The boutique beverage market has exploded over the past two decades. Craft breweries, boutique wineries and specialty spirits have emerged in every city and region nationwide and are slowly expanding internationally. The pacific northwest helped lead the craft beer scene and Seattle in particular is home to numerous nationally distribute brands. For those who are late to the game however, the market appears to be over saturated and breaking into the scene is a difficult and financially risky move. Every home brewer wishes they could have entered home brewing prior to the craft beer explosion in the 1990’s and early 2000’s and taken advantage of this ripe and underserved market.
The founder of Cedar River Brewing Company, Jeff James, began as a brewer. With decades of experience brewing beer, Jeff was looking for a new challenge. Sake, a brewed beverage, was one of his favorite drinks and thus he began brewing sake at home. Sake is more labor intensive than beer and is significantly easier to screw up. During this time Jeff was hoping to open a beer brewery but was disheartened by the over saturation of the Seattle market. It was during this time that he started to look into local sake brewers. To his amazement, there was not a single sake brewery in all of Washington state. An opportunity like this was impossible to pass up and Jeff jumped right in.
While considering how best to build his brand, Jeff decided to fully fund his budding brewery himself and forgo investors. While this is limiting him in terms of capacity, he rightly believes that to build a lasting brand with a strong core he needs to be small and agile. The current scale has him in an actual basement doing all of the work himself. While more intensive, he can make adjustments to each batch and explore new varieties to suit clients tastes.
To build his brand, he sought guidance from local restaurateurs, liquor purchasers and beer distributors. He cold-called them relentlessly to set up tastings and seek guidance regarding pricing. These were invaluable in determining what the market could bear and since these initial meetings, his prices have not had to change. Additionally, he was able to learn that he could sell more by offering a variety of bottle sizes, allowing restaurant customers to try it without getting incapacitated (Cedar River’s sake is quite strong). While enjoying the four unique types of sake they currently make, a friend of Jeff’s stopped in. This friend just returned from Japan and is opening his own sake brewery close by. By establishing himself early as the first, and thus oldest, brewery in Seattle he is well positioned to grow quickly and maintain his marketshare. For those who are interested, they have free tastings in Phinney Ridge every Saturday.