewery opens every fortnight in New Zealand, and it’s getting hard to tell them apart.
I interview a lot of brewers, and often ask a simple question – “What makes your brewery unique?”
And most of the time the response is the same – a bit of awkward silence, a furrowed brow, and “Good question”.
That’s not good enough. The market is too crowded for that.
Judging from the Beertown.NZ inbox, there are two or three new beer brands opening each month.
Drinks writer Jules van Costello estimates there are 190 brewing brands in New Zealand now. Jules should know – he’s currently producing the second edition of Brewed, his comprehensive guidebook listing each one of them. The first edition listed 142 brands, so that’s an increase of 48 beer brands in two years – exactly two per month.
From my perspective, many of these new entrants are just following the herd. They’ve seen what other brewers have done, tasted their beers, and expect to succeed by copying. They lack a distinct personality of their own, and if their tap badge fell off you’d have no idea whose IPA you were drinking.
Here’s a dozen factors that do not make your brewery unique:
- Your home brewing prize
- Your passion for great beer
- Teaming up with workmates/ friends to go pro while keeping the day jobs
- Your designer mate who did the logo
- You have a surname
- Some sort of ancient relative who made barrels/made beer/drank beer
- Your desire to be on the cutting edge and push exciting new styles
- Your core range of a pilsner, pale ale, IPA, Pacific ale and a kettle sour with fruit
- Your crisp IPA using US/NZ hops, pale malt, and 1056 yeast
- Your crisp pilsner using NZ hops, pilsner malt, and 1056 yeast
- Your kegs sell for $350 or less
So what’s the problem with following a flock that's heading in the right direction? It’s because customers need to trust your brewery before they will buy your beer.
Bars already have a long list of brewers who can reliably provide interesting beer on good terms of trade, with a brand their customers recognise. Drinkers themselves have no loyalty towards your new release. They might have curiosity, but the little loyalty craft beer fans show is to styles first, then brands, then possibly to a few favourite beers.
If your brewery is to succeed you’ll have to develop new customers’ interest and trust, and to do that you have to stand out from the flock. So before launching your new beer brand, ask yourself a simple question – “What makes my brewery unique?”
It doesn’t take much, but it should be something no other brewery can do and no competitor can take away from you. Here’s some suggestions:
- It’s the only brewery brewing in this bar
- We use unique ingredients/equipment/techniques
- We specialise in a style that isn’t IPA
- We specialise in styles from a particular country or region (bonus if you’re from there)
- Innovation? Possibly – you’ll be behind Yeastie Boys, Garage Project, Outlier Cartel and New New New in this queue. Are you better?
- Location? Temporarily. Wanaka Beerworks had a big chunk of the South Island to itself for years, but no longer. Make the most of it while you can, build other markets, and be financially prepared for competition.
Whatever it is, know what makes your venture unique. Don’t be a sheep – you will not succeed by copying people who got there before you.