The Brewers Association recently published the current numbers of breweries in the US. There are 1,308 brewpubs, 1,721 micros, 124 regional breweries, and 25 large breweries in America. These numbers are amazing, but what is really astonishing is that there are 1,968 breweries in the planning stages! And the beer industry is flat?
The challenge for these breweries that are not brewpubs, which offer food, is how does one set oneself apart from all the other brands? As an example, there are close to 1,000 IPAs now being offered! Assuming that the quality of the beer is excellent, it follows that the level of success of any brewery or brand is directly related to the creativity of the marketing.
In every panel discussion or speech at an industry event discussing crafts, the topic of relevancy in the home market is key. Almost every single industry expert agrees that a brewer must have a flagship brand that has legs and the support of the local market. Without that support, there is little hope for success.
The book The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, by Jan Reid, published in 1974, chronicles the beginnings of the live music scene in Austin in the early 1970s. This genre of country music was led by Willie Nelson and many others.
Lone Star Beer, which had been in decline for a number of years, saw an opportunity during this music revolution. The roots of the movement were in Austin, and with the Vietnam War still waging, spoke of what was relevant to the young college students at the University of Texas. Many of the songs sung and written were about Texas and Lone Star Beer. These singers and song writers spoke to the national pride of the state. This hit a nerve.
The Lone Star District Manager, Jerry Retzloff, saw an opportunity and presented it to the brewery. Barry Sullivan, the VP of Marketing for Lone Star, also realized the possibilities, and the two of them began to capitalize on this music scene. They worked with Willie Nelson and other singer/songwriters who jumped on board to help promote Lone Star.
The music spoke of Lone Star Longnecks, or as we know, 12 ounce returnable bottles, became the package of the movement. As the District Manager of DFW, Jerry and I met in San Antonio when the brewery changed the neck label on the bottle to “Lone Neck.” The original Longneck label is pictured above. The neck label in the picture is taped on as it is the actual prototype of the first Lone Star Longneck bottle. It is from 1973.
Lone Star’s jump into this scene turned sales around for the brewery. Soon the brewery started to produce longnecks in six-pack carriers and the sales trends moved to Houston and DFW. In Dallas in 1972, Lone Star was selling only 17 kegs a month. Fast forward to 1973, and Dallas was selling 1,700 kegs a month. The sales increase was a result of the music revolution in the state, not the work of the distributor who was a wine and spirit house.
Crafts could learn from how Lone Star became a cult beer tied to a regional movement. Unfortunately, for Lone Star, the owner sold out to Olympia in the late 1970s. Oly continued this model; however, they too, sold out to Heileman in the early 1980s. Heileman stopped their involvement shortly after the movement reached its peak with the movie Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta.
Whether the music helped make Lone Star, or Lone Star helped make the music, what this marketing did was to tie Lone Star’s 10+ years of growth to a generation of young drinkers.
Shiner Bock now is considered more of the beer of Texas, but Lone Star, behind the support of current label owner, Pabst, has been making more of an investment and seeing some increases in sales. You will find the detailed story of Lone Star in the link below to the Texas Monthly Magazine. Lone Star, like Schlitz, died when sold to new owners who chose to go in a different direction. As the singer and writer Jerry Jeff Walker once said, “Hell, I don’t live in Texas. I live in Austin.”