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For the Craft Brewing Professional

Co-Founder Michael Oxton at the Taproom

Made in Boston How Night Shift Brewing became one of Beantown’s favorite craft breweries

PLUS: Let’s face it – sometimes new product fail. But when they hit, the rewards are worth the ride. CBAM looks at which came first – and why it matters


VOL. 1 : ISSUE 4

NOV/DEC 4 6 10 13 14


INSIGHTS Industry News MADE IN BOSTON How the Night Shift Brewing brand became one of Beantown’s favorite craft breweries ODDS: 3,000 TO 1 Let’s face it –sometimes new product fail. But when they hit, the rewards are worth the ride. YOUR MARKETING TOOLBOX Making choices with variety packs MUSIC AND BEER CBAM looks at which came first – and why it matters




editor’s note

The art of customer engagement


Customer engagement. What does it mean to you and your brand? It’s an interesting question. And the answer – depending on your response – can be even more interesting. Before we take in the full scope of what the question means, we have to get to the heart of what customer engagement is. Perhaps one of the best definitions comes from customer engagement expert Paul Greenberg, who said that customer engagement is “the ongoing interaction between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer.” In the craft brew world, building a loyal and everlasting relationship with your consumer is everything. And there would be few who say that anybody does a better job than craft brew brands. It’s about interacting with your customers in a way that builds your brand from every angle. Simply put, craft brew brands care about their customers, and their customers care about them. And while creating award winning, “I-just-can’t-get-enough-ofyour-beer” tastes and subsequent marketing strategies, your success is always going to come down to your customers and how you engage with them. What strategies have worked? Which ones are you looking to implement in 2018? How much of an emphasis do you think your brand has to put on customer engagement strategies? Yes, more questions that will need answers in 2018 and beyond. But as we continue to see, these types of strategies are becoming more and more prevalent for craft brew brands. As Night Shift Brewing co-founder Michael Oxton told us in his cover story, telling a coherent story and cultivating a cohesive image is where a lot of breweries are focusing their energy. Since most are operating across so many mediums – taprooms, social media, product packaging – there are a lot of opportunities to showcase who they are. That’s where customer engagement continues to fit into the marketing puzzle. We’d love for you to take a few minutes and let us know how you are engaging with your customers. Share your story with our community as we continue to give craft brew brands a venue to build their marketing strategies. Have one on us. Michael

Michael J. Pallerino

And while creating award winning, “I-just-can’tget-enough-ofyour-beer” tastes and subsequent marketing strategies, your success is always going to come down to your customers and how you engage with them. CRAFT BRAND AND MARKETING



79 The percent of customers who want brands to “understand and care about” them, according to “How to Know Your Customers Better Than They Know Themselves” by Semarchy. Interestingly, 56 percent are loyal to brands that deeply understand their priorities and preferences, the study found.

The way of the Millennial Millennials, right? Is it any wonder that every brand works overtime to try and figure out what makes them tick? And here’s the thing – while they’re shopping and engaging more, they’re doing it differently ways than past generations. For example, 39 percent post reviews of products or brands, according to data compiled by MergeIn. In addition, 48 percent say they try to use brands of companies that are active in supporting social causes, with 45 percent saying environmental stewardship is more important now than what it was two years ago, the data found.

“We look to the employees and give them recognition. We are giving them the opportunity to put their imprint on the program, which makes it more compelling.” – Bart Casabona, director of social media at Pitney Bowes, on why more companies are enlisting employees to create an army of branding ambassadors

Book Rec Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen By Donald Miller


Donald Miller’s StoryBrand process is pretty straightforward. When it comes to providing a solution for companies discussing their brands, his method works. Miller’s revolutionary process for connecting with customers provides readers with the ultimate competitive advantage, revealing the secret for helping their customers understand the compelling benefits of using their products, ideas or services. How does he do it? Building a StoryBrand teaching readers universal story points all humans respond to – the real reason customers make purchases; how to simplify a brand message so people understand it; and how to create the most effective messaging for websites, brochures and social media. Whether you’re the marketing director of a multibillion dollar company, the owner of a craft brew brand or the lead singer of a rock band, Building a StoryBrand will forever transform the way you talk about who you are, what you do and the unique value you bring to your customers. It’s the story every craft brewer should read.




Night Shift Taproom

Photography by: Tim Oxton / Night Shift Brewing

Made in Boston How the Night Shift Brewing brand became one of Beantown’s favorite craft breweries

On the streets where everyone The Night Shift Brewing knows the Night Shift Brewing founders eventually moved their brand, the story of its auspicious operations out of that Somerville beginnings is well known. A trio of kitchen. Today, with more than friends in a kitchen in Somerville, 60 team members, including Mass., took a 5-gallon boil kettle, bartenders, brewers, salespeople a Gatorade cooler mash tun and and microbiologists, the beer is some basic starter recipes, and one of the New England area’s By Michael J. Pallerino started dabbling in a little homegrandest obsessions. brewing. In 2007, before the craft brewing phenomOperating from a 30,000-square-foot facility in Evenon became a worldwide obsession, they slowly erett, Mass, the Night Shift Brewing story continues started to refine their process, tweak the recipes and to enhance it legendary status. With its wide array upgrade their equipment. of unique, complex flavors, the Night Shift name Before long, they found themselves up past midnight remains at the center of the craft brewing explosion. brewing two to three times a week. Office workers by Craft Brewing and Marketing sat down with day, they became homebrewers by night. That initial Night Shift Brewing co-founder Michael Oxton to dabbling of recipes is now one of the Boston areas get his thoughts on why his brand is helping lead favorite craft brews. the craft brewing charge and what the future holds.





Give us a snapshot of today's craft brew market from your perspective. The craft beer industry has been growing and developing so quickly that change is really the biggest constant. Every day there are new businesses on the scene, new trends developing and more opportunities to engage with the larger community. It’s an exciting and challenging task to consistently stand out from the crowd.

What trends are defining the space?

cans multiple times. Our production team stays on top of what’s new in the brewing world, and that beer is a great example of how we got in on the New England IPA craze early.

What is the Night Shift story from a brand perspective? Night Shift Brewing is a company born from experimentation and curiosity, and we’ve never been shy about sharing the real stories behind the beer we’re producing. Our new projects, our personal interests, our mistakes – none of it is meant to be kept a mystery. You can see this in our dedication to quality – our willingness to dump beer that isn’t up to our standards and our fierce advocacy for freshness. As we’ve grown, that ethos has stayed, but we’re talking about bigger things nowadays. Topics

Telling a coherent story and cultivating a cohesive image is where a lot of breweries are focusing their energy. Since most of us are operating across so many mediums – taprooms, social media, product packaging – there are a lot of opportunities to showcase who you are. When it comes to branding and graphic design, that often means building a consistent tone and a set of visuals rather than just taking each project independently. We’re hoping that a craft beer drinker can see our work from afar and immediately recognize it as Night Shift Brewing. On the production side, we always aim for a balance of quality and innovation. We’re fine-tuning new recipes all the time – from mixed fermentation sours brewed with lactose sugar, to fruited double IPAs, to traditional German styles like zwickelbier and schwarzbier. More often than not, Brewer Brett Kennison at work breweries are barrel-aging, using wild yeast strains and producing hoppy beer all at the same time. In response, conlike sustainable growth, quality control decisions sumers are showing up to taprooms to try an array around different packaging formats, and the Masof styles instead of just their go-to. sachusetts distribution system are all on our minds. We don’t focus on chasing trends, but we do The sense of excitement and transparency try to adopt new processes and drive industry upon which we were founded hasn’t left. More innovation. When it comes to small-batch reresources simply means more innovative opporleases, we’re able to express a specific idea or tunities, so we’re continuing to push forward with inspiration through our products. A great examrecipe development and new brewing processes. ple is Fluffy – a New England IPA. The recipe Those initiatives are born from that continual sense was originally created by one of our production of curiosity, but we’ve improved our capacity and managers, Anna Jobe, to highlight a soft and capability to tackle them. pillowy mouthfeel. We released it on draft at our Over time, we’ve added incredible people to our taproom and it resonated with our fans in a big team while keeping our core values intact, ensuring way – so much so that we’ve brought it back in a consistent, strong brand identity and culture.

The craft beer industry has been growing and developing so quickly that change is really the biggest constant.



(Top left) Small-batch IPAs from Night Shift, (Far left bottom) NSB beer about to go out for distribution, (Inside bottom left) Two mixed fermentation sours from Night Shift’s Weisse series, (Above) Brewer Craig Kennison at work

Walk us through your branding strategy. The strategy starts with high-quality beer. Without that, we’re not telling a story worth standing behind. The passions and expertise of our production crew are a big part of who the company is, and their work is the basis for the vision we’re sharing with the world. From there, we share that vision in our Taproom by empowering our staff to educate the customers about our products, while enhancing their experience through exceptional hospitality. On the partnerships front, we put a lot of effort into making sure that our distribution partners are strong advocates for our work. The more effectively we can communicate the story and vision to them, the easier it is to ensure that the end-consumer is impacted by it. Our visual branding is all about storytelling. A lot of our visual identity is centered around our hop owl logo, which began as a quick sketch of mine back in 2009 for our homebrew labels, and we keep that front and center as often as possible. It’s a reminder of our nocturnal homebrewing roots and a great way to share our company’s history. Outside of that, we try to experiment as much as possible, while still creating recognizable themes like our Weisse series and our small-batch IPAs (Fluffy, Timber!, Craigerator, etc). At the end of the day, we use our branding to highlight our values and the stories we see at Night Shift on a daily basis. If a label, poster or design can help showcase the inspiration happening behind the scenes, then it’s a job well done.

Talk about your distribution strategy. We self-distributed right out of the gate in 2012, and that independence has always been a huge part




of the Night Shift identity. It started with us driving around with bottles and plastic kegs in the back of a Subaru Outback, and eventually grew to the point where we had multiple box trucks delivering cans and (non-plastic) kegs of Night Shift around the city. Night Shift Distributing was started with the goal of disrupting the distribution scene in Massachusetts. Our team was frustrated by archaic franchise laws that lock in brewers for eternity, and we knew that others shared our frustration. So, we started the distribution company to offer fellow craft breweries a like-minded distribution partner with a strong focus on beer quality and freshness, brand control, and customer service. NSD is for brewers, by brewers and now operates as its own separate company – striving to create a better craft distribution landscape here in our home state of MA

What's the biggest issue today related to the marketing/sales side of the craft beer business today? Standing out. Everyone is trying to share their message and break new ideas first without just adding to the noise. It’s inspirational and motivating, but it’s also a challenge that every marketing and sales person in the industry is constantly aware of. Having an identity that customers understand, and branding that they recognize makes all the difference when there are 15 different local IPAs on the shelf. Our job is to maintain connections with our loyal fan base while creating new connections with an audience of potential fans. A customer purchasing their first four-pack of Night Shift today should feel like they're joining an exciting chapter in the Night Shift story just as some of our very first


customers did back in 2012. That’s really hard to maintain, but it's so important.

What is the secret to creating a branding story that consumers can buy in to? Jury’s still out on whether it’s a secret, but we’ve always relied on honesty and keeping an open dialogue. No one is interested in seeing another ad that is forced upon them or digesting another insincere marketing campaign. Be yourself, share your passions, and don’t be afraid to eat some humble pie when things go wrong. If your product is great and your dedication is earnest, the community will respond to your work. When they respond, listen. Listen to the people who come into your taproom or write to you on social media, and take what they say seriously. Branding is absolutely a dialogue, not a monologue, with your consumers.

What is the one thing that every craft beer brand should be doing in the way of marketing? It’s hard to say that there’s one cover-all strategy, but making sure your employees are a part of the

message can’t be understated. Everyone needs to buy-in and really believe in the brand, otherwise, it’ll be just another job versus a passion and your fans will feel that. Whether you’re sourcing information from taproom staff, featuring different employees on social media or just posting quick, easy Instagram stories about your staff’s day-to-day, it’s always smart to keep your marketing people-centric. At the end of the day, a personal touch is often what builds the relationship with a lifelong supporter.

What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities moving ahead? Right now, it’s growing the Night Shift brand in our Massachusetts wholesale market. This means a huge focus on consumer education and awareness, strong partnerships and cohesive branding.

What's the biggest item on your to-do list right now? Nailing down our 2018 release calendar. Got some exciting beer on the horizon.

Drinks with Night Shift Brewing co-founder Michael Oxton What’s the most rewarding part of your job? Growing our company with the amazingly talented team of people that we’ve built around us. And drinking our delicious beer with them at the end of the day.

What was the best advice you ever received? From my dad: “If you wake up to find yourself in a gray jacket and gray pants, carrying a gray briefcase, heading out to your gray car, on your way to your gray office, make a change. Don’t live a gray life.”

When I was a kid, my dad had this realization one morning on the way to work. He promptly quit his office job to start what eventually became a successful photography business with my mom. Gotta follow the passion. I did the same right before founding NSB. I left my cubicle job to build a brewery with Mike and Rob on a shoestring budget, a crazy dream, and plenty of passion. Haven't looked back. Don't live a gray life. From Allagash’s Rob Todd: “Be relentless about improving. When you see trash, pick it up. The little things matter. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Smile. Listen.”

What's the best thing a customer ever said to you? “Can we volunteer to help around the brewery?” – three customers at our first tasting in 2012. All brothers. They now all work for us as full-time brewers.

What is your favorite brand story? The first batch of our flagship New England pale ale, Whirlpool, was a total experiment. We brewed it into a non-jacketed, room temperature brite tank and just let it free rise ferment. We ended up with a few sixtels and zero idea how it would taste. It was ridiculously good, and customers loved it. We sold out almost immediately, brewed it again in a bigger batch, and Whirlpool took off from there. It tastes a lot better today than that first batch, but those bright citrus flavors and soft, sessionable qualities were there from the beginning.




By Eric Balinski

Odds: 3,000 to 1 Let's face it –sometimes new product fail. But when they hit, the rewards are worth the ride.

Many times people, as well meaning as they may be, just can’t tell you what to make, but they will assure you they are right if you listen to them.

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” – Humorist and writer Dave Barry

A fitting quote to start this article on new product innovation, as my last article used pizza as a metaphor to discuss how to grow the craft beer market. Odds are as a craft brewer, you go to bed at night dreaming of creating a brew that will start a new trend or push you to the front of a current craft beer trend. At this year's "Great American Beer Festival" in Boulder, Colo., some brewer’s dreams played out, with awards in 98 categories of beer, covering 161 different beer styles. Let’s face it though – creating new products is a tough game. In general, most new products fail. Studies suggest greater than 80 percent fail. One study on new product development found, for every one idea that turns into a commercial success (it makes money and pays for the investment), it takes at least 3,000 ideas being vetted before the one that finally succeeds. That’s a lot of thinking, sweat, frustration and failure along the way to success. Product innovators tend to fall into one of two broad categories: The Inventor – typically one




person whose own ingenuity guiding force behind experimenting until he hits upon something people like or need. Thomas Edison is a great example of a genius. The other type is the Plotters – this tends to start with a team that methodically follows a plan, charts each step, analyzes results and adjusts until they achieve the desired end result. Most large companies follow a regimented process like this because they have more faith in a process than creative genius. They also claim more success than they actually achieve, which is why many of them will buy a smaller more creative competitor, as is occurring in the craft beer industry. Both approaches have merit, so it’s not uncommon to see some blending of the two, though one will dominate within a company more than the other because of a company’s culture, leadership and talent. Whatever your approach, it all starts with generating an idea. Typically, there are several common areas that spark product ideas and innovation. They include Trends, People and Vision. Here is a brief overview on each:


Trends Innovators often study and follow trends. Craft beer is a trend in itself, with trends within the craft beer trend. Forecasted trends for 2018 suggest brewers will make and consumers will drink more: botanicals beers, wild and sour beers, barrel aged beers and hazy IPAs. This is terrific up to the point that you realize every craft brewer is aware of these trends. Following trends does not mean you are guaranteed to succeed, as most of your peers are following them, too. Let’s not forget either that following trends brought us beverage failures such as New Coke, Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water, and Zima. Trends often do provide an initial hint of a new product, and for that reason alone are worth your attention.

People Innovators often follow their customers, employees or thought leaders ideas as the source of news ideas and products. The voice of the customer/employee/thought leader can have wonderful insights. Yet, many times, people can only articulate what

they like or don’t like, giving little useable insights to effectively shape a new product’s direction. Many times, people, as well meaning as they may be, just can’t tell you what to make, but they will assure you they are right if you listen to them.

Vision People wake up with a dream and a new idea. Or maybe while mowing the yard or walking the dog, the big idea hits them. Often and unexpectedly, something triggers an inspiring vision of possibilities. Perhaps the most renowned inventor who possessed the gift of vision was Leonardo da Vinci, though even he would be shocked that a painting of his sold this month for $450 million. Most likely this is also how many craft brewers started and built their business. Based upon an insightful vision backed by passion for a style or flavor, they thought they could do better, and thus launched their brewery. Bravo and many more sweet brew dreams. While these three sources of new ideas are worth tapping, it has been my experience many new products

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are also seeded by unlikely sources. Unfortunately, one’s own beliefs can blind one to recognizing and using these sources to create new products. Allow me to give an example: A former client made ingredients that imparted unique characteristics into their customer’s end products. They were a well-established pioneer in the field with current revenue, making them a large mid-sized company. But they were frustrated that all their new ingredients innovations fell flat with their customers. In other words, after years of spending considerable money on new products, none of their customers bought any of their latest stuff. A conversation with the team revealed they had segmented their customers into five distinctive buyer groups, each with different needs for ingredients. For logical reasons, the team only introduced new ingredients to their important, biggest or most lucrative customers, because the team thought they would best appreciate the new ingredients. They didn’t. Ever. The team also had one odd-ball customer group considered to be low value. As we discussed what made them odd, the light bulb went off that their least favored customer group might have the most potential use for the new product ingredients. With nothing to lose, they dusted off 10 years’ worth of new products and introduced them to the odd-balls, who themselves had customers eager for new products. The odd balls had terrific success with the new ingredients and launched new product after new product based upon the old developments. Not surprising, once low value oddball customers succeeded, they created a trend with the important, biggest and most lucrative customers buying the ingredients, too. The result for the company was an amazing amount of increased sales, doubling its size in only five years, all based upon old new products.

Innovators often follow their customers, employees or thought leaders ideas as the source of news ideas and products.




These product successes resulted only after people in the company, considered customers outside their traditional sweet spots. This dynamic is not exclusive to this company or industry. Why? People creating new products tend to talk with people they know, people who currently buy the most, people they like, and people that are liked minded. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.” While there is great value in an aligned team, like-mindedness can and does affect new products successes, not always for the better. Continue watching trends, talking with current customers and employees, hoping for a vision to hit, but don’t settle there. Here’s what you should also do to find insightful inspiration that could create new products for your brewery: • Talk to and hang around people you don’t sell to or sell very little to. • Study people who are not like you, don’t think like you do and people you may not agree with. • Go to places that aren’t centered on craft beer, like a winery, a martini bar or places where people gather to have a good time, but where craft beer may not be the featured attraction, or even sold. • Don’t be afraid to take some of your old new products that “failed” with your customers and introduce them to completely different customer groups. • When all else fails, look way outside your industry. “I do condition my hair with honey and beer. I smell like the bottom of a beer barrel for for days afterward, but it's very good for the hair." – Catherine Zeta-Jones My hunch is there are plenty of idea sources for new products that brewers are not tapping into. The counter-culture, edgy look and feel of brewers’ websites and social media pages suggests an industry norm, all the more reason to step outside these norms to find new ideas. As Peter Drucker said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” Eric Balinski is the owner of Synection, LLC, which is a strategy and growth consultancy firm. For more information, visit:


By Eric Johnson


Your marketing toolbox Making choices with variety packs Revolution Brewing is a winner. Combining more than one beer style in a 12- or 15-pack format isn’t revolutionary. It has been done for decades by both big beer and craft brewers. Variety packs can be advantageous in grabbing more shelf space. They offer potential for expanding the palates of customers already familiar with your flagship brand. In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, how would you get your variety pack to stand out – if you make the decision to even launch one. Time for some serious brand strategy considerations. In Craft Beer & Marketing issue No. 3, we featured Revolution Brewing in Chicago. We shared its unique story as well as its insights on contemporary market conditions. The trend toward bigger packaging received a mention from Doug Veliky, CFO/CMO of Revolution, as did its “League of Heroes Series (LoH)” of rotating IPAs. Recently, we had the pleasure of a follow-up visit with Doug and Revolution, which led to taking home the latest edition in the “League of Heroes.” Net result, a remarkable experience. Equally impressive were the brews themselves, as well as the multiple branding choices surrounding them. All are worthy of review. Let’s look at how this variety pack became the No. 1 seller in the Chicago market (per IRI stats). As Veliky mentioned, “League of Heroes” offered many opportunities for expression. For Rev’s brewers, LoH is a platform for them to work with newer hops. For Rev’s branding team, the series cuts loose the inner comic and superhero geek within. There were multiple inspirations all coming together in “League of Heroes.”.

The Beer Rev fans are knowledgeable and discriminating consumers. They have high expectations of Revolution, especially with regards to freshness. The “League of Heroes” series brews are all single-hop varieties (for example: Galaxy, Mosaic, Amarillo, etc.). All are

canned within a couple days of each other. Twelve packs are hand-packed and issued in short runs every two weeks. The date of the oldest can is stamped on the carton. That’s a serious commitment to freshness.

The Brand Concept “League of Heroes” is a concept extension of Revolution’s earlier “Heroes” series of specialty IPAs. “Heroes” issues have been one brew per six-pack format. They have been marketed as seasonal with rotation every two to three months. The “League of Heroes” concept was created with the comparative experience in mind. Each 12-pack contains four different IPAs. Always included is the Anti-Hero flagship brand. The past November was the third release of the League 12-pack. Each features a different mix than earlier issues. Over the year, the “League of Heroes” issues stand as an educational experience in hopped styles.

The Imagery Revolution’s visual expression of brand identity has been rich in comic book style characters from the beginning. Just look at The General featured on Anti-Hero IPA. The Heroes series of characters started when Revolution was asked to do a brew for C2E2, the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo. Galaxy Hero came first. The other characters in The League just rolled on from there. And by the way, Rev’s Anti-Hero can made the Top 10 in Russ Phillips 2014 book, titled “Canned! Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can.”

The Finish “League of Heroes” is a verified success story for Revolution Brewing. Innovation in brewing and branding. What’s your variety pack story? What might it be?




By Eric Johnson

Music and Beer CBAM looks at which came first – and why it matters

Photo by: Tim McLaughlin of Hapless Guitar Photography

Which came first, the music or the beer? It depends on who you are. The answer may differ by circumstances of the moment. We asked that question to our Chicagoland friends, a group of craft brew aficionados that includes brewery founders, musical artists and retail establishments known for supporting both. Separately interviewed, it was as if we were in the same room hoisting brews. Not so coincidentally, same




shared community. The collective answers were resounding. Beer and music are exceedingly intertwined, almost inseparable. Together, they enrich our lives. For Alan Cromwell, co-founder of Blue Island Beer Co., beer and music are life threads. Same for John Condron, a Chicago-based singer/songwriter/ producer and former co-owner of a pub renown for support of craft brewers. Likewise, Jeff Julian, co-founder of the indie rock band, The Vaudevileins.


place with industrial, mercantile roots back to the 1830s. The Cal Sag Channel of the old Illinois Michigan Canal still runs barge traffic through it today. Before Prohibition, there were seven breweries here. Blue Island Beer, founded 2 1/2 years ago is the first one since. For Al Cromwell, the roots of inspiration for Blue Island Beer came from coffee. Not the beverage actually, but the local coffeehouse scene of some decades back. As an artistically-inclined young person, Cromwell gravitated to those places. “I was a punk-edged rock ‘n’ roller," Cromwell says. "Way back, we had a band called The Seventies. It was a double-entendre of our birth years and musical style. At that time, Al Cromwell, Blue Island Beer Co. coffeehouses were where it was at. They were places for art, music, and conversation to happen. I had some older friends touring California and they came back sharing great experiences. Places like that are rare now. Coffee got corporate. We lost something when it did. In founding Blue Island Beer, one of our goals has been to create that type of cultural epicenter that didn’t exist anymore.” For John Condron, his early life was all about the music. Condron is a city boy. Raised in one of northeast

He also is an occasional home brewer and full-time communications director for a non-profit organization. Throughout our interviews, as well as ones with other artists, we heard the same phrases describing their inspirations and endeavors. Authentic. Personal. Experiential. Expressive. Localized. Intentional. Hard-working. Blue Island is a small city 16 miles south of the Chicago loop, population 25,000. It’s a working-class



Philadelphia’s many working-class neighborhoods, ChicagoLand and Craft Brew came much later. “I’ve been traveling in some capacity or another for over 30 years," Condron says. "My earliest exposure to what’s now considered craft was at out of town gigs. Beerwise, we’d always ask for something local. It was all about the experience. Stuff we couldn’t get back home. Like finding local food fare. When out of town friends played in town, it was the same. We insisted they have Philly Cheese Steaks.”

Blue Island Beer is unique in ChicagoLand for its consistent support of musical artists, especially being a smaller, stand-alone brewery. Condron and Julian have each performed at Blue Island. Word is spreading among circles of regionally-touring artist friends that Blue Island can be a great gig. It can also be source of well-crafted brews and multi-sensory evening for both local patrons as well as performers.

Not surprising for a “communications” professional, Jeff Julian is articulate and multi-talented. To that, he demurs, in amusement. “I’m a believer that one should fail in many things in life," Julian says. "I’ve failed well in a variety of arts over the years, including creative writing, music, brewing, and the spoken word. Beer is much easier to drink than make. Like Al, I’m a fan of the coffeehouse scene. A few good ones are still out there. Like John, I’ve always hungered for the richness of local experience.”

•C  romwell: Our goal is to make great beer. But as a local small business, it’s more than that. We promote product and experience. We attract people willing to pay for quality and be part of something more than a beer. It’s synergistic. Here, you can share an evening with friends. You can be part of a fund-raiser for a local Bluegrass festival. Stretch your musical awareness. We host artists doing everything from Irish to avant-garde, to spoken word, to hip hop from Nashville. It’s become an organic evolution. • Condron: Blue Island is special. They are so intentional in what they do. Much greater attention to lights, sound, stage placement, etc. Beer, too, of course. What they do gives musicians the best shot at their performance art. Brewers tend to be supportive of musicians, especially original ones. We’re kindred craft with deep connections. • Julian: Music and beer are risky propositions. We both have such competition. Is there a need for another IPA? Another rock ‘n’ roll band? Every chord progression has been done. Every beer style made. We’re spoiled for choice for both in Chicago, really. But, there’s still room for expression, for peak experience. Brew and music are the same in this. They take dedication and hard work. Lots of thought and care, practice over and over. Consistency is the elusive objective. Tougher with greater volumes. Through it all, a sense of authentic personality is created. • Cromwell: Blue Island is a reflection of who we are and what we love. Artists pick up on that. They have a welcoming place here. We’re a community place in many ways. And our clientele in one night ranges from age 21 to 70. The craft-drinking public gets it, too. They can smell it when a place is not authentic. First-timers come here, see art on the wall, gig posters in the window. And, top-quality interesting brews to enjoy. What more is there? I’ve often said, “Living well is the best revenge.” • Julian: Reminiscing is a trip. A very long time ago, as a music reviewer, I interviewed Alan and his old band, The Blue Meanies. Does he remember that? It’s interesting circling back, seeing what he’s doing here. As an artist, I’m actually inspired by craft brewers. Love the ideas, the creativity, especially packaging. I’ve learned about promoting and branding from them.

Photo by: Kevin Errek





These interviews prompted John Condron to look back as well, including his years as a partner in Chicago Street Pub in Joliet, Ill. John and Mike Trizna went in together 15 years ago. Today, Mike and his wife, Kathy, carry on. Chi Street has become the place for live music, great craft brew and homemade-style pub food in Will County. The Triznas are supreme supporters of these related

“Brewers tend to be supportive of musicians, especially original ones. We’re kindred craft with deep connections.” – Chicago-based singer/songwriter/ producer John Condron

arts, including having organized and managed “Hopstring Fest” for five years. Hopstring’s tag line is, “a Celebration of Craft Beer and Original Music.” Condron, Julian and Cromwell are all veterans of Hopstring and Chicago Street. "Craft beer wasn’t an epiphany moment at Chicago Street," Condron says. "People started to request things out of the ordinary. Brewery reps and distributors were instrumental in us all trying new things, especially 10 years ago – even today. They spent time with us. Supported musical events. Over time, you get really educated on what

portfolios are available. There’s such a great level of awareness now. People like us, we gravitate to it. Every night now, Chicago Street is filled with people who love both craft brew and original music. In ChicagoLand, there are other Craft Brewing establishments that regularly support musical artists. Quickly coming to mind are: Two Brothers, Haymarket, Tribes, 350 Brewing and Lagunitas. Many others sponsor and/or host music festivals, Lagunitas being prominent. They were the largest sponsor of the “Hopstring Fest,” for example. All said, Blue Island is unique for now. It's the only brewery, not also operating a restaurant/ Blue Island Beer Company bar, to be such firm supporters of musical artists. Hopefully, more will follow. Change is John Condron inevitable. And with it all is the potential for inspiration. Jeff Julian “The only thing that re mains constant is the absolute base-level connection between Chicago Street Pub music and craft," Condron says. "It’s the same people.”



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