The Hustle

Year in Review — How did we find time to drink?

As much as we talk about what GBH does in the wold of beer, it's even tough for us to wrap our heads around it all sometimes. We don't sleep much, but we do find time to drink. And somewhere in between, we find the time to help breweries big and small chart their future, launch and build stunning brands, and partner to create unique experiences that will live on in our memories long after the kegs get kicked. 

Good Beer Hunting has at least two sides (there are more every year). First, there's these independent, ad-free, beautiful stories (which are supported by our e-commerce store). We've built a strong team of storytellers that come from a variety of perspectives and regions globally—passionate drinkers, professional photographers and writers, and even a few industry folks that want to tell stories no one else can.

Secondly, there's our strategic and creative practice devoted to breweries and craft-focused businesses of all shapes and sizes. I've been building this small team since I left my gig as an innovation strategist three years ago on the eve of Chicago Craft Beer Week. (It was the best bender after quitting a job you can imagine.) We've developed brand and communication strategies, organized and articulated portfolios, conducted insightful market research, planned new product and market launches, designed new brands, refreshed old ones, created packaging for hyper-local, regional, and national audiences, and directed some unprecedented visual projects. We've even developed some exciting new marketing plans for breweries who are selling beer farther away from their home turf than ever before. In short, there's almost no part of the beer world we didn't touch in 2015. And as if right on cue, GBH's work was recognized at the turn of the New Year by Imbibe Magazine as one of their Imbibe 75. 

So, mostly this post is a way for us to take stock and look at all that work ourselves—at least the projects that are complete. We've got some major launches hanging over into the new year that we're excited to share too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 2016 is already busier. There's just no stopping beer. 


 

How would you like to sell 10,000 barrels in your first year? Hot damn. Most people wouldn't be able to wrap their heads around that, but the team at Stony Creek is one of the most finely tuned instruments I've ever seen — from creativity to precision, the brewing floor to feet on the street, the incredible water-side taproom to the community of entrepreneurs they support, the Crowley's and co. are an amazing example of what this next generation of brewers can do. And in 2016, they aim to do even more. Opening up two more states, more awesome core and seasonal beers, the list goes on. But mostly, they're just going to try and keep up. Connecticut is thirsty, my friends. 

Michael is exceptional at helping to craft a clear and unique voice to fit a brand. We consider him an integral part of our success as well as a true member of our Stony Creek family.
— Ed Crowley Jr., President, Stony Creek Brewery

Josh Hambright, Jake Koeneman, and Chris Bly are carving out a niche in the Midwest as a 100% Brett brewery. From day one, these boys had some incredible ideas, and it was our job to focus as much of that ambition as possible as they started gypsy brewing, collaborating with some of our favorite brewers, and establishing a new wave of experimentation in Indianapolis — what we call A Midwest Exotic™. They've since ventured into nearby urban markets, including Chicago and Louisville with familiar-sounding brett beers, like a Stout, IPA, Gose and a Blonde. They've been on rotation in the GBH studio since day one. 

We helped invent the brand and portfolio strategy from the ground-up, visually inspired by the house yeast melange with that intertwined CSB. We've extended it to some unique sales cards, mercy, and trade materials. Oh, and we're excited to be cranking on some incredible 2016 packaging work right now. Hold on to your whiskers. 

I’ve never slept more soundly (or longer) knowing GBH has my back and will pick me up when I fall flat on my face. Whether it be 2am cheeseburgers, discreetly filming my audition roll for an upcoming Shake Weight commercial, or casually blaming me for events (allegedly) out of my control to his thousands of podcast subscribers, I can’t help but gush over the support and advice we’ve received from Michael and the entire GBH team.
— Chris Bly, co-founder, Central State Brewing

This is a freshie. The Central State Brewing team is opening a specialty bar in Indianapolis focused on their Brett beers, and the amazing beers from around the world that they're inspired by. It's going to be a beautiful, no-frills beer + wine hangout with one of the best lists in the Midwest, right next door to the Smoking Goose delicatessen (if you don't know about Smoking Goose, now you know).

We just launched the brand, inspired by the geometry and open fermentation of a coolship, united with the Central State typography vibes, and we're busy getting their first menu and tap handles ready to roll. And yeah, there will be a GBH neon in the window soon enough—we'll keep the light on for you.


 

Southwest of Chicago in the town where the enormous canals were dug and the flow of the Chicago River was reversed all the way back to the Mississippi, Pollyanna has been quietly making great beer. We joined the team this year to help them plan their next phase in terms of brand and portfolio strategy, and got busy concepting and designing labels for their upcoming barrel-aged and experimental series of beers. The new Orenda series is about to drop, inspired by the psychology of optimism that runs through Pollyanna's team. The world is what you see, after all. A second series is on the way for 2016.

We aren't just aiming at impressing city folks with these beers, either. We're looking to Reverse the Flow™.  


 

Two long-time friends from Mount Tamalpais just across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco are getting ready to launch in 2016 across the bay in Richmond, CA. Rob and Chris were big-time fans of the podcast, and when it came time to consider their brand and market strategy, they knew exactly where to turn. 

Chris has been homebrewing for decades, focusing on precisely brewing to traditional styles—something every busy craft market needs. So we wanted to present the beers in a classic-but-modern style that reflected their sensibilities, as well as the industrial shipping port they'll be inhabiting. All around them in the bay and on the rail lines are freighters, cargo trains, and larger-than-life industry. These are elements that are endlessly inspiring to the team. Even the name we chose, East Brother, points to a tiny island that sits in the bay between their home and the location of the brewery where all things will pass. 

Beer is Labor™, after all. And no one knows it better than these two. 

Working with GBH has been invaluable in helping us articulate our story and translate that into a compelling positioning, brand platform, and visual identity. Michael’s integrity and authenticity shine through in everything he does, and on top of it all, he’s a hell of a nice guy!
— Rob Lightner, co-founder, East Brother Beer Co.

 

A small team of three friends from Orange County wanted to combine the raw, wild spirit of farmhouse brewing and the pioneering hop forward styles of California. They think this approach captures the original spirit of the region where a rugged coastline meets the daunting ocean. This is the Orange County they grew up exploring and reading about as young men. 

Like so many new start-ups, one of their founding partners is a great designer, so we teamed up to help drive brand and portfolio strategy and articulate the vision alongside some compelling visual inspiration already in motion.

These guys are going to make some of my favorite beer in 2016. Such a great concept. 

Strategizing on the creation of an authentic brand requires intimate knowledge of what a team has done, can do, and will do to execute it. Michael Kiser helped our team to articulate and curate the best of what we had to offer. The result of working with GBH was a clarity about our vision, but it also pushed it to another level.
— Bobby Fitzgerald, co-founder, Gunwhale Ales

 

One of my first, and most enduring, loves in craft beer. My hometown brewery has been on fire in 2015, and we've been thrilled to be a small part of a growing and ambitious team, helping with everything from research to block parties to big-picture thinking about the future. But never have we taken on a project as ambitious as the Grit & Grain documentary series about the origins of Bourbon County Stout. 

A team of five, lead by Goose's Ken Hunnemeder and Mike Smith, ventured to the rickhouses of Heaven Hill, the cooperages of Cuba, Missouri, and the white oak forests of the Ozarks to trace the beginnings of the bourbon-barrel-aged beer that started it all. We've shared every chapter along the way, but here it is in all its glory. A 45+ minute testimony to the heart and soul that goes in to making a groundbreaking beer—the same uncut version we shared at GABF this year. 


 

We helped 5 Rabbit pivot with a fresh approach to the brand and portfolio a couple years ago as one of our first strategic clients. And this year, we partnered with them to launch #GBHype as an experimental partner, working to raise awareness for one of the country's most creative breweries. 

But as creative as they are, they're also one of the most progressive thinking businesses with whom we've worked. We went to Costa Rica to document and develop the story around Yodo con Leche, a collaborative coffee beer with Gaslight Roasters in Chicago that took the whole team to origin to seek out the next coffee for the beer. That resulted in an amazing tasting experience at GBH studio, and our first #GBHype box going out to media.

This was also the year of Chinga tu Pelo. 5 Rabbit founder Andres Araya took a stand against racism and prejudice, using his biggest weapon—his beer—to campaign for a more just and loving society in the face of some troubling and dangerous political rhetoric. #GBHype helped raise awareness for the campaign, connecting with like-minded Chicagoland accounts, earning placements in national and international media for the story, and creating a product that helped us raise more than $5k for a local Latino cultural organization. 


 

Another freshie. We spent a week with our favorite Tampa crew to help up their storytelling game and prepare for the launch of Cigar City Lager. Familiar to Generations™ and Made for Drinkin'™, this simple, but perfect lager is the kind of beer that unites every wave of craft brewing. It's also a big bet for a brewery that's recently attained regional status, breaking the 50,000 barrel mark.

We had a blast working with them, and look forward to the stories they'll tell in 2016. 


 

We love the ethos of New Belgium, and this year we were proud to work with them to develop the Slow Ride Sessions concept in Chicago. A series of worksessions devoted to hands-on creativity, and the namesake session IPA, brought some of Chicago's best artisans together with GBH fans to have a great time, drink some good beer, and raise money for the Rebuilding Exchange—a true Chicago gem devoted to reclaiming our building materials. 

There's just so much good in beer. 


 

A quickie, but a goodie. We've been fans of these guys ever since we stumbled upon their little brewery in the Quebec countryside a few years ago. So when we hung out during a collab brew at 4 Hands in St Louis this past year, naturally the idea for a label design collaboration popped into our heads. Say hello to Saison Cassis. 

Want to see their story? It's a good one. 


We'v never had a formal gig with this crew, but we've sort of always been there, like two wheels sharpening each other over time. When we venture off to do something new, like Uppers & Downers or Olly Olly (our industry camp getaway), they're an obvious first call for us—brothers and sisters in arms. 

Lately, we've been working very personally with John Barley as his voice in the craft beer world continues to shape minds. From a TedX speech a while back, to a GABF panel discussion in Portland this year, we were there to help focus his message and share it with the world. 

They also became studiomates at GBH this year. We like the beer they bring. 


 

Kevin Lemp and company are some of the smartest and kindest people you'll meet in beer. Our podcast interview with Kevin was a real gem for industry folks that way.

This year we also helped them strategically prepare for the future of their barrel program (which is already one of our favorites with beers like Cuvee Ange) and their hoppy beer festival called Lupulin Carnival. It was a fantastic chance to take a step back and look at the trajectory of two phenomenal programs that developed organically, and get smart and ambitious about the next phase. 

We also joined the Lupulin Carnival ourselves this year with an early prototype Brett IPA collab with Central State called Palm Sunday Tornado. Noticing a theme yet? We love bringing our clients together.  


 

Chicago is about to get some serious sours. We jumped into this project in its formation stages to lead worksessions that helped articulate the concept, build on the brand strategy, and position the portfolio for success. But mostly we just kept pushing brewers Bryan Taylor, Ria Neri, and the team to focus and follow their guts. They're really on to something. 

Watch for the first beers to hit in early 2016.

Bryan Taylor — Ria Neri was in Turkey developing a 3rd Wave coffee brand, 4 Letter Word. 

Bryan Taylor — Ria Neri was in Turkey developing a 3rd Wave coffee brand, 4 Letter Word. 


 

Our coffee beer experience concept with World Barista Champion, Stephen Morrissey, culminated in a regional festival this year called Uppers & Downers, held at Thalia Hall in conjunction with Intelligentsia. We got more than 600 people in the door to drink some of the most innovative coffee beers from brewery and roaster collabs we helped set up or document, alongside an unprecedented multi-roaster espresso bar with La Marzocco Home. 

It was a huge hit, and we just announced that we're doing it again this February 20th. If you missed it last year, shame on us. If you miss it this year, shame on you. 


 

Surprise! Not a brewery. Our background in innovation strategy means we work with other kinds of businesses as well. But you can see the clear attraction with Steadyserv, makers of a system of sensors, software, and insight generation for the liquid world— specially beer. 

We joined this eager team to develop a broad framework for the brand, and get serious about a portfolio and marketing plan, organized in a way that provided flexibility and room for future innovation. By making the concept and product easier to understand, Steadyserv is in a better position to help their customers (anyone that uses data and insights to track and anticipate business needs in beer) to Sell Every Last Drop™. 

Beer in the U.S. is a $102B industry, and it's run on a hunch. Steadyserv is providing the tools and insights to change all that.

Passion in any company is one of, if not the most, critical driver of success. Mostly, the passion to get it right. Good enough should never be good enough. You must intensely care about the quality of your deliverable. The relevance of it and the effort you and your team put into it. If you don’t care, no one else will either.
— Steve Herschberger, CEO, Steadyserv
 

We presented at Brewbound in Chicago this year, and later joined the Start-up Brewery Challenge at alongside some folks from Craft Brew Alliance, to help select the winner of a daunting task any new business owner is familiar with—pitching your heart out. 

Then we took things a big step further, partnering with Brewbound to create the Learning Curve series where we tell the stories of those start-up winners and their experience at Widmer Brothers as they get a crash course in scaling up, QA, operations, ingredient sourcing, brand and marketing—just about anything you can imagine. It's a headspin of a few days, but our first winners, Braxton Brewing, stayed strong. Next up is Wynwood Brewing Company out of Miami. 

 

Our second official #GBHype project was one close to our hearts, helping Drew Fox and Joey Potts articulate their new expansion project just in time for critical city planning meetings and to help get the right story out to their fans in NW Indiana, Chicago, and downstate. 

There's always a lot of speculation around brewery expansions, especially when it involves multiple cities, buildings, and new ideas. Being able to connect their vision with their past performance through a series of communication pieces, infographics, and a podcast episode, made everything crystal clear. 

Shoutout to LOE. We've were part of the original Kickstarter funding of 18th street, and we couldn't be prouder. 


As a small company that's tasked with helping our clients and partners keep up with the future, it's not often we stop and look back to see what we've done. But by any account, this was a goddamn year and a half. 

Thank you to all the incredible people we've had the privilege of working with this year to make beer a better industry. The creativity, energy, and ambition of beer is why we're here too. And by inviting us to your table, you've enabled us play a small part in your long-term success.

Here's to our collective 2016. Our future is your future. 

 

Words by
Michael Kiser

Michael Kiser

Michael is the founder of Good Beer Hunting. He travels the globe — writing, shooting, and collaborating with breweries of all shapes and sizes. This site is his chronicle of a life in beer as he witnesses the cultural explosion first-hand and finds the people, places, and products with amazing stories.

See more stories from Michael

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Keep up with GBH as we take to the sky, land in far-away places, kick off great new projects, and annouce exciting events. It's not all the news that's fit to print, but it'll certianly drive you to drink.

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