When The Bronx Brewery opened in 2011, the craft brewing industry was on the cusp of significant changes that would completely alter the craft beer landscape. A massive growth phase was kicking in that would see the industry expand from 2252 breweries to 9247 today. Seeing an opportunity, AB InBev kicked off the acquisition movement of craft breweries with their purchase of Goose Island in 2011. This trend continues today with the recent announcement of the purchase of Stone Brewing by Sapporo.
As the market became increasingly crowded, the opportunities for a local brand to expand nationally shrunk, and most breweries focused on establishing their presence inside their neighborhoods, towns, and cities. For The Bronx Brewery, that meant forging a connection with the diverse collection of individuals who called the Bronx their home.
“We knew from day one that we had to take care of our consumers in the Bronx and in NYC in general. They would be the ones that would make or break us,” says Damian Brown, co-founder, and president of The Bronx Brewery. “Even when we started, we knew that there we so many brands out there that we had to work not to get lost in the buzz. That’s only gotten more important nowadays.”
Working with local artists, DJs, and other locals in their community, they were able to tap into the zeitgeist that surrounded them, creating a unique space that welcomed all. Creative artwork adorned their walls and packages, they ran an internship program designed to bring fresh faces into the craft beer industry, and their beers became cult favorites pouring on taps across NYC. They also started shipping their beers to a few overseas markets to expand their visibility.
But then the pandemic came and with it the closures of their tap room, plus the bars and restaurant accounts that poured their brews. For a business that derived close to 70% of its sales from on-premises accounts, they could have failed. Instead, they quickly pivoted, launching an online sales platform and heavily focusing on getting their beers into retail accounts. They were able to stop the initial losses and turn the corner quickly, even launching a pilot brewery/tasting room in the East Village with another planned for the Hudson Yards project.
“As strange as it sounds, the pandemic was actually good for us. It forced us to realign our focus and build a much healthier mix by expanding our package sales,” says Brown. “We realized we needed to work on getting our packages into the right stores and markets where we are a logical fit.”
One of those markets is Puerto Rico, an island with a long connection to the Bronx. Almost a quarter of its residents are either from the island or have blood ties there. By expanding its reach south, The Bronx Brewery hopes to cement further the relationships they have built over the last decade and build on their goodwill. Plus, they are hoping to tap into a region that isn’t overloaded with craft beers yet.
“Having our beer available in Puerto Rico is an exciting step for us as a brewery and aligns well with so much of the work we’re doing now,” says Brown. “As a brand that is all about using our beer to build community in a borough and city with deep ties to Puerto Rico, we’re thrilled to be able to connect with new fans and hopefully inspire positive change along the way.”
The first rotation of beers to be distributed across the island will include their core portfolio along with several seasonal offerings and brews from their collaboration-focused Y-Series. According to Brown, they will gather information from their sales and build out a sales strategy for their new market. The hopes are high that they will have tapped into a fertile market with over three million drinkers for their beers.
As The Bronx Brewery approaches the vaunted annual production mark of 10,000 barrels, they are focusing on taking care of their NYC neighborhoods and expanding into markets that might not seem a logical step at first glance. That might just be the recipe for success in today’s craft beer landscape.