by joanne... Jul 22, 2016

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Local Brewing Co. founders Sarah Fenson (l) and Regan Long (r).

 

With a name like Local Brewing Co., this SoMa brewery couldn’t be anything but community first.

Founded by Regan Long and Sarah Fenson, and celebrating its first anniversary last month, Local brews a wide range of styles in small batches, all while taking a customer- and community-first approach while cultivating a strong following in its SoMa neighborhood. We talked to brewmaster Long — who, interestingly enough, holds degrees in Physics and Oceanography along with her brewing certificate from Seibel Institute of Technology World Brewing Academy — about her path to opening Local and the learning process implicit with launching a new brewery.

Q: What most influenced you to take up brewing and launch a brewery?

Obviously, we love brewing beer — there’s just something about the never-ending challenge of perfecting the blend of art and science in beer. And having a creative and entrepreneurial mindset, starting my own business was always in my future. But a key driver for us to open a brewery in SF is that we wanted to create a beer-focused spot we felt was missing in the City where we’ve lived for 20 years; a destination brewery with a west/SF-coast leaning style that filled the gap between production breweries and full-on brewpubs. A place that folks here in SF connect with socially and culturally — and a place where you can always find non-pretentious, approachable beer.

Q: You’ve been working on Local for a long time. As someone who has turned to Guild members for assistance and support early on, how has that made a difference in your rollout?

We certainly have benefitted from Guild members’ openness to share their perspectives and to help “test the waters” of brewing on a big scale before diving in head first on our own venture. Ron Silberstein and Brenden Dobel at ThirstyBear really stepped up for us, believing in what we were doing and giving us the opportunity to bring our idea out of the garage and into the big leagues. Dave McLean at Magnolia was also a very early adviser, providing in-depth information, wisdom and contacts. And, Kim Sturdavant at Social Kitchen also let us assist on a brew. In their generosity of time, energy and guidance, each demonstrated what it really means to be a part of a group of craftspeople who care deeply about maintaining the quality and integrity of that craft.

Q: Was there ever a ‘pivot’ moment when you had to shift your strategy?

We had planned so carefully and had such a vivid vision of what we wanted to build, there weren’t any major changes in general business scope and direction.

For example, we knew we didn’t want to go the contracting route — we were laser-focused on building a destination brewery. We were also adamant about setting up shop in SF, having lived here for 20 years.

However, as a start-up, things come up; for example, given our location, we had to extend our build-out budget and timeline. Finding and securing a location was almost a pivot point for us. After losing out on or walking away from a couple of spots over the course of three years, we drew a line in the sand — date-wise — as to when we had to find a spot or discuss re-evaluating the goal. Fortunately, we didn’t have to come to that crossroads.

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Q: How do you differentiate Local from the other breweries launching around you?

It’s really the whole Local experiential package. Great, quality beer is a baseline… you’ve gotta have that as a baseline to compete these days. We create a diverse array of beer recipes that are different but approachable, so there’s a beer for everyone. But, in our opinion, there’s got to be more than just good beer to succeed these days. We focus not only on beer quality, but innovative approaches — to beer styles, combining technology and beer — via our Local Beer Curator mobile site — and how we deliver beer, such as our ‘canned by hand’ fresh pints to go.

We also made a big effort to make our taproom an authentic, casual and modern hangout with amazing staff, great customer service, and a fun atmosphere where locals want to visit after work or on weekends. We also felt it was important to offer a core menu of well-executed hot sandwiches and snacks to round out the Local experience.

Q: How does where your located effect your business, its growth, the beers you make, and how you market yourself?

We’re located in the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood – at the intersection of industrial history in SF, new tech companies, expanding urban neighborhoods, and the Home of the Giants (AT&T Park). This means we have a wide array of customers and those customers want choice. So, we specifically designed our brewery and beer bar to pour 16 house-brewed beers (all brewed on site). Four to five of them are flagship or “always pouring,” and the rest are rotating, seasonal/limited beers. This is what our customers tell us they want, so we’re making sure we deliver on our promise to have new, fresh, rotating brews.

It also was really important for us to stay in the City, because this is where we live and where we saw an opportunity to create something that didn’t exist. Because it’s San Francisco, we recognize our audience utilizes digital media, so we made an investment in our website and digital beer curator, and make sure to post often to social media channels. We also know this town likes experiences — so we hold workshops and fun events to give city dwellers and their guests a great time.

Q: What are you most excited about with your upcoming beer releases?

We’re stoked to continue surprising our audience and customers with new, interesting and approachable beers. We’ll be releasing some fun beers in the coming months — a fruit beer with blackberries on nitro and a few Belgians. In the longview, we’re excited about some barrel experiments we’re doing with a couple of our beers in wine barrels from Bluxome Street Winery. located right next door, and Oro en Paz Winery on Treasure Island.

Q: How do you see Local evolving in terms of its craft beer offerings and overall growth plan?

It’s our philosophy that beer should be a two-way conversation with our customers. We constantly keep a pulse on what styles of beers our customers want us to brew by engaging with them daily in person at the brewery, on social media, and through our original Beer Curator, which allows our customers to curate the perfect Local beer flight for themselves, as well as ‘favorite’ beers, and save beer profiles. In this way, we keep a digital pulse on what our customers want from us as a brewery. After all, we’re in this to brew beer for our customers, so this tool helps us build new beer recipes and brew more beer to keep them happy.

With regard to growing Local, we self distribute our draft beer to select accounts in SF and the East Bay, and we’re steadily taking on new accounts — restaurants and beer bars that support fresh, and locally produced brew. You can find Local beer at nearly 100 selected spots in the Bay Area, and we look to continue expanding that effort with a measured approach to ensure our beer is always served fresh.

We also recently launched our ‘fresh, canned by hand’ pints — we fresh-fill 16oz cans to order days before delivery for a few selected retail accounts including Whole Foods Market, Precita Cafe and others. We also custom fill ‘pints to go’ at the brewery. The idea is to give customers the freshest canned product. We do plan to launch a broader canning effort of our flagships brews, SF Lager and Duboce Park IPA, in early 2017.

Q: Now that you’ve turned one, what are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned?

Good beer in the Bay Area is a baseline these days, so you have to hustle every single day to get the attention of new accounts to get your brand out there.

When building a business, your core team is critical to your success. Everyone has to be driving toward the same goal.

As scary as it sometimes seems, taking risks is essential to our growth and our ability to innovate.

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