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.



Let's Package It, Market It, And Call It A Product!

I'm still working on the marketing plan portion of the business plan. Specifically, I've been focused on the competitive analysis. One of the key parts of a marketing plan (which is one of the key parts of a business plan) is the competitive analysis. For me, that means letting potential lenders know that I've done my research and I know how I will compete in an increasingly crowded market. What's in my competitive analysis? Well, I've tried to answer these questions: Who will Panic Alarmist compete with? Local, regional, and national craft breweries. I've listed all the Chicago production craft breweries with a few sentences on who they are, what beers they produce, and a bit of their history including their growth if I know it.


How will Panic Alarmist compete against AB-InBev, MillerCoors, and "premium" imports? Shock Top/Blue Moon are simply gateway beers to bring those who drink shit beer into the loving fold of real craft breweries. Their main products such as Bud Light are bleeding market share to craft beer (and wine, spirits, and nasty flavored alcoholic drinks), so not a real concern. Overpriced imports like Corona or Heineken provide excellent opportunities for craft beer. People who are already paying a premium for flavorless beers (except for their lightstruck skunkiness) are already willing to pay for a better product, they just need to be led to an actual better product. 

How will Panic Alarmist compete with all of these and all the new breweries coming? Flavor, localness, freshness, authenticity, and unique beers (at least in this market, hopefully). A future retail store creates an amazing marketing opportunity. Packaging and tap handle design will be very distinct which will be important, but not nearly as important as the beer. A nice blurb on how local craft breweries help each other out despite being competitors.

What will be unique about Panic's (now named Alarmist) marketing? Porn.  I'll provide complimentary access to the secret porn section of my website with every 1/2 bbl of Panic Alarmist beer you buy. Pretty innovative, eh?! Hold on, my wife is calling me. Be right back......Ok, apparently there will be no porn offerings. Well, now I'm completely screwed, so to speak. Ok, well I'll focus a bit on my web and social media background but more importantly I'll go into some ideas I have that I feel will be pretty unique. Those are a secret for now ;-).

So that's an overview of how I'm addressing this important component of the business plan. It's so important that I actually moved it out of the marketing plan section and created its own section. I really want lenders to understand that I understand what the market is like and that I'm well aware of the challenges ahead.


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.)

You're Gonna Be Huge Kid, Huge!

Panic Alarmistis starting to get some more press and I'm absolutely thrilled! First, I was interviewed a couple of months ago by Dan O'Shea for the inaugural edition of Mash Tun: A Craft Beer Journal, a new craft beer publication here in Chicago. It will be officially released tomorrow at the Beer Under Glass event kicking off Chicago Craft Beer Week. Needless to say, I'll be there. Just gotta get him to hold still.

Second, Jessica Murphy profiled me on her awesome Chicago craft beer centric blog, Girls Like Beer Too. As Jessica mentions in the post, pretty much everything you need to know about me and this brewery is detailed on this very blog. She also mentions that things keep changing as I do more research. Boy is that true! For instance, Jessica is unaware that as of 3 hours ago, Panic Alarmist has completely changed its business model. Instead of craft beer, Panic Alarmist will focus on flavored malt beverages sourcing all ingredients from the Antarctic. If you've ever hankered for penguin guano flavored alcoholic beverages, man have I got you covered. After that, walrus blubber fortified wine.

Thanks to Dan and Jessica for spreading the word.