A Brewery Owner’s Perspective

Online Reviews: A Brewery Owner’s Perspective
By: Matt Brown – Owner – Tombstone Brewing Company

It’s important to me that people enjoy my beer. Every brewery owner I’ve met feels the same way. It isn’t just a matter of pride, but it’s important to keeping your business afloat. You can sell a ton of beer with aggressive marketing, placement, and price, but at the end of the day, you’re never going to do any of that as well as the macros. Almost universally, craft brewers consider the quality and creativity of their product the thing that distinguishes them.

The passion for those things that makes someone want to open a brewery tends to heavily focus a brewery owner’s attention on public perception of the product. There are lots of ways to gauge that. Talking with people in the tap room is great, but everyone is nice for the most part. It’s a rare customer who tells you to your face your beers suck, even if they do. People who tell you to your face that you make great stuff then joke about your beers to their friends the moment you leave are a dime a dozen.

No metric for figuring out what people think is more instantly gratifying and better at creating the seemingly indisputable illusion that you’re a rock star or a failure than online platforms that give ordinary people the power to widely influence the value other people give to your brand. For both better and worse, the internet shapes our perception of other people’s opinions. Of the infinite number of opinions out there, however, it’s only the surface we are seeing.

Less than one out of several hundred pints of beer we produce at Tombstone Brewing Company gets some sort of feedback online. There’s never been a review, check-in, or social media post suggesting anyone ever bought a single beer of ours at about half of our wholesale accounts. On the bright side, it means we aren’t entirely slaves to to the online crowd. The unfortunate part is that, in a world where we look to the internet for everything, a bunch of our accounts are mysteries. That isn’t something that inspires confidence if you’re used to electronic instant gratification.

I’m almost always told I’m in the minority when I admit to fellow brewery owners that I try to check every beer review site every day and scour social media for feedback on how we’re doing. They make fun of me because I’m actually giving weight to a place where people write stuff that’s beyond idiotic. They’re sort of right, but some of the most insightful online critiques have been extremely beneficial.

Sure, there are ridiculous people out there. Beer sites sometimes seem like never-ending streams of reviews like “this filtered Pils isn’t hazy – one star” or “I hate Scotch, screw this nasty Scotch-barrel beer I bought after being told it tasted just like Scotch – one star.” Lots of people think they’re experts, an opinion that almost universally signals they aren’t. There are people who rate based not on the beer quality, but on whether it’s a style they like or not. There are also obvious trolls, people who’ve never given anything a decent review, and people who’ve had just enough rare beers to know that they’d never want to give a decent review to something they couldn’t boast about getting to friends who don’t have access to it.

Luckily, the world of self-proclaimed beer experts isn’t just made up of harsh critics. Some geographic areas have such intense loyalty and homerism that their online presence is a continuous stream of “drink local [insert town here]!!! – five stars]. To my knowledge, we’ve yet to get a rating on a beer-review website from a customer living in the Tombstone zip code, so I’m honestly a little envious of breweries with that sort of access to online local consumer input. There’s a lot a brewery can do building a base online. It isn’t always the best source of good data, though.

I’d like to pretend I’m too cool for reading online reviews, but I’m not. I’m still human. The jolt of satisfaction when someone loves one of our beers or the disappointment when someone rips into one affects my mood. I just have to remember not to get too worried about what a tiny percentage of our customers, often extremely vocal ones who may or may not know what they’re talking about, have to say about our beers.

Now please excuse me while I go refresh some beer review websites to see how we’re doing…

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Erik Merkow
Founder and CEO at Az Food & Wine
Erik: a father, writer, son, photographer, corporate guy, friend, brother, and foodie wine guy

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