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Good Beer Hunting

Sep 16, 2017

Way back in 1994, in Burlington, Vermont, a little brewery named Magic Hat sprung to life making what for many of its customers was the first “craft beer” they’d ever taste. One of its co-founders was Alan Newman, who became not only the entrepreneurial force behind the company, but the whimsical, hippie, bearded face of the brand itself.  By the time he’d gotten Magic Hat off the ground, he was already well on his way to being a serial entrepreneur, and after his frustrated departure from the brewery in 2010, as part of a private equity deal, he went on to be the strategic, creative and, again, somewhat-of-a-face for brands like Coney Island, Concrete Beach, the Traveler Shandy company, and Angel City Brewery. At the latter, he was working as part of the Alchemy & Science portfolio owned by Boston Beer. Indeed, he was working directly with Jim Koch. I worked alongside Alan and his team for a couple years as they built and re-positioned these brands, so part of today’s conversation will include a look back at some of the challenges and opportunities in that work from Alan’s perspective.  Now? He’s done. He’s walking away from the beer industry. Or so he says. I don’t exactly believe it. Alan has a funny way of always reeling himself back into the business. Alan and beer just can’t quite quit each other. And regardless of whether he comes back, or new ventures await, his perspective on what’s happening in our industry now is always fascinating and instructive for me because he was there in the room when so many decisions were made. Decisions like who will be defined as a “craft brewer” in the first place. And what’s the value of that definition? And then, of course, how so many of the challenges he faced with Magic Hat in the '90s are timeless for small brewers today. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as it were.