Drink Magazine

Is This Craft Brew Alliance’s ‘Game Changer?’ A Look Inside the Company: Redhook Brewery

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth

CBA header

In the first part of my look at Craft Brew Alliance, I offered a brief intro into the booming beer company and how Widmer Brothers beer may factor into plans for 2014.

The verdict? A focus on hops may help with a resurgence for the Oregon-based brewery.

But the 30-year old Widmer Brothers isn’t the only hot topic in the Craft Brew Alliance [CBA] portfolio. That may arguably go to Redhook, a brewery with headquarters in Seattle and breweries in Washington State and New Hampshire.

redhook logo
A large portion of Craft Brew’s 2013 success could probably be attributed to Redhook’s emergence. Redhook has become a brand full of niches for CBA, which includes great success with its seasonal lineup. Redhook’s seasonals saw a 16 percent increase in sales from 2012 to 2013.

That was most likely led by Redhook’s Out of Your Gourd pumpkin porter, which saw national distribution for the first time this year, cashing in on what is arguably America’s most popular seasonal style.

But when it comes to speciality beers, Out of Your Gourd doesn’t even come close to what Redhook also cooked up last year.

In the midst of Craft Brew Alliance’s big 2013 – a year that saw it’s stock price more than double – there’s one thing that stands out: when that stock started to take off. Check out this chart of 2013:

BREW stock 2013

Click to enlarge

Looks like July was the catalyst. Perhaps it’s fitting that a Redhook beer released that month is called “Game Changer.” Launched on July 15 in partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings, the beer is a balanced pale ale geared to be paired with wings and “sessionable” at 4.6 percent. Available across 955 Buffalo Wild Wings locations, Game Changer became the fourth-best selling beer for the restaurant chain within two weeks. (For reference, the top-three are: Bud Light , Coors Light and Miller Lite. Game Changer bumped Blue Moon – American’s favorite beer – to fifth)

If that sounds good, consider the goal for Buffalo Wild Wings is to have 1,700 franchise units by 2024. That’s a lot of beer to be served at a location that customers are most loyal to for alcoholic beverages. Overall, Game Changer was responsible for 25 percent of Redhook growth in 2013 but there seems great potential for that number to grow, further boosting Craft Brew Alliance’s financial position.

audible ale-dan patrick

Celebrity endorsements and a niche beer – the future of Redhook?
Photo via guyism.com

But Game Changer isn’t the only beer making a difference for Redhook and Craft Brew. In the first six months of 2013, the top-selling new craft beers were New Belgium’s Rampant Imperial IPA, Sam Adams’ Double Agent India Pale Lager and Redhook’s Audible Ale, a beer created with The Dan Patrick Show.

That not enough kitsch for you? Just wait till you get your hands on Redhook’s KCCO Black Lager, a new beer made in partnership with Resignation Brewery, a company backed by The Chive website. KCCO, of course, stands for the “Keep Calm and Chive On” phrase (or some other version) that you see or hear almost daily. After all, The Chive is the world’s largest “photo entertainment” website, receiving roughly 3.5 million visitors a day.

Seem like a bit much? Well, if you want to succeed in this increasingly competitive beer marketplace, you better get creative and you certainly can’t fault Redhook (and by extenstion Craft brew Alliance) for that. Keep in mind that at a time when Big Beer players like AB InBev and MillerCoors are diversifying the hell out of their portfolios to stay relevant to consumers, this feels about right.

Even through Redhook has the fourth best-selling IPA in the country in Long Hammer IPA – definitely an important part to today’s brewery offerings – it’s Redhook’s movement at niche markets and strategic partnerships that are really paying off by focusing on “the ‘crossover’ craft beer drinker, who might trade up to an accessible beer with fuller flavor.“

That appears to be the game plan for Redhook – focus on the reality of the an increasingly common beer drinker who wants something “easy” to drink but isn’t bland lager. Here’s a good time to republish this chart from December:

beer venn diagram

And there we have the apparent “credo” for Redhook: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right now, seasonals and specialty niche beers are dominating for large brewers, so focus on those and see where it takes you. For Craft Brew Alliance, that may just be upward in 2014.

Craft Brew Alliance profile:

Have you had any Redhook beers that you’ve enjoyed? What do you think about their strategy?

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


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