Imagine you are a small company making widgets. No, scratch that; I hate widget analogies. Imagine you are a small company making gourmet candy and you are going to launch in Hometown, U.S.A. in a few months. There have already been five gourmet candy companies that have opened up in Hometown in the last three years, and you know that there are 15 other gourmet candy companies that will also be launching in the next few months. How would you approach this? How would you differentiate your product from your competitors? Would you develop a heavy marketing campaign? Would you take a lesson from our elected officials and participate in dirty politics; pushing everyone else down so you can rise up? Or do you engage your fellow gourmet candy makers, befriend them, and build everyone up because you’re all in this together? Wait, what? That’s not smart business! Or is it?
Craft breweries tend to do just that, whether it be providing their fellow brewers with supplies or partaking in collaboration brews. Even though Dryhop Brewers is not open yet, it hasn’t stopped Head Brewer, Brant Dubovick, and Dryhop owner, Greg Shuff, from making a huge imprint on the Chicago craft beer scene. Dubovick has been collaborating with other craft breweries in the area, including Lunar Brewing and Hamburger Mary’s, in order to get some of their beers to the market. I recently attended a release party for Coup de Gras, a collaboratively-brewed Biere de Garde by Dubovick and Haymarket Pub and Brewery’s Master of Fermentation, Pete Crowley. The beer was fantastic; a French farmhouse ale brewed with four types of malt, grains of paradise, chamomile, clementine zest, orange juice and dryhopped with Calypso. Now, remember that Dryhop is not open yet; they plan on opening up in the Lakeview East neighborhood later this year. So, if you break this collaboration down, you have an established business (Haymarket) welcoming the “competition” (Dryhop) into the market by producing a joint product.
Dubovick and Shuff were also the organizers of a recent sensory class where they invited the third wave of Chicago breweries to learn about off flavors in beer. When I asked Dubovick why he and Shuff would organize a class of this nature, he said that “there is no reason Chicago can’t be the next Portland. With one important variable…The beer needs to be equal or superior to Portland. It’s so important to put out a quality product.” In other words, it is for the greater good of all Chicago breweries if every brewer produces quality, delicious beer. And a sensory class would assist the breweries brew better beer and it was also a great opportunity to meet the other brewers in the community.
It is this community feel that is going to fuel Chicago’s craft beer scene. According to Dubovick, the mentality of this community of craft brewers is “if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. It’s the ‘us against the world mentality’; the hippie/punk rock/metal DIY philosophy which is if you don’t like us we don’t care. We like us and that’s all that matters. I’ll leave you with a quote from Kerry King of Slayer, which always puts a smile on my face, ‘If I’m in a corner, I like my corner, It’s the coolest corner I’ve ever been in.’”
Expanding on the collaborative nature that Dubovick has extended towards brewing, he also wants to collaborate with other Chicagoland restaurants once the bistro is up and running. “I would love to work with our chef Pete [Repak] and Kuma’s Corner on a burger because I love their place so much. I love that Pete Crowley worked with [Stephanie Izard from] Girl and the Goat twice. In what other industry do you see two NEIGHBORING restaurants work together? It’s insanity we should be at each other’s throats, but we are not, and that’s out of respect. There are a lot of problems in the world and the one big one is lack of respect. Nobody respects each other any more. There is too much attitude that ‘I am the best’ or the me, me, me mentality. This is not the case in craft beer. Sure there are exceptions to the rule, but it’s few and far between.”
I am not naïve; I understand that beer and brewing is a business. But I think that more competitively driven businesses could learn a lesson or two from America’s craft breweries. Support each other; engage in friendly competition but focus on the “friendly.” And maybe, just maybe, you will both have greater success than if you attacked each other. Focus on making a good product and engaging your customers rather than name-calling. Wake up, corporate America and ask yourself, “What would a craft brewer do?”