Tap Into The Craft Beer Market

The growing craft beer landscape offers unique opportunities.

For many purveyors of craft beer, branding is almost as important as brewing. Take Rhinegeist Brewery in Cincinnati, OH. “We take a lot of pride in the branding,” says Luis Gallardo, in charge of sales and marketing for Rhinegeist. In addition to the beer itself, Rhinegeist sells a variety of logoed T-shirts, hoodies, hats and can coolers. “We just wanted a way for people that want to showcase their fanship for the brand besides just drinking it.”

Though only two years old, the brewery has deep roots, as it’s built in the skeleton of a 19th-century bottling plant in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine brewery district. That story has become a major part of the brand, and Rhinegeist sometimes incorporates a retro feel into its apparel, selling hoodies that look like they could have been pulled from your grandfather’s closet, Gallardo says. Most popular, though, are the brewery’s basic branded T-shirts, which have become a neighborhood favorite. “It’s hard to go a day without seeing people wearing one of those T-shirts,” Gallardo says.

Craft beer makes up a small but significant portion of the overall U.S. beer market, and its popularity continues to rise. In 2014, craft beer had 11% market share, but experienced 17.6% sales volume growth, compared to the miniscule 0.5% sales volume growth for all beer sold in the country, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for independent craft breweries. Craft beer drinkers are often passionate about the brands they enjoy and prefer to wear their taste on their sleeve. “Beer is a big part of their identity,” Gallardo says. “It’s very much a part of who they are.”

By The Numbers

$19.6 Billion Total craft beer sales in 2014, a 22% sales increase over the previous year.

Source: The Brewers Association (www.brewersassociation.org)

Tommy Hester agrees. One of the founders of T.W. Pitchers’ Brewing Co. in San Francisco, Hester says his brewery has had a lot of luck selling branded T-shirts and giving away imprinted items at all of its events. “We’ve found that these items help our customers connect with our company and feel like a part of the action,” he says. “At many of our beer festivals, we see people wearing the T-shirts they bought from us months ago.”

Drinkers of craft beer tend to prefer slim-fitting, but not skin-tight, T-shirts and more tailored hoodies, says Gallardo. Choosing apparel that is of high-quality, though still affordable, is paramount, according to Peter Argady, co-founder of Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, FL. Hats and T-shirts are popular for most breweries, but it’s also important to think regionally when choosing apparel, since many craft breweries dovetail nicely into the “Eat Local” movement. Saltwater Brewery, for instance, sells a lot of UV-protective, long-sleeve T-shirts featuring ocean-inspired artwork, Argady says. “That stuff is huge in South Florida,” he adds.

When pitching to a craft brewery, it’s a good idea to go beyond apparel. Logoed can coolers and bottle openers are an obvious choice, but also consider items like stickers, sunglasses, keychains and glassware. Gallardo says Rhinegeist often gives away can coolers as promotions at beer festivals and other events, adding that he’s surprised by how many people hop onto the website to purchase the items as well. “Being able to place a cooler on a can or bottle can make it look traditional,” Gallardo adds. “People really like that.”

T.W. Pitchers’ Brewing Co. markets its Snake Bite apple cider shandy with apparel like this Gildan T-shirt (5000) in heather military green, made from a 50/50 cotton-polyester blend. Available from SanMar (asi/84863; circle 96 on Free Info Card).

Rhinegeist, a Cincinnati-based brewer, opts for a retro vibe with the Nano crewneck sweatshirt (N260) from Hanes Branded Printwear (asi/59528; circle 98 on Free Info Card).