Posts Tagged ‘dogfish head’

The tyranny of distance (for Aussie beer drinkers)

September 28, 2010

One of the joys (and frustrations) of travelling is seeing new and/or different business ideas executed well.

Our apartment in Rome was just a couple of doors away from perhaps the best executed specialist beer bar I’ve seen outside of Belgium.  The hole in the wall, with the cool moniker of Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà (which translates roughly as “what the hell are you doing here?”), was a true revelation.

Italian beer barI’d never really picked up a beer culture in Italy beyond the pale, insipid Peroni etc one sees everywhere. This place turned that impression on its head.  Here were 14 taps of artisinal beers from nearby lands (Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Britain) and the ‘hood (i.e. Italy), all fantastic quality, diverse in style, well-explained by the friendly barman, willing to give you a taste and enthuse about the offerings.  And, this was all delivered at competitive prices (nothing more than 6 Euro a pint).

The set up was decidely unpretentious, with most beers consumed standing out in the small, cobbled street or perched on the small number of stools.  There was no food on offer, but plenty within staggering distance.  No one was over-inebriated. All seemed most happy discussing the beer and the football on tv.

This is exactly what I’d love to see in Melbourne.  But the problem is one of distance and the associated costs.  No one could get such beers in kegs to Australia quick enough or cheap enough (especially once excise is hurled on top), so the variety and quality just wouldn’t be there.  What we do end up with is such European beers (in bottles) that are priced out of reach of all but the most eager/profligate, and/or the compulsion to pair such beers with overpriced food as some sort of destination venue.

The other option is cheerleading for the local microbrewers and trying to build a broad enough suite of offerings (which the Local Taphouse has made a good fist of in Melbourne).

Interestingly, that was the strategy of the bar across the road in Rome.  It only offered Italian microbrews (including some amazing stuff in 750ml bottles, such as collaboration between an Italian mob and US brewer Dogfish Head called My Antonia), but was smart enough to offer loads of tables, and excellent, cheap food (including the best pizza we’ve had in Italy this trip). This strategy worked extremely well due to the spillover from the destination bar.

I’d travel a long way for Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà. Many others would too – it has topped the global ranking tables at the Ratebeer website in the past. Unfortunately, no bar in Australia can make such a claim.


The International BS Book Club IV – Brewing up a Business

February 4, 2009

You may have noted a more than passing interest in beer around here. I do tend to drink a bit of the stuff, but I am also intrigued by the emergence of smaller, craft brewers in recent years.

While in Copenhagen back in 2007, I stumbled across this book at an excellent microbrewery that I frequented on more than one chilly afternoon. I raced through the front half over a couple of visits, and subsequently ordered my own copy on my return to Oz. And finally I got back around to finishing last week.

brewing-up-a-business-sam-calagione-dog-fishThe book is an autobiographical account from Sam Calagione, founder of one of the US’s most successful small-scale breweries, Dogfish Head. This brewery (motto: off-centered beer for off-centred people) was, at one point, the smallest commercial brewery in America. It has subsequently expanded considerably, with a strong focus on extreme beers (which can mean high alcohol, lots of hops, odd flavours or all of the above). Such a story is certainly worth hearing.

Calagione is a one-time college lit major, and clearly has an inquisitive mind, an ability to digest and apply ideas, and a strong capacity to weave a coherent tale. This book thus becomes much more insightful than the typical business bio one sees on airport bookstore shelves.

I’m not usually one for motivational stories of entrepreneurship, simply because I find such works tend to lean towards mis-attribution of cause and effect (especially through the lens of hindsight e.g. I did this and I think it worked, so you should do the same) and often showcase highly idiosyncratic experiences.

dogfish head ales logoThis book falls for few of those traps and instead offers strong analysis and a clear message for budding brewers and niche businesses more generally. Calagione integrates a lot of pretty mainstream strategic management concepts (environmental analysis, the importance of unique resources, value chain decisions, specialisation, diversification) and explains them in a non-academic, non-technical fashion, fleshed out with fascinating (and often outlandish) tales from the brewing coalface.

Calagione has a pretty neat take on his experience, and the lessons for entrepreneurs. He considers what he does alt.commerce (as in alternative, like music). His business is all about expanding a niche. The firm succeeds by delivering a truthful and resonant product and experience (i.e. customers become fans and advocates). By the end of the book, Dogfish Head is still fielding more orders than they can supply (despite considerable expansion), and has certainly become a cult producer of beer, rum and soap(!), as well as running three restaurant/brewpubs. Offering $20 beers becomes viable!!

I can highly recommend this book to budding entrepreneurs, strategic management professors and beer-nuts (the aficionados, not the snacks). For more on Dogfish Head’s extreme brewing see this excellent article from the New Yorker magazine, and this video interview: