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Beer for Breakfast

Swank was on tap this week at the Villanova University alumni networking event, “Beer for Breakfast.”

“I’m surprised this event is so well-attended,” quipped David Reed ‘89, of the Villanova University Alumni Association and moderator of the panel. “I guess everyone thought they were going to get some beer.”

The name was a bit of a misnomer, as there was no beer. Which was fine, as it began at 7:30 in the morning, and even those of us working in the brewing industry have some standards that we need to uphold.

However, there was a copious amount of mahogany and marble, and dark suits as far as the eye can see.

It was held at the Union League in Center City Philadelphia, in the shadow of the statue of Billy Penn adorning City Hall — an absolutely gorgeous venue. The building was erected in 1865 during the height of the Civil War — and the Union League itself was created to show support for the North.

Now, it’s a members-only club catering to the elite of Philadelphia. And, apparently, holding events for the Villanova University Alumni Association.

Ryan was joined on the panel by Pete Giannopoulos, Jr., of Sly Fox, Luke Bowen from Evil Genius, and Trevor Pritchett from Yards.

After Ryan’s introduction, one of the guys at our table commented, “He’s a good guy.” Apparently, Ryan’s reputation precedes him.

The discussion touched on the various aspects facing brewing in the 21st century. David wondered if craft beer is reaching a saturation point, with all the new breweries coming online in the past few years. We think choice is a good thing, but — let’s face it — there’s only so much retail space available.

As Trevor put it, “If there’s only one macro lager tap handle, we’re not knocking it off. We’re knocking each other off.”

Ryan spoke about the illusion of variety: you might walk into a bar and see six tap handles: Budweiser, Goose Island, Blue Point, Four Peaks, Elysian, and Breckenridge, and think, “Man, look at all of this craft beer!” However, the uninformed consumer may not realize that they’re all owned by AB InBev.

Brewing is a people-driven business, but we’re essentially ganging up together, trying to take on Big Brew.

There’s always a question about beer names: it seems like we’re going to run out of them at some point. In fact, you may remember that our Barrel Aged Series was originally called the Stow Away Series — The Keel was released under that banner. We changed the name of the series after being contacted by Baxter Brewing Company up in Maine — apparently, their flagship IPA is called Stowaway. They wrote us a congenial letter saying, “Hey, we know this sucks, but….” We agreed with them — we’d hate it if someone just started calling something their Coastal Evacuation Series. So we apologized for our misstep and brought you the Barrel Aged Series.

However, things aren’t always that congenial. Trevor mentioned a particular brewery — which will remain nameless — contacted them laying claim to all historical figures in brewing. Yeah… no. You can’t do that. Yards has been on the other side, as well: they contacted Uinta Brewing in Utah after they came out with their Yardsale IPA. The spacing on the packaging made it kind of read like “Yards Ale”. Uinta agreed and simply adjusted their spacing.

People are always asking for advice to potential entrants into the industry. The panel seemed to be united in their response: don’t.

“This is the worst time in the history of North America to start a brewery,” Trevor said.

It seems like a romantic thing to start a brewery — who wouldn’t want to spend their days making beer? But Ryan pointed out that he basically does the same thing now that he did when he was in real estate: sit in an office, working on strategy and answering emails and calls. Only now, he does it on a Mac and not a PC because he’s paying for the computer.

They touched on marketing strategies — Ryan reiterated his belief in storytelling — as well as risks and opportunities in expansion and where to find good, talented workers.

They opened the questions to the floor, and an officer of the Alumni Association with “sustainability” in his title asked about opportunities for local ingredients, leading Ryan to talk proudly about Three Plows, our recent all-New Jersey IPA.

You know it wasn’t going to be a beer panel with the Villanova University Alumni Association without someone asking about Demisemi. We were moderately surprised that there weren’t more questions about it, but Ryan spoke about his surprise at its success.

And it has been pretty successful. Thanks to Nova Nation and our faithful CMBC fans, we’ve gone through so much more Demisemi than we’d ever thought possible. It’s been a huge, unexpected success, and we’re so grateful to everyone who’s made that possible.

After the panel, one attendee commented that she had no idea that our industry was so involved.

Yeah, it is. It’s a crazy industry, with incomprehensible laws that date back to Prohibition and a crowded market where it’s becoming increasingly impossible to be heard over the clatter of new doors opening on a regular basis.

But it’s worth it.

Getting up each morning with the knowledge that we’re making the world just a little bit happier is a great way to start each day — even if the alarm clock went off ridiculously early so that we could be in Philly by 7:30 in the morning. Or be to Cape May to start a brew day at the crack of dawn. Or to be at a bottle account in North Jersey when they open their doors at 9am.

We’re not changing the world by making beer, but like Pete from Sly Fox said, “It sure beats making mayonnaise.”

We love doing what we do, and Ryan loves being able to share a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at panels like this one. He’ll be back for more.

In the meantime, we’ll see you at the Tasting Room.