Industry: Brewing & Distilling
With 200 percent growth forecast for 2018, founder and CEO Caitlin Landesberg plans to bring even more good-for-you beer to the masses.
If you've ever craved a cold beer after a brutal obstacle course race, grueling trail run, or high intensity interval training session, you're not alone -- and Landesberg says there's a reason.
"It's no wonder athletes crave it," she explains, describing the "aha moment" she had in a brewing fundamentals class back in 2012. "As I was learning the different components of beer, it donned on me that it's highly fibrous. Fiber is a natural probiotic. A lot of the malts used have naturally occurring levels of iron. Beer also has B6 and B12, plus hops that have all sorts of anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. And, of course, it's 80 percent water."
A lifelong athlete and passionate trail runner, Landesberg enrolled in the beer-making course because health issues had forced her to make a number of dietary changes a few years earlier -- including giving up beer because of its gluten content.
"I really missed the ritual of having a beer with friends at the end of a big athletic undertaking," she continues. "I'd bring different gluten-free beers and ciders I'd found at bottle shops to the finish line in my own cooler and try to share them around, but everyone had to choke them down. It was a really bummer moment, and nothing out there tasted at all like what I wanted for a finish line beer."
Determined to tackle the challenge head-on, Landesberg enrolled in additional food science and brewing courses at the University of California, Davis. "I was really excited about the power of beer and wanted to change hearts and minds around the role that it can play in healthy and active lifestyles," she explains. "I learned how to remove gluten from beer so that I could brew a full barley-based recipe rather than using sorghum or potato and, all of a sudden, beer was tasting like beer again in my life."
At the time, Landesberg was running the marketing department at a fitness startup and had access to a lot of pro athletes who were eager to sample her new recipes. "It really caught on," she recalls. "I had directors at big races asking for keg orders and a sort of sidebar bootleg operation that was growing faster than I could contai n it."
Landesberg turned to Sufferfest full time in 2015. By the end of 2016, the company's beers were in 200 locations, including every Whole Foods in Northern California. Though she began brewing on a 19-liter homebrew system and continues to develop recipes in the pilot brewhouse at UC Davis, Landesberg has contracted production out to Sleeping Giant Brewing Company in Denver.
"Our brewmaster scales my recipes for commercial brewing into 100- to 200-barrel tanks. They also package for us," she says. "We wanted to focus on going to our constituents versus asking them to come to us in a taproom, and that's one of the reasons we decided to immediately partner with Sleeping Giant. We believe our taproom is the mountain top, the climbing crag, the SoulCycle gym. That's where we sample and showcase our beer to drive people back to retail on-premise or off-premise locations."
Sufferfest's first three beers were Flyby Pilsner (also a 2017 Good Food Awards winner), Taper IPA, and Shakeout Blonde. "We were really focused on developing a great brand around a healthy and active lifestyle while showcasing that a gluten-removed beer could be an award-winner and stand up against the best conventional beers out there," Landesberg says.
Earlier this summer, the company added Repeat Kolsch and FKT Pale Ale to the lineup. "These are also gluten-removed but I also wanted to focus on functionality," Landesberg adds. "Repeat Kolsch is a complex tasting, more satiating low-cal and low-carb beer. It also has bee pollen superfood for this awesome aroma and sweetness as well as micronutrients and proteins. Our FKT Pale Ale is brewed with extra salt and electrolytic properties as well as black currant superfood, which is packed full of vitamin C for all the wonderful recovery elements."
Though Landesberg says that Sufferfest Beer Company is "never going to be a brand that overwhelms the market with new flavors," she has been working on a recipe for an alternative beer.
"I wanted to make something I can drink as a mom and as someone who breastfeeds and really needs to think about alcohol intake," she explains. "I don't think non-alcoholic beers are done well, and I've never enjoyed the flavor of any of them. But I'm now working on a new methodology that I believe is really delicious and will finally pay homage to how non-alcoholic beer should be brewed. We don't have plans in terms of a launch timeline yet, but I think this beer will be important for our community, particularly to people who want to participate in a celebratory moment but also avoid the alcohol."
Favorite beers: Landesberg is currently six months pregnant with her second child, but when she does have a beer, she says her go-to is the company's Flyby Pilsner. "It pairs so well with food and I often have it with a spicy meal," she says. "I've been craving spicy food these days."
Challenges: Simply put, Sufferfest's biggest current challenge is growing pains. The company brewed about 3,000 barrels in 2017, and Landesberg expects production to triple to about 9,000 barrels in 2018.
"In 2016, it was just me," she says. "Every year, we've added about four more people, and at that scale, that's pretty big growth for us." A Series A funding round in 2017 has sustained the company's expansion to this day, but Landesberg will be launching a Series B funding round this fall to help with the hiring of a larger sales and marketing team as well as capital to help with expansion in distribution.
"It's really fun to address the demand in new territories, but how we grow is the thing that keeps me up at night," Landesberg continues. "We need to continue to play to our strengths with being really high-touch and focusing on who it is that we think will really enjoy our promise and our product. I want to make sure we maintain the ability to represent our brand consistently."
Opportunities: "Functional beer is a massive space as a subcategory within healthy beer, and we're creating it," Landesberg says. "Based on the consumption, sales, and appetite of our own constituents, we believe it's a huge opportunity that no one has addressed."
Needs: Landesberg says the company currently has open roles for sales support and marketing in Northern and Southern California. "Check out our careers page online where you'll find a list of open roles and employment opportunities," she adds.