For the last 13 years, Shane Welch has evolved his Sixpoint Brewery from a local Brooklyn attraction to a nationally distributed brand, and a must-have among beer aficionados.
Like most other craft breweries, though, Sixpoint faces relentless competition and is therefore under a lot of pressure to impress customers and ensure their loyalty, to say nothing of attracting new fans. Which is why Welch recently told Brewbound that 2018 will be all about innovation.
There are currently over 5,900 craft brew brands in the U.S.; collectively, they’ve created a $23.5 billion market. As of August, craft brewers were increasing production volume by 5 percent. Those numbers are great for both connoisseurs wanting to stay current with trends and casual consumers interested in trying a new brew at the bar.
For breweries, though, it gets harder and harder to contribute new flavors and concepts that will keep a company competitive. Sixpoint remains on the Brewers Association Top 50 list for craft breweries, but now’s not a time to rest on one’s laurels. “That spirit of innovation is basically what keeps us in business. It’s what makes us relevant,” Welch said.
And fortunately for Sixpoint, innovation doesn’t necessarily require AI and other complex technologies. The company recently hired a new product development team, including Chief Product Officer Eric Bachli, a research scientist and former head brewer at Trillium Brewing Company. Bachli made a name for himself perfecting the New England-style IPA (that is, murky and unfiltered).
Bachli is also known for developing Trillium’s quality-control program, as well as multiple new brewing systems. Working with Welch and Co., he’ll develop new iterations of the now-famous IPA that “haven’t been done yet,” according to Welch, as well as new formulas and processes.
Sixpoint kicked off its innovation efforts in September, when it released a smartphone app for selling limited-release beers directly to consumers. That’s a huge change from the normal process of sampling a new craft brew, and a welcome one at that. There aren’t many folks, after all, willing to wait 11 hours in a line to sample beer if technology can make said beer more accessible.
In October, Sixpoint’s Smoothie brew sold 100 6ers in the first minute of being live on the app; the 4Beans brew went on sale November 13 and sold out two days later. Clearly, fans don’t seem to mind this sudden shift to a more technology-driven approach to beer releases.
Which gets at one of the main ways Sixpoint is approaching the concept of innovation next year: to Welch and his crew, it isn’t just about new processes, formulas, or even flavors. It’s about the consumers. “I think it’s a pitfall if you think you’re going to grow your business with a new beer every week,” says Welch. “You’re not selling loyalty, you’re selling novelty. The moment you start doing that, it’s the beginning of the end.”
Fortunately for Sixpoint, 2018 is looking much more like another beginning.