So many breweries in start-up mode have a crystal clear vision for their future. But as they mature, and as the market shifts, and as those early days start to feel farther and farther away, we find out what a brewery is really made of. Do they stick with that adolescent firebrand kind of rhetoric? Or do they adopt a more practical outlook on what’s possible—and even desirable—for a craft brewery? For most, it’s somewhere in between.
In today’s market, a more diverse set of business models are available than ever before. Factor in changing state laws and consumer demand, and that vision for what a craft brewer can be is evolving quickly. What previously seemed counter to craft now seems perfectly permissible—encouraged, even. Just look at how the conversation around contract brewing—now oftentimes referred to as "gypsy" brewing—has shifted over time.
That’s an easy one, but what about things like cold storage? Staying local? And the recent interest in employee ownership and what they says about succession planing? Are we open to our ideas on those opinions changing too? We better be.
Today’s guest is Clay Robinson of Sun King, a guy who’s gone on the record early and often about what he would and wouldn’t do. And today, most of that, in hindsight, was short-sighted. But he’s not letting it hold him back. Instead, he’s casting off the burden of his former outlook and working hard to embrace a future where he thinks practically about his business, adopts a never-say-never attitude, and starts looking at things like grocery chains, conventional distribution, ESOP and acquisitions pros and cons, even distilling, as his potential growth plan going forward.
This conversation is a wild ride through so many of the issues small breweries are wrestling with today, and Clay handles it with an uncanny transparency. I’m thankful I got a chance to sit down with him and hash out the details.