Rahr & Sons Brewery — Episode 5

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In this episode, David sits down with Fritz Rahr of Rahr & Sons brewing to discuss how he's created raging fans of his beer. The insights Fritz brings in this episode are absolutely riveting. If you have a physical location either office or store front you do not want to skip this episode.


Show Notes

David:

Today I sit down with Fritz Rahr of Rahr & Sons Brewing in Fort Worth, Texas. We're in for a real treat today, because Fritz has been doing this for quite a while now, and his family history in the brewing industry dates all the way back into the 1800s. You're in for a real treat, and he's got some real good wisdom to share with us. Hope you guys enjoy.

Hey hey, welcome to another episode of the Brand Junkies podcast. Today I'm joined by Fritz Rahr, the owner and founder of the Rahr & Sons Brewing Company out of Fort Worth, Texas. Fritz, how are you doing today?

Fritz Rahr:

Doing well, thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

David:

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your background, and who you are, and what you guys are up to at Rahr & Sons?

Fritz Rahr:

Well, it's pretty interesting. I come from a very long lineage of brewing in our family. Just to give you a quick background, my great-great-grandfather came over from Germany in 1847, set up the very first lager brewery in the state of Wisconsin, so before Miller and Pabst and Heileman and all those guys, we were the show in town in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Since we didn't have a good supply of malt anywhere nearby, we actually had our own malting facility as well, and that actually grew to be kind of a secondary first business for us, and before you knew it, we had malting facilities in Chicago, Milwaukee, and then also back at the main brewery in Manitowoc.

Now, right before Prohibition, they were smart enough to see that coming, they got out of brewing altogether, sold off all the equipment, and just continued making malt for beer, and then when Prohibition hit, they were positioned well to kind of convert over to grain handling of wheat and rye and other types of flour mill products. Then, after the repeal of Prohibition, of course, they didn't have their brewing equipment anymore, but they did have all the malting equipment, so they just went back into making malt for beer, which is what my family still does today. I think next year, they'll be celebrating their 170th anniversary.

David:

Oh my gosh.

Fritz Rahr:

Yeah, it's pretty crazy. Let's just say, my life growing up was pretty cool. All my vacations were spent going to brewing conventions and anything beer-related, I was being drug along by my parents to go to these various events. I grew up in a beer family, grew up in a malting family, it's something that I always had a passion for, something that I always wanted to do, but after graduating from college, and I went back ... In between my college and MBA, I went to the Siebel Institute, I worked in Germany for Durst Malting Company for a while, came back to the United States, got my MBA, and then somehow, I got railroaded into the railroad business for about twelve years, until really, one day, my wife looked at me and said, "Why don't we open up a brewery? It's something you've always wanted to do."

At that time, we were living down in The Woodlands, and we were going to the Saint Arnold's Brewery tour all the time, and she looked at me and she goes, "Why can't we do this, and why can't we do this in Fort Worth?" I said, "Sure, why not," so we literally just dropped everything that we were doing, and we literally up and left, sold our house, moved to Fort Worth, put a business plan together, and started to put up the brewery. We kind of joke now about, if we would have given the idea really five minutes of serious thought, we would have probably looked at each other and go, "What the hell are we thinking?" But we didn't, but we didn't, and we just kind of jumped in with our two feet, having no idea what to expect, other than keep our fingers crossed and hope that everything worked out, and luckily, so far, it has. That's how I got to have a brewery here in Fort Worth.

David:

Wow, wow. Okay, so now, how long has Rahr & Sons been in existence at this point?

Fritz Rahr:

We started in 2004, so we're celebrating our twelfth anniversary here last month. We started off a very, very small operation, about 1,500 barrels of capacity, and now we have about 26,000 barrels of capacity right now.

David:

Wow, that's ... Yeah, that's not small at all. You guys are rocking it. Why ... Okay, it seems very evident brewing was like, it's in your blood, I mean, it's been in your family for 170 years, but why Fort Worth? I mean, you're living down in The Woodlands, clearly Houston has a great beer-drinking population, why make the move from the Woodlands area up to Fort Worth?

Fritz Rahr:

Well, it wasn't really necessarily a big move. I went to TCU for college and for my MBA, my wife is from this area, we had two very small children, eight and six, at the time that we wanted to do this, so the options were Fort Worth, where her family is from, or back in Minneapolis to where my parents and family are from. To be perfectly honest, when we opened up the brewery, my parents were still at an age where they loved having the grandchildren, but they always wanted to be able to give them back at the end of the day, and my wife's family is about a generation younger, so they were more than happy to kind of take over some of the parental roles for us, because we knew that we'd be out promoting, selling, evening events, day events. I mean, I worked, for the first year and a half, two years, I worked seven days a week, and probably at least twelve hours a day, if not longer.

It took a lot of time, I feel like I completely missed my kids growing up, even though I was baseball coach for both the kids and figured out a way to fit all that in, but we spent a lot of time here at the brewery. The kids spent a lot of time here at the brewery. To this day, now, they're grown adults now, but when they were growing up, they probably felt more at home in a bar environment, and around adults, than being around their friends at a park doing something. That was probably a very strange experience for them, to go play at a park, when they're used to sitting at the bar of the Flying Saucer, or one of my accounts, drinking root beer and eating whatever snacks they may have, while I was in the back servicing the beer lines. It's a crazy environment for a kid, but they've turned out all right, and they've got a great appreciation for beer. I guess it is what it is.

David:

You know, there are worse ways to grow up.

Fritz Rahr:

You know, a funny story, they were here ... They were still not driving age, so they were riding their bikes, and we were all up at the brewery, and they went to go see a movie in downtown Fort Worth, which is just about eight blocks away down the street. They got on their bikes and they went to the movie, and about four hours later, my wife and I are kind of going, you know, "Where are the kids?" We finally got on a cell phone and got a hold of one of them, and they said, "Oh, we're here with Uncle Bubba at the Flying Saucer. We're sitting at the bar, having a root beer, just hanging out." I'm going, "You're only fifteen, or fourteen, and" ... Yeah, so there you go, they're just more comfortable hanging out with adults at adult places than anything else. It's pretty funny.

David:

That's fantastic, I love that, I love that. Fritz, as you know, one of the things that we really care about in this podcast, that we're really interested in, is what is the one thing that has taken your brand from just being another brewery to having almost a cult following? I feel like I can say that with some experience, as one of those people that is kind of a cult follower of Rahr & Sons myself. What do you feel like has been the one thing that has kind of drawn people in and made them stick around and buy you exclusively, almost?

Fritz Rahr:

I think that probably has changed over time. I think in the beginning, you know, we were the only ones here, so people really jumped on board and got behind the one local brewery that they could call their own. Then, in 2010, we had that big roof collapse, and so that really shut down our operations, almost put us out of business, so we got a whole 'nother group of people who got really turned on to helping us, and get us back on our feet, and the community really came in to support us. That brought in a whole 'nother aspect of why it was really cool to be a part of what was going on here. Then, over the last couple years, we've really, really spent a lot of time, energy, and money focusing on just having the most excellent quality beer that we can possibly have out in the market, and I think that really shows and shines through with our awards, at winning gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup over the last four years, we've done very, very well.

I think people are turned on by the whole family aspect of the brewery, and my family culture and history. There's a lot of great stories, and I love to talk about it and share those stories with people. People like beer history, they like fun stories about what happened 150 years ago, and I just think that whole thing, combined with being in the community that we are, here in Fort Worth, very urban village environment, where people want to support something local, want to get behind something that they can call their own.

We learned something from Saint Arnold's, and that is, open up your brewery to the community. Let them come in, let them touch and feel and be a part of it, and let them take ownership in, really, what they're drinking. Twice a week, we completely open up the brewery, and invite people in to taste beer, and listen to music, and eat food, and kind of fellowship amongst the entire crew here at the company. It's fun, we'll average 5, 600 people every Wednesday and Saturday, and, you know, come hang out and drink beer with 500 of your closest friends. Hey, nice pint glass, by the way.

David:

Hey, you know, I mean, I figured, I'm interviewing you today, I might as well drink out of the pint glass, right?

Fritz Rahr:

Right.

David:

Yeah, no, that's-

Fritz Rahr:

I think all those things kind of bring together a culture of people that ultimately ... You know, it's really interesting, when you asked me what was our demographics going into our business plan, and to be perfectly honest, we thought it would be white males, 35 to 45 years old, and, thank God, we couldn't have been more wrong. You walk into a brewery tour, and we've got people probably from just legal drinking age all the way up into the 90s, all different professions, blue-collar, white-collar, all different ethnicities, it's just really, really cool, but the one thing that I think brings everybody together is that they want to be a part of something local, something cool, something in their back yard that they can physically wrap their arms around and call their own. I think that's what's so neat about the craft beer industry in general. I think you find that in every community that you go to now, in almost every single town in the United States, has that type of feel with some sort of brewery or brewery environment close by.

David:

It sounds to me like, and correct me if I'm wrong, it sounds to me like it's almost, you know, you had these different markers. In the beginning, you're the only brewery in town, so everybody got behind you because of that. Then when Snowmageddon happened ...

Fritz Rahr:

Snowmageddon?

David:

Yeah, and you made the great beer name after that, and like you said, the brewery almost went under just because of the financial constraints, and shutting down production, and all that. The community kind of rallied around you again. I think another thing that you talked about that really stuck out to me was this idea that you learned to open up the brewery, to make it like a family environment. It almost sounds like, Fritz, on a repeated basis, you invited the community to own the brewery in a small ... In a big way, actually. Do you feel like that's true?

Fritz Rahr:

Oh, I think absolutely, and, you know, part of our mission statement is "community support, community strong," and one of the things that we love to do, and it's really part of our culture, is giving back to the community as much as we possibly can, because through all of our trials and tribulations, it was the community that really came around and supported us, and kept us afloat. Most everything that we do at the brewery is derived around some sort of charitable activity, where we're donating, our employees and staff are donating time, or we're doing a function where we're trying to raise money or awareness for something.

I think that speaks volumes for our culture and what we're about, and I think that resonates with a bunch of people out in the community. I think they like to see a company that gets behind what happens, not only ultra-locally, like in your own back yard, within blocks around your own establishment, but in Fort Worth, and then the Metroplex, and then Texas, and then we even do some things on a national scale that affect everything that goes on around us here locally too. It's just a real big part of who we are and what we really enjoy doing as a company.

David:

Man, that's fantastic. I love that. Well, Fritz, I appreciate your time. I love the beer that you make, and I love what you guys stand for as a brewery. Keep it up, man. Thanks so much.

Fritz Rahr:

I will. Thank you so much for your time.

David:

Yeah, thank you.

What I got from this interview with Fritz was very simple, yet significant. Fritz has invited the community to own the brewery with him, and in so doing, he's created raging fans who will sustain Rahr & Sons, even in the midst of a horrible tragedy like the Snowmageddon collapse of their roof. It's all because he's taken these specific moments on a consistent basis to invite the community into his house, where he's doing business, and to be a part of what's going on. Not to mention, spending some time at Rahr & Sons Brewing myself, Fritz is often there at those events when the community is around, so he's accessible for people to come in and meet, which means, as the owner and operator, he's able to, even more, make people love his brand in such a way, because they're getting to interact with the person who's the visionary.

What are some ways that you can invite the community to engage with your company? Maybe you're a service company and you have clients. What if you started having open happy hours at your office? It's a small thing, but it's been shown that people gather well around food, drink, and in large buildings. There are a number of things you can try. Get creative, because if you can have buy-in from the community for your sustained growth and existence, it's going to be hard for you to fail.

Well, hey, guys, I hope that you enjoyed this podcast and you got something from it. If you want to talk to us, you could talk to us at @rethinkcreate on Twitter, or at Rethink Creative Group on Facebook. You can also find us at our website, rethinkcreative.org. If you like the show, do us a favor. Go and rate and review us on iTunes. It really helps spread and grow where we're going, and we want to reach more people with the insights that we're sharing.

22 episodes available. A new episode about every 4 days averaging 20 mins duration .