Gun Hill Brewery Refocuses on Hyper-Local Marketing

Gun Hill Brewery Refocuses on Hyper-Local Marketing

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If you’re lucky enough to score tickets to “Hamilton” on Broadway, you can also enjoy a brew called “Rise Up Rye,” made for the show by Gun Hill Brewing Co. in The Bronx. Since 2016, the beer has been available as part of the Broadway Brews project and the company sets the definition of hyper-local marketing.

The beer brand’s roots go back to 2004 when baseball enthusiasts Kieran Farrell and Dave Lopez met while involved with a semi-pro team called Thunder Dogs that played in The Bronx. They became fast friends and partners to bring their idea of a brewery to fruition. In February 2014, they established Gun Hill Brewery and served as co-managing partners of the company, which also has private investors.

Farrell is a Bronx native who lives upstate, while Lopez, who lives and grew up in Manhattan, attended the Riverdale Country School in the borough for 12 years.

Farrell is full-time at the company, while Lopez, a bond trader in Manhattan, works at the brewery during his off hours. A history major, he came up with the name Gun Hill for the brand because not only is Gun Hill Road a major thoroughfare in the borough, but it also played a significant role in the American Revolution.

According to the NYPL, “The name originated from a Revolutionary War battle that took place by present-day Webster Avenue and Bronx River Parkway. When British troops marched up the thoroughfare, presumably towards Bainbridge Road, a group of American soldiers set a cannon atop Gun Hill Road to repel the attack.” That battle occurred in January 1777. The brewery is located a stone’s throw from Gun Hill Road on Laconia Ave. Its product is poured in all five boroughs except Staten Island.

As recently as three years ago, the Gun Hill Brewing Co. was selling an average of 6,500 barrels of its craft beer per year. Now, it’s down to 1,500 barrels a year because, like many businesses, the brewery had to close its doors to the public in 2020 because of Covid-19. As bars and restaurants also shut down, demand fell.

Lopez characterized their business operations as being in regroup mode, and they are concentrating heavily on local marketing via social media, events, and on-premise promotions.

Can you talk a little bit about how you market your product?
It’s sort of ebb and flow over the last nine years. We pulled back during Covid and even post-Covid because we wanted to focus even more locally than we did before. We focused on some more key accounts than we did pre-Covid.

Talk a little bit about how you got the word out about your beer and how you continue to get it out to raise awareness. What do you do in terms of advertising and media?
We don’t pay for any advertising currently. We’ve never actually been able to have a marketing budget. A lot of it has been word of mouth, participating in events or festivals. Some of it has just been promoted through the beer scene in New York. And then a lot of the marketing for us has been through the bars and restaurants themselves that are selling the brand.

You also have a social media presence. Can you tell me which social media platforms the brewery is on?
We’re on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Instagram has been a great platform for us, but again, one that we’ve never paid to be a part of.

What were you going for in terms of the taste of the beer?
It depends on the style of the beer that we’re brewing, but our main interest is to make stuff that people want to have more than one pint or whatever size they’re drinking at a time. Ultimately, that’s how we make more money, and the bars make more money.

Can you describe your beer?
It depends on the beer style. We have three flagship beers. A Pilsner, which is a very light beer that’s really good for a warm day or just any sort of session of drinking. We have an American IPA that is a blend between sort of an East Coast and West Coast style IPA, so it has a little bit of bitterness. No added fruit to it, but it has a juicy tropical finish. That makes it very easy to drink. And then we have a stout that is super dark and roasty and has notes of espresso and dark chocolate. Currently, everything is in the Bronx. And we’re on premise in our second location in Brooklyn.

How do you interview a master brewer?
The questions that we asked 10 years ago are different from the questions we would ask now. Back then, we were more about who they knew in which bars and restaurants. If they had relationships. We wanted to make sure that we could sell our products given that we were new we didn’t know the landscape of the distribution market. I think we would ask more work-related questions these days about how we’ll work together than we did at that time.

Can you tell us a little bit about your plans to scale the brand?
The plan going forward is not necessarily to scale more, just to dial in and focus even more or our immediate locality than we ever did before. That is where we will increase our profitability. The further away we get, the harder it is to install metrics. And so, we want to make sure that we’re staying as close to home base and keeping our radius as tight as possible while still being able to sell everything that we need to sell. And also to bring more awareness and people into the tasting room because, ultimately, that’s where our highest margins are. Our spot in The Bronx is where people come and try everything, and it is a very, very big source of local pride for people that are from that area.

Kathleen Sampey