Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Building the Session Beer Train: Chris Lohring

Chris Lohring. Notch Brewing. Session Beer.

Photo by Mass Bev Biz
Great interview.

I'm proud to note that we told you about Chris Lohring and his fantastic idea for Notch Brewing, an all session beer brewing project, first, right here on the Session Beer Project blog, six years ago this month. And ran an interview with him here, back in 2012. And I've talked about him a lot since then; naturally, it's a session beer blog, and Notch was the first American brewery to commit to brewing only beers at 4.5% and under. We've seen eye-to-eye since Day One, and that's why when Notch opens their Salem brewery this summer, the SBP — okay, me — will be there, live blogging, tweeting, and drinking their small beers in big glasses.

But this is about a GREAT interview done with Chris this month by Brandy Rand (in a magazine I've been writing for since 1998, Massachusetts Beverage Business, the trade book for the Massachusetts wholesale/retail alcohol beverage industry, and there are some GREAT articles on their website; you should check them out). Chris lays down some session beer basics here, and shows he's got a firm understanding of the new beer market. Check this stuff out (as always, the added emphasis is mine):
MBB: Session beer was a bit of an anomaly back then; what’s it like now to be a session brewer and do consumers finally “get it”?CL: Many do get it, and they are clearly driving our growth as more consumers step away from a “strength = good” perspective and become more knowledgeable. They understand and value beers of full flavor at a modest strength, they understand the benefit. But there is still the machismo consumer that drinks ABV as a badge.
MBB: What are you most excited about for 2016? 
CL: Brewing in my own brewery again [Chris opened Tremont Brewery back in the 1990s, and left brewing after it closed.] – it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. The creativity we will have here is unlimited. You’ll see a very large focus on German and Czech lagers brewed with  traditional methods, and as a brewer, this has me the most excited.
MBB: Explain your Single Series.CL: It’s a new beer brewed every month and draft only. You can’t ignore shifts in consumer preference, and “what’s new” has been influencing draft beer selection. In accounts that constantly rotate drafts, we always have something new to offer every month. Some are one and done, others come back each year with changes. The Single Series will also be available in cans later in 2O16 when our Salem brewery opens. And for a session-beer-only brewery, it’s allowed us to demonstrate the wide array of styles you can brew at under 4.5%.
MBB: You have over 18,000 Twitter followers; has social media been a big part of growing your brand? What has been the key to making it work for you?CL: Without question – it’s the great equalizer. Larger brands cannot compete with us being ourselves. We don’t program, we live our life in beer and share it with our fans. You can’t buy that, you need to live it. The consumer sees right through the larger brewer bull shit. The key? Being real. Having a point of view. Engaging in conversation. Not playing it safe. Not being contrived or obvious. Making fun of ourselves. Taking responsibility and ownership for everything we do.  Calling out BS. Defending our friends. Championing our supporters. Being a person, not a brand. 
MBB: What are the biggest challenges you face as a small craft brewer in trying to grow the brand?CL: The stranglehold larger brewers have on distribution channels. When I say larger brewers, I’m not only taking about Bud, Miller, Coors, but the largest craft brewers. Some are publicly traded, others owned by private equity, some owned by Bud or Heineken, and they have enormous power in the marketplace.
And that's only part of it. Go read the whole thing, and get fired up for Session Beer Day!

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