The Story of WORK Beer
Richmond, VA: In 1999 WORK Beer invited the thirsty masses of Richmond to reward themselves "for a job well done." The beer was a partnership between the nationally recognized WORK Labs branding agency and Main Street Brewery. It turned out to be a huge hit with everyone from downtown business people to college punk rockers. Unfortunately when the microbrew bubble burst in 2003, Main Street was one of the casualties. But the staff at WORK Labs love a great brew, so in 2012 they asked me to figure out a way to get them back into the beer game.
The booming craft beer movement had changed everything, allowing small breweries to enter the market with fewer start-up costs than ever before. There was one problem though. Relationships like the one WORK had with Main Street Brewery ad become unacceptable, and anyone engaging in this "contract brewing" got shunned by the beer press and derided by the leaders of the industry. In the craft beer world the brand and the brewery were to be synonymous. It was clear that WORK Labs would need to bring something of real value to the table, and find ways around these pitfalls in order to avoid getting tarred and feathered.
The new WORK Beer is about celebrating the people who constantly bust their asses to create new and delicious beers from scratch: Homebrewers and Start-up craft breweries. These industrious facilitators of fermentation masterfully craft their beers more for the satisfaction of putting smiles on the faces of their fans, than for any other reason. The strategy I developed for WORK Beer 2.0 involved reaching out to these communities to see if there was a problem we could help solve, and earn our seat at the table.
For the start-up craft breweries:
We hit upon the concept of connecting small brewpub owners with more established craft breweries to do an annual collaboration beer. This would give the established brewery an opportunity to experiment, while providing the small brewpub owners greater exposure for their beer-making skills. The breweries conceive the recipe and brew it, and WORK Labs brands and markets the collaboration. Since the names of the two breweries are still front and center, it doesn't go against the "no contract brewing" rule. But you still have to call it something, and given the collaborative vibe, "WORK" fits perfectly.
The first WORK Collaboration Brew launched on March 22nd, 2013. Colorado's award-winning Breckenridge Brewery and the newly-minted Champion Brewing Company in Charlottesville, VA came together to create a delicious Dunkel Weiss with Australian Galaxy Hops.
For the homebrewers:
In talking with homebrewers, I realized these scrappy beer makers don't get wide recognition for their efforts. The way people appreciate and share great homebrewed beer was ready for an innovation, and that's where I saw a place for WORK to help. We created "The Fermentation Society" and built our web-based "SpeakEasy" feedback platform for homebrewers to have an easy way to collect feedback and gain exposure for their beers. It's a system that will let their hard work - and their beer - speak for itself.
It works like this:
- A homebrewer finishes a batch of beer and registers it on The Fermentation Society website.
- A unique batch number and scanable code is assigned, and is applied to a sheet of adhesive bottle labels printed by a quick-run print vendor partnered with WORK Labs.
- The labels (and matching caps) are sent to the brewer within a few days of their registration.
- The homebrewer labels his/her bottles, and distributes them with a simple instruction: “Try it, scan the label with your phone, and share your opinion on the site.”
- Anyone trying the beer can then rate it according to 5 simple dimensions on the Fermentation Society site. They can also leave a Tweet-length review.
- Voila! The homebrewer (and anyone else who signs onto the site) can see what people really think of their beers. The best homebrewers start to build a reputation based on their beer-making prowess.
We held an event on Labor Day weekend of 2012 to test the system, and it was met with rousing enthusiasm. We've developed the platform more fully, and are officially launching it to regional homebrew organizations in May 2013.
"The overarching theme of WORK Beer 2.0 is respect for the brewer's labor of love. WORK wants to add more love to that labor."