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EYE ON BUSINESS: Lake Placid Pub and Brewery stays strong in a lite world

February 23, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Lake Placid Pub and Brewery owner Chris Ericson was ahead of the curve in terms of New York brewers when he opened his business in 1996. Since then, he and his wife Catherine have managed to maintain a successful brand in a growing industry that now has a larger clientele, vast amounts of digital marketing and unique competition.

The brewery was making enough beer for the pub and growler sales in the early days, but it could not make enough if the Ericsons wanted to sell beer to other restaurants and distribute it in bottles. So in 2001 they bought an old 13,000-square-foot brewery in Plattsburgh and formed a new company, Lake Placid Craft Brewing, to produce popular beers such as the signature Ubu Ale. In 2007, they entered into a supply and distribution contract with the Matt Brewing Company in Utica for the bottled beer, and when the Plattsburgh brewery closed in 2010, they expanded the agreement to include production. Now their beer with the tag line "Real town. Real beer." is found around the Northeast.

Different demands

Article Photos

Chris Ericson, owner of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, poses with a glass of Ubu’s Golden Ale.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

When the brewery opened, New Yorkers didn't really drink much craft beer, according to Ericson.

"New England and Vermont, which is only an hour away, were significantly further ahead in craft beer than upstate New York was," he said, "so I think [the LPBB] started as an education, like, 'This is what craft beer tastes like.' Now it's trying to fit your product into their tastes."

Today, people are more knowledgeable about craft beer, and they're demanding more from brewers.

"I think back to one of our first beers that we ever brewed," Ericson said. "The 46er IPA was a 6 percent English style IPA. Even Ubu Ale, which is 7 percent, was like ungodly high in alcohol when we first opened. Now we're getting a lot of push back with people saying, 'Well this isn't a strong ale,' but when everything was 3, 4 or 5 percent, 7 was pretty high.

"So I think the consumer is expecting different things. We have to adjust our lineup accordingly and because of that we can be a little bit more progressive with the styles that we're brewing."

This idea paved the way for Ericson's other brewery, Big Slide Brewery & Public House on the Cascade Road. There he brews up more progressive and diverse beer styles such as the toasted coconut banana sour. The batch sizes at Big Slide are smaller than at the pub, so if beer doesn't seem to be selling, they don't have to sit on it for too long.

Micro vs. macro

Although it's a brewery and they pride themselves on homemade craft beer, LPBB offers a few macro brews as well as some liquor options. The building wasn't always the pub. In 1979, the downstairs bar was P.J. O'Neil's. When Ericson bought the business, he cut back on a lot of the non-in-house products.

"I think we're down to maybe three or four bottled beer options," he said. "We don't do any guest taps. We probably cut our liquor down to 20 bottles rather than 50 or 60 originally.

"But at the end of the day, we're a brewpub in a tourist town. If a group of eight guys comes in, and one of them is a Bud Light drinker, I don't want to lose the eight for the one.

"We're not the cheapest Bud Light in town," he said laughing, "and we never will be."

Many people in the happy hour crowd are locals who may not want to drink craft beer every day, and that's just fine to Ericson.

"We're happy to make them happy," he said.'

Digital marketing

The LPPB recently got a Snapchat account and its own filter. Ericson said he's not the best with this type of marketing yet, but he does agree that it's important for brand recognition.

"The marketing is challenging because it can't be traditional," Ericson said. "I'm an old-school guy where it's like you can almost tell the post from me versus what my wife posts. I'm always more like, 'Here's our new Frisbee. You should buy it,' and my wife is like, 'Stop and smell the hops today.'"

The Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram posts don't always have to promote a specific beer or product; sometimes they're just there to create awareness.

A growing industry

With craft beer becoming so popular, plenty of macro-breweries are trying to take advantage of that success, according to Ericson.

"Not only are bigger breweries buying smaller breweries," he said, "but they're also trying to abscond the good will that these breweries have created and kind of purposely create customer confusion."

He mentioned how California-based Stone Brewery is currently suing Miller Coors over customer confusion. Miller Coors makes the beer Keystone. The cans used to read Keystone as one word, but on the newer packages the "key" and the "stone" are separated with a lot of focus going to the "stone" aspect. Much of their marketing is also based heavily around "stone" with some of their slogans saying "Grab some Stones" or "Hunt the Stone."

Ericson recalls buying what he thought was a craft beer while he was in Texas once. It turned out to be an Anheuser-Busch product under a fake name, Houston Brewing Company.

"I put my pants on one leg at a time," Ericson said, "but if (Anheuser-Busch) fooled me, you can imagine that they're fooling the general public as well."

The Brewers Association, an advocacy group for small and independent craft breweries, now has a special label to identify independent beer products. It's an upside down bottle that clearly says "Certified Independent Craft." LPBB will soon have these labels on its products to let customers know they're not getting fooled.

Distribution

A large aspect of running a brewery is distribution. Ericson self-distributed for a time but found it was easier to go through a middle-man.

"It's really a double-edged sword," he said. "You get full margin (when you self distribute), and full margin is attractive, but you have trucks; you have salespeople; you have all these kinds of problems that go away when you sign with a distributor."

Ericson mentioned how Brooklyn Brewery used to distribute their own beer but switched over to a distributor after they wracked up almost $300,000 worth of parking tickets.

However, distributors do have some drawback in terms of marketing.

"If you're not self-distributing," he said," distributors run your brand."

When Big Slide originally opened, Ericson wanted to offer different styles to clients every week similar to fishermen and their catch of the day. But that's not how distributors operate. They want consistency.

"They don't want four or five flagships," he said. "They want one or two and maybe a quarterly seasonal. So that's another kind of constraint."

Ericson currently sells his beer in about six states mainly in the Northeast, but 80 percent of his sales are in New York.

"That's probably how it should be," he said. "People over the years have heard 'drink local, drink local, drink local' so often. Why would someone in Maryland drink beer from Lake Placid, New York? If people can drink local or regional products, it just seems to make sense that you're going to drink the beer you're closest to."

(Editor Andy Flynn contributed to this report.)

 
 

 

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