The Elements That Created a Flagship Brand Out of a One-Off

After DuClaw first released “Sweet Baby Jesus!” as a winter seasonal, distributors came back for more — something that caught owner David Benfield by surprise. 

Benfield said distributors were asking for more of the chocolate peanut butter Porter by the quantity of barrels instead of the usual cases — a huge jump in numbers that his brewery had never seen before. 

“Even today, it still surprises me,” Benfield said. “When people are talking about this style, we’re in the conversation or a comparison. I take it as a compliment that we’re still a measuring stick. “With more competition than ever in today’s market, it’s still a brand that stands out.”

The heavy-bodied beer with a bigger ABV for its day was first released in 2010 as a one-off, but DuClaw quickly rose in popularity and became synonymous with “Sweet Baby Jesus,” which became the basis for several variants that followed over the next several years.

Benfield said DuClaw’s most successful brands have always shared a combination of elements that helped them keep up momentum in a crowded market.

A Solid Recipe

First and foremost, you need liquid that is able to cut through the clutter of a saturated market, Benfield said.

The idea started with the brewing process. In 2010, heavily flavored beers and using adjuncts were not as popular as today’s standards. 

“There were going to be multiple challenges with this brand beyond just getting people to try it, but also getting the flavor right,” Benfield said. “Peanut butter is a hard flavor to get because you can’t use real peanut butter in the beer process due to the natural oils. With the oils, the liquid separates after a few days creating quality control issues and it affects the head retention.”

They got it right after countless efforts, he said, eventually landing on a formula that produced a beer with a flavor reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

A Catchy Name and a Feeling

After countless pilot batches, Benfield said the brewers executed the first recipe that DuClaw would use for the Porter and exclaimed, “Sweet Baby Jesus! We got it!”

In that very moment of hearing the brewers’ excitement, Benfield knew that the exclamation they used had to be the name of the beer. 

“It was a perfect fit,” he said. “It perfectly encapsulated the surprise feeling you would get when you tried such a unique flavor in beer for the first time, or in contrast, the reaction you would have when you found out someone made a beer that tastes like a Reese’s cup”

Most beer consumers had a positive reaction to the name, which was controversial in some audiences, but negative press included an opportunity for Benfield to appear on Fox News and answer questions about whether he believed the name to be controversial, given its usage of the word “Jesus” in the name, garnering that coveted earned media that many companies find invaluable.

A Sustainable Strategy

DuClaw quickly became synonymous with this beer and as a result it was expected that that was the only type of style that could be done. Benfield compared it to actors who blow up for playing a famous character, but then can’t transition to any other roles because the world won’t see them as anything else. 

He felt stuck and knew he would have to craft a plan or else his brewery would fade away as a one-hit wonder.

“It became a blessing and a curse,” he said.

The strategy since the initial wave of “Sweet Baby Jesus!” has been to slowly branch off and create variants of the peanut butter Porter to keep the enthusiasm alive for fans of that niche while trying to create the brewery’s next ‘big hit’ in a style that was preferably not a porter or stout. 

“For Pete’s Sake!” was released four years later in 2015 as an imperial variant of the original “Sweet Baby Jesus!” around the holidays, followed by “Sweet Baby Java!” a coffee variant released as a new core brand in 2017. 

Most recently in 2022, the “Sweet Baby Jesus!” brand developed into a line that included “Sweet Baby Chai,” a chai tea peanut butter Porter;“Sweet Baby Swirl,” a vanilla peanut butter White Stout, and “Sweet Baby Hazel,” a hazelnut chocolate Porter.

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