AmeriCANmade: Burley Oak’s Kickstarter Story and What it Means for the Industry

, AmeriCANmade: Burley Oak’s Kickstarter Story and What it Means for the IndustrySince opening in 2011, the Burley Oak Brewing Company has been making some of America’s best beers in ‘America’s Coolest Small Town’ of Berlin, Maryland. So good that it’s now attracting craft beer fans from all across America.

Just ask the group of four from New Hampshire that heard about Burley on social media, stopped by while vacationing nearby at Assateague Island National Seashore this fall, noticed a poster about an ongoing fundraiser while sipping pints, and donated $500 on the spot.

In an effort to increase exposure and revenue, Burley Oak launched a Kickstarter campaign in September to raise $45,000 for a Wild Goose Canning System. In exchange for their hard-earned cash, donors were enticed with everything from hand-written ‘Thank You’ poems to customized beer mugs to the chance to personalize a future beer, depending on how much they pledged. Slated to last 36 days, over half of the ‘AmeriCANmade’ campaign was funded during the first week. When it was all said and done, 446 people donated $54,000 and Burley Oak received the capital required to make its canning dream a reality.

, AmeriCANmade: Burley Oak’s Kickstarter Story and What it Means for the IndustryBurley’s owner, Bryan Brushmiller, credits his hometown with “building the brewery one pint at a time,” and Kickstarter provided a platform to apply the same concept on a mass scale, generating 18 to 20 months of revenue in just 7 weeks. Although many of the donors came from the local community, Burley’s crowdsourcing effort received financial backing from across the country. A testament to the quality of the brewery’s beers, for sure, but the overwhelming success of the AmeriCANmade campaign also reveals greater realizations about the current American craft beer boom.

For decades, the “small guys were getting crushed” by Big Beer’s big advertising budgets, putting microbreweries at distinct disadvantages in terms of sales and distribution. This was most evident in the 1990s, when a similar brewery boom gave way to a bust period that led many consumers back to mass-produced light beers. The current renaissance, which is rapidly expanding everywhere from small towns to overseas markets, shows no signs of hitting the skids anytime soon, begging the question: what is different this time around?

The answer is many things. A cultural shift towards local ingredients, increasing consumer demand for quality, and an emerging millennial generation raised on choices rather than brand loyalty, to name a few. Equally, if not more important, as Brushmiller sees it, are modern technologies “leveling the playing field” for small breweries.

, AmeriCANmade: Burley Oak’s Kickstarter Story and What it Means for the IndustryKickstarter, social media, Yelp, and other internet resources provide direct channels for communicating with consumers and critics, creating the potential for instant feedback about products, service, and experience. When applied properly, these tools can make cultivating and maintaining relationships with current and potential customers easier, regardless of their geographic location. Today’s consumers are highly attuned to quality, vocal about their opinions, and increasingly willing to personally support people and products they believe in. Resources such as Kickstarter give them the chance to become “part of something bigger than themselves” and truly influence the success – or failure – of a business.

Brushmiller fully embraces how effective leveraging the Internet can be, but is quick to point out that online platforms are worthless without “hard work behind the scenes by passionate people.” Customers “respect when you are true to your passions and know when you’re not,” says Brushmiller, who believes success ultimately hinges on being “honest people with an honest product.”

Judging by the response to the AmeriCANmade campaign, Burley Oak is hitting the mark on honesty and quality. And thanks to hundreds of passionate fans, a wider range of beer lovers will soon be able to taste its world-class brews. Although still debating what to can first, Brushmiller is adamant about making his beer easily accessible “since the public paid for it” and is confident 6-packs of Burley Oak will start hitting shelves on May 1.

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