Craft-ness on the edge of town
How Cypress Brewing is taking the Great State of New Jersey by storm
It started as a Sunday morning hobby. What happened next has greatly exceeded the expectations that Bill Lutz, Jason Kijowski and Charles Backmann ever had. That hobby, which involved lots of mixing and matching of recipe ingredients, turned into a favorite among the New Jersey craft beer crowd.
Today, Cypress Brewing, the name the trio gave their hobby-turned-business, is five years strong and growing—pandemic and all.
At first, Lutz, Kijowski and Backmann began toying with various amounts of hops and malts for flavor, eventually turning the mix into a beer that grabbed your attention. Interestingly enough, their taste testers—Charles Backmann, Sr. and Ken Kijowski, two of their dads—were so impressed that they implored them to take the leap.
Going from the kitchen to a larger facility in their hometown of Edison, New Jersey, the journey began. Designing their own tap room and enlisting the help of family, friends and neighbors, Cypress Brewing—the 20 BBL microbrewery—came into full view.
We sat down with co-founder Charles Backmann to get his insights into the brand's journey, the art of dealing in today's pandemic-induced landscape and what the future holds.
What are some of the adjustments you made to your business model based on current events?
We've been forced to close our indoor tasting room, and move to an entirely outdoor makeshift beer garden-style service area. We've also been forced to close a portion of our parking lot in order to accommodate this service area.
What kind of conversations are you having with your customers?
We've asked that all customers limit their party size to eight patrons. We've also made sure that all tables are a minimum of 6 feet from one another. All patrons also are required to wear protective face coverings when not seated. In addition, access to our restrooms is limited to one person at a time.
What role should a brand play in being a leader in a distressed market?
Our brand demonstrates a large level of care and individual attention to detail due to our small size and craft-focused products. We've extended that mindset to our customers during this time.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer on how to deal with this?
Prepare to enforce the rules to those who do not wish to follow the new guidelines. Prepare to remove those who insist that they will not comply. Expect harsh feedback, both personally and on social media, from those who refuse.
Give us a snapshot of today's craft spirits market from your perspective.
The market is currently flooded. There are nearly double the number of craft breweries in New Jersey as there were when we opened five years ago. Expect substantial competition.
What’s likely to happen next?
We're hoping that restrictions will be relaxed to the point where we can reopen for indoor service, but due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey, we unfortunately expect that this will not be the case for the foreseeable future. We expect to be forced to remain outdoors for the time being.
What trends are defining the space?
What is your story from a brand perspective?
We are a small group of friends who formed from a homebrew club almost a decade ago. The name and branding comes from the place where we homebrewed, Cypress Drive.
Walk us through your branding strategy.
We have never been guided by an external brand manager. All branding has come from within, and has honestly changed and adapted several times since we opened. That includes a change in our actual logo, changes in the layout and artwork of our products, and changes in our social media presence. Developing a clear and cohesive brand strategy has been one of our biggest points of contention this year.
What's the biggest issue today related to the marketing/sales side of the business?
Flooded markets. There are many distributing beer brands in New Jersey now, and all of them are competing for shelf space. Receiving orders from customers is far more difficult now than it was five years ago, as product simply doesn't move as fast as it used to with so many options available.
What’s the secret to creating a branding story that consumers can buy in to?
Pick something and stick with it. Have a story, develop a cohesive product look and logo from Day 1, and look forward and ask yourself if there's anything that may not age well—flash in the pan trends, artwork, etc.
What’s the one thing every craft beer brand should do in the way of marketing?
Follow and post social media, including the three biggest in our opinion, Instagram for product photos, Facebook for event announcements, drop lists and products releases, and Untappd, for product feedback and check-ins.
What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities moving ahead?
Expansion out of New Jersey. We've locally begun distribution to other states and have found much success in markets that are underserved, as compared to the Garden State.
What's the biggest item on your to-do list right now?
Pay down debt. Isn't that on everyone's to-do list?
Sitting down with...Charles Backmann, owner/brewer, Cypress Brewing Company
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Finding someone who knows our product and mentions it without us mentioning it first.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Build your own bottle filler; you'll save thousands. That was five years ago, and we're still using it.
What's the best thing a customer ever said to you?
"This is easily the best Imperial Stout I've ever had, and I have more than 5,000 Untappd check-ins for Stouts alone."
What’s your favorite brand story?
A good friend of ours gave us a suggestion to change one of our labels. We liked the idea so much that we put a thank you note on every can that went out. You have to look for it.