The Adaptations Mad River’s Cooley Sees in Retail Relationships

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the US.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Linda Cooley, CEO, Mad River Brewery​ — Blue Lake​, California​​

​BREWER: What do you feel have been new challenges in your position that have helped push you and make you better at your job?
​Recovery from the pandemic. Our reality across the globe has changed permanently — the standards of operating, communicating, and distributor partnership has drastically transformed. Inflation along with low to no sales in three years not only put our brewery behind financially, but it also shifted our customer’s and distributors’ financial stability.

​BREWER: Why did you enter the craft beer industry and what makes you love being a part of it and staying in it?
​COOLEY: The beer industry was an additional family, more than a job. My first beer position I truly felt like I was helping the community, bringing people together creating a healthy economic environment for our businesses. The team I worked with cared outside of just our job. Let’s face it, you are not in this industry to get rich. Three years ago, I was able to combine my Tribal family with my beer family, creating one of the first Native American/ Tribal breweries in history while using the same distributors and customers I have spent the last 20 years with. I cannot imagine doing anything else, opening diversity’s door the beer industry specifically.

​BREWER: What are some recent trends in brewing that you’ve tried or are excited about trying?
​COOLEY: I’m particularly happy to see lighter ales return. These are great styles and flavors, giving us all a break from the heavy, high calorie, high ABV. Considering inflation and our economy, our customers are excited about this as well. Who doesn’t want to afford craft beer?

​BREWER: What was your business’s greatest accomplishment during the past year, and what are your goals for your brewery this year?
​COOLEY: Mad River Brewery was the first Tribal beer/product sold in a professional sports stadium. We started our partnership with the San Francisco Giants to tell our own story and get our brand out there. The craft beer world still fails to recognize us, but this gave me hope. We also partnered with another Tribe to grow some of our ingredients, and created our own style of beer, an Indigenous Ale. As a tribal brewery, we are opposed to tokenization. By launching this new style, we aim to change how beer is marketed and sold while setting the standard for intertribal commerce in craft beer. We are also paying homage to Indigenous communities across the continent. The new cerveza, Maize Goddess, is about that change, and I am hoping the craft beer world can pay attention and take note.

​BREWER: What are some changes in the industry that you’ve observed in the past few years, and how has your business adapted to stay competitive?
​COOLEY: Distribution and that relationship is quite different. With all the options now in the craft beer world, you really must be your own salesperson and have an even closer relationship with each one. This, of course, is costly. We have adapted and have better communication via phone, email, and text. We are also working more with chain stores to alleviate that pressure from our distributors.

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