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Innovation Brewed and the Samuel Adams Brewery Tour

Each year at FEI we get a few tours of local organizations and hear how they approach the Front End of Innovation. This year was the Samuel Adams Brewery and it may be hard for any future year to top this experience. Sad, but true.

It starts with a bus ride to the center of Boston beer neighborhood, also known as the Samuel Adams brewery. The entrance is unassuming and communal in style, then you enter the room where a waft of hops flows over you like passing by a lilac bush in bloom. It makes you wonder why no one has invented a spa / brewery concept yet? Seriously people, what have we been putting our minds to if we’ve missed the best idea of this century? Then, you come back to reality as the voice of our tour guide starts to talk fermentation.

Seeing inside the Boston Beer Company’s craft brewery that started a craft movement is a true privilege. Their process for innovation seems sinful. But, this is the culture of the craft beer industry, as we’ve seen it in the relationship between Surly and Summit here in Minneapolis and we’ve noticed it amongst many other craft breweries in the region. Our own client, and a brand in which we’ve taken an equity investment, Take16 has been welcomed into the brewing community. This community of craftsmanship is likely a shock to anyone coming out of a highly competitive industry. Once you’ve spent some time drinking the beer of collaboration, it is hard to go back to the old guard of industry titans.

Here are some of our innovation learnings you may be able to apply to your venture or team.

One: Creativity should be the most difficult thing you have to do, everyday. Eliminate distractions due to business, use process to build stability and allow chaos to fuel creativity. It is a daily workout for the brains of everyone on your team. Keeping your brains fit and capable is essential to a creative team developing creative new ideas.

Two: Set up individual roles to get them out of the way and keep yourself from getting stuck in process. Their roles included: Instigator for Change, Idea and Innovate, Process Police, Get it Done (workhorse) and The Glue (flexible and positive).

Three: Look for opportunities to do something different is an extreme challenge in the craft brewing industry. The industry of craft beer growth is almost beyond comprehension at 33% YOY distribution sales. This kind of growth means finding the white spaces is more challenging by the day.

Four: Experiment, keep experimenting and experiment some more until you take something to market, then do it again. With over 60 beers, the Samuel Adams team has certainly taken this approach with serious ferocity. The Boston Beer Company has increased from 3 brands to 8 over the last 5 years, as well as released over a hundred new products just last year, 2 new products each week.

Five: Define your question and what you need to answer the question. Make sure to do this before you experiment, so that your team is set up to win.

Those are a handful of learnings from inside the brewery, there were plenty of other insights for anyone curious about the beer innovation process involving mashing, kettle boil, fermentation, storage, and packaging (our favorite, of course). This post also related nicely to a recent bit of insight into how you’re burning innovation calories. If you’d like to learn more, please e-mail us and we’d be happy to provide additional insight.

Enjoy a pint outside in the sun as soon as humanly possible. And, if you can, make it a Samuel Adams beer.

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