Beer Can Appreciation Day: Celebrate the Stories We Can All Drink To
On January 24th, 1935, the first beer can was introduced in Richmond, Virginia, when Krueger Brewing partnered up with the American Can Company. It was a match made in heaven, as the faithful Krueger’s drinkers preferred the can over the bottle at a rate of 9-1. The people had spoken, and thus, a new tradition was born that carries on today. Cans just made sense: they have a better seal, they’re impervious to the light’s damaging rays, and of course, they’re much more durable (read: perfect for all you day-drinking, outdoor adventurers).
So in honor of #beercanappreciationday, we’d like to explore how a simple can of beer illustrates a much larger issue related to your business or creative endeavors: the paradox of choice. Because while Krueger’s may have had a few competitors on the shelves, today there are almost 6,000 craft breweries across the U.S., and that’s not even counting the legacy breweries! So what sets them apart? How can your pilsner stand out when there are 30 other pilsners on the shelf? What would possibly make someone choose yours over the rest?
Some might say the design. For others, it could be the name of the brew, or even the product description. We argue that the great differentiator is your story, told through not just the design and copy, but also through your intrinsic motivations and passions. Moreover, we’d like to illustrate how a great story can help you survive, especially in a world where endless choices can leave your prospects confused, frustrated and extremely skeptical.
So crack open a cold one and let’s look at a few breweries whose stories resonated with us:
Evil Twin vs. Mikkeller: A Battle of Brothers
In our opinion, this is one of the greatest stories in beer, and not just because we have a huge soft spot for the Danes. Since 2006, Mikkel Borg Bjergso has been pioneering “gypsy brewing,” a method in which he creates bold recipes, collects the ingredients from a variety of vendors, and outsources the actual brewing process. After providing incredibly detailed instructions, Mikkel will get a sample in return, and if it’s a success (it usually is), he’ll produce it under the Mikkeller name. Most breweries are only able to create a handful of different beers in-house each year; yet Mikkel is able to use gypsy brewing to produce over a hundred, often collaborating with other respectable breweries such as Three Floyds and AleSmith.
Enter Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso, Mikkel’s twin brother. In 2010, after several feuds with Mikkel, Jeppe decided to move to Brooklyn and set up his own phantom brewery, aptly titled Evil Twin Brewing. “It was like the Danish beer scene wasn’t big enough for the two of them,” says Mikkeller’s operations manager Jacob Gram Alsing. But while Denmark may not have been able to handle them both, there’s plenty of room in the craft brewing world for their dynamic personalities and all of their delicious, eclectic beers.
Hell, even just the names of their brews tell the story of who they are. Evil Twin has some gems like Hipster Ale, Wet Dream, Freudian Slip, Molotov Cocktail, Bikini Beer, and Soft Dookie Imperial Stout. As for Mikkeller, some of our faves are War Pigs Black Ivory Coffee Stout, Acid Trip, Haze of Spades, All Other Pales Pale, Get Wit or Die Tryin’, Mexas Ranger, Orange Yuzu Glad I Said Porter, and The Stig Gose to Hell.
Both breweries have a great story, clever copywriting, and beautiful design. But if we absolutely had to choose a victor, gun to our head, it’d have to be Mikkeller with the sliiiiightest of edges, based mostly on the fact they have the balls to produce a video like the one below. Not sure if this qualifies as “content,” but it’s definitely something…
What can we learn from Evil Twin vs. Mikkeller?
Competition is a good thing. It makes you up your game.
- Take some risks. Make people feel something about you, even if it's horror (see above video).
- If you want to bust into a new market, look for unique collaborations (both breweries collaborate all the time...not together of course).
- Don’t be afraid to outsource some of your work, as long as you can find vendors you trust.
- If possible, find your Stig.
Dogfish Head: Ancient Ales For Modern Times
Unlike the gypsy-brewing Bjergso brothers, Dogfish Head and owner Sam Calagione brew everything in house - and always have. They went from being the smallest commercial brewer in 1995 (in little ole Delaware nonetheless) to being one of the most recognized craft beer producers today. Sure, part of that recognition can be attributed to the 2009 documentary Beer Wars, in which Sam helped to shed light on the oppressive corporate brewers and lobbyists within the beer industry, or the Discovery Channel series Brewmasters (which, not surprisingly, was cancelled when a large beer company threatened to pull its advertising dollars, according to Anthony Bourdain). But many of the Dogfish Head beers have a fascinating tale behind them as well, which is why we believe that their success is, again, ultimately a product of great storytelling.
For example, the beer that originally hooked us personally was the Midas Touch. Studying the residue on unearthed jars from the tomb of King Midas, molecular archeologist (who knew that was a thing) Dr. Patrick McGovern was able to analyze the ingredients of a fermented recipe that once filled these jars. And when McGovern met Calagione at a function in March of 2000, they collaborated to produce the world’s oldest beer recipe at the time. (Sam has since broken his own record with the Chateau Jiahu, a Chinese recipe that dates back 9,000 years!)
Another great example is the Pangaea, a spicy ale that includes ingredients from every continent on the planet, if you can believe that craziness. He sourced crystalized ginger from Australia, water from Antarctica, basmati rice from Asia, muscovado sugar from Africa, quinoa from South America, European yeast, and North American maize. As Calagione tells it, he wanted to “bring a fractured world back together” in his own small way. At the time, we were in the midst of a war with Iraq, and after seeing some troubling images while watching the news with his son, they decided to lighten the mood and put on a dinosaur movie. In that movie, Pangaea was featured and inspiration struck.
Finally, on a random side note, Calagione happens to be old college buddies with two actors who you've definitely seen around: Ken Marino and Joe Lo Truglio. (As if this story wasn't good enough.) If you have a few minutes, this video is hilarious and very much worth the watch:
So what can we learn from Dogfish Head?
- Know your history. The ancients knew a helluva lot more than you think.
- Start small and grow smart. Running lean allows you to experiment and take more/bigger risks.
- Consider the long tail method. Dogfish Head’s “hits” are their IPAs, which serve as the gateway beers to their more niche products.
- Love what you do, without exception. Dogfish Head is a smashing success, yet Calagione is still constantly making test batches to this day.
- Be open-minded and present. You never know when inspiration may strike you.
Revolution: Fist In the Air For This Brewery
As the largest independent craft brewer in Illinois, Revolution has been quietly building an empire in Chicago since 2010. And the best part? Their stellar brewery and tap house, featured in the 2013 film Drinking Buddies, is literally right down the street from us. Like, we could stumble home if we needed to…even crawl (thankfully it hasn’t come to that). But the reach of their delicious product extends far beyond Logan Square, Avondale, and Wicker Park (where their pub/restaurant is located). You can now take part in your own Revolution throughout Indiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Wisconsin. So if you’ve never heard of these guys, you will soon enough.
Now, obvious bias aside, what hooked us with Revolution wasn’t some famous rivalry like that of the Bjergso brothers, or ancient tales & ales like in the case of Dogfish Head. No, what made us pick Revolution over everything else on the shelf was their perfect combination of witty product names and edgy design. Seriously, look at these cans from their gorgeous brews page and try to resist:
And while the name Revolution stems from the craft beer revolution that was and is still spreading throughout the U.S., it goes so much deeper than that. When you think Chicago, you might remember the Haymarket Riot, the Great Fire and rebuilding (which included the first skyscraper in the world), the 1968 DNC protests, the Second City surge that transformed the face of comedy, and so much more. Chicagoans fucking work, and we’re damn proud of it. Thus the brilliance of the name: for us Chicagoans, it can mean whatever we want it to. We’re all trying to create our own small revolutions, and this beer just gets it (it can also provide much-needed relief at the end of a long, creative work day).
As for what aspiring entrepreneurs and creatives can learn from Revolution Brewery? We’ll leave that to owner and founder Josh Deth who, after working at Goose Island, quit to venture out on his own (good thing too as Goose Island eventually got bought out by Anheuser-Busch…boo!):
“It’s been a really steep learning curve, with a lot of change and investment in the brewery. Customers are certainly driving it…For a while, it seemed like I was doing all these crazy different things in life that didn't make a lot of sense. It just seemed to be all over the place, but every little job and experience I had, I can point to how it affected our success over time.” In a Fast Company interview, he added, “We didn’t have enough experience, money, or business acumen…I had to size down the dream a few times, early on.” Clearly that's not an issue anymore, as they're now one of the fastest growing craft brewers in the states.
In other words:
- Embrace pivoting, as long as that change is always driven by what your customers actually want.
- It doesn’t matter where you’re at now. If you’re stuck in a cubicle today, that doesn’t mean you can’t start your business tomorrow.
- Every experience that you’ve had has gotten you to where you are now. The question is, is that where you want to be? If not, only you can change your situation.
- Don’t have experience, money, or business acumen? Those are lame excuses. You can always learn, and you don't need a traditional MBA. Of course, Deth’s master’s degree in urban planning didn’t hurt, but you can also just get out there and learn by doing. (And if you’re feeling frisky, you can apply to the altMBA for a serious kick in the ass.)
- Finally, as you’re growing or scaling up your business, there are two serious pitfalls that Deth identifies: isolation between departments and decreased creativity. In response, he created an innovation team comprised of people from different departments, all working together to harness everyone’s creativity and unique knowledge. Don’t be afraid to do the same.
So, this #BeerCanAppreciation day, what are you drinking, and more importantly, why? We'd love to hear what stories inspired your decision.