Starting a new micro-brewery in the current competitive market would be a challenge for anyone, but throw in a global pandemic and there’s a whole host of obstacles to overcome. Those challenges aren’t dissuading Matt Andersen from his longtime dream of launching his own beer.
Andersen, a lawyer with Norris McLaughlin in Allentown specializing in the alcohol industry, said he isn’t waiting for COVID-19 to clear before he starts making Retriever Brewing Co. a reality. He sees the challenges, but notes that the beer industry is already a competitive space.
“I don’t want to wait until it’s all gone to get started,” he said. “I think it’s more preparing for the future.”
Having worked in alcohol law for many years, he thinks he knows enough about what works and what doesn’t to make a go of his brand.
Right now, with bars and restaurants being extra careful about what they buy, small brewers in Pennsylvania are relying on social media and direct sales to keep their business afloat. So, Andersen is going to start out selling cans of beer directly to the consumer, and concentrating his marketing efforts on word of mouth and social media. That way, he said, he can build up the brand by the time COVID-19 has gone away and open his own taproom.
He noted that it’s only been since March that beer shipping has been allowed within Pennsylvania, so most of the state’s brewers – and there are hundreds of them – don’t. He said only about 25 or 30 breweries currently ship, so that gives Retriever a competitive advantage.
But, that’s still a way off.
Andersen hasn’t started commercially brewing the beer. He’s launching the brand first and then working on bringing a beer to market that people will want to drink. He’s not doing the brewing himself. He’ll have a brew master for that. He said his experience, talent and passion are more in the marketing and distribution of the product.
He is already selling merchandise like T-shirts and logo beer glasses on the retrieverbrewco.com website, to get the word out on the company. Other local breweries started in similar ways, such as Seven Sirens Brewing Co. in Bethlehem, which sold merchandise prior to launching to raise money and awareness for their beer, he said.
Andersen named the brewing company after his two dogs, and hopes to be shipping beer to consumers by the end of November.
As he builds that market he will begin plans to open a retail sales location and has an ultimate goal of opening a taproom somewhere in the northwestern area of the Lehigh Valley by spring or summer of next year.
There is a demand for craft brews in the state. According to the Pennsylvania Brewers Association, Pennsylvania produces the second highest amount of craft beer in the country.
That’s what has brought the competition, Andersen said.
But, he said the Lehigh Valley is also a prime spot to enter the market. Some parts of the state — suburban Philadelphia for example – have a very high density of craft-brew taprooms. The Lehigh Valley, while boasting a good number of brewers, doesn’t have quite as crowded of a field of brewers, Andersen said.
He’s hoping that by offering something with good taste and style, the customers will come.