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Posted: April 22, 2009

OMG! How do you Tweet a beer? Odell has the high-tech, highly social answer

Fort Collins brewer recruits Twitter fans to choose next beer

Jay Dedrick

Cyber confession: My introduction to social networking on the Web came via a Colorado brewery. Had it not been for the folks at Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs requesting that I buddy up with them on Facebook, I wouldn’t have bothered trying to figure out what exactly Facebook was. At least not nearly as soon.

A couple of years have passed, and Tommyknocker is hardly alone when it comes to beer makers and fans using social networking to brew up interest in the pursuit of suds. All that updating on Facebook and MySpace and tweeting on Twitter is bound to make a person thirsty, right?

At Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, the crew has been working to revamp the company’s website. Odell also posts updates on brewery products and goings-on via its Twitter feed at twitter.com, the site that offers a constant ticker of 140-character updates from people and institutions. All that activity in cyberspace got them thinking.

“We wanted to come up with something that was a little more interactive,” says Eric Smith, Odell’s director of sales and marketing. “Our hope, our goal, is to give everyone following us a say in making a new brew.”

So rather than brainstorm a new product around the Odell water cooler, the brewer behind 90 Shilling, 5 Barrel and Easy Street is turning to its friends and fans on the Internet to dictate the next experiment for the brewery’s five-barrel pilot system. By May 30, whatever the cyber committee comes up with will be unveiled at the brewery’s tap room.

“We’ll let them pick the beer style, they’ll pick the ingredients, the hop and malt varieties,” Smith says. “Then they’ll help name the beer.”

To Smith, the Twitter-driven beer is just an extension of what already drives Odell sales: word of mouth. “We don’t have the large marketing budgets that the Big Three brewers do,” he says. “We need more of a grassroots effort.

“We used social networking, especially Facebook, to help launch the brand a month ahead of our arrival in Arizona in January,” Smith says. “We had a launch party at a bar down there, and the place was just packed. It ended up being one of the busiest nights in the history of that bar. None of that would have happened without social networking.”

All this grassroots buzz has led to tangible benefits at Odell. The brewer sits at No. 34 on the latest Brewers Association ranking of the Top 50 American craft breweries. “We only sell beer in eight states,” Smith says, noting that 80 percent is sold in Colorado alone. “A lot of breweries on that lists sell in 25 states or even nationwide. So for us to be in the Top 50 means we’re doing the right things in the Rocky Mountain region.”

The economy hasn’t so much dampened sales as shifted them; like a lot of brewers, Odell is selling more beer that’s packaged for sale in stores, rather than sold inside bars and restaurants. Folks are saving a few dollars by enjoying beer at home rather than out.

And while Odell has no plans to sell its beer beyond its territory here in the Rockies, Smith and his cohorts would like to sell more of it within the region. An expansion at the brewery would enable that. It’s slated to break ground later this spring, with production ramping up next year.

In the meantime, you can get a taste of Odell’s future with two new brews: a new oak-aged golden ale coming in May, followed in June by St. Lupulin, an extra pale ale that will serve as a summer seasonal.

That’s not to mention the yet-to-be-named Twitter beer. Though there’ll only be 10 kegs of the stuff made at the conclusion of the promotion, if it’s a big enough hit, it might graduate to the brewery’s year-round lineup.

If and when that happens, you’re sure to hear about it on Twitter. To check out the latest on the voting, go to twitter.com and start following odellbrewing.

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