Focusing On Local While Eying Exporting

Eric Flanigan has been waiting a while for March 1 to roll around. He and fellow co-founder of Sugar Creek Brewing, Joe Vogelbacher, are a part of a new documentary that is being released called “Beers of Joy,” which is a look at the trials and tribulations of Vogelbacher’s 18-month journey toward being a Master Cicerone.

On February 19, it was officially announced that the movie would be released.

The film could open new doors for the brewery, which focuses on Abbey Ales such as Dubbels, Tripels and Biere de Gardes. When the brewery hit around 1,700 barrels, Flanigan said exporting those styles to Belgium and the Netherlands was a dream come true. Should this movie get fans of Sugar Creek in other countries, opening up the amount of beer the brewery exports to other parts of the world is a possibility.

​”We’re hoping that helps our export business out because right now we sell beer in the Carolinas and export a small amount,” Flanigan said. “Gravitas [Ventures] loved it, they saw a lot of the teaser trailers and they were actually going to release it in 50 countries. And it’s subtitled in 80 different languages. So Joe and I are really hoping to get the beers that we love, that we love to brew, out to countries that are still drinking a lot of beers like that.​”

Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company, is a leading all rights distributor of independent feature films and documentaries.​ ​Written and ​directed by David Swift and Scott Owen of One-Eleven Entertainment, ​”Beers of Joy” examines the history, science and personalities of the beer world​.​​ It will ​debut at select theater locations across the country, as well as on-demand on iTunes, Comcast, Spectrum and more.

​The filming began years ago, following Vogelbacher, who is the Head Brewer at the Charlotte brewery and also a Navy reserve officer, in his quest to become one of the very few Master Cicerones in the world. Flanigan, who was in the Marines and does the sales and marketing for the brewery, is also a part of the movie.

The brewery has not expanded on exporting yet, but it is looking toward Germany and England.

“But it really all depends on where this movie takes off,” Flanigan said. “Because if the movie takes off in Thailand — I would have never [thought] to sell beer there — but if movie would take off and people could go, ‘Hey these are the guys from that movie that we saw,’ then yeah. It’s still a very small niche and a very small percentage of people there but at least there are people that have some brand recognition.”

​Yet, exporting is a small part of the Sugar Creek business model. A vast majority of beer is still shipped locally in North Carolina through distributors with some reaching into South Carolina as well.

A lot of breweries still self-distribute, but Flanigan said that dealing with trucks and logistics was something that was taking away from the focus of making and selling great beer, so they found wholesalers to do that part of the work for them.

“People can say what they want about wholesalers, but you are doing business,” he said. “It’s just like doing business with anyone. Sometimes you love each other and sometimes you don’t. … It’s give and take.”

Both owners still work and “sweat daily,” ​Flanigan pointed out. He is still doing sales calls each day while Vogelbacher is brewing each morning with his team.

“[When we] went to Denver for CBC there was 1,700 breweries then and back then we didn’t even want to put a label on our beer,” Flanigan said. “Joe I would stare at Westvleteren bottles in our window and dream to just make that kind of beer. You don’t need a label. It will sell and people will climb over fences to steal it and life will be perfect.

“Now there’s 7,000. And now we’re like, shit we have to make an IPA. All right. Shit we got to put fruit in our beer. You know that’s like the age old thing: chase the dream but you have what you want to do and then you have what you have to do to pay the bills.

“We’ve got a small ownership group and I mean everybody’s got like three kids. So in the end we’re very family oriented and we would like to just brew a Dubbel, but our wholesalers want a IPA and a summer seasonal. And exporting is a small small portion of what we do right now.

“But 2019 should be an exciting year for us.”

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