13 Nov Braxton Brewing Expands to Indiana; VIVE to be Official Hard Seltzer of the Pacers
Braxton Brewing Company is coming to Indiana, but not in the normal sort of way. They are making a splash with their hard seltzer brand, VIVE, by inking a deal with the Indiana Pacers and letting that be a driving force that opens doors for the Braxton beers.
Personally, I think their beers are good enough to be promoted on their own, but opening markets and shelves for new brands isn’t easy, and this seems to be a novel way to go about it. I sat down with Jake and Evan Rouse, the co-founders of Braxton Brewing, to talk about the plan for introducing Braxton beer and VIVE seltzer in Indiana.
In just six months, VIVE Hard Seltzer has become 28% of Braxton’s total sales and could grow to as much as 30% by next year. However, Jake wants people to realize that Braxton is at their heart a beer brewery and they want their business to always be at least 60% beer. However, it may be hard to limit the growth of VIVE, as the market for it and seltzers as a whole is growing so fast. The market for these lighter, lower calorie spiked waters just seems to keep growing. BA says it is probably 2% of total beer sales (55 million cases) for 2019 and Evercore ISI thinks it could grow to 5% of total beer sales by the end of 2021.
Partnership Strategy. With this kind of an expanding market, it’s not a surprise that big beer has gotten into the game. Truly from Boston Beer Co. and White Claw from Mark Anthony Brands currently have 75% of the market, but AB-InBev has Bon & Viv and will be doing a Bud Lite hard seltzer soon. Constellation Brands, the makers of Corona, is planning on marketing a hard seltzer from that brand line as well.
As a way of becoming known quickly and getting a foot in the door of consumers’ minds and merchants’ buy lists, Braxton has started an aggressive strategic partnership program for VIVE. The partnership with the Pacers is their fourth such agreement, the previous ones being with Cincinnati FC, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Cincinnati Bengals. This is a gamble of sorts, because you don’t know how products will be received, and the partnerships alone are already a six figure investment by Braxton in the VIVE brand.
These partnerships allow VIVE to enter those markets and have merchandising opportunities in these arenas and cities, reaching a huge number of potential customers. It also gives VIVE the ability to use the logos of the teams and can use labels with their information for promotional and special editions. This in turn, opens doors in large box stores and groceries, where having that co-branding is a large boost to moving product off the shelves and into peoples’ carts.
But the idea has certainly caught on. According to a Forbes article with Jake Rouse on the VIVE strategy (here), several of the more than 75 hard seltzer brands for sale in the use have aligned with sporting franchises or arenas. White Claw works with the Kentucky Derby and Truly is has partnered with the NHL. Bon & Viv is the official hard seltzer of the NFL and Natural Lights seltzer is partnered with the Big 12 Conference.
History of Braxton. Braxton Brewing opened mid-2015 in Covington, KY. The moving force behind Braxton was the Rouse family, with Evan having been a homebrewer since the age of sixteen. They grew rapidly due to their connection to the community and the quality of their beer and coffee, so that in 2017 they opened Braxton Labs in neighboring Bellevue, KY next to The Party Source Liquors and in the space once occupied by Ei8htball Brewing.
The growth has continued so that in 2019 they renovated the original taproom and added a rooftop lounge, plus opened the Barrel House for storing and aging beer in barrels in nearby Fort Mitchell (all three locations are within eight miles of each other). Medals have been won along the way, from the Indiana Brewers’ Cup and the Commonwealth Cup.
In their four years, they have released more than 450 beers, including the very highly rated Dark Charge and its variants, a sweet stout with marshmallows and caramel, and the bourbon barrel aged Belgian Quad. You might consider traveling to Covington on December 7th for their Dark Charge Day and Winter Block Party, it’s always a good time. At the brand release party at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Monday (11th), I tried the Jubilee Hoppy Holiday Extra IPA and the Tropic Flare New England IPA. Walter is going to love the Jubilee, it’s as west coast an IPA as she’s been able to find in a while. The Tropic Flare is a great NE IPA, with special attention to the science of making this a shelf stable hazy IPA that can last a long time.
Look for these beers to spread around Indiana quickly because the hard seltzer branding has gotten Braxton meetings about their beer, and the brand awareness will help with selling beer in the Indiana market. The instant credibility that comes with being aligned with the Pacers will get them meetings with stores and chains that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. Jake told me that the expansion of the vive brand has definitely contributed to Braxton selling more beer. He said, “It has provided an incredible halo for the beer business, and we are now able to have more conversations with buyers about Braxton and Vive together.”
To that end, Braxton beers will be distributed by Cavalier Distributing in Central Indiana, initially on draft, and then through package stores in the spring. Look for them to branch out to more parts of the state after they fill the brand representative position they are creating. Jake says they are very happy to be with Cavalier, as they were enthusiastic about selling both the VIVE brand and the Braxton beers and aggressively promoting them in Indiana. Although, that may not be the only way Braxton grows into Indiana. As we have been recently discussing the influx of out of state brewery taprooms and brewpubs, the question of an Indiana location did come up during our conversation.
Jake told me that Braxton is a bit landlocked in their current building and that will limit growth at their mothership location. He also said that they definitely don’t want to put in a production brewery somewhere off site. Therefore, the idea of an Indiana brewery for Braxton is a possibility. He said that if they chose to do that, they would definitely brew on site; it’s a core part of their philosophy of bonding with the community.
VIVE seltzer. Evan Rouse and I discussed this idea of being a brewery at their core and how it applies to VIVE. It might interest people to know that this is a brewed hard seltzer; it starts out very similar to a brewed beer before it’s cleared through a series of filtrations and the fruit is added. I pressed Evan a bit on how it is made, but he explained that the process is very new, quite original, and that they are in the middle of the patent process for it – so I backed off. Suffice it to say, vive isn’t fermented sugar and water and then has fruit syrups then added; this is a true, brewed product.
There are currently eight flavors of VIVE: Grapefruit, Mango, Dragonfruit, Lime, Blood Orange, Peach, Cherry, and Black Raspberry. They use all natural ingredients and fruits; no artificial sugars or ingredients. The current versions are colorless and clear, but they are investigating ways of using whole crushed fruits to give the colors of the associated flavors, while still keeping the clarity.
Each can of VIVE has 100 calories and only 2g of carbohydrates, very much in line with other hard seltzer products, while being a bit deeper in flavor and texture because of the brewing process involved. The co-branded flavor for the Pacers partnership is Blood Orange, with a can to match using the Pacers logo. If the sports partnerships go as well as expected, this could turn into a series of commemorative cans and co-branded products, and that could lead to a specialized team for vive leadership, but Jake and Evan can’t predict that now.
I’m not a hard seltzer drinker and I do have concerns about the number of taps and shelf space that this could cost Indiana breweries, but overall I am enthusiastic about the entrance of Braxton and VIVE to Indiana. Having met the brothers and learned about their enthusiasm for brewing, their love for building community, and their philosophy of being a brewing company first, I think they will help lift the Indiana craft beer market, not be an absentee company that just comes to sell products and take the money back home. I think they love craft beer too much to do that.