The craft beer industry is exploding as beer drinkers have refined their palates and new brewers are entering the market. To successfully expand across the country, brewers need to craft differentiated beers and leverage data to inform their decisions on what products to launch in their growing markets. In this episode of Technology Powers X, we dive into how:
- Craft beer preferences differ from city to city and town to town
- New Belgium Brewing Company analyzes vast data sources to provide the right beer, in the right format to the right markets
- Dell EMC VxRail helps to simplify the IT environment for New Belgium Brewing Company, allowing them to focus on what they love to do: brew great beer
- Adam Little, Senior System Administrator, New Belgium Brewing Company
- Travis Morrison, Director of IT, New Belgium Brewing Company
- David Butler, Host, Florida Beer Podcast
- Shannon Champion, Director, Hyperconverged Infrastructure Product Marketing, Dell Technologies
Danielle Applestone: Though the craft of brewing beer may be 10,000 years old, it has fast become one of the most sophisticated, complex and tech savvy business categories. Need proof? Here it comes. New Belgium Brewing “Beer Rangers.” Tirelessly roaming all 50 states, uniting parched Americans with the tasty wares of New Belgium Brewing Company. One of the country’s premier craft brewers. And this Beer Ranger’s packing countless millions of pieces of information woven real time into nuggets of market insight. What beer styles are emerging in their market? Do they want it in a can, a bottle or at their local pub? Are they craving a hoppy beer or are they focused on a refreshing beverage? There’s so much to understand to meet the needs of existing fans and to acquire new ones.
With today’s intense competition, it takes a lot to survive the craft beer frontier. First, you need to make a delicious product. Second, you need information, lots of it, about trends, regional preferences, sales projections and strategies, and how to manage the supply chain just right so your cold beer is ready when your fans are craving a pint. Third, you need that information right now. Lessons well learned at New Belgium Brewing. Here, the tech savvy team works constantly to check all three boxes. Their product is a family of craft beers, their recipes refined and nurtured over 35 years. The information and its speed come from the business intelligence applications that run on top of hyperconverged infrastructure technology unimaginable just a generation ago.
My name is Danielle Applestone, engineer and entrepreneur. In case you want to buy me a drink, I prefer a small flowery craft IPA, definitely after a day working in the yard, but that’s just between you and me. You’re about to hear a story about beer, massive amounts of data and the hardware that keeps both flowing. Where else will you hear the word beer and hyperconverged in the same sentence? You’re listening to Technology Powers X, an original podcast from Dell Technologies. In this episode, technology powers the beer you love.
Without a doubt, these are the best of times for the craft beer industry and for the craft beer drinker. Last year, the US produced more than a billion barrels of craft beer. For perspective, it takes more than 18 days for that much water to flow over Niagara Falls. Today at New Belgium, the ancient craft of brewing has an indispensable 21st century ingredient, hyperconverged infrastructure. That infrastructure supports almost every aspect of planning, marketing, sales, and distribution. It has close to 200 SQL server databases and 100 virtualized servers running on a single Dell EMC VxRail system.
That picture was far from the minds of Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch in 1991 as they slowly assembled brewing equipment in the basement of their home in Fort Collins, Colorado. Inspired by a bicycle trip through Belgium, they wanted to bring Belgian style suds to America, as well as a fresh approach to doing business.
Adam Little: Kim Jordan was a psychologist, so she had a very like human approached way to business.
Danielle Applestone: Adam Little is a senior system administrator at New Belgium Brewing.
Adam Little: One of our key business philosophies is right proving the business can be a force for good. So that kind of came from her understanding of how a business should operate, how people should be engaged with a business and things like that.
Danielle Applestone: Way, way down at the other end of the spectrum, there was Jeff.
Adam Little: Jeff was kind of the polar opposite. He was an electrical engineer, so he was always solving all the technical challenges. So it was pretty cool to see if you do a tour in Fort Collins, you can see a tour of all the different, like fabricated equipment that Jeff came up with. So he was building the early PLCs and things like that to automate some of that stuff that didn’t exist in the early ’90s area. That’s where the two of them really hit it off and the line is that New Belgium was started in a basement, like many craft brewers.
Danielle Applestone: In an era rife with early buzz about something called the information highway, New Belgium Brewing was ahead of their time, even if they didn’t know it.
Travis Morrison: Our core values and beliefs back in the day when it was just Kim and Jeff, really set out that roadmap of what they wanted the company to be.
Danielle Applestone: Travis Morrison is director of IT at New Belgium Brewing.
Travis Morrison: They wanted it to be a force for good and that business could honor the environment and the people that work for it as well as obviously be profitable. So, we were doing a lot of sustainable practices at the brewery back when it wasn’t very fashionable or mainstream. So we’re proud to be part of that early adopter and really helping other businesses adopt those best practices. And I think most craft brewers nowadays have some sort of environmental lean to it.
Danielle Applestone: Its first two brands, Abbey and Fat Tire, found a following. Business intelligence while never easy was less complex then. At the time, key sources of data were anecdote and intuition. Soon enough, as tourists came to Colorado to ski and explore, they began pollinating New Belgium beers beyond state lines. Adam Little.
Adam Little: Everyone would be like, “oh my gosh, you’re going to Colorado, right? That’s where New Belgium is” or “that’s where Fat Tire Brewery is.” We got that a lot. And so they would be like, “hey, can you bring me back some Fat Tire?” So it didn’t take long before I would say probably a couple of years before we were like, okay, we should really start expanding at least to the surrounding states so that people don’t have to do that.
Danielle Applestone: There’s something flattering and daunting about having customers tell you your company needs to expand. IT Director Travis Morrison.
Travis Morrison: In 1995, we built our first large capacity brew house just down the street and then we were able to slowly expand to neighboring states. Texas and New Mexico were initial states that we expanded to. And then as we added capacity over the years, obviously the West Coast was a logical area for us to expand to. And then as we started to move East, that’s when we built our Asheville, North Carolina brewery to then roll out the East Coast.
Danielle Applestone: New Belgium Brewing grew. Then about a dozen years ago, it happened. Suddenly, the craft beer category began a phase of explosive growth. Writing in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson described a perfect storm of conditions for the craft beer renaissance. One was a generation of “foodies” willing to pay a bit more for flavorful IPAs and stouts from smaller local breweries. Another was changes to alcohol regulations, making it easier for craft brewers to introduce new products. And yet another condition was the wave of necessity entrepreneurs. Displaced by economic disruption a decade ago, many opened small time breweries. New Belgium labored to find its way into all 50 States. So it faced a lesson that confronted many brewers, expanding business to out-of-state markets comes with its own big kettle of complications. One is distribution. How do you tune your distribution in distant markets to ensure the right volume of product is ready at the right time? When product freshness is of the utmost importance. Adam Little.
Adam Little: So it’s really about how can we turn around those orders as fast as possible, keep those distributors filling the places where you would go buy it. Your Costcos, your local liquor stores, all those things, making sure that they have stock of our products. So that’s really kind of been a challenge. As we change and as other products pick up right getting that product mix correct of what’s there for the distributors so that you don’t hit a period where you have a new brand and then it’s not available.
Danielle Applestone: Then there are regional tastes to consider. Just as tourists learn about a new language as they travel, brewers must learn the beer language of each state, region, city and neighborhood. Consider Florida.
David Butler: Beers that play well in Miami, Fort Lauderdale don’t necessarily translate as well into Tampa, which isn’t necessarily what’s hot up in Jacksonville, which isn’t necessarily hot over in Pensacola.
Danielle Applestone: David Butler is a beer blogger and host of Florida Beer Podcast. He says there’s a good reason why beer tastes vary from one place to another.
David Butler: As word has gotten now and tastes are starting to change and evolve. And you have this sort of influencer culture explode, people are realizing that beer is in a lot of ways a lot more complex than wine or liquor. Because with wine, they talk about terroir, which is the natural flavors that are in the grapes that take on whatever they were grown in and the region that they were grown in. With beer, you’ve got all of that and there’s a lot of different ingredients that go into a beer. Obviously, the water is key and different regions have different flavors of water. You’ve got the malts, you’ve got the hops, which are starting to be grown in Florida now, the yeast, which you can find anywhere. And then you’ve got all these beautiful adjuncts, which really take on a life of their own, and you can only find certain adjuncts in certain places.
Danielle Applestone: With so many different lifestyles and climates and population centers to consider, it quickly becomes evident that beer markets are not created equal and that getting the right beer where customers want it is a feat of local information management and logistics.
David Butler: Beer is cuisine and cuisine really does take on the land and the people that it’s around. And so taking that into account, you look at a place like South Miami, where there’s a very strong multicultural group there, and they bring a lot of their cultural influences into the cuisine and into the beer. You take a look at some places like Minneapolis and because a lot of the immigrants that came to that area, that’s where a lot of those influences come as well. It’s a great way to tell the anthropological timeline of a location is by taking a look at the breweries that are there.
Danielle Applestone: Yet another lesson. If you want to market beer in 50 states, you’ll need to navigate through 50 sets of state laws. Some states, for instance, prohibit the sale of beer in grocery stores. Others prohibit the sale of cold beer in grocery stores. Some restrict Sunday sales. By now, it wasn’t enough to out-brew the competition. A craft brewer also needed to out-think them, managing a relentlessly growing inflow of data about almost every aspect of the business. Fortunately for New Belgium Brewing, there’s just the hardware for that. Don’t let its appearance fool you.
Shannon Champion: A VxRail system isn’t that sexy to look at. It’s a box, it’s a node, it’s got a really pretty bezel, but it’s about what’s on the inside that gets people pretty excited.
Danielle Applestone: Shannon Champion is director of product marketing for HCI at Dell Technologies.
Shannon Champion: HCI is a software-centric architecture that tightly integrates the compute, the storage, the virtualization, and the management resources in a single system, and that basically brings together multiple data center technologies all in one.
Danielle Applestone: Where more data once meant more management, now it means more concise regional sales strategies and insights fed immediately to the New Belgium Rangers. Travis Morrison.
Travis Morrison: We run it all on the Dell Technologies. So as we’re taking our internal data, all these external data sources, we’re crunching a lot of data every single day because it’s that dynamic. And then obviously surfacing that information up to our Rangers on their Dell PCs out on the field. So they have the latest and greatest up to date information and can use that as a selling tool in the market.
Danielle Applestone: Hyperconverged infrastructure and the applications it supports helps New Belgium Brewing thread the needle through varying state laws and helps make informed street level marketing decisions. And while that’s happening, the New Belgium team has more room to focus on passion and product. David Butler.
David Butler: It really does boil down to the passion of the brewers themselves making a good quality product. And that is something that you would be able to tell immediately upon opening a can or receiving a draft. If there’s a brewery that’s in it just to make the money, they won’t be around very long, partially because this really isn’t a very lucrative kind of industry, but also because that beer and the quality that it does not have and the heart that it doesn’t have will be very evident almost immediately.
Danielle Applestone: Not only has VxRail fueled New Belgium’s marketing strategies and insights its speed and automation have also transformed its IT. For example, by dramatically speeding up it’s SQL database performance and extract transform load processes. Adam Little.
Adam Little: That’s one of the first places that we saw extreme improvement of our ETL process going from, I think, seven or eight hours overnight to like 45 minutes to an hour on the VxRail. And that was just a difference of performance and moving all of that there and reorganizing some of those workloads
Danielle Applestone: So fast was the improvement that many didn’t believe it. Shannon Champion.
Shannon Champion: The analytics team actually saw this report generated so quickly that they asked if something had gone wrong and it hadn’t. Now instead of waiting around an entire day, the data was ready, actionable and in the team’s hands in under an hour.
Danielle Applestone: Some tasks that once chewed up all kinds of IT hours such as lifecycle management have become one-click simple.
Shannon Champion: Having life cycle management capabilities today is kind of table stakes for HCI, but we took the challenge of going a step further to enable a single click entire hardware and software stack life cycle management, letting customers choose their validated state and go from one release to four releases in the future, if that’s kind of the upgrade path that they want to take. And in order to do that, we in our labs have thousands and thousands of VxRail nodes around the world running 25,000 different tests for every major release, making sure that those components are compatible. We’re eliminating the need for our customers’ IT teams to do that level of test and validation and basically taking on that risk for them. And I feel like this doesn’t just free up more time for the IT team. It frees up more time for the groups that the IT team supports.
Danielle Applestone: As Travis Morrison notes, this level of automation allows his team to spend more time driving the business instead of configuring the infrastructure.
Travis Morrison: Obviously, anytime that we can spend surfacing up data or insights or more value add projects to the business, the better. So VxRail obviously has freed up some administrative time. The integration and the life cycle management really saves our Sys Admin team a ton of time where they can focus their efforts on more value add and projects that help drive the business forward.
Danielle Applestone: And it hasn’t escaped Adam Little’s attention that VxRail fits well within New Belgium’s green mandate.
Adam Little: For us, that’s a win-win. You’re getting better performance. You’re getting less data center footprint. You’re getting less infrastructure to manage. So I think that, yeah, going that direction makes a lot of sense from a sustainability perspective.
Danielle Applestone: This at a brewery that has ambitious internal metrics for energy conservation, including a self-imposed tax on its own purchased electricity consumption with the funds directed to onsite renewable energy projects. And so the beer Rangers journey on, their trusty laptops at their sides with insights gleaned from countless terabytes of data powered in part by VxRail guiding them and meeting the needs of their regional markets. Today, they find contentment knowing that while the rudiments of brewing have remained intact for thousands of years, beer itself has become a whole lot smarter.
This is Technology Powers X, an original podcast from Dell Technologies. For more information on Dell EMC VxRail, the only jointly engineered HCI system built with VMware to deliver a truly optimized operational experience, go to DellTechnologies.com/TechnologyPowersX. You can read the transcript, learn more about our speakers and check out some great links. I’m Danielle Applestone. Thank you for listening.