Monday, November 14, 2016

Invading the Lone Star State: An Interview with Great Raft Co-Founder Lindsay Nations

Craft beer fans in East Texas are finally able to enjoy a fresh pint from Great Raft Brewing without leaving the Lone Star State. The Shreveport, Louisiana based craft brewery is making the leap over the state line after first making sure they took care of the growing demand in their home state. Reasonably Corrupt™ black lager, Southern Drawl™ pale lager and Commotion™ pale ale, Great Raft’s original, flagship beers, will be available on tap and in cans throughout the East Texas markets beginning today, November 14. In celebration of launch week the owners and sales team from Great Raft will host launch parties in Tyler, Longview and Marshall.

     Since 2012 Co-founders Andrew and Lindsay Nations have worked tirelessly to make Great Raft Brewing the nationally recognized brewery it is today. Chief brewer Harvey Kenney has supplied the brewery with a seemingly endless string of hit brews. Great Raft sold the first locally brewed beer in Shreveport on October 15, 2013 and on December 20th of that year they gave us the perfect Christmas gift by opening Shreveport’s first local brewery taproom to the public.

     Over the past few years Great Raft has continually impressed craft beer lovers across the country with their excellent seasonals and keeps fans coming back with special events at the taproom. Great Raft has shown no signs of slowing down as they recently launched their Belgian program. In 2015 Paste Magazine named Great Raft one of the “8 Best Breweries of 2015” and earlier this year Southern Living proclaimed Great Raft to be one of the “South’s Best Breweries.”

Lindsay was gracious enough to allow us to ask a few questions in anticipation of their Texas launch.

ETBREWS: What most excites you about distributing in Texas?

LINDSAY: We’re excited to have the opportunity to share our beer with more people. We hear from so many Texans who drive over to visit us at the tasting room, and they have been asking for Great Raft beer for years. It makes us happy to finally be able to send beer next door and hopefully turn more people onto craft beer in general.

ETBREWS: What stores/chains will you be focusing on distributing to?

LINDSAY: Initially, our distribution will target the shops already supporting craft. We won’t be able to fully saturate all target accounts from day one, but we’ll be working to fill in the gaps over time. Above all, the focus is on getting to accounts who support craft beer and keep fresh product on the shelf.

ETBREWS: We know R&K is distributing Great Raft in East Texas but do you have distributors lined up for other parts of the state?

LINDSAY: Not yet. We’re focused on East Texas for now, but hope that interest in our product grows, eventually spilling over into nearby markets like Dallas.

ETBREWS: Can we expect seasonal beers as well as your flagship beers during the early launch period?

LINDSAY: To start, only flagships will be available. We will be able to sell Dry-Hopped versions of flagships and other variants, but right now those three brands are the only to be approved by TABC. We’ll work on approval for the others over time.

ETBREWS: Should we expect to see your seasonal and small-batch beers available regularly in East Texas?

LINDSAY: We hope that in early 2017 we can introduce a few additional brands to the market.

ETBREWS: What does the East Texas beer market look like to you? Is there a lot of potential? Is it a market that will need more developing?

LINDSAY: We see a lot of potential in East Texas. It’s not too different from Shreveport – a similar percentage of the market is made up of craft beer sales. The South in general is the last frontier for craft beer. Education is key. We will continue to present approachable, but refined, beers to folks and hopefully over time, we’ll create new craft beer consumers.

ETBREWS: Do you have any ideas on ways to get more people to drink your beer/craft beer and get away from Big beer?

LINDSAY: Don’t be pretentious. We take what we do very seriously, but at the end of the day, you aren’t going to make a new craft consumer by acting like you know everything and throwing intense Double IPA or barrel-aged barleywine at them. Listen to the consumer. Understand what they like and know about beer. Present them with something that is similar to what they like, but made by a quality regional company. Help them understand the story of why this beer is important to you, and why they spend an extra dollar to buy craft. Because at the end of the day, even if someone loves Great Raft beer, it’s likely going to cost a little more than their go-to “big beer.” Net-net is be nice, make a high-quality and consistent product and listen.

ETBREWS: How hard has it been to get into the Texas market? What challenges have you faced from TABC?

LINDSAY: It was a time-consuming process. There are a lot of particular nuances that we didn’t get right on our first application. The turn-around time is a little long, but likely due to the high number of people interested in selling beer in Texas. Once we submitted the right info, in the right level of detail and got connected with the right people, we were in good shape.

ETBREWS: What benefits will the new centrifuge have in the quality of Great Raft beer? 

LINDSAY: The centrifuge, simply put, is the biggest investment in quality that we could make. As a young brewery in an ever-changing industry, it is critical that we do everything we can to produce the best beer we possibly can, consistently. We work tirelessly to ensure the quality of our beer, but there are many variables we can’t control. By putting our beer through the centrifuge, we reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in the beer and vastly improve shelf life. As our beers begin to travel further from home, it’s important that the beer be durable for a life on the road. The centrifuge helps to ensure the quality you have come to expect from enjoying our beer on tap in the tasting room is the same on the shelf.

ETBREWS: How much did you have to ramp up production to meet the demands of distributing to Texas? How much longer before you outgrow your current brewhouse?

LINDSAY: We’ve been gradually adding capacity to account for growth in Louisiana, and also prepare ourselves for new out-of-state markets. It’s been a slow, but steady growth model for us. Our brewhouse is a 20 bbl, and we’ve in good shape with our output there. Our cellar capacity is currently around 8,000. In 2016 we expect to do between 6000-6500 bbls, so we have room to grow. Drink up, y’all.

ETBREWS: Were there any unforeseen challenges to expanding into these markets?

LINDSAY: Nothing unforeseen just yet. We are pretty well aware of the challenge of selling beer in a market that you don’t call home. The further away from home you get, the harder it is to be relevant. We’re lucky to be so close to East Texas geographically, but time will tell if we will be embraced as a “local” brand.

ETBREWS: Any future collaborations planned with an East Texas Brewery? (True Vine, Oil Horse, Athens Brewing, Cedar Creek, Big Thicket, Pecan Point, ETX Brewing, Tyler Brewing, or Fredonia Brewing)

LINDSAY: We have met folks from a few of those companies, but look forward to building relationships with our fellow craft brewers in the coming months.

ETBREWS: What does it mean to you, being a local Louisianian, to have Great Raft join the 3 other Louisiana breweries distributing to Texas?

LINDSAY: We’re extremely proud to bring a little bit of Louisiana to Texas. I think we’ll be joining some other awesome brands (from Louisiana and otherwise) who are selling in Texas, who have been laying the craft beer groundwork for years before us. We’re neighbors and are excited to be sharing our products with y’all.

The East Texas Brews team will be in attendance at several of the launch parties and we are looking forward to purchasing Great Raft at our local bars, restaurants and bottle shops. Make sure to request Great Raft at your local craft beer retailers. Our new favorite coffee shop, Silver Grizzly Espresso, is serving craft beer and is the first place in Texas to offer growler fills of Great Raft’s flagship brews. Spread the word about the launch parties and make sure you give a big Texas-sized welcome to Great Raft Brewing!


11/17 - Razzoo's @ 7:00

11/18 - Old Chicago @ 7:00

11/19 - Jul's @ 6:00

11/19 - Rose City Draft House @ 7:00


11/17 - Rotolo's @ 6:30

11/19 - Bootlegger's @ 5:30

11/19 - Lone Star Icehouse @ 7:30


11/18 - Charlie's Backyard @ 7:00