SPRINGFIELD – White Lion Brewing Company continued to expand its brand recently, taking part in a nationwide showcase of its products and message.
The eight-month-old Springfield-based beer company participated in and fared well at Startup Brewery Challenge 4, which took place at Brewbound Session Chicago 2015, a biannual business networking event sponsored by the craft beer online publication and newsletter published by BevNET.com Inc.
“It was a very good experience for us to be able to meet and talk with not only other companies in similar situations to our own, but with stakeholders in the beer industry from around the country,” White Lion President Ray Berry told Reminder Publications, noting those who spoke at the conference included Andy Goeler, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis and marketing director Chad Melis.
Startup Brewery Challenge, sponsored by the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA), was the opportunity for up to 10 breweries in existence for two years or fewer to participate in a pitch contest to see how their beer, business plan and philosophies stack up against others. White Lion was one of six to take part in the Chicago competition.
In a livestreamed event, representatives presented their companies’ mission statement, branding, packaging, distribution, retail strategies and a sample product to a panel of judges composed of Karmen Olson, CBA senior manager of emerging business, Ben Dobler, CBA brewing innovation manager, Doug Dayhoff, president of Indiana-based Upland Brewing, Michael Kiser, founder of the website Good Beer Hunting, and Pat Brophy, beer buyer for Chicago’s Binny’s Beverage Depot.
“It was a great panel of judges,” Berry said. “That was the best value add of the day – being in front of well-experienced and very knowledgeable industry leaders.”
The contest winners were decided through two means – the panel’s critique, which held the majority of the weight, and online voting by those watching the livestream. The winner gained the honor of taking an all-expenses-paid trip to work on a collaboration beer with Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, OR.
White Lion placed second overall, the runner up in both the eyes of the panel and voters to Braxton Brewing of Covington, KY.
“We received great feedback. In speaking with panelists afterwards, they felt we had the best product on the table. Because Braxton already had a brewhouse in play, that allowed them to go on to Oregon. Had we had a brick and mortar facility, we probably would have been on top,” Berry said of his company, which currently contract brews at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich. “We were leading in the fan voting through the last half hour.”
While falling short of boarding a plane to Oregon, Berry said the White Lion team took nothing but positives from the experience.
“To be in front of 225 key stakeholders from across the county from large, small and medium-sized breweries was an outstanding opportunity and it was good to hear and refreshing to know that White Lion is in a position to be prosperous,” he said.
Will the feedback regarding a physical brewery in Springfield accelerate the company’s thoughts on the matter? Berry said his team has a plan and they’re sticking to it.
“Right now it’s about getting not only the beer, but the story of White Lion out there to the people so that once we open a brick and mortar facility, it will be a first-class operation,” he said. “We want to be a mainstay here in Springfield.”