This year, Iron Horse Brewery took a big leap of faith. We committed to a full year of Irish Death seasonal variations in PB & Death, Aloha Death, and Mocha Death. The beers would span from January-Aprilish, Mayish-Augustish, Septemberish- December (respectively), and would become known internally as the Death Family Brands.
If people know one thing about us, it’s that we make Irish Death; a beer with a passionate following of enjoyers that aren’t afraid to let us know not to mess it up. We are committed to doing right by everyone that enjoys our beer, so the stakes couldn’t have been higher when we decided to try a few new takes on the perennial favorite.
How did we do with the new beers? Well, that’s something we want to hear from you.
In the meantime, here are some IHB Cousins to help tell the story of making the new Death Family Brands.
Iron Horse Brewery Cousins.
- How did the idea come about to make variations of Irish Death, and did the prior success of Mocha Death help?
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “In my previous life, I worked for a company that deployed a similar strategy called Mega Branding. Virtually you leverage the brand equity (skull and crossbones) of a certain brand and create flavor variants to capture the under indexing consumers. If done right, you should see little cannibalization of the mega-brand, capture market share of those target consumers, while increasing awareness of the mega-brand. It’s hard to tell if the success of Mocha Death actually helped the family as a whole, it certainly helped verify the strategy.”
Rikki (QC): “Shoot, I’ve been asked the entire 7+ years I’ve been here by customers, distributors, suppliers, well by freaking everyone when we’d have other deaths besides the mocha! I think the mocha was probably a good catalyst for people to ask, but when it comes to things people love, having that sense of variety can help even if it’s fairly similar in one way or another to the main brand.”
Jake (Brewhouse Sup.): “Mocha Death has been our top seasonal for quite a while and I believe that is part of the reason we choose QID variations”
- How did IHB land on PB and coconut for flavors?
Jake (Brewhouse Sup.): ”We were looking for flavors that pair well with darker beers and peanut butter and coconut were the two that after a lot of taste trials got the nod”
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “PB and Coconut already had proven success in the marketplace with competing brands, in addition to working well with dark beer, so it made for a ‘no-brainer’ decision.”
Rikki (QC): “Coconut has been a long time ask (again 7+ years) by many, the PB I think was more recent due to the rise in popularity in those “pastry stout” etc styles that have been hitting the market in the past few years.”
- Were there any concerns about launching the Death Family Brands?
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “Absolutely. You knew that you had to get both the liquid and the branding right or you ran the risk of hurting Irish Death. A brand like Irish Death has a very passionate consumer base, one that won’t shy away for telling you to quit screwing with their brand, so it was imperative that we did in a manner that was respectful, yet intentional.”
Jake (Brewhouse Sup.): “The concerns were mostly about getting cans and storing them. It is a big leap of faith ordering 8,500 [cases] worth on beer that hasn’t been trialed in the market.”
Rikki (QC): “Yes, the concept of robbing peter to pay paul is oft-discussed here, because we need to worry: will people stop buying QID and our other brands in turn for the death series? How much of our own sales will be cannibalized? Our eggs are mostly in a basket as it is, so it’s a risky gamble (For this whole concept, I definitely naysayed, and I was happily proven wrong!)”
- Can you describe some of the challenges with creating a new beer and getting it to market?
Tyson (Head Brewer): “Creating new beer is always a challenge. Getting the recipe just right, in order to produce a great and repeatable beer for our customers, is a mixture of experience, guessing, and trial and error. The difficulty is increased when a shortened timeline is involved and the packaging is already printed. You not only have to hit a flavor you can be proud of but also be within the confines of any information already on the packaging.”
Jake (Brewhouse Sup.): “We had a pretty small timeline for release so the biggest challenge on the production side was making sure to source the ingredients in large quantities and then getting a couple of small batches brewed for trials. The first couple brews of PB death were a nightmare. An average brew takes 7.5 hours from start to finish. The first couple of PB’s took 12 and 11 hours. But we got it dialed in and were able to get the flavors where we wanted and the time it took down.”
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “It’s a fine line of fully leveraging the equity of Irish Death, while still allowing for the new brand to have a personality of its own. In addition, brands traditionally were built in the On-Premise, just like Irish Death. But in today’s current landscape of over-saturation and “rotation nation”, launching brands can be very difficult. How do you gain the support of the consumer, if the window to build awareness is so small or the opportunity doesn’t exist? How do you get them to pay $11.00 for a 6pk of something that they’ve never tasted? It’s crazy. I think it comes down to educating the consumer through our digital platforms, sampling them at the pub, and strong wholesaler partnerships.”
Rikki (QC): “Fucking canning man (insert any sort of canner related rant here, I can give you a few). trying out what people will buy in cans with a draft-only testing ground gets hairy, and our capacity for short runs/small brands on canning is currently very hobbled. Unfortunately, what sells very well in our pub doesn’t always align with the general market either. I miss Biere de Garde.”
- How would you rate the success of PB and Aloha?
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “Without a doubt, both brands were a success. PB was the initial brand launch of the family, which happened at the beginning of the year and can be tough with the new me fitness/diet craze. But it settled in nicely and sold through the forecasted amount right on time. Aloha Death was a beast. Fantastic beer, coupled with barbie pink branding, global pandemic, at home consumption basically equated to a double forecasted depletion rate. Seeing Aloha Death seed in the market was a lot of fun. Consumers really took to the beer and loved the branding.”
Jake (Brewhouse Sup.): “We went through all the cans of PB and 2 truckloads of Aloha so I would say it did pretty darn good even in the middle of COVID”
Rikki (QC): “on a scale of 1-10, it’s a Fucking Bonkers Awesome Sales! I hope we get through two truckloads of cans for both brands next year”
- What can we expect with Mocha Death?
Tyson (Head Brewer): “A few tweaks. The malt bill was simplified to allow the coffee to shine. We also switched to a cacao nib to get the chocolate background.”
Jake (Brewhouse Sup.): “We tweaked the recipe this year to get more chocolate and coffee aromas and flavor into the beer this year and I think it will turn out better than ever.”
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “One of the things that we wanted to do with the Death Family series was to ensure that the flavor variants really came through in the beer. Production is working to enhance the coffee and chocolate notes in Mocha Death, so it continues the same path as PB and Aloha by really highlighting the variants. I also think the re-branding of Mocha Death will give it a nice boost. It will carry the same death branding format which will really pop on the shelf.”
Rikki (QC): “I’ll go taste it off the tank when it gets transferred to a brite tank and let you know. I’d say coffee chocolate magic, based on Tyson (Head Brewer):’s other fabulous beers.”
- Will there be any changes in 2021 for the Death Family Brands?
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “Nope. For as successful the brands have been in 2020, we only scratched the surface with distribution. We have plenty of opportunity to increase the reach of the current brands/flavors and look forward to another successful year with the family.”
Rikki (QC): ”I fucking hope not for the current brands? I like consistency year to year, brand to brand, because change is hard for me, and I like the challenge of producing a consistent beer despite all ingredients will have year to year variances. That being said If we could do a black IPA that would actually sell, that’d be rad, or a ‘petit morte’ ish table abv dark English ale (not roasty!just bready and fun) beer of the dark variety, that’d be extra helpful for all things beer pairing. But, I’m not that Decision Maker (womp womp)”
- Anything else you want to add?
Dane (Sales & Marketing): “We need a seltzer.”
Rikki (QC): ”I miss you! I miss having a production facility that was open to all the coworkers. I miss giving tours. I miss going to a packed pub of laughing friends whenever Paul and I felt the need for camaraderie. I miss the pub’s scotch eggs. I miss hugs. I miss high fiving (the beer can only do so much for my mood!). But, I’m very very thankful for our steadfast customers who through thick and thin support our company and our beers. We would have been in a very precarious position this year if folks didn’t give the new brands and returning brands a try. So thank you thank you! Now, put on a mask, wash your hands, and be excellent to each other!”
Ross (Sales): “Cheeseburger.”