Using a Known Brand with a Twist to Boosts Sales, Generates Innovation

Taking a known commodity and tweaking it can be a great way to expand on the brand, increase consumer purchasing while helping with loyalty to a brewery.

For Maryland’s DuClaw Brewing, its “Sweet Baby Jesus” Peanut Butter Chocolate Porter has grown to now include a new release with the “Sweet Baby Java,” a coffee-infused variety.

Expanding on known brands isn’t new for DuClaw, which has released its IPA, “Neon Gypsy” with blood oranges and is now a year-round offering.

“We really only go to the well of ‘variants’ when the liquid is phenomenal, and it lives up to or expands upon its predecessor,” said brewery spokesman Brian Walsh.

That meant experimenting off what became a popular Randell version of Sweet Baby Jesus.

“It went so well our reps starting pushing the concept at their events, and we started incorporating it into our events at the brewery,” Walsh said. “The response was overwhelmingly positive, and that’s what it has taken to really convince everyone in the building that a variant is worth a shot.”

The overwhelmingly positive reception was the catalyst that launched over a dozen pilot batches that eventually lead to Sweet Baby Java.

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“We spent a lot of time searching for the ideal bean and roast to transform Sweet Baby Jesus into Sweet Baby Java,” said DuClaw founder Dave Benfield. “From there we were able to scale up and leverage our giant contact infuser, the Hop Gun, using coffee beans instead of hops, and now we have Sweet Baby Java.”

Walsh added that there is a strong atmosphere of innovation and experimentation at DuClaw.

The brewery has a pilot system that has a prototype beer brewing on it about three times a week.

“There are no golden cows really as far as experimentation or attempts at variation,” Walsh said. “The brewers aren’t the only ones who get time on the system either, we have a lot of employees from different departments using the pilot setup. Sometimes the brew is left up to the person that’s brewing that day, and sometimes the leadership in the building request the next few pilot brews be something very specific. It all just depends on what’s in the pipeline.

“This atmosphere comes from Dave. He wants the team to constantly be exploring new exciting brews, and he creates an atmosphere where there isn’t really any fear of failure when trying to create a prototype. If a pilot brew isn’t up to par with what we envisioned or expected he wants us to learn and become inspired by the mistakes as much as the successes. The resulting ownership of creativity, passion, teamwork… it’s incredibly important. The pilot system is responsible for a lot of our innovations, some may never go beyond our tasting room, others have made it all the way to a seasonal release.”

Yet it took about two years for Sweet Baby Java to become a distributed bottled product. The experimentation to hone in the right flavor was key.

“As you start going down the road of ‘well that was roasty, but a little bitter, and that one played well with the peanut butter, but it seemed a little acidic’ it ends up turning into some very deep dives about coffee beans and a lot of side by side taste testing,” Walsh said.

Dialing in the proper bean and roast it was a lot more difficult than the group had thought.

“Balancing the distinct flavor components of Sweet Baby Jesus with coffee gets a lot more complicated at a production level,” he said. “Overall, I would say the development of this beer and coordination for launch was longer than average. But as I’m sure most brewers out there can attest, every new beer is its own beast once you decide to develop it to be brewed for distribution.”

Pre-orders have been high Walsh noted, showing that consumers take to a concept of a known product with a twist.

“The initial interest is much higher, especially for a variant of a beer as iconic as Sweet Baby Jesus,” he said. The product’s release was announced last week with a first quarter release schedule. “The reaction from the announcement by consumers was very strong as well.”

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