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Social experiences: Online efforts fuel real-world visits for craft brewers, vintners, distillers

Pat Devlin and three partners opened Tattered Flag brewery, brewpub and distillery in July in downtown Middletown. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Craft alcohol businesses are opening nearly every day in the U.S.

The midstate is no exception with continued growth in the number of local wineries, breweries and distilleries, plus a small group of meaderies and cideries.

Tasty products are part of the draw. But Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels also get some of the credit. The technology is largely responsible for quickly spreading the word about new outlets for lovers of these products.

A growing number of people today are posting pictures of the breweries and wineries they visit and of the beers and wines they try. It’s also fairly common to meet the owners and the people who make these products. And they generally offer tours or provide self-guided access so people can see how things are made.

The Vineyard & Brewery at Hershey has been among the more active companies on social media and event marketing over the last few years, efforts that have made the rural Londonderry Township business a destination in the craft beer and wine industry.

“It’s hard from a price perspective to compete with the Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores,” said Jason Reimer, co-owner of the Vineyard & Brewery at Hershey. “When you’re looking at the difference, it’s experiences. We all need opportunities to unwind. The best way to unwind is through experiences.”

Tony DeLellis and his partners at Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works have been taking notice and are trying to replicate that success in downtown Middletown.

Amy Spangler

The business, which opened in July after about two years of planning, is the first in the region to combine a craft brewery and distillery in the same place under the same name. The combination alone creates buzz (the distilling operation had not yet started as of press deadline for this article).

The owners have divided up responsibilities and have been very active on social media, which is attracting inquiries from tourist groups. They are looking to bring groups through in November or December, DeLellis, the company’s chief brand officer, said in late September.

“Word is getting out,” he said. “We definitely didn’t expect that this early.”

He credits a strong Facebook presence as well as Yelp and Google searches for attracting visitors.

“You have to do it. It doesn’t make sense not to do it,” he said. “If you are willing to work hard, it costs nothing but your time and dedication.”

Tattered Flag makes it a point to interact with social media followers and respond quickly to messages.

“Our customers will never feel the connection with the macro-breweries that they feel with us, and we feel that’s extremely important,” DeLellis said.

Many craft breweries also try to buy as many local ingredients and support as many local businesses as possible.
With recent changes in the state liquor laws, that local support has accelerated. The law allows greater cross-selling of products between breweries, wineries and distilleries.

“It makes us a little freer to move some of our products for off-site sales,” said Tattered Flag CEO Pat Devlin.

Tattered Flag has also been approached by local wineries interested in buying brandy to incorporate into dessert wines. The wineries are currently buying alcohol from the commonwealth. The local partnership could reduce costs.

Because it hasn’t been able to produce its own spirits, Tattered Flag has been partnering with other regional distilleries to sell their products, something the owners intend to continue after they launch their product line.

“We will highlight our product more, but we would like to do a flavors of Pennsylvania tasting flight,” DeLellis said. “We want to become more of a distilling destination like Central Pennsylvania has become for wine and beer.”

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