In a trade brimming with over 6,000 U.S. breweries, how does a craft brewery stand out from the crowd? We started Better Beer Now to give craft brewers what may be the most valuable point of differentiation there is: maximum-quality beer. For pennies per serving, our program helps brewers quickly get the testing and quality assurance gear they need to make the best beer possible.
The inspiration for Better Beer Now came from increasing calls from our industry's leaders for improved quality, and something else: beer lovers having their eager anticipation turn into big disappointment. Instead of finding a new favorite beer or brewery, beer lovers are often scratching a brewery from their must-buy lists due to beers that aren't properly brewed or packaged, and creations that are no longer fresh or don't live up to their promises.
Such experiences are damaging to the craft beer industry and to a striving brewery's future. "The biggest challenge of doing business as a start-up brewery," says Mary Pellettieri, quality instructor for the Brewers Association, "is gaining a customer's trust. That trust is lost and hard to gain back if there are quality problems up front."
With so many new breweries and beers entering the market, breweries with troubled beers seldom get a second chance -- consumers simply move on to other options. Brewers that don't employ quality control equipment also risk having to dump precious beer down the drain or recall it from store shelves. These scenarios can put a craft brewery in a financial hole it may never escape.
Granted, breweries with their hands full producing beer and trying to build sales in a more competitive industry often aren't thinking about QC gear. And many breweries don't have the funds or funding options to obtain these tools, either. That's why we made our program simple and brewer friendly.
With Better Beer Now, brewers can fund up to $50,000 in laboratory and quality control equipment. The program features $99 monthly payments for the first six months, and applying requires just a short online form and three months of recent bank statements. Funding is typically approved in 24 to 48 hours.
The cost for even a substantial amount of lab gear is very low. For example, a 3,000-barrels/year packaging brewery that finances $25,000 of quality improvement equipment over four years with Better Beer Now would incur an extra cost of less than one penny per bottle or can of beer.
The program funds everything from microscopes and adenosine triphosphate testers to water-testing equipment, dissolved-oxygen meters and much more. Packaging breweries can obtain can-seam analysis gear, fill-inspection monitors, date-coding tools and other quality lifting equipment.
(We think the most important element on a can or bottle isn't the label graphics -- it's the freshness date. Yet too many brewers don't give their customers this crucial info that they need to make an informed purchasing decision.)
Chad Yakobson is the founder of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project in Denver and a longtime Brewery Finance customer. He's also a big believer in the importance and power of beer at its best. "If quality is not at the forefront of your product," Yakobson says, "you might be in the wrong industry."
Yakobson walks his quality talk in big fashion. While it specializes in "wild" and old-world-style beers, his brewery creates its beers with an astounding array of technology. His lab has equipment for testing of carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, alcohol content, density, pH, original extract, real extract, degree of fermentation, and calories. The gear list includes a PFD device, ultrasonic cleaner, automated titrator, analytical balance, spectrophotometer, incubator, stir/hotplate, centrifuge, and autoclave.
"Our goal," Yakobson says, "has always been to have the most sophisticated lab equipment for a brewery of our size. Quality is the foundation of Crooked Stave, so we set out to build a lab equipped for a brewery of 100,000 barrels or bigger."
This combo of modern science and throwback brewing enables Crooked Stave (which produced about 7,500 barrels of carefully crafted beer in 2017) to perfect its artistic endeavors while avoiding the money traps that come with creative risk. "We have roughly 100 data points between brew day and packaging," Yakobson says with pride, "and all-day, every day, we're using the data. Without it we'd be brewing blindly, which we don't believe reflects our level of quality."
In addition to better beer and precious peace of mind, Yakobson says his QC program gives Crooked Stave something especially valuable in today's standing-room-only beer trade: a vital point of differentiation from its peers, and a powerful tool for creating enthusiastic loyalty and trust with distributors, retailers and beer lovers.
"Our quality control effort," Yakobson says, "allows us to maintain our commitment to quality at the highest level, every step of the way. It means we never have to compromise our values and we can uphold our respect for the knowledge, history and traditions of those brewers who came before us."
Craft brewers can help themselves greatly by adopting such high standards. "Quality management investments," Pellittieri says, "pay off in higher quality beer, less waste, and avoiding the cost of dealing with quality issues out in the market versus pro-actively solving those issues in the brewery. Over time," Pellittieri notes, "the Better Beer Now program could save a brewery from so many losses it is hard to even quantify how high its value can be."
To you brewers looking to truly make the best beer possible: Please don't cut corners on your beer-elevating gear and quality management efforts. For the sake of our craft beer trade and your brewery's future, get the equipment you need now and put it to use. Make sure your IBUs and ABV are as closely monitored and important as your IQUs -- Improved Quality Units.
Rick Wehner is a diehard craft beer nut and the founder of Brewery Finance, America's first equipment lender focused on craft brewing. Since its start in 2005, the company has funded more than 900 projects and helped craft beverage makers secure vital funding for fueling their success and fulfilling their beery dreams. Learn more about Brewery Finance and its Better Beer Now program at www.breweryfinance.com.