Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Schlafly Brew & A with co-founder and CEO Dan Kopman

courtesy of Schlafly Beer
Over the last few months, The Saint Louis Brewery, makers of Schlafly Beer have been doing a lot of beer events in The Better Beer Authority's home turf of Washington DC area.  I reached out to their sale's rep Mike Harbin for an opportunity to interview someone at Schlafly.  He introduced me to Tom Schlafly, co-founder & chairman of the board, at a recent event in Arlington, and co-founder and CEO Dan Kopman graciously took time to respond to our questions.
Below the interview is a list of where you can find Schalfly events in the Washington DC area in the week leading up to SAVOR.

Better Beer Authority (BBA): Schlafly is now very well established on the craft beer scene, was there any resistance from Anehiser Busch when you first opened in St. Louis?

Dan Kopman (DK): Where do I start!  In general AB did what they could to protect their long term significant market share in StL.  At the legislative level they placed restrictions on our ability to operate.  We wanted to sell beer at the Brewery – The Schlafly Tap Room.  In order to get them to agree to this we had to agree to a limit on production and a ban on distribution.  Over 15 years we were able to have these restrictions removed so that today a brewer in Missouri can brew without limit, sell on site and self-distribute without limit.

They also protected their 70%+ market share.  Much of this was well earned.  They were so good to so many accounts that there was no incentive for a bar or restaurant to sell Schlafly Beers.  However, sometimes they got a little heavy handed and blocked our access to the market.  There are many stories and today I just smile about the past.

BBA: Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is one of the best pumpkin beers on the market; a personal favorite of the BBA, even people who are not fans of pumpkin ales enjoy it.  By August, the market is flooded with pumpkin beers from what seems like every brewery on earth.  Can Schalfly Pumpkin Ale still be successful with so many other choices available in that limited timeand shelf space?

DK: I think this is all about expectations.  We will continue to focus on making a great Pumpkin Ale; our approach to this style will continue to be about making Pumpkin Pie in a bottle.  We are confident that while there will be many new entrants into the market, consumers will continue to include ours in the mix of different beer that they buy from August to November.

BBA Richard with co founder Tom Schlafly
BBA: You have started canning beer under “CanSessions”  IPA, American Brown, and Black Lager.  Are these beers and packaging designed to entice the tailgate crowd or non craft beer drinkers?  FYI, I bought a six pack of Black Lager for my Super Bowl party.

DK: Our first beers, Schlafly Pale Ale and Schlafly Hefeweizen are session beers (4.5% and 4.4% respectively).  So our motivation was to bring attention to session beers with new styles.  We also wanted to start to can our beers so we had a fit.  We are watching how this is going to develop.  We now have Pale Ale, Hefeweizen and Summer Lager in cans.  We will see.

courtesy of Schlafly Beer
BBA: Schlalfly brews about 50 styles of beer each year, how do you decide which ones are for your local market, and which ones get sent out of market? For example, here in Northern Virginia, we a ton of Koslch, and specialty beers, but to our knowledge we haven’t seen the Oatmeal Stout which is a year round offering? (editor's note: we do, in fact get Oatmeal Stout).

DK: We will brew 70+ unique recipes this year.  Many of these are one off beers for special events or trials for new hop varieties or new malt suppliers.  I will be doing a salon at SAVOR on Hop Trials.  My goal is to get distribution for all of the beers that we sell in bottle, can and keg in all markets and to make our one off beers available for special events.  Given the number of beers from all breweries available today this can be challenging so we sometimes have to make some choices.

BBA: Our local Schlafly rep, Mike Harbin, connected us to you.  He has indicated that you will be in the Washington DC area to brew with Blue Jacket Brewery, and have a dinner event at Lyon Hall in Arlington, VA the next night (March 3/4). Hopefully some of us at the BBA can make it. What is it like connecting with fans outside of your home turf?  Any funny stories from the road you would like to share?

DK: Connecting with customers in the DC and NY metro areas has been fantastic.  This includes ex-pats from our region who live in these areas and the many others who we have met and are discovering Schlafly Beer.  We are really focused on brewing great beers that are true to the style.  We believe we have a strong foundation in classic European beers styles, much like a classically trained chef.  This allows us to build on new styles but with that same commitment to quality.

I know it is past and I hope you were able to attend the dinner.  There are events going on in DC as I write and I will be in DC for events around SAVOR.  Mike can get you all the details.

Here’s a list of the events we currently have scheduled for week of Savor –

courtesy of Schlafly Beer
BBA: You are now Missouri’s biggest independent brewery after the recent acquisition of Boulevard brewery by Duvel Moortgat.  Is that important to the beer drinkers of Missouri?

BBA: Size is not a metric that I use to determine long term success.  When we first opened we could never imagine a day when AB would not be, well AB.  We were not going to be the largest brewer in StL.  So, despite the changes I am much more concerned about the sustainability of our Brewery and our ability to continue to create value for all of our stakeholders and great memories [to look back on]!

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