Fortes Fortuna Adiuvat


I’ve always wondered what the secret is to creating a successful brewery.

By success I don’t mean the place stays open and you are able to pay everyone minimum wage. I want to know what separates the modestly successful from the wildly successful. As much as it pains me to say it, I’m not certain beer quality is the differentiator. Yes, a certain high level of quality is needed to be wildly successful, but there are high quality beers being made from some less successful breweries. Heck, I’m sure there were breweries making some great beers that couldn’t make it financially and folded.

I know some folks think marketing separates the wildly successful from the less successful. Again, I really doubt that is the reason. Yes, clever marketing can help build a brand. It can get people to try your beer versus another. Yes, it certainly helps, but is it the key to success? I don’t think Sierra Nevada ever did any sort of “marketing campaign” to build their brand, but I would still put them in the wildly successful category.

Sierra Nevada is known more for their early pioneering, long term dedication to quality, and hard work. So, would that be the key differentiator between wildly and modestly successful breweries? Hard work? No. Like the other factors it certainly helps, but there are plenty of hard working brewers focused on quality with good marketing ideas that are most likely never going to make the jump to wildly successful.

Like so many other questions in this industry, I don’t have the answer. I have some thoughts, but no answers. I don’t even know for certain if Heretic will be even slightly successful. I think success comes with all of the above, but wild success requires one more ingredient, boldness. There is a reason the Latin proverb “fortes fortuna adiuvat” (fortune favors the bold) is so oft repeated. It is because it is true. In a competitive, challenging market like craft beer, boldness is a necessary ingredient in success.

Today, the new generation of craft beer consumer is not looking for the same old stuff. They want the new and the extraordinary, so it is important to be bold in exploring new ideas and ingredients. Boldness in market strategy also helps. While you don’t want to overreach, you don’t want to let timidity restrict you to your local area either. Go forth and take advantage of the new media opportunities, new packaging, and new markets.

Of course, whenever I say “bold” some people think I mean aggressive. Aggressiveness is often associated with how you interact with others, either to get them out of your way or to make them follow you. Boldness, on the other hand, is all about you. Boldness is you overcoming your fears and limitations. Boldness is about you thinking in new ways. Boldness may be stepping off the path that you have been following each day or maybe it is just running ahead much faster on that path. Boldness is being creative and adventurous.

Does taking a bolder approach guarantee success? Of course not. In fact it could result in a quicker demise, but that is OK in my book. It is better to shine brightly for a brief period than not to shine at all.


  1. Such an interesting question, and a great analysis to go with it.

    Boldness does seem to go far. High ABV, spirit or wine barrel-aging, assertive or unusual flavors, all very popular among serious craft beer fans. That said, it doesn’t seem like that’s what directly makes a name for a brewery. I think it’s how they engage their community. How they get there beer out there and the story they tell about it. Beer is social, it’s a group activity, and I think it’s more about creating beers that people come together around. Sometimes that’s a barrel-aged RIS released once a year, other times it’s a well-balanced IPA that’s a favorite at a local bar. Some of the breweries seeing near exponential growth? Lagunitas, Oskar Blues… these guys are making great, relatively simple beers and getting them out there.

  2. shailly says:

    The last sentence was better said by Jim “Its better to burn than fade”

  3. Benny Morosco says:

    Aggressive marketing does not mean deceiving your prospects or deliberately pestering them. Don’t make claims that you can’t back up, Just make the best beer you know how and people will follow.. There are so many questions in the brewing industry of why some things work and some don’t. People are just plain weird to try to figure them out is where the key to your success will be..

  4. Gary Johnson says:

    Luv the blog! As a homebrewer, (wished it was my day job) there is another parameter that comes into play- what a serious homebrewer thinks and says when trying a new beer. Many times I try something new which has great packaging / labels and has been hyped. And then I think to myself “Gee I could have made this better”. Not because I am a snob, but because I can taste what I think are shortcuts in ingredients or process. There is a brewery upstate on the East Coast that I believe subcontracted on one of the beers I used to buy all the time. I finally figured this out because it started to get a flavor /yeast profile from a more local brewery near where I lived that I knew was too similar to be coincidence. So I never bought another bottle from them. Would the average buyer figure this out, probably not- just would have thought their tastes had changed and moved on to something else. I never proved this but if it was true this was a business decision maybe should not have been made. JM2C

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