EXPERT OUTLOOK 2023: Can Your Past Determine Your Future?

Learning history to not have to repeat it in the future rings a bell when it comes to how 2022 shaped up for some breweries. Although the pandemic slowed much more, like a glacier it made massive changes to the landscape of what craft beer was before 2020 and it showed as 2022 wrapped up. It’s made breweries across the country adjust a lot and learn from the past two years when it comes to looking ahead to 2023.

The loss of on-premise account customers has caused shifting production and sales needs that are still being sorted out explained the crew from Alaskan Brewing.

“This channel of trade is still reinventing itself,” they wrote in an email to Brewer. “At least at this point in time, the luxury of a good beverage is still one the consumer will pay for.

“We continue to showcase the quality and unique ingredients in our beverages.”

The biggest adjustments in Columbus, Ohio for Wolf’s Ridge Brewing that have been made over the past few years are an improved focus on planning and strategy.

“Working to connect production and sales strategies has become even more important to better compete in a challenging market,” said co-founder and Head of Operations, Bob Szuter. “As a primarily self-distributed brewery, we have a unique opportunity to take the information we’re seeing in the market and connect that to both our other territories and our distributor partners.” The brewery is also looking toward a focus on developing its team’s leadership ability.

“[That] has been a tremendous focus,” Szuter said, echoing many other breweries’ needs and wants that are entering a new year. “Ensuring we’re giving them the tools and support as we grow has been instrumental to our ability to increase sales and production.”

And like many breweries as well, in Georgia Creature Comforts is focused more than ever on trying to build a great and sustainable business.

“We secured our B-Corps Certification in 2021, which has given us valuable direction around the type of business we are trying to build,” said co-founder and CEO Chris Herron. “[It’s] a continued focus on our people, community, consumers, and environment.

“While there are a lot of challenges in our industry right now with respect to costs associated with raw materials and utilities, we have continued to invest across our company with our eyes to the future and a focus on our topline performance and share growth.”

What to Plan for:

The continued rise of Lagers in the craft market is on the mind of Szuter and Herron.

“Pilsners with authentic bitterness and/or new world hops are catching on in Columbus and customers are getting excited about ‘Crispy Bois,’ “ he said.

Herron added that Creature is excited to see a lot of positive movement towards those lower ABV styles, particularly Lagers, adding that the Athens, Georgia-based brewery has the top craft lager and top craft pilsner in Georgia with Classic City Lager and Bibo, respectively.

“These are beers we’ve made for a long time, even when it wasn’t cool to do so, and it is great to see these brands finding new consumers and growth,” Herron said. “They are such beautiful beers, and it is incredible to see consumers returning to respecting these styles and purchasing them.”

Culinary-inspired beers that use interesting ingredients have been trending up too, Szuter pointed out.

“We continue to experiment with both our seasonal and core offerings,” he said. “We’ve adjusted our core IPA recipe slightly this year and are really happy with the direction it’s going.

“In 2023, we are looking to take opportunities to introduce unique smaller seasonal offerings to keep things fresh and use customer feedback to continue to develop our overall brand.”

Alaskan, meanwhile, said it is excited to continue building out its selection of beverages, including the installation of a distillery and a spirits line.

Spirits could be the next line of defense in a way for breweries to combat the wandering eye and tastes buds of a consumer. Canned cocktails under your brewery’s branding are a much more palatable sale than to outside competition.

Laying out Plans for Success:

Although Herron said Creature Comforts have never really chased trends, they know there are some challenges many craft breweries are facing with respect to seltzer trends and more “fad” types of beers As a result, he said, they don’t have a lot in the marketplace that they feel they are trying to battle.

“Certainly, the move toward a lot of RTDs is concerning for some who have tried to target that consumer group with seltzers previously,” he said, “but we still see a huge world of beer drinkers out there, and we continue to target the consumer that has an appreciation for the beauty and complexity of great beer.”

In the realm of creating your own beverage brands to compete away from beer, Wolf’s Ridge is brewing cocktail-inspired Ales in $11.99 six packs.

“[They are] full of flavor and easy to drink,” Szuter said, “we hope to capture a segment of the market that doesn’t reach for beer first.”

As supply chain disruptions continue to be a problem, as well as higher pricing of labor and supplies, Alaskan said its plan of attack is to provide consistency for its customers.

“We are carrying higher inventories of supplies to be able to do that,” they wrote.

Plans for Startups:

Despite the challenges, smaller towns across the country are finding their way open while even larger cities already with a population of facilities in their borders are seeing more competition arrive.

“This is a great time to start up,” the Alaskan team wrote. “The landscape is rebuilding and equipment from enterprises that are no longer in operation will be entering the market at reduced prices.

“Keep a good eye out for the right deal, and then do not overbuild. Just grow with the economy.”

Szuter would suggest giving some time to develop a vision of what you want your business to look like.

“Being clear and intentional about what you want to look like in the future will help to stay focused as you grow,” he said. “On top of that, developing a set of values and intentionally imparting those on your team will go a long way to setting up the specific actions that will guide you and your team and how you work together.

“This has become increasingly important as owners and senior managers move further away from day-to-day operations.”

Know what you ​as a future brewery owner will ​want to do, who you want to do it for, and who you want to be as a business,​ Herron said in his words of wisdom.

“Stay focused on that every day​,” he said. “Keep your focus internal on being better each day at what you do, and do not worry so much about what everyone else is doing.

​“​We cannot ignore what is happening in the market, but if you are a small start-up brewery, there is nothing but opportunity in front of you in beer — the market is still massive. Figure out how to bring a high-quality product to the market, how to promote it in an authentic way, and hire quality people to work at your brewery. That is the best way to ensure that you enjoy what you do every day.​“​

Photo courtesy Alaskan Brewing

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