If you have paid any attention to the craft beer industry recently, you’ve probably seen articles about how the four horsemen of the craft-apocalypse are coming: hop (and ingredient) shortages, brewery buyouts, distributor challenges, market saturation, etc. Everyone with a blog and a thirst for clicks seems to have some special insight to an impending bubble burst. To me, all of this doom and gloom looks juxtaposed to an industry where fun and camaraderie over a few beers is center-point. There’s support that we’re seeing natural market forces at work stabilizing the craft industry, rather than a boom and bust cycle, but only time will tell. All of the recent pessimism in the industry makes one wonder,
what could cause Iron Horse Brewery to fail?
That’s something that’s discussed regularly at Iron Horse, and the general consensus is Irish Death would have something to do with it. It seems odd that the flagship of a brewery would be our downfall, but that’s one of our biggest fears.
Irish Death constitutes 77% of everything we make and sell. That puts us in a pretty acute live by the sword, die by the sword scenario. If consumers’ taste changed and Irish Death was no longer a sought after product (God help us), we’d be done for. It’s not that our other beers aren’t good, in fact Irish Death isn’t even in our top 5 for avg ratings on beer advocate, but let’s take that with a grain of salt. In short, we’re making gains with our other beers, but we simply don’t sell enough of them to maintain the exponential growth we’ve been enjoying.
The chances of Irish Death falling out of the hearts and minds of beer drinkers without some outside force is slim *knock on wood*. For the last few years, our operating procedure has been make as much Irish Death as we possibly can and then make some more. We’ve been fighting to just fill the minimum orders to fill shelf spots and to keep some of our distributors from pulling their hair out. Luckily, with our latest expansion we’ve had a moment to catch our breath and focus on some well received specialties, seasonals, and a few casks.
But, how do we make sure we don’t go down with the ship if everyone wakes up one day and decides they don’t like Irish Death anymore?
From the marketing side of things, our biggest effort in this battle has been spreading the brand equity of Irish Death to the rest of the brewery’s lineup. That’s marketing gibberish for “let’s not have anyone say ‘ohhhhh you guys make Irish Death?’” at a bar or festival. What does that look like in practice? Well, if I had my way, the entire marketing department would be running around with Finger Gun IPA filled super soakers spraying people down in the beer aisle at their local grocery store. Unfortunately, we’ve gone with a more reasonable approach and rebranded from this:
We took the easily distinguishable Irish Death skull, slapped our classic stacked text on it, and then tied it all together with a shiny new yellow crest. Pure rocket science. We felt that would be the best way to make our products more distinct on the shelf without going over the top with some fancy marketing mumbo jumbo. Because above all else, we want to sell beer on it’s own merit.
We also went from this:
(we think we’re funny)
So far, it seems to be doing the trick. Finger Gun IPA was our fastest growing brand last year and for 2017, we’re adding another core beer and more options than ever for seasonals. Jared, the director de marketing, has the whole 2017 beer guess broken down here. We’ll have more beer available between 22oz bottles, cans, and draught than ever before. We’re also doing bigger events, promotions and more merchandise than ever before to support our other beers.
So with any luck Irish Death will always be #1, but we’re doing what we can to see if we can have at least a close 2nd place.