After 25 Years, DuClaw’s Benfield Endures the ‘you’re cool, you suck’ Cycle of Industry

Amidst the rise of thousands of U.S. craft breweries in the past decade – and the fall of hundreds during COVID-19 – founder of mid-sized DuClaw Brewing Company shares what’s led him through challenges and milestones including doubling sales in the past two years, and rebooting three loyal fan favorites to commemorate 25 years in business.

In 1991 when DuClaw’s founder Dave Benfield was in college, you could buy a case of light beer for $10. And with the same $10, Benfield quickly learned that he could buy a homebrew kit that brewed two cases of beer. Naturally, he began to homebrew. 

And when, he and his roommate couldn’t keep up with the supply, they opened a walk-through window from their apartment. Word quickly spread across campus that this beer was more flavorful than traditional beer, and it didn’t take long for Benfield to get the itch to turn this idea into a career.

After graduating in 1992 and taking a job with his family’s business, Benfield Electric, Benfield spent the next four years researching the viability of going into craft beer: laws, costs and business plan, equipment, space, and more before committing and opening brewpubs in 1996. 

From the go, DuClaw’s name and popularity skyrocketed, and brewpubs became a hotspot for birthdays, anniversaries, happy hours, and host to insanely attended beer releases complete with a video premiere for each. 

The brand experienced high and lows over the years. One example was 2017 – a notable year in craft beer as it became more widespread, and tastes were evolving. If breweries didn’t keep up, they were at risk. DuClaw had been so popular for so long, they started to see a down trend for the first time in a while. “It felt like we were being told, ‘you’re out,’” said Benfield. “We were used to being cool, and then in a matter of months, we lost a lot of favor. It was time to make some changes.” 

Looking back at all he’s built, it’s clear to Benfield that it’s the team he’s most proud of. “There are cycles in business and in beer – even the best beers fall out of favor. We’ve gotten punched in the gut many times. But when you get the right people with the right passion, that’s what makes the work fun.”

Today, DuClaw is riding a nearly three-year growth wave. The brewery re-focused on its ‘Craft Be Cherished. Rules Be Damned.’ values, and were able to reinstate their barrel aged program and get creative with beers like Sour Me Unicorn Farts, the glitter ale that’s been recognized by Craft Beer Marketing Awards and national press outlets. 

Focusing inward, they cultivated a culture of openness to growth and taking input from every level of employee. “The best ideas might come from the newest or greenest employee; we all have a chance to create together,” said Benfield. 

To honor a quarter century in business, DuClaw is rebooting three beers that people ask for year after year, even long after they went into retirement: 

  • The PastryArchy Naked Fish (7.6% ABV): Imperial stout with chocolate raspberry coffee, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder & red raspberry juice.Bursting with aromas and flavors of decadent dark chocolate, coffee beans and fresh raspberries, taste buds were never the same. Now, this OG favorite is #19 in The PastryArchy series.
  • Sour Me This (7.2% ABV): The original hopped sour ale that startedthe ‘Sour Me’ craze. Light-bodied with tart, candied citrus notes and a dry finish.
  • Venom (6.5% ABV) (100% one of Benfield’s favorites): This American IPA was the one limited release that had people asking for it time and time again. DuClaw kicked up the hop profile to make this a classic American IPA, staying true to its best qualities like notes of refreshing, crisp grapefruit and pine. A perfect one to SIP your teeth into.

Reflecting back as a pioneer in craft beer, Benfield didn’t have many mentors in the industry, but hopes to be a resource for others. He believes his success stems from a desire to make beer he loves while keeping customers top of mind, so he consistently seeks feedback, and buys every marketing book he can get his hands on. 

He said, “if you’re going to fail, fail doing what you love; but don’t be arrogant enough to stop listening to your customers.”

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