When you’re looking for a job in a craft brewery, it helps to bring five years of solid experience brewing at another good brewery. And, it doesn’t hurt to have a close family member who is also a brewery owner.
That was the case at Bridge Brew Works (BBW) in Fayetteville where co-owner Nathan Herrold’s brother Adam came on board in April as a brewer and jack-of-all-trades.
After five years brewing beer in Cincinnati (mostly with Rivertown Brewery), Adam wanted a change of scenery and change of pace. BBW and the New River Gorge region of West Virginia had just what he was looking for.
The slower, laid-back atmosphere of Fayetteville enticed him. He’d visited the area numerous times since his brother and Ken Linch founded Bridge Brew Works (BBW) six years ago.
“I like the people here,” Adam says. “I love the mountains. I do a lot of mountain biking. I’ve wanted to move here for a long time. I’ve always wanted to help Ken and Nate out.”
Adam was ready for a change, and, after six years of running a two-man shop, Ken [Linch] and Nate were ready to bring in some full-time help.
Operating a brewery is a lot of hard work
Since they started Bridge Brew Works in 2010, the two owners had handled everything that their production brewery required: brewing, bottling, kegging, paperwork, distributor relations, purchasing, marketing and mopping the floors. When you’re only two people, running a brewery the size of BBW is challenging. You have to set priorities, and, even working long hours and seven-day weeks, some things can fall between the cracks.
“It’s been tough to cover all the bases,” Ken says. “We’ve definitely tried to concentrate on the quality of the beer, but we haven’t been able to get out and meet our customers as much we’d liked to have done.”
The lack of marketing and sales time wasn’t the only drawback. Both partners agree that the heavy work load, for six years straight with almost no breaks, was beginning to wear them down.
Now, with Adam on-board, sharing the work load three ways should make a lot of difference. It will allow Ken and Nate to take some time off now and then to regenerate their creative juices. The guys will finally have some time for marketing initiatives, such as paying more attention to their tasting room and making retailer account visits—things they realize they need to do to grow.
Craft brewing in its purest form
During its first five years of existence, Bridge Brew Works was an expression of craft brewing in its purest form. It had no brewpub, no taproom, no pints or growlers, no pub grub or food trucks, and no designated public areas at the brewery.
Bridge Brew Works was just two guys with a passion for making beer. Two guys who spent most all their time at the brewery doing what they love—and doing it their way. They never seemed particularly concerned by the demands of distributors, retailers or the whims of the craft beer market. They were not trying to be the next fast-growing Firestone-Walker or Cigar City. They were happy to be Ken and Nate making the kind of beer they loved.
Even though they were in the heart of a popular tourist area, they never sought to attract visitors and mostly discouraged them. The owners admit that they rarely answered the brewery phone. It’s not that the guys were lazy or antisocial, they were just too busy and too absorbed to want to break away.
You would have bet they didn’t care about growth. You would have guessed that as long as they could make enough money to keep the doors open and take a little bit home, they were okay with that. But the craft beer environment was changing and BBW began to adjust its business plan.
About a year ago, the inkling of a change was noticed. Bridge Brew co-owner Ken Linch began telling folks that if the state law changed to allow production breweries to have tasting rooms and to sell packaged beer and growlers, BBW would like to participate. They added a new front room to their brewery building that they would turn into a public tasting room.
Well, the law did change and so did Bridge Brew Works.
Tasting room signals new direction
Late last summer, Bridge Brew Works had its coming out party. Following five years of modest growth as just a pure brewery, Bridge Brew Works expanded its business model by adding a public tasting room. It signaled their response to an evolving craft beer market.
Bringing on Adam is the next logical step in this new direction. The reclusive Bridge Brew Works is reclusive no more.
Ken and Nate are really nice guys. They are the kind of people you want to see succeed. What the two BBW owners came to realize is that for them to have the life they want, they needed to grow. And to grow, they had to take the bull by the horns, staffing up and paying more attention to marketing.
That’s the thing about craft beer—craft customers like to have a connection with the brewery. They want to talk to and get to know brewery people. They want to touch and be touched. When that happens, they’ll do a ton of free marketing for you.
The Number 1 job of a small brewery is making great beer. The Number 2 job is connecting with potential customers.
Where once they wanted only to be brewers, Ken and Nate are today more focused on the craft of selling what they make. Their little tasting room stocks lots of insignia T-shirts, glassware and other schwag. Nate even says they are considering adding a full brewpub to their facilities in the next year or so.
“We want more people to come here to the brewery,” he says.
As those of you who have followed BBW through the years, know that’s a real 180 from where they started.
Creative juice flow rising at Bridge Brew
Brother Nathan thinks Adam’s arrival at the brewery is also invigorating their creative side. Adam’s broader experience with sours, saisons, and IPAs brings different dimension to BBW.
“He adds another element of creativity,” Nate says. “Brewing the same beers every day, over and over, can get routine. He brings in a whole other element that makes it fun again. The synergy is great.”
Ken Linch looks at it similarly.
“Adam was able to get a different perspective working in the Cincinnati area,” he says. “I think that adds to our diversity and outlook.”
“It’s going to be a great match up.”
Talking with them, you could just feel the renewed enthusiasm filling the room. Enthusiasm about new beer styles, new equipment purchases, increased capacity, enlarged barrel program, a possible brewpub, and new marketing initiatives—topics that would each be worthy of a blog post.
While we can’t know exactly what the pumped-up enthusiasm will mean in the market, we believe it will be positive. On the horizon are a Gose made with local salt and a couple of Saisons, and some experimentation with newer hop varieties like Mosaic. Add this to the already solid line up of Bridge Brews and it should get real interesting.
Brilliant Stream welcomes Adam Herrold to Bridge Brew Works and West Virginia. We look forward to seeing much success from the guys in Fayetteville.
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