Arrrrrggggghhhh. Insert pirate joke here.
Heavy Seas Beer, if you haven't heard of it already, is on quite a roll. They've got an impressive new brew house, a loyal fan base on the east coast, and they've steeped their brand in the maritime traditions of Baltimore.
The Brew Enthusiast was excited to talk to Fred Crudder, Heavy Seas' Director of Marketing and Hospitality. He certainly has his eye on the horizon and is looking to push the envelope for this established regional brand in the coming years.
This is Fred.
Hi Fred. How did you become involved with Heavy Seas?
It’s a great story. From 2000-2013 I worked for a large chain of multi-tap restaurants in the southeast. When I was made aware of the fact that Heavy Seas did a large cask program, my restaurant group sent me up once a year to build a bunch of casks. I also worked for a brewery for 7 years in the 90’s, and one day a few years ago I thought to myself “Why did I leave the brewery world.” I spoke to the people at Heavy Seas early in 2013, and waited a few months while they got the shop in order and then came up here to be the Director of Marketing and Hospitality. I wear a lot of hats. And for the record…the number one reason I’m at Heavy Seas is because of the beer. If they didn’t make awesome beer I wouldn’t be here.
So the industry brought you back.
A huge draw of working in the industry is the fun. It’s full of a lot of people who love what they’re doing. The fact that we can make a living doing that is even better. I’m always aware that my worst day at work is better than a lot of people’s best day of work.
From what we hear, Heavy Seas has a great story.
There was a bubble in the late 90’s in what were called “microbreweries” back then, when folks were opening a lot of pubs/breweries. The term “craft” hadn’t come into the mainstream yet. The problem is they were opening breweries for the wrong reasons. They didn’t love beer, they loved money. Heavy Seas, originally called Clipper City Brewing Co. opened right in the middle of this bubble. Early on they had to supplement their production with some contract brewing to stay alive for a while. But their own brands were of a high enough quality that when the bubble burst, they were able to survive. People making marginal (or worse) beer did not survive. The Heavy Seas brand was a line of high-gravity beers that Clipper City introduced around 2001. Eventually the Heavy Seas line took over and essentially the side project became what the company was known for. Over the past 15 years, the brewery went from taking up half the building we’re in to taking up the entire building. We’re really set up for growth with the new brewing and packaging systems as well.
Compared to a lot of the breweries we’ve spoken with, you’re an old hat in this industry. How do you keep the growth going?
It has a lot to do with the growth of the craft consumer, and it also has a lot to do with the brand loyalty that people have for Heavy Seas beer. A lot of consumers have a “what do you got that’s new” mentality. There are so many breweries opening, and yet our loyalists are still fueling our growth. We’ve been so successful that we now have plans to re-enter old markets and get draft beer into places that just have package beer at the moment.
How do you fight that “what do you have that’s new” mentality?
We’ve been operating in a supply deficit for a long time. We didn’t do this on purpose, but it makes a beer desirable in certain markets when people can’t get it. This may seem obvious, but when consumers can’t get a beer for a while because it’s out, and then they see it again, they remember how good it was and they buy it again. To gain new followers and still appeal to our loyal consumers, we are making some brand portfolio changes for 2015. We’re trying some new styles of beers, and also letting our brewers be really creative with a new series of limited releases. Anything that builds buzz helps us push the flagship beers. The customer will remember, either consciously or subconsciously, that they had a Heavy Seas they liked when they’re faced with the enormous selection at the beer store. That makes them reach for that six pack of Heavy Seas more often than some random beer that has never wowed them before.
You guys really like pirates. People are into it?
There’s so many fun things you can do with pirates, and our branding definitely has some fun in it. But it’s also tough. Our logo is menacing. Pirates also speak to the Baltimore area’s history, and our Unchartered Waters series of beers draws on historical artwork, so there are serious and fun elements to it all. Plus… pirates are awesome man.
Pirates are totally awesome. What’s your take on rating craft beers and the online craft beer culture that has developed in the past 5 years or so.
I would tell them to engage their friends in conversation. Engage the retailers and ask them what they think. I’m not sure why you’d want to listen to a bunch of strangers who rate beers that you’ve never had a chance to try. If you want a phone app to tell you what to drink, then more power to you, but I want someone who can tell me about the beer in person and maybe become a friend in the process!
What do you think about the growth in the industry?
There are very competitive drums beating on the horizon. Everyone wants what’s best for the industry, and everyone at Heavy Seas is a huge fan of a lot of breweries out there. There’s certainly a lot of camaraderie amongst breweries, but I’d be lying if I told you that we weren’t well aware of the competition out in the market.
Why is being local so important, even to a larger production brewery?
If you are not strong in your local market, then you’ve failed as a brewery. Some breweries are aggressively opening in new markets, and that’s a bad sign. We will always try to penetrate deeper into our home market before expanding into new markets. When you look at the number of breweries opening in the country, we’re getting close to the max number at the turn of the century. Back then it was all about local because they didn’t have refrigeration. That model is coming back now. New Glarus is a prime example of it. They are a large regional brewery that only sells beer in Wisconsin, and that’s it. They make great beer and epitomize community support.
What are you drinking right now that’s not a Heavy Seas beer?
That’s a great question. I’ve got a Schlafly Schwarzbier that I’m about to crack into. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been a great beer that I’ve been drinking for almost 25 years, so much so that it feels like the flavor is part of my being. Terrapin is awesome too, as I used to live in Atlanta. I’m originally from Michigan, so Bell’s really got me into great beer.
I think that’s it. You guys are doing great and it was a pleasure.
Thanks Fred. We think you're great too.
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