Fest Practices with Almanac Beer Company
Each installment of Fest Practices is a casual conversation with different industry professionals about their event and marketing experiences and insight into what’s worked and what hasn’t.
In this episode, we hung out with Jamison Kester, Regional Sales Manager at Almanac Beer Company, Almeda, CA.
COLDBREAK: How does Almanac define a successful event?
KESTER: It can be different each time. At many, breweries show up to flex what they’re best known for. Others, which we also often participate in, are those that are more goodwill-orientated—fundraisers, donation-centric. Either way, if we can capture attendees at an event and convert them to on-premise customers at our taproom or get them to ask for our beer at bars, restaurants or make an off-premise purchase, we’ve struck a chord.
COLDBREAK: How many events are you doing annually?
KESTER: Personally, 10-15 a year, but the rest of our reps across the state are just as active.
COLDBREAK: After an event, can you walk away and feel whether it was good for you?
KESTER: Working in sales, I’m aware of those people I meet who have purchasing authority. Knowing that we turned them on to a new beer of ours lets me know that the event clicked.
COLDBREAK: While your 9-to-5 responsibilities lean toward business-to-business relationships, at festivals, particularly those in new markets in front of unfamiliar customers—how much are you working to connect with the consumer versus just trying to get your brand out there?
KESTER: SO much of it is connecting with the public. Even if it’s just a tap takeover, I’m not just going to show up, have something to eat, drink a beer, then split. If you’re going to go out there, talk to customers. You’re the face of the brand, you’re selling the brand—you’re the direct link to people becoming advocates of you. They’re ambassadors for you, even if they’re not on your payroll.
COLDBREAK: What are your benchmarks for deciding which events you participate in?
KESTER: Of course, you’d love to participate in every festival or donation request—there’s merit in all of it. But, it’s tough, especially for smaller breweries. Our sales reps are essentially our state’s special events team. We have to consider: Is this in line with who we are? Does it make sense for us to be there?
COLDBREAK: We all know the formula for what most events look like: a tent, a table, a jockey box or bottles and cans. Does Almanac do anything unique that you feel sets you apart?
KESTER: By default, what sets us apart is that Almanac is a barrel-aged sourhouse. While 70% of our beers are fresh beers, that other 30%—those barrel-aged sours and fruited sours—essentially define who we are. We know that we can show up with any of our barrel-aged sours and already distinguish ourselves. And, of course, we bring stickers, coasters, and whenever I can—additional help because all of that contributes to us being able to engage more with guests, which we’re intentional about doing.
COLDBREAK: What does your training program look like for sending employees out to work an event; how are you equipping them to rep your brand with integrity when away from the taproom?
KESTER: Because our events team is 99% our sales reps, we’re pretty fluent. But, there are certain steps and procedures that you have to run through every time. For anyone new, we teach them how to set up, operate, clean, and tear down a jockey box. We make sure our gaskets are good, the lines are clean, we have CO2. Do I have the merch I need to pass out? I just want to make sure that I’m not setting anyone up for failure, including myself.
COLDBREAK: How far out in advance do you typically get invited to participate in an event?
KESTER: We’ll get solicited sometimes a week before an event. For major festivals and events, sometimes we’re lucky enough to be invited six months out, which is what we need, honestly.
COLDBREAK: Why? Can you explain?
KESTER: Because there are so many awesome events and so many worthwhile organizations to help… Whether it’s a donation for a cause we really care about or a major event that we know we need to be at, the crème de la crème—I don’t want to miss them because we didn’t have a chance to budget for them.
COLDBREAK: Okay, so you get invited, then what?
KESTER: Two weeks out, we’re checking your SOP [standard operating procedure]. I’m making sure I have all my tools. Is my 10x10 tent here, or checked out? Contacting the festival to make sure they have our beer and whether they need anything else from us. Are they providing ice—enough ice? Will there be potable water on-site?
COLDBREAK: How does an event’s invitation lead time affect your production schedule?
KESTER: Production-wise, for us, not too much because I know we’ll have rad barrel-aged sour options year-round and killer fresh beer. It’s more of an issue when an organization says, “So, we want to bring in something really special from you guys.” [laughing] And they’ll drop that on you a week before, and you’re like, “Well…” [laughing] And, if we’ve done our job by staying in touch with them… At that point, I tell ‘em, “What’s special is what we have available right now.” For that really special stuff, events should be considerate of the breweries they’re working with and the ask they’re making.
COLDBREAK: At a festival, what are you pouring out of—jockey box or packaged?
KESTER: It totally depends. For some smaller events, we might do can service only, but generally through festival season I always have a jockey box on me.
COLDBREAK: Any recommendations for your fellow breweries you’re pouring alongside at events?
KESTER: Stay sober. If you’re going to participate in a festival and you’re representing your company, especially if you’re the person pouring, be sober. Listen, I like to throw back a few, but when you’re the one repping your company, do it well. Another one that we all probably have done is—don’t pack up early. Don’t shut down early because you didn’t show up with the amount of beer you were asked to bring. It doesn’t make you the cool kid. In my opinion, it makes you look like you came underprepared.
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