“We really needed to be able to focus on these national [grocery] accounts,” says Left Hand national sales director Jason Ingram. “When you have one person covering several states, it limits what you can do.”
Left Hand reached a production peak in 2015 when it brewed 82,000 barrels of beers. That was followed by 73,500 barrels in 2016 and around 70,000 in 2017. Part of that drop was because the brewery dumped $2 million worth of beer in 2016 after realizing that the yeast had been contaminated (the brewery is currently suing its yeast provider, San Diego-based White Labs, over the yeast issue).
But sales dropped another 9 percent in 2018, and Left Hand finished the year at about 64,000 barrels. “Sales were down,” but the layoffs took place more for strategic than financial reasons, Ingram says. “Part of reallocating resources was also to place a greater emphasis on marketing and telling our story. We may have been taking for granted the fact that we are a top-fifty brewery [Left Hand ranked 44th for craft in 2017]...and that folks inherently know us after 25 years. In a crowded landscape, we have to increase those efforts.”
New Belgium Brewing and Avery Brewing have both laid off staff, while Great Divide and Avery have both experienced sales declines. Nationwide, Stone, Green Flash, Deschutes and many others have been dealing with similar issues as the total number of breweries in the United States has surged past 7,000.
The company is excited about its prospects for 2019, however, particularly because supermarkets and convenience stores in Colorado are now allowed to sell full-strength beer at every one of their locations. Left Hand’s flagship Nitro Milk Stout will likely see a major uptick as a result.
In addition, Left Hand rearranged and added to its beer lineup to “focus on what we do well — dark beers, fruit beers and nitro — rather than trying to spread ourselves too thin and chasing the IPA game,” Ingram says.
Left Hand will only have one IPA in its lineup in 2019, which is unusual for a major brewery these days. But it is doubling down on its strong suits, adding Raspberry Milk Stout and Peanut Butter Milk Stout. It will also introduce four new nitro beers: Push Pop Party Nitro, a hazy citrus ale; White Russian Nitro; Hard Wired Nitro Coffee Porter; and Flamingo Dreams Nitro, a year-round blonde ale with raspberries and blackcurrants.