John “Merk” Merklin (left) and Brian Ciriaco (right) were high school buddies in Brick, NJ. They went to the same college and enjoyed successful careers in hi-tech with the same company. Then they decided to chart a very different career path as brewers of craft beer that represented their home – the real Jersey Shore – and the East Coast Beer Company of Pt. Pleasant, NJ was born. Their lineup features Beach Haus Classic American Pilsner, Beach Haus Winter Rental and the new Beach Haus Kick Back Ale, released just in time for summer at the shore.
Interview With Brian Ciriaco
Question: You and Merk enjoyed successful careers in the hi-tech field for more than 10 years. What made you decide to ditch hi-tech to become brewers of craft beer?
We had been huge fans of craft beer since we started drinking beer almost 20 years ago. It happened to be around the same time that a craft beer renaissance was happening here in the United States. We got into hi-tech careers and it gave us the opportunity to travel around the US, Canada and other parts of the world. During a lot of those trips, we enjoyed some great local beers, which gave us lasting memories of those experiences and the places we visited.
In 2007, John came to me with the idea that we should start a beer company and create local beers that represented our area, like the local beers we had enjoyed during our travels. We started brewing beer out of John’s garage and were able to commercially launch our first beer in September 2010 – Beach Haus Classic American Pilsner.
Question: What are some of the hurdles you had to overcome during the early days when you were creating a business plan, and then after you actually launched your first brew?
Since we didn’t have any experience in the beer industry, other than being beer enthusiasts, we really didn’t know much about the details of the business. So it was a learning process and we were basically starting from scratch. The great thing about craft beer is that most of the people in the industry are huge supporters of the success of the industry in general, and they’re not selfish when it comes to sharing their experiences and expertise about the business. We got some great help from people who had been there before us. But no plan is perfect and we’ve had our challenges.
One of our first big challenges was finding our first local distributor. We had some meetings with a few distributors. They liked us, our packaging and the beer, but they just weren’t seeing our vision to be the beer for the shore. When they passed on adding our brand to their portfolios, we decided to get a little creative. We printed up a bunch of our labels, bottled up our home brew and went out to sample the beer to local bar owners at the shore. They had a much more enthusiastic response to the beer and the concept. A few of them called their distributors, and within a few weeks, we had signed up with our first distributor for the shore, Crown Beer, which was purchased by Ritchie & Page shortly after we launched.
Question: What kinds of marketing have been most effective for you thus far and why?
We’ve taken a grass roots approach with our marketing efforts. We participate in a lot of community and charity events and festivals. As a small company with limited resources, we believe it’s the best way to encourage word-of-mouth marketing about our beers – by actually telling people about our beer and letting them try it.
With our Beach Haus Street Team program, beer enthusiasts can register to become a member by filling out a sign up form on our website.
We offer some special perks for members from time to time, like free tickets to one of our beer festivals or an opportunity to win a new promo item, like a Beach Haus shirt, hat or hoodie. In return, we just ask them to tell friends about our beers and events.
We also have over 2,200 fans on Facebook and over 250 followers on Twitter, and we post almost every day. Our fans and friends on social media do a great job of helping us spread the word about different events and where you can enjoy our beer, and nothing is better than seeing people post about how much they like our beer. It helps us connect with people on a personal level and thank them for their support.
Question: This month, you unveiled your third craft beer, Beach Haus Kick Back Ale. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the new beer and what beer drinkers should expect when they try it?
First, with the name, Kick Back Ale, we want to help you to paint your own picture of what relaxation means to you. It’s different for everyone. Some people enjoy hanging out on their deck, some like lounging on the couch, and others like spending time with friends at their favorite local bar. Whatever it might be for you, we hope enjoying a Kick Back Ale will make it just a little better.
We wanted our first ale to be something that had a hop-malt balance that appeals to craft beer drinkers, but we didn’t want it to be an over the top beer. It has a substantial grain bill that gives the beer a rich malty, amber color, and a generous amount of hops that gives it a refreshing, balanced finished.
Question: What’s next for East Coast Beer Company, this summer and beyond?
We’ve got lots of events planned for the summer months to spread the word about Beach Haus Kick Back Ale, including the Garden State Beer Expo at the PNC Bank Arts Center on June 2nd, and the Great Adventure Brew Ha Ha at Six Flags on June 30th. We’re always looking for more events to participate in, and we have a calendar of events for the summer on our website, BeachHausBeer.com. We’ve also been brewing some pilot batches of an IPA and a seasonal style that we’d like to release some time in the next year, so keep an eye out for a new Beach Haus beer.
To find out where you can enjoy Beach Haus Beer, or to add Beach Haus to your establishment’s beer lineup, visit BeachHausBeer.com.
Join the discussion 13 Comments
Love stories about people following their passion – even in liquid form. 🙂 Continued success!
Same here, Cathy. Nothing like living the dream, and these guys have such a great story to tell. I think every guy goes through a phase in which he wants to own a bar or brew his own beer, and these guys had the guts and brains to follow through. Thanks for reading!
Cathy, I love your take on it – thanks for that little chuckle and for sharing this, too. This was definitely a fun story and I bet the beer is just as much fun!
Great Article Scott. Can’t agree more with Cathy. These two guys are great guys to be around and their enthusiasm is inspiring.
Thanks, Jim. Not many people can say that they started their own beer company that represents their home. Most importantly, they created some kick ass beer 🙂
Wow, very interesting. I love entrepreneurs and their stories. What a great idea to start a business with something you really love and have fun with. Sounds more like a lot of fun than a business.
Thanks for sharing this refreshing interview.
Sylviane, good to hear from you again. I love stories like this, too. A wise man once said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a
day in your life – or something like that 🙂
Wow, that’s very brave.
If you love beer though then I give them kuddos for going that route. They seem like very intelligent guys and are going about this the right way.
I think when it comes to beer, let them taste it and be the judge themselves. If it’s good, people will spread the word.
Great marketing strategy, especially since it’s local.
Brave indeed. I give them credit for going about it the smart way. Hold on to your day job as you get your plan in place. As great as the beer tastes, they’re looking to tap into the feelings people have when they try the local fare of a certain area, which is such a great approach.
Thanks, as always!
I like the phase Kick Back Ale because it immediately makes me think of sitting in a beach chair, enjoying the outdoors. Great Phrase!
Also I like that grass roots approach. My daughter works for a promo company and does events like this. People Love It!
I know the Jersey Shore very well, being a Brooklyn gal. The market there will be doing back flips when you have your events.
Taking it further on to the social platforms is a mega Plus! Your customers will be chatting away. Kudos to you!
Brian and Merk were very conscious of what they wanted the beer drinker to feel when they named their beers, and they wanted those names reflect the Jersey Shore – the original Beach Haus, Winter Rental for the winter, and Kick Back Ale for the summer. Very smart.
I agree about the grass roots approach and the social networking initiatives. Today, they go hand in hand and complement each other well.
See you down the shore, or as we locals call it, “the beach” 🙂
I find this fascinating, Scott because I see so many parallels with people starting any business.. namely, seeking out and spending time with people who have already done successfully what you’re trying to do, and then finding a way around obstacles with some out of the box thinking, like these guys did when they couldn’t find a distributor.
Interesting read, thank you!
Glad you enjoyed it, Bob. That’s a great point because their story is relevant and similar to that of so many other start-up businesses on so many levels. An inspiring success story. Thanks for reading!