It’s early afternoon on a particularly cold winter day in Columbus Ohio. The state has been crushed by snow the night prior and the roads are left a slippery mess. It’s tough to drive let alone walk, with cars whipping their tails on every turn and people coming one wrong step from busting their butt on the unforgiving pavement. One would think most people would be tucked away at home, sipping their hot chocolate and wrapping themselves in their heated blankets. Not us, not today. We’ve all been waiting over a month for this event.
I first heard of Dude-A-Thon shortly after moving to Columbus. An afternoon watching The Big Lebowski on the big screen with one of the best tap lists in the city? You don’t have to do much more to convince me.
Wait. You’re telling me there’s a beer tasting for each screening, hosted by a different popular brewery before the movie?! There’s no way I’m missing this.
Originally I missed out on the event. I had no idea the tickets would sell out so quickly and by the time I remembered to check, SOLD OUT. With no one giving up their tickets for the event I thought I was completely out of luck. A week later the good people at Studio 35 added a fourth screening. There was absolutely no way I was missing this opportunity, regardless of the guest brewery. Sure I was missing out on Bell’s, Three Floyd’s, and Columbus Brewing Company but I figured whoever the guest brewery for our screening wouldn’t be too bad.
Madtree brewing ended up being the last brewery added to the event. I didn’t know much about Madtree outside some of their flagship beers and special releases. Their Citra High is one of the better IPAs I’ve had in Ohio and Psychopathy was a go to when I was in graduate school. I would be lying if I said I was expecting to be completely blown away with their beer. Madtree was a last minute addition and I did not expect them to be able to source anything too crazy on such short notice. I fully expected to have excellent beer but that wasn’t the priority, the experience I was coming for was the feature presentation.
I was here to watch The Dude.
We arrive 25 minutes early expecting to be some of the first people at the event. We enter finding that the party has already started. The bar is packed and filled with taps left over from prior screenings. The patrons are trying to get their fair share of what’s left over before the event starts, filling up on drinks and popcorn (mixed with M&M’s of course) to get the full show experience. Upon entering, the staff at Studio 35 do a great job introducing us to the debauchery we are about to experience. You get a glass, towel, 10 drink tickets for the tasting, and one extra ticket for the raffle.
We shuffle ourselves into the theater. We’re fortunate to have prime seating at the back with a table to place our drinks and snacks. It’s time to party.
Announcements are first. We’re greeted by a bearded gentleman in a viking hat that has an impressive way of engaging the crowd. This was definitely not his first rodeo. A quick overview of the afternoon’s festivities begins, first the tasting, complete with prizes from the brewery and related to the movie, and then what we came here to see, The Big Lebowski. The host made it very clear from up top what we were in for:
“If you don’t have fun, well, thanks for the money.”
Flanking him on both sides are two individuals that looked like they just came from a morning at the lanes. Complete in bowling attire, one of which had an incredible homage of one of The Big Lebowski’s resident bowling enthusiasts Jesus “The Jesus” Quintana, these two have come more prepared for the afternoon than the majority of the crowd.
As it turns out, these are our representatives from Madtree, all decked out for the occasion and ready to introduce us to their beer.
Through my time in this community I’ve learned not to get too excited about “beer tastings”. Typically most breweries come with only their flagship brews. I understand the reasoning, introducing potential consumers to the beers that are easily accessible will provide these consumers with beers that they can find at their local bars or shops. It’s a great way to push beers that essentially fund your entire operation.
This was not the case here. Instead of simply bringing beers that I could find at my local bar, Madtree treats us with an excellent mix of styles and rarities. Sours, stouts, IPAs, and even a barrel aged brown. They are short and sweet introducing their beers, giving the audience what they needed to know, and if it is available. They make it no secret what beers are special to the event and what they could find at their local shop.
The Big Lebowski is great as always but I find myself talking about how impressed I am with Madtree following the event. It is my belief that the role of a brand manager is to tell a story to their consumer. In this industry a well executed tasting can convince a new consumer to seek your beer or in my case it can open the eyes of a consumer that may have overlooked your brewery. The staff made us feel like they were part of the event, not just two people trying to convince us to buy their beer. For new consumers that first impression is so important; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a friend say that they refuse to try a breweries beer because of a bad first try. Even if the styles of beer may not be to the liking of the individual the effort put in by the representative could convince them to give that brewery a second chance. Instead of seeing the brewery as just a company, a successful brewery sales representative can humanize their brand by engaging with their community. This in my opinion, is what most breweries are lacking. In a time where one does not have too look too hard to find a fantastic representation of each beer style, breweries need to find ways to stand out amongst a sea of fantastic beer. The key is connecting with the community. If your brand can stand out to a consumer, you have an advantage and while it may not seem like it, there is still some brand loyalty in craft beer.