What is Alarmist Brewing ?

I very recently hired my friend Kim Leshinski of Hail to the Ale fame to create the Alarmist Brewing brand. By "brand" I'm referring to more than just the logo, although that's a big piece of it and that will be Kim's primary focus during this iteration. The current logo was great as an identity to get out there, be seen, and help churn the waters for investors, banks, and future customers. It was always going to be a temporary logo and it has served its purpose well. My huge thanks goes out to Scott Olson who created it. Scott came up with the entire idea of the dynamite and the "Ka-boom" and those will both always be part of the Alarmist identity forever.

Alas, it's time to go far deeper into the identity of Alarmist Brewing. In order to do that, I have to provide Kim with a feel of what Panic is, where it's going to go, and how my personality will be a part of it. These and other intangibles will guide her as she creates the new Alarmist Brewing brand. That brand will find its way to beer cans, beer delivery trucks, tap handles, cans, shirts, hats, my scrotal tattoo, etc.

So I have homework to do for Kim and I decided that the homework would manifest itself as this blog post. Forgive me while I try to tease the Alarmist brand out of my head as I write this post. This could get interesting.

First, what does "brand" mean to me? Hmmmm. My corporate identity? Yes. The actual logo(s) and color palettes I'll be using for everything? Sure. But brand is much bigger than that. According to this site, brand means "the sum of all available information about a product, service or company". That's probably vastly over simplified, but I'm not a branding/marketing wonk, so that works for me for the purposes of this post.

And then there's something Kim and Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting like to talk about: "positioning". According to this site, brand positioning "enables a brand image and identity to instantly have meaning for consumers and differentiate it from competitor brands". I'm not sure that really captures the idea, but I suppose it's somewhere in the ballpark. Kim and Michael would also say that there's an emotional component of positioning as well. A connection that a person feels with a brand in a way that's most likely quite different than with any other.

Apple would definitely be that for me. I have a very strong emotional connection to Apple going back many years, well before the iMac even. We could go into that for hours (and debate it with Android lovers), but to me there's a very unique connection I feel with Apple that I have with no other brand of any kind. At the end of the day, it really comes down to the fact that I LOVE to use their products and I HATE using competitors products. There's an aesthetic, an elegance, and a simplicity that I find incredibly compelling with the MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, Mac OS X, iOS, Apple TV, etc. And the way they all integrate together seals the deal for me.

So how does Alarmist Brewing fit into this insane world of craft beer? Can Alarmist carve out an identity as distinct and sought after as Apple, but in the craft beer world? There are so many brands, many very unique and distinct. How does Alarmist carve its slice in the craft brewing landscape? Perhaps I should start with Alarmist Brewing's purpose. If I were to distill down all of the things that I think Panic is or will be I think it would have to be this:

Alarmist Brewing is about bringing joy to people. 

Probably not what you were thinking, eh? Me neither. I just thought of it myself. It's not just about making great tasting beer, but that's the most obvious way this "joy" would manifest (ok, it's a "mission statement", I just didn't want to sound all corporate buzzword bingo-y). We're also going to bring joy with humor and we're going to convey that humor through what we print on T-shirts, what we say during brewing tours, what we testify to during libel hearings, etc. I value humor in a person more than just about anything else and that will be a core part of the Alarmist Brewing DNA.

If I were to extend that "purpose statement", perhaps I would say:

Alarmist Brewing is about bringing joy to people by brewing delicious beer, fostering a hysterically funny and irreverent culture, and becoming an important part of the local/neighborhood/craft beer community.

Not bad. We can tweak that quite a bit, but it gets us in the ballpark. It is vitally important to note that although our culture will be irreverent (and antithetical to American corporate culture), no one will take beer flavor, quality, and consistency more seriously than Alarmist Brewing. That will also be part of our DNA from day one. We will constantly strive to iterate, iterate, and iterate to improve our recipes, processes, quality, and consistency for all of our beers at all times. Doesn't mean we can't have some fucking fun while we do it though.

Now it seems maybe the challenge for Kim is going to be how to meld this idea of joy, humor, dedication to the craft, and some fucking dynamite into a cohesive brand.

Glad I'm not the one doing it.



Ka-Boom: The Panic Brewing Brand Design

The best ideas are always taken. I didn't make a big deal about unveiling the Panic Alarmist Brewing logo/brand design when it was completed a couple of months ago. I've had the initial sketch and subsequent design updates as the cover photo on the Panic Alarmist Brewing Facebook page from the beginning. I did that because I wanted to get a visual identity out there as soon as possible. Having that identity adds a sense of legitimacy to the enterprise so I just went for it. Now that the first draft of the business plan is complete, I thought I'd discuss the design and my approach to it.

First, the complete design from soup to nuts was the brain child of G. Scott Olson. Scott is an ex-coworker and an extremely gifted web developer, specifically front end stuff like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS (which is also what I do for a living...for now). Scott has a wicked sense of humor and like me, has pursued improv comedy in a past life. He also does stand up comedy occasionally. As great as Scott is at technology, he's become more interested in design. It is this interest that motivated Scott to volunteer his design services to Panic.

When we first met, I really had no idea what I wanted. I mean none. I knew I wanted something with a sense of humor, which is a personality trait I cherish in myself in others, although I should point out that many times my wife wishes I'd cherish it quietly. The only direction I could point Scott in was what "Panic" meant to me: a sense of middle-aged urgency, making big changes in life, and the feeling I have every day when I work in corporate America. Now, how the hell do you make that humorous? Well, you have Scott do it, and man, he really nailed it.  Not only did he nail it, but he nailed quickly. The dynamite idea was one of his two original concepts and I liked it immediately.

As Scott fine tuned the design including colors, font, and layout, I started to think about the potential for the dynamite shtick (see what I did there, a great example of all the fun you can have with this). Tap handles? Fuck. Yes. An instantly recognizable symbol? Oh yeah. T-shirts with hilarious slogans? Yup. Then there's the "Ka-Boom". That was all Scott as well and it makes me laugh all the time. It's just silly but it goes so great with the identity. Fun, irreverent perhaps, but somehow serious. Really great stuff.

I definitely didn't spend a lot of time mulling over possible brand identities. My gut just told me the stuff Scott came up with was dead on. With the increasingly crowded craft beer marketplace, you can spend lots of money with professional branding firms coming up with all kinds of nifty logos and slogans. The problem is your nifty logo is getting lost in a sea of other nifty logos (and shitty ones). This is craft beer and getting folks to pay attention to your brand is important, but at the end of the day, it's about the beer, not the brand. Make great beer and your brand will be defined for you. The big guys only worry about brand, beer flavor comes second. We're craft beer and what we brew is our voice, not the logo, not the colors, nothing else. (Update 8/2/13 - I no longer completely agree with that previous sentence. Beer is important, but the brand will tell the story and bring people to the beer. The two go hand in hand.)

I'm not naive enough to think for a second that brand isn't important, especially as a brewery grows. It just seems to me that craft beer is starting to see a lot of gorgeously branded beers, with only mediocre results in the package. I'm of the thinking that we in America spend way too much time thinking about the brand and not the actual product. "Tommy Bahama" branded rum? How does it taste? Answer: yuck. FYI, Matusalem rum is MUCH better and cheaper, go check it out.

So that's the Panic Alarmist branding story and my philosophy on branding in craft beer. That and $2 will get you a cup of coffee.



Progress This Week

I've been incommunicado this week as I'm trying to power my way through the rest of the business plan, I've been doing research on a variety of topics, and I've been doing a lot of mulling in my head. Let's discuss. First, I'm still focusing on the marketing plan portion of the business plan. Because there's so much material there, I'll write a different post about all of that shortly, lots of good info to share.

Outsourcing Saves Money And Adds Excitement!

One of the main topics I researched this week is SBA backed loans. I've done more digging into that complicated world in order to have a better understanding of what my options are and to be able to speak intelligently with banks when the time comes. The SBA has many products with their "7(a)" loans being their most popular. But they also have another interesting loan product, the "504" loan. This loan has specific requirements for which is can be used but the one relevant to Panic Alarmist is that it can be used to purchase manufacturing equipment. The program involves participation by a bank, an SBA "Certified Development Company", and the SBA. Each entity takes on a portion of the risk. Very interesting program and I'll have much more to say about this in the very near future.

Also related to the SBA, I dug deeper into which banks do the most SBA lending in the Chicago area. Not every bank deals with SBA loans and there are some banks who do a lot of SBA loans which means they have a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of dealing with a large government agency. What did I find? The jackpot! Crain's Chicago Business has a list from 9/30/11 with the names of all the biggest Chicago SBA lenders, how much they've loaned, and how that amount compares to the previous year.  Wanna see it?  It's here (skip the ad by clicking the link in the top right corner).

So what am I mulling around in my head? Well, I'm a big fan of options. Options create mitigation of risk and they also provide solutions to potential problems and I'm a big fan of both of those things. What I'm thinking about is what makes the most sense financially: buying a canning line on day one or opening a retail store on day one? Canning line = $70,000+, retail store = ???+. Could I get the loan for the construction build out for the retail space? My guess is no, not for a start up (that collateral thing again). So can I get a loan to cover a canning line? Probably easier. But if I open a retail store instead and I have no canning line, then I'll be selling growler and keg only for awhile in the store and keg only out in the trade. No cans would severely limit my sale of beer initially but then I'd have the excellent revenue generation from the retail store...but with no cans. This is a catch-22.  I'll be creating another spreadsheet to dig into the retail store stuff and talking to some people who might know a bit more about this.  Ideally I'd like both the canning line and the retail store, but I'm not convinced that will happen on day one. This is what's been on my mind this week more than anything.  Guess what?  It's a problem and it will get solved.

Finally, the logo is in the final design stages. The colors are being tweaked a bit to better address color matching in the print world. More on that when it's 100% completed. I have some really talented people working on this and they're doing it for free, which means they will be VIP's at Panic Alarmist for life. As Panic Alarmist grows, I'll fully intend to be able to pay these same folks for their services in addition to all the beer they will have access to.


Tap Handles

I've had an idea for a custom beer tap handle swirling around in my head this week. I mentioned it briefly on my Facebook page then realized about an hour later that I had not actually talked to any tap handle vendors! Doh! I took care of that problem very quickly. I've spoken to two vendors thus far, TapHandles (duh) and Chrislan. (See update below). The chances are 100% that you've seen their tap handles in bars as they are the suppliers to just about any brewery you can think of. Marketing genius!

The way the custom tap handle process works is you provide the manufacturer with images of your logo or whatever you want and then tell them your story about what the brewery represents. They have artists/designers/sculptors who create initial designs and send you images. You go back and forth, up to a certain limit without incurring additional charges, and once the design is finalized, they make a mold, create a tap handle, and ship it to you to approve. Once you approve, they go into production. The entire process from submitting your images to delivery of your first shipment of tap handles ranges from 3-4 months.

The cost of all of this and minimum quantities differs a bit between the two vendors. First, TapHandles manufactures their tap handles from a heavy, durable plastic. Chrislan's are all ceramic. This difference is most apparent in the initial design pricing and minimum quantities. TapHandles charges around $1200-$1500 for the design and tooling. Chrislan charges around $2000. For both vendors, this one time fee is paid with the first order of tap handles, so it makes sense to order as many tap handles as you can in the first order to lower the price per unit. After the initial fee is paid, future orders are charged only for the handles. TapHandles has no minimum order but Chrislan has a minimum order of 200 pieces due to the ceramic manufacturing process. Both companies charge somewhere around $20-$25 per handle for the initial order but as mentioned previously, that cost goes down after the design and tooling charge is paid.

You can also order stock tap handles, which is great if you're on a really tight budget, but I think a good custom designed tap handle is an extremely important marketing tool and the costs are quite low compared to all the other equipment you have to buy in this business. Think about how many times you've gone into a bar, not sure what's available on tap. Maybe you look for the beer list, maybe you ask the bartender, or maybe you first take a gander at the taps. That's what I do on many occasions, especially if the beer list isn't readily viewable on a chalkboard or something. You know which tap handles get my attention? The ones mine are going to look like!


(Update 6/13/2012) I was contacted today by the sales manager for AJS Tap Handles after he read this post.  AJS is yet another well known tap handle vendor which I had read about on Probrewer.com but neglected to contact.  Apparently they are the largest tap handle manufacturer in the country and are based out of Random Lake, WI.  Their customers include Revolution, Bells, Harpoon, and many more.  Check out their Flickr photostream for lots of examples of their work.  I'll definitely be talking to them as I get closer to launch.)

Logo Design Update

I'm working with two friends on the logo design, Jared from Brew Camp, my new favorite homebrew store here in Chicago, and Scott who probably has a website, but I don't know what the hell it is.  For me, the logo design has kinda been on the back burner.  I've been stretched so many ways lately that I've placed its priority down the list.  I can't help but wonder how many breweries-in-planning out there already have their logos and packaging designed, but haven't taken the time to find out how much a glycol chiller costs.  Probably a lot.  I'm taking care of the big stuff first. Well, the big stuff is almost taken care of.  I need a logo, I need a color palette to bling out this website, and I want an Oompa Loompa now!  With my trip to San Diego for the Craft Beer Conference fast approaching, I'd like to have some nice looking business cards to hand out so that it at least appears that I know what I'm doing.  So where are we?  Well, we are actually getting somewhere.  I met with Jared and Scott on Monday, April 2nd to begin the process in earnest.  The single biggest problem with the whole process is....me.  I don't really know what I want.  I know what I like, I think I have a good sense of aesthetics – despite being from Indiana – and I know what I don't like, but the amount of direction I've been able to give is minimal.  To make up for that, Jared and Scott have been able to slowly peel away the onion and get us moving in a direction I like thus far.  Today I received an email from Scott with some very cool ideas and the three of us were able to make some decisions on direction via email.  That's a great feeling.

Hide your women and children...from my children!

Now, a few days ago, I had the idea to ask my children, Gavin (8) and Declan (5) if they could come up with a design for me.  I thought that perhaps their unbridled childish imaginations could beget some creativity in me.  The first thing Declan said was, "Can it be Star Wars?".  Guess what his obsession is.  Gavin, on the other hand, thought about it for about a minute, grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, and he was off.  The thumbnail image on the left is a link to the full size image.  I like several of the things he came up with including the viking (what instills "panic" more than a drunken viking raid?) and the way he spanned the "i" to cover both "Panic" and "Brewing".  I suggested he turn the "i" into an exclamation point, and he loved that idea.

I don't know if anything will come from his drawing, but we'll leave it up here just in case.  It would be fun to see the genesis of the final design.  More importantly, I think a bigger lesson here is:  you just never know where an idea is going to come from, so don't dismiss anything too hastily – it may cause you to lose out on a drunken viking raid, and that would be a loss for everyone...except the village being raided of course.