The Beer Dance: How Schlafly Craft Beer Shook Up St. Louis
That all changed in 2008 and Schlafly's sales skyrocketed in the wake of the A-B sale. Kopman figured Schlafly could always be a nice local beer and perhaps a regional product, but the sale made him and his partner wonder "what we're going to be when we grow up." Schlafly has already begun distributing beer to Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland as the brewery attempts to lobby the government for graduated excise taxes on craft brewers. On May 17, Schlafly makes its first appearance in the New York metro area when it puts 16 of its beers on tap at Barcade in Jersey City, N.J.
The A-B sale worked in Schlafly's favor, but neither Kopman nor anyone else at Schlafly seem to be clicking their heels over it, given the cost. Neighbors lost their jobs, former lifelong A-B workers are now opening small breweries in St. Louis and some A-B brewers have jumped on with Schlafly as consultants. In a city that's lost residents each decade since the 1950s and is just starting to see those losses dwindle after dropping from more than 856,000 in 1950 to just under 320,000 in 2010, the pain of landmark institutions is felt by everyone.
"The community felt betrayed," Kopman says. "You think about the Cardinals and Anheuser-Busch and those were two of the institutions that helped define this town and keep St. Louis a city of the world instead of just another city in the United States, so it was such a blow when Anheuser-Busch was sold."
That's how a little gimmicky beer poll and bracket on a business Web site becomes a big deal. That's how a 50,000-barrel brewer not only competes with the biggest brewery craft beer has to offer, but does so with respect and cordiality. That's why Schlafly's Brodsky contacted his counterpart Nick Gosselin at Boston Beer during the matchup and why Gosselin asked Brodsky for "some of that championship beer" when it was clear Schlafly was about to win.
Whether in sizing up brewing competition or putting out fires in the comment fields, humanizing the people they communicate with has worked wonders for both Schlafly and Brodsky. When it comes to dealing with consumers, competitors or critics, Brodsky says a bit of openness, flexibility and familiarity with the subject go a much longer way than money spent on outside consultants.
"Anyone who claims to be a 'social media expert' is kind of blowing smoke, because we're all learning and it's constantly evolving," Brodsky says. "What you want is someone who is bright, who knows the product and who you trust to be able to talk to your consumers without monitoring everything they're doing."