13 May Bier Brewery One of Two Breweries in the World to Win Double Gold at 2016 World Beer Cup
Indiana On Tap sat down with Bier Brewery co-founder Jerry Connor and Sarah Buschmann, who does artwork for Bier and bartends at the taproom. We discussed Bier’s success at the 2016 World Beer Cup, where the brewery earned two gold medals, one for Sanitarium, a Belgian-style Quadrupel and one for ESB, an English-style Extra Special Bitter.
Indiana On Tap: You took gold for your quad and ESB at the World Beer Cup, how’d you feel when you learned of the results?
Jerry Connor: [laughs] How’d I feel? Well the first gold, the Sanitarium, I jumped out of my chair and scared my wife and my dog. The elation..I can’t describe it. And five minutes later we get the ESB as a gold. It’s kind of funny as they announced the bronze, and they announced the silver, and I thought, “Eh, we’re done.” And then they announced us as the winner of the gold on the ESB. I said, “Holy crap!” I think everybody was elated. All my phones and our son’s, and Sarah’s were lighting up.
Sarah Buschmann: I was working. I actually had a customer put it on his phone to stream. He barely had any battery left, but he did it for us. There were probably about 10 of us crowded around the bar. I couldn’t even serve any more beer at that point.
Jerry Connor: It was indescribable. And then as we learned more and more about the results and the number of breweries and the number of entries. We were one of only two breweries that won two golds in the entire world.
Indiana On Tap: That’s pretty damn impressive. A lot of people outside the state of Indiana don’t really think about Indiana craft beer all that much apart from the big players like Sun King or Three Floyds.
Jerry Connor: Well Three Floyds, they won a gold. Out of four medals for the state of Indiana, we took two, and they were both gold. So we’re pretty jacked about that.
Jerry Connor: I would say the key is Darren [Connor]. His focus on details and his focus on quality. We’ll never, ever substitute quality even if the demand is asking us too; we will never do that. Sarah and I were talking about it this morning, that we look at our quality as our marketing and our marketing as our quality. That’s the success of it. Darren’s very focused, all the brewers here are very focused. And they work hard too; they frickin’ bust their ass. But when we get awards like that it’s well worth it.
Indiana On Tap: Of all the awards Bier has gotten, which are you most proud of?
Jerry Connor: Oh lord, I gotta believe. I’m going to answer it this way instead of just one. There’s two: one is the gold from the Great American Beer Fest last year and the two golds this year at the World Beer Cup. ‘Course they’re both run by the Brewer’s Association, but when you think about it, the World Beer Cup happens every two years, it’s kind of like the Olympics to the Brewers. The Super Bowl every year is the Great American Beer Fest. They’re both very, very important.
Indiana On Tap: What kind of effect have the awards had on the brewery? Do you see more visitors as a result of the awards you’ve gotten?
Jerry Connor: Well, it just happens this past weekend. We’ve had a lot of shout outs, Facebook, tweets, and so forth. After it happened on Friday night, I was here Saturday, and we did have some people who came in who had heard about it. A lot of our customer had heard about it. I think it’s gonna help. I think it’s gonna help not only retail, but wholesale and the accounts.
Indiana On Tap: Compared to other breweries in the state, Bier has had a slower growth as far as expansion goes. What’s your reasoning behind that?
Jerry Connor: It’s planned. We’re not just throwing stupid money out there; we believe there’s gonna be a market correction. You go out and drink beer with so many breweries opening up. You get a lot of good beer and you get a lot of questionable beer. And we never wanted to be a questionable beer. I think if you ever taste our beers each beer will haves its distinct, crisp flavor. And true to style guidelines. People come in here and they’ll tell us, we take this as a compliment, that a lot of breweries have one or two good beers that they’re known for. But every time we come in here every one of your beers is dead on. That’s a huge compliment for that. Plus the fact that I don’t want to go into debt. Because I think, there will be a market correction. We’re just a little more frugal.
Indiana On Tap: I would agree with the market correction thing, even in the past year or two there’s been a couple of breweries that have closed down. The attrition has already started. And like you said, you have a quality product in your taproom, keep loyal visitors, grow in a smart way, and you’ll do fine.
Jerry Connor: You look at Sun King, they’ve got a tremendous marketing machine. But Sun King can back it up. Look at the awards they’ve won. Yeah, the didn’t win anything this year at the World Beer Cup, but I remember two years ago, I think they took a couple medals there. They can back it up. You can have a great marketing machine but if you have nothing to prove it, you can still be successful but we look at the awards as a statement. It just reinforces our belief. [Sarah] put it in certain words this morning, the awards prove our quality and our attention to quality.
Sarah Buschmann: From start to now, our dedication to quality has never waned.
Jerry Connor: We’ve always said, we’ll can or bottle depending on the demand. And what the market says. And I think the market right now has been cans. Our belief was you build a brand on premise, you don’t build a brand in package stores. We spent four-and-a-half years building our brands on premise so that when we went to market with the cans that we had a demand for them. I think you’ll see bottles come back. We always put stuff on the table; we never take it off. We’ll grab it when we need it. Our Belgian quad is in bombers. There’s discussion that maybe this ESB would be a good one to put in bombers. Somebody says, “Well it’s a gold, so you put it in bombers” and somebody else will say, “Maybe you’d get better distribution with cans.” So we’re just gonna let that happen. Whatever happens, it happens to us. We fill sometimes if you force it, it’s not good.
Indian On Tap: I do think bombers are great for those big, heavy, dark beers because they lend themselves well to aging. I think with prestige products, those work really well.
Jerry Connor: You gotta be careful about putting those big beers in cans. Sometimes these things are still living.
Indiana On Tap: What challenges, if any, have you faced with requiring your products to be cold-stored for retail?
Jerry Connor: Cold storage is all we do for retail. You’re always going to get a little bit of pushback, what’s helped us is our reputation going out with cans. Some of the package stores are tight for space, so you just gotta say, “Eventually there’s going to be some beers that you don’t sell fast enough that you’re gonna wanna purge from your system.” And that’s an opportunity for other cold storage at that time.
Indiana On Tap: What’s in store for Bier for the rest of the year?
Jerry Connor: Yeah, working our ass off. In about two weeks we’re gonna be canning our Chinookalicious IPA. That’s our first IPA [in cans] we’ve done the American Pale, the PDG. We’ve already had a couple discussion about what other beers we want to can. We’ll just go along, staying involved in all the festivals. Just watching the market and making sure we’re smart about that.
Indiana On Tap: What do you think the future holds for beer in Indiana?
Jerry Connor: Bier Brewery in Indiana?
Indiana On Tap: I guess both!
Jerry Connor: [laughs] Well, every time I hear somebody say, “Gosh, we haven’t heard of you guys,” that’s an opportunity. We’ve built a pretty damn good foundation and we’ll continue to grow. I tell people, “We’ve already talked to wholesalers. It’s not a matter of if we’re going to go with a wholesaler outside our area, it’s a matter of when.” And then for beer, I think if you look at the numbers here in the state of Indiana versus some of the other states that are big in craft. We’re still a very, very small portion of overall consumption for the beer market. So I think we still have quite a bit of growth. But you and us, as consumers, we’ve gotten to be a lot more intelligent, a lot smarter and that’s why you’re gonna have to have good beer out there. You’re gonna have to be dead on. The strong will survive.The guys who think they make good beer because their buddies tell them and they open up a brewery and all of a sudden, it’s not a part-time job, they’re gonna have real challenges.