Modern Hospitality had the pleasure of speaking to Larissa Graeber of The Mad Yank Brewery about her journey into the craft beer industry with husband Grant.
Larissa spoke about the challenges that they have faced, as well as the innovative ways that they have worked to create a stand-out brand and develop incredible business relationships.
Here’s what Larissa had to say:
What inspired you to start the Mad Yank Brewery?
“I grew up in Germany in a small town that had eight breweries surrounded by vineyards. My husband is american and has a family history of home brewing for generations, but we were the first generation to commercialise it. In 2014 we lived in Seattle and I first came across a craft brewery. In 2017, we decided to take the plunge and started the Mad Yank Brewery and by early 2019, we were on the first shelves. It’s been so much fun and so rewarding to see people that haven’t come across our beer before enjoying it.”
How difficult can it be to stand out in this industry?
“We decided not to try and fall into a niche that was already there. Making our own path, we don’t try to compete with any big macro breweries and we create our own crazy flavour combinations that work. We put our own twist on it and take inspiration from our own life.”
It’s clear that you’ve got your character across in your content and products. How enjoyable is it to create a brand that you’re proud of?
“It’s so fun, because the way we’re set up the Mad Yank gives us so much play room. It’s this overall persona and we have a regular feed of this time travelling ninja on Instagram which makes it so much fun. It’s just the two of us with two young kids. It’s been about what it takes to keep the business growing and balancing it with homeschooling.”
What prompted you to launch your webshop in 2020?
“We had a landing page for around two years and sales in local shops were growing really well. We knew a webshop was what we needed to create, so we put everything on hold when the first lockdown hit and focused on building it quickly.”
How easy was it to start shipping orders to customers?
“We had to switch how we package. We used to package more kegs and a minimal amount of bottles. Due to the pandemic and its lockdowns, we switched to mostly small pack (330ml bottles) and minimal amounts of kegs. This smaller packaging was more suitable for deliveries.
“It was a lot of work to find the right courier as many we tried weren’t right for us. We worked out the kinks with one that we are now happy with, but it took time.
“We don’t use cans at all, as we have a lack of storage facilities and hear many struggle with can shortages. So we use bottles, but it’s taken time to work out how to do this without breakages. We had the kids fill bottles up with water and then tape them up and throw them off the banister in the back garden as a test, seeing how the packaging would protect them. Once we found the solution, we also narrowed down the different sizes of boxes available, making them in packs of 8, 12 or 24.”
What goes into creating a beer?
“We take our inspiration for our beers from all over, sometimes from our own life like we did with A’oa’oa’o, which was inspired by our wedding cake. Other inspiration comes from what we’d be interested in, but haven’t found on the market yet, and most often we’re closely inspired by a book called Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter. It investigates the variations of ingredients and how they work together, explaining the heat transfer, fluid flow and water chemistry that must all be in a specific balance. We also have two beers that support organisations that are important to us: George supports: The Equal Justice initiative and Fair Fight and Watchkeeper’s Promise supports: Fisher House Foundation.
“The naming of beers is always the hardest thing and it’s always the last thing to happen to the beer. My husband also writes all of the copy on the labels.”
What have your biggest challenges been and how have you overcome them?
“COVID has obviously been a huge challenge, but I believe if any business can survive this madness, they can weather anything that comes their way! We’ve been focusing on web sales and many of the bottle shops we work with have continued working with us, as we have great relationships with them. We’ve cranked up our social media presence and kept the family aspect to our business too.
“Another difficulty has been finding a commercial space. The one we are working on now it feel as though everything previously fell through for a reason. It’s been challenging to make the setup COVID-compliant, but we’ve been able to hone in on how to keep us all safe and make it work in the long term.
Originally, we had a nightmare with the bank we were with, but we switched over to Starling Bank who have been amazing! They were recommended to us by one of our business partners and it’s made everything such a breeze. It was easy to set up and there are no monthly account fees, which is so important when you’re starting out as every penny and pound matters. The accounting software integration has also saved me so much time as I don’t have to spend ages downloading monthly accounts anymore.
Because we’re small, we can’t work with distributors as we produce in small quantities, so it can be hard to get into shops further afield. Word of mouth is starting to spread about us which is great – we get people in Manchester and Scotland that have heard of us and can order directly from us, even if we’re not in their local bottle shops. We stop in with bottle shops and see how they’re doing or ring them up and send a birthday message, so that personal connection and being genuine about it has been so important for us.”
Finally, what advice would you give to anybody wanting to start their own brewery?
“It’s definitely not a get rich quick scheme. You must muster more passion, determination and perseverance than you ever thought you would need to start up your own business, but it is so rewarding! You see the fruits of your labour and grow your idea into a steadfast business. It’s amazing and makes all the long hours and hard work totally worth it!”