Mother’s Brewing Co. LLC made its first beer on April Fool’s Day 2011.
Six years later, the company is no joke in the regional craft beer scene.
The Springfield-based craft brewer has since moved into roughly 15 markets, now reaching into northwest Arkansas and Kansas.
Owner Jeff Schrag said he’s been thinking about Mother’s Brewing’s next step.
“We want to roll out the rest of Missouri and the rest of Kansas,” Schrag said. “We’d like to sell beer in Oklahoma, too.”
Schrag and company are at a pivotal point in the life of a startup, no matter the industry. After a quick start – two years into the venture, Mother’s Brewing was the seventh-fastest growing U.S. craft brewery – and then working through the first three-to five-year challenges typical for small businesses, the entrepreneurs are faced with a common question: What’s next for second-stage growth?
Schrag said more than anything, he wants his product to remain relevant.
“We want to sell beer in places where they want our beer,” he said.
In other words, don’t expect Mother’s to get pushy based on it’s early run.
The company’s been testing the palates in St. Louis, considered the mothership of Midwest beer but also an increasingly crowded market. Mother’s has participated in craft beer festivals in St. Louis.
“We’ve tried to do one or two events in St. Louis every year – sometimes Memphis,” Schrag said.
The response has been positive, though Schrag acknowledged no one’s going to talk bad about beer when you’re handing it to them for free.
“St. Louis is the biggest easy market that we’re not in,” Schrag said.
It’s been two years since Mother’s Brewing expanded into a new market, and that was Lawrence, Kansas, in early 2015. Prior, the brewery had added multiple cities to its distribution network each year.
His explanation: A business must be in a position to add a market without hurting the ones they’re already in.
“In essence, you’re juggling,” Schrag said. “How do you not drop the first ball, when you’re holding a second ball and a third ball?”
Five years, five new beers
White River Brewing Co. on Commercial Street is at the critical five-year mark.
Before moving into new markets, White River is focused on creative ways to market the product, said spokeswoman Hailey Paige. The brewery was recently approached and partnered with Arkansas-based fishing rod seller, Woodard Rod Co.
“They’re going to share Instagram photos of the beer. We’re changing things. We’ve created more events,” Paige said, noting the brewery has been holding beer yoga classes. “That class size has grown by three times.”
Paige said White River would like to move into Arkansas within about a year. Currently, the beer is sold as far north as Buffalo and as far south as Table Rock Lake.
Moving into a new market is no easy feat for microbreweries.
Schrag said there are four large steps beginning with finding a distributor. Mother’s Brewing currently works with over 10 distributors to deliver its products within a 200-mile radius of Springfield.
“We haven’t strayed too far from home,” Schrag said. “We’ve been able to choose between distributors and that’s been wonderful. You’re looking for how they fit into your culture and your goals, and how you fit into their portfolio.”
Second, Schrag said, is to understand the new market. It comes down to research, and more research, and, namely, making sure the product is priced right.
The third step: Ramp up production to meet the increased volumes without stretching too thin.
“Producing beer is a trick, but we’ve not overpromised on the supply side,” Schrag said, noting there will be stumbles.
What’s left? Make some noise. Schrag considers marketing the most important step.
Most pressing on White River’s docket is the release of five new beers at the upcoming Street Fest 2017, Paige said. The Oct. 7 festival, essentially a block party to benefit The Fairbanks Community Center, will have a farmers market, roughly 45 vendors and samplings from nearly two dozen beer, wine and spirit varieties.
One new release is a collaboration with Lindberg’s Tavern on Commercial Street, Paige said. It’s a lager dubbed Mahogany. Another is River Front Property, which is described as a tropical stout.
She also said cans of White River’s Spring Fed Ale will feature a logo by the Springfield Identity Project – a blue background, one solid white stripe and an eight-pointed star. It’s the proposed design for a new city flag.
While more experienced Springfield breweries are navigating the next stage, microbrewery Tie & Timber Beer Co. is taking the first steps to open.
“We’re in the middle of the build-out phase,” said Curtis Marshall, who co-owns Tie & Timber with Jennifer Leonard. “We’ve completed all of the deconstruction.”
Tie & Timber is on pace to open in mid-March at 1451 E. Cherry St. One of the big steps in obtaining state and federal brewery permits is behind the business partners.
“It’s a long, drawn-out process with everything from background checks to financial checks,” Marshall said. “Once you pass that process, you move on to the state level. Then you obtain your manufacturer license and retail license.”
They obtained the permits in about eight weeks.
“That’s the earliest I’ve ever heard,” Marshall said. “I’ve heard horror stories of the federal level taking six-plus months.”
With licensure out of the way, Tie & Timber began brewing pilot batches and test batches several times a week to test recipes.
“Jennifer is working on two pumpkin beers right now,” Marshall said. “There’s a spicy pumpkin saison. The next one is more of a pumpkin pie. She’s thinking about serving it with whipped cream and nutmeg on top.”
Marshall said the amount of new things he’s had to learn is a constant challenge.
“Those little things add up – everything from sales and financing to social media. It’s all important,” Marshall said.
In honor of National Drink Beer Day on Sept. 28, the National Today website dedicated to commemorating quirky holidays surveyed 2,000 citizens for a list called America’s Top 10 Beer-Loving States. Missouri ranked No. 2.
It makes sense. The state is bookended by one of the nation’s largest sellers in the Budweiser and Busch family of beers in St. Louis and a top Midwest brewer in Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, according to The Brewers Association.
Southwest Missouri is nowhere to be found on the association’s Top 50 craft breweries list.
But the number of breweries in the Springfield market is growing. In addition to Tie & Timber, two other microbreweries this year have announced they’re in the works: 4 By 4 Brewing Co. and Prehistoric Brewing Co. The new Lost Signal Brewing Co. recently joined the scene nearby the established Springfield Brewing Co.
Some things Marshall’s had to learn as a new brewer, he’s acquired from those who have gone before him.
“It’s definitively a collaborative atmosphere,” he said of Springfield’s microbrewery scene.
“For the past year, I’ve reached out to most of the breweries in our area and I’ve received nothing but open arms.”
Where megaretailers abound and more development is coming
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