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Could adding winemaking equipment save craft breweries?

Adding winemaking equipment to a brewery may sound unnecessary, but one craft brewer has revealed how diversifying has helped the business.

In a Q&A case study with Probrewer, independent US craft brewery Odell Brewing, described how adding wine to its portfolio involved hiring a winemaker, getting the equipment in and sourcing grapes from where its suppliers were already nurturing vineyards.

Odell Brewery maintenance & engineering manager Matt Bailey explained: “We have a really close relationship with our hop suppliers and growers. This is sustainable for our farmers and vital to us. We found that a lot of our hop growers also grow grapes and found that synergy there too.”

Bailey said: “We started researching and investigating this three years ago. We did an investigation group on spirits as well. A lot of our ideas and new opportunities for the brewery have come up through employee suggestions, and wine was one of those, and then we started looking into it. We believe that conservative and slow growth and diversification are good for sustainable business, so we take those suggestions regardless of who they come from seriously.”

According to Bailey, as the Colorado-based business started looking at wine, it became clear that a lot of the team found out that they were all really passionate about fermentation and, as he explained: “IIt was intriguing to us to take this seriously the more we talked about it. The common saying is ‘it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine.’”

Bailey insisted that “most people agree that traditional wine can have a lot of barriers or perceived barriers” but Odell wanted to “put a new spin on it” and by putting it into cans, there were “fewer physical barriers” and assisted in bringing new visitors into the brewery too. He insisted: “We want them to enjoy that onsite experience the same way when they come into a craft brewery.”

Th winemaking side also fed into the team’s enthusiasm for flavour and, Bailey attested to the fact that it also helped the brewery stay creative in its approach.

He said: “When it comes to fermentation, we are excited to use different yeast, fruit, and mixed fermentation. We have a list of long ideas we are excited to start playing with. Like beer 20- 30 years ago, it wasn’t supposed to be hoppy, wasn’t supposed to have wild yeast, not supposed to have all this funky flavour that you can get anywhere now. That’s what we want to do with wine – break down some traditional barriers. Having a wine licence in Colorado allows us to ferment anything else besides spirits, so different percentages of different fruits, it really opens up a whole new palette of things we get to play with.”

Bailey added: “The name of the business is OBC Project (Odell Brewing Wine Project), named as a nod to the brewery next door. Our tagline is ‘a wine story told by craft beer makers.’ We do want to bring people, our beer fan base over to wine, but we want to reach new customers who don’t normally enjoy beer.”

According to Bailey, Odell needs to have its own separate canning line and pumps and everything physically has to be kept separate and can not be multi-use. But there are a handful of items that the brewery had outgrown and was no longer using that the team were able to use for its ‘next door’ winery.

Despite this, when it comes to distribution the business has been allowed to co-ship as long as the finished product is “not allowed to co-mingle” which simply means that Odell has segregated spaces in its coolers and warehouse floors that will have to be dedicated to wine and not occupied by beer, but shipping itself to distributors can be.

Bailey explained that the business is able to distribute its wine where it is already placing its beer, which is helpful in growing its presence.

In terms of recruiting, the brewery hired a tasting room manager in addition to an experienced winemaker and the idea is for the tasting room manager to “help out and wear a couple of different hats, including cross-train/walk across the parking lot for our brewers” which has led to the staff at the brewery being “super excited internally” because “they want to learn, and they want to help and have a hand in it”.

In terms of advice for other craft breweries thinking of adding winemaking equipment and diversifying, Bailey said that first the business must make sure that “it’s a good cultural fit” and has “the full support from our leadership and all co-workers involved and their excitement” because “if people didn’t understand or have that genuine passion, it would be really, really difficult”. But added that “getting that insight from everybody’s skill sets from all the different departments” is also “extremely helpful”.

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