Brewers have always loved to hang out together, to travel, to talk shop, to raise a pint — and another. And in the morning, those same brewers will often lend each other equipment, ingredients, advice, even employees. It’s part of what has made the craft-beer industry special for so long, and part of why brewers get so bent out of shape when one of their brethren decides to sell out to a company that doesn’t share those values.
In the past few years, however, some of these small or medium-sized companies have taken that camaraderie a step further, by striking more sophisticated business agreements that can help them save money and improve their position in an increasingly competitive market. A few are sharing sales staffs or space or equipment, while others have actually invested money in their fellow breweries or simply bought them outright.
“When things get hairy in the industry, banding together is a way that some of us can succeed,” says TRVE Brewing founder Nick Nunns. “We can use our combined power to stay relevant in the market.”
TRVE, which has a taproom and a small brewery at 227 Broadway and a larger production facility a little farther west, will use the Great American Beer Festival, October 5 to 7, to show off one of the ways the brewery can use that combined power. Although TRVE won’t be pouring beer at the fest itself, it will be distributing beer for at least eight out-of-state breweries at special tappings and events around Denver that week.
The breweries are 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, Florida; Burial Beer Company in Asheville, North Carolina; Brewery Bhavana in Raleigh, North Carolina; The Commons in Portland, Oregon; Commonwealth Brewing in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Finback Brewery in Queens, New York; Three Taverns Brewery in Decatur, Georgia, and Civil Society Brewing in Jupiter, Florida.
Most of these companies won’t be pouring at GABF, either, but TRVE has arranged tappings of their beers at a variety of local venues (you can see many of them in our Great American Beer Festival Week Calendar for 2017). They will also be on tap at TRVE itself throughout the week.
“We are actively marketing their beer for them. In fact, we are putting them first before our beer,” says Nunns, who started distributing last year with Burial and has brought that company’s beer into Denver several times now. “The ultimate reason we are doing it is so we can get our friends to come here and hang out. It’s not as much business-motivated as it is friendly. And this is a way for them to get more of an effective trip out of it.”
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But the business aspect may become more important in the future. Although most of the eight breweries won’t distribute for long in town because they are small, TRVE has established its own infrastructure for distribution, meaning it has a warehouse, a truck and a staff with connections and conduits for selling beer.
In November, Nunns says TRVE might start distributing beer for a local brewery as well, which would change the game a little. And if TRVE could band a few local breweries together, they would all have more clout.
Two other local breweries, Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project and Tivoli Brewing, each operate their own distribution companies, and both now have significant portfolios. TRVE’s efforts may not quite reach that level, at least not yet, but Nunns says the goal will always be to help each other out.
“We are happy to help out our local friends. It is a nice angle for us, for sure,” he adds. “But it started with us just wanting to put other beers brewed by breweries we like on in our taproom. From there it has grown organically, just from having homies.”