The Beer Dance: How Schlafly Craft Beer Shook Up St. Louis
ST. LOUIS ( MainStreet) -- Schlafly Brewing Co.'s win against Boston Beer Co.'s (SAM) Samuel Adams in our Beer Dance craft beer bracket last week looked like an upset. But just beneath its head was an outpouring of local pride that's been brewing for quite some time.
Schlafly has grown from an 880-barrel-a-year operation founded in a small St. Louis taproom in 1991 to a 15,000-barrel bottling operation in 2003 to a nearly 50,000-barrel enterprise with two restaurants, almost 50 styles of beer and distribution in 12 states. It doesn't give its beers wacky names -- its Biere De Garde saison and Oktoberfest Marzen seem downright quirky compared to its straightforward Pale Ale and Hefeweizen. Schlafly's production is still well below the nearly 2.5 million barrels of Samuel Adams brewed at facilities in Boston, Allentown, Pa., and Cincinnati, but looks a bit bigger when you compare Schlafly's 16,000 followers on Twitter to Samuel Adams' little more than 8,000.
"We had our annual staff meeting last Monday, and they showed us where all our money goes," says Troika Brodsky, Schlafly's communications director. "Our advertising and marketing budget was literally 3% of our spending, so in my world I don't have a budget on top of my paycheck. I have a couple of platforms and how far can I leverage them."
Three years ago, Brodsky didn't even have that. He has worked at Schlafly for the past decade as a graphic designer but only moved to his position behind the e-mails, tweets and Facebook profiles three years ago when he set up the brewery's first Twitter and Facebook pages.
"The level at which I'm plugged in is not necessarily something I want to be doing for the rest of my life," Brodsky says. "I swear it's made me more neurotic and I'll feel phantom buzzes in my phone and pull it out to check it, but if you're a community manager managing social media for a company, you have to do that because the expectation from people is that Facebook and Twitter communication is immediate."
When it came to the beer bracket, however, the big assist Brodsky received from his brewery's St. Louis fans and from the city in general was just as immediate. Outnumbered 150,000 to 17,000 by Samuel Adams' Facebook friends, Brodsky shifted his focus to Twitter and asked St. Louis' heavy hitters for help. More than 80% of all Schlafly beer is sold within the St. Louis metro area, so Brodsky asked Mayor Francis Slay and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to tweet out a cry for help to their followers.
Support for Schlafly's Dry Hopped American Pale Ale came in from fans across city and from the St. Louis diaspora across the country for weeks. The sentiment behind it started building more than three years ago in November 2008, when InBev purchased Anheuser-Busch(BUD) for nearly $52 billion, laid off U.S. employees, cut the pay of those who stayed, stopped making pension contributions to retirees and cut those same retirees' health benefits.