Smuttynose Brewing May Have Just Altered the Game

smuttynose brewing

Smuttynose Brewing may have just found a solution to a problem when it comes to draft beer bars and figuring out what accounts want smaller-run batches of limited edition beers.

Let the beer buyers line up and call “dibs.”

In what could be a new trend in the brewery to buyer relationship, Smuttynose debuted its Beer Vault website on March 11, 2016, an allocation tool where buyers are sent an email with the day and time a certain draft-only release is going to be released and those that log in and claim a sixtel will have it added to their distributors sales sheet.

“Craft beer drinkers always want to try something new, something interesting, outrageous. Fill in your adjective,” said Smuttynose’s “Minister of Propaganda,” JT Thompson. “A lot of those limited releases aren’t going to uptick volume and they aren’t going to pick up revenue. But they are exciting and it gives excitement to the brand. We wanted to get these limited release Smuttlabs beers and vintage Big Beers to market in places that want them, without having our brewery sales reps and our wholesalers spend a bunch of time on it.

“The work-to-volume ratio just doesn’t make sense.”

The first special release, a 60-keg release of “Kisses and Kittens,” a 3.8 percent barrel-fermented, Brettanomyces saison spiced with orange peel and coriander, was all snatched up in two hours Thompson said.

“We had so many people logging in, it probably could have went faster,” he admitted. “We are pleased with how the first round went.”

It took nearly three months of development and beta testing outside of the Hampton, New Hampshire brewery’s core markets.

Although “Kisses and Kittens” went quick, there are other beers available in the vault for the beer buyers. The new release was used as a seed to get people in the door, Thompson said.

“We want to have options for people,” he said. “They may want something certain or new, but we will have other things in there as well.”

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Future releases will be announced by email to every business with a Beer Vault account. Currently available in 27 states, covering the eastern seaboard, the Great Lakes region, southern California, Arizona and Texas. Smuttynose won’t use this as launching board into other markets, nor does Thompson want this to be seen as a way to bypass the second tier of distribution.

“We are not trying to cut them out of anything, but if there is a better way that we can be a better partner to them where we can both focus on our bigger goals, then we want to help them and help us,” Thompson said. “That’s the purpose of the Beer Vault.”

By paying a little bit of attention, any interested on-premise account can get the kegs they want. This direct connection between the brewery and beer buyers allows the Smuttlabs team the freedom to be spontaneous and avoid having to schedule six to nine months ahead. It also helps smaller craft beer bars gain an advantage in having what at sometimes may have only been sold to what Thompson called “big, sexy craft beer bars.”

“We asked the question, ‘what if there are other accounts and bars that aren’t as high profile and would love to have these things,’” he said. “Why would we keep them from doing that. This system has a very democratizing effect.”

He added that he thinks it will help Smuttynose strengthen the relationships that they have and help reach out more to some areas we haven’t gotten to know as much.

“We can’t possibly know of every place,” he said. “I would love to say we operate like ninjas and have everything locked in — we don’t know every place that wants to sell our beer and how interested they are. Hopefully this is way for those people to get to have a relationship with us.”

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