Sunshine Economy
5:36 pm
Wed March 26, 2014

How Non-Brewers Are Using Beer As A Branding Tool

The Miami Brewing Company, owned by South Florida winemakers Peter and Denisse Schnebly opened the first production brewery in Miami-Dade County. One beer is called Vice IPA.
The Miami Brewing Company, owned by South Florida winemakers Peter and Denisse Schnebly opened the first production brewery in Miami-Dade County. One beer is called Vice IPA.
Credit Karen Rundlet / Miami Herald

The number of microbreweries in South Florida could triple by the end of 2015. More brewers are well on their way to setting up shop locally, and from a business perspective, it’s about time: Craft beer has been popular in the U.S. since the mid ‘90s. Brewers know South Floridians have a taste for it and they’re excited to bring their flavorful suds to underserved local customers. But it’s not just brewers who recognize these specialty brews as good business.

Peter Schnebly is the guy who made a name for himself in South Florida making wine -- without a single grape. He’s been doing it for more than a decade. But for the last two and a half years, that same fruit-wine guy from Redland has been making beer too.

“I love wine, I love beer, I love distilled spirits,” says Schnebly, whose latest venture is called Miami Brewing Company. It’s a different product and a different company name but he thinks of it as an extension of his already successful formula for tropical fruit-inspired wines.

“So once I started to get into the fermentation part of this, I started to realize everything’s kinda connected,” explains Schnebly. “Everything starts with fermentation and yeast. So I think from year one I realized that I like to do all these different kind of things.”

It was a clear to him that expanding his fermentation brand beyond wine would be good for business. Schnebly also said that once he added beer to the menu, he opened the door to a new clientele: “No longer is the husband coming here screaming and fighting that he didn’t want to come. That he was forced to come. Now he’s like ‘Yeah we’re going to the brewery too.’”

Production breweries have long been established in cities like Asheville, North Carolina, Denver and Boston. At two-and-a-half years old, it’s surprising that the Miami Brewing Company is Miami-Dade’s craft beer granddaddy – It’s the oldest production brewery in the county.

Schnebly knew he was ahead of the trend locally and wanted to leverage his niche knowledge of tropical-fruit alcoholic beverages. “The fact is that we grow some really cool ingredients that we can add to beers. We can make a lychee beer,” said Schnebly.

Unusual flavors like mango or coconut are hot trends. Diners -- and now drinkers -- are demanding a different experience for their tastebuds. Dr. Derick Davis is a marketing professor at the University of Miami and a craft-beer fan. He says craft beer has grown in popularity partly because of the local food movement.

Consumers today are demanding novel taste combinations and gravitating toward artisanal products. Professor Davis talked about other local entrepreneurs who’ve gotten into the beer business like chef Michael Schwartz, who now serves Michael’s Genuine Home Brew at his Design District namesake restaurant in Miami. While Schwartz doesn’t own a brewery, his beer can be found locally at liquor stores like Total Wine and restaurants like Shake Shack.

Davis explains why Schwartz’s foray into the beer makes perfect sense from a marketing perspsective: “Beer really has become accepted as part of the culinary experience. He does a great job of providing a culinary experience. But his core competency isn’t necessarily producing large quantities of beer at his restaurant. So it makes sense that he contracts that out but applies his restaurant’s name as part of the branding.”

The right branding is important for any product, especially if it’s part of a larger portfolio, like Schnebly Redland’s Winery. That’s the reason Peter Schnebly changed his beer company’s name. Originally it had the name Schnebly in it, but he didn’t believe his surname worked for the beer the way it worked for the wine. “Miami” has provided such strong branding for the beer that he says he’s been approached partners and clients as far away as China.

Schnebly wanted to capture the cache that is Miami quickly so his Redland made Miami Brewing Company beer will soon be in cans in Walmart. His brewery cans on premises. Schnebly argues that cans are lighter for customers to carry, better for the environment, and better for beer quality.

Schnebly is hoping in the first year to produce and sell about 1200 barrels, which amounts to approximately $600,000 in sales. Today, he estimates the brewery is only 10 percent of his business. Still, Peter Schnebly is counting on being ahead of the local trend and a unique product to grow his distribution business and his beer brand.