Monday, November 07, 2011

Boston Delight #4: Harpoon Beer Makes “Local” Look Great, Wherever You’re From.

Howdy from Boston. Harpoon Brewery may not be a beer leviathan yet but it’s already part of a whale of a tale.  Despite the fact that locally brewed beer – craft beer – is trendy like crazy today, Boston has already had at least one great beer era with great brands now faded into a vague past. In the early 1900s, with a total of 31 breweries, Boston had the highest number of breweries per capita in the US. Twenty-four of them were located so close together (within a mile-and-a-half circle) that the fragrant aroma of slowly cooking grains, smoke from wood and coal, and horse sweat from the delivery wagons defined the neighborhood by smell alone.

Vienna Old Time Lager. Rockland Ale. Burkhardt’s Old Stock Porter and India Pale Ale, Elbana Irish Ale – all these brands and more suffered death by Volstead Act. They’re called “Boston’s Lost Breweries.”

What once was lost is now found: the new craft beers that have burgeoned across America. Today, when you think Boston beers, you’re probably imagining the makers of the many varieties of the Sam Adams brand. But I have to confess: I planned pretty carefully to visit the Harpoon Brewery, 306 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA. That this beer-ventureland is near the original, 94-year-old “No-Name” Restaurant on Fish Pier is icing on the crab cake (or a full growler of Harpoon Chocolate Stout, take your pick).

Before I go further, then, learning about Harpoon and unfiltered-label UFO beers and how they go to market started with Chris Derr, Harpoon’s Area Sales Manager for Texas and Louisiana. He introduced me to the Harpoon IPA in Houston last year; he made certain the visit to Harpoon in Boston had more planning to it than a glass or two in the tasting room. The Visitor Center (brilliant) is managed by Aaron Bishop and most of the tasting spiel was courtesy of Cassandra Tice – great time. Then Tice introduced me to Amanda Fakhreddine, who’s Harpoon’s Online Content Manager – between the two of them, they then toured me and Barbara Nytes-Baron through an exceptional brewery. Thank you right now to everyone there on Northern Avenue.

The brand, with Harpoon IPA and UFO Hefeweizen* beers leading the way, has become increasingly popular and increasingly available through a combination of social media marketing and distribution. (Classic advertising is rarely involved in locavore beer marketing because it’s wasteful of precious capital to target urban or even regional craft-drinking populations.)

Distribution is most important as the beers achieve new retail venues. Tom Pirko, president of food-and-beverage consultancy Bevmark was just quoted in a Convenience Store Decisions article proposing that craft beers give C-store owners (a huge market usually dominated by the national brewers) a chance to build a new profit center: “They are the future. There will be more of them, and they will be better. As time goes by, prices will modify so that they are a little bit more affordable. You’ll have great variety, with the category of beer once again becoming exciting. These are all good things.” I suspect Chris Derr was assigned here in Texas and Louisiana to grow the market for Harpoon products through more focused distribution efforts.

Whereas the role of online marketing – Amanda Fakhreddine’s assignment – is being even more strongly developed because Harpoon, like Great Divide (Denver) and St Arnold (Houston) and SweetWater (Atlanta), among others, recognize an absolute need to build and maintain community ties. Which means more tours, more events, more charitable participation, more Facebook and Twitter time on the local level.

Local. Local. Was it Rainier Beer that used to say it’s all about “the beer here?” So Boston’s Harpoon has successfully refocused on participating in and with its communities. Just like in the days of the now-lost German lager breweries, you create your products for what the neighbors want; and create a market for your neighbors. What more can I say than “Try these beers?”

*Of these, the Raspberry Hefeweizen is fresh and tasty - RLB.

1 comment:

Amanda Fakhreddine said...

Richard, Thank you very much for the blog post – you are a great writer and it makes us very happy that you had such a great time while visiting us! Please come back again soon! Cheers...