The model for a start-up brewery almost always starts in a small space, with used equipment and barely enough capital.
Then there’s Workhorse Brewing Co., of King of Prussia. “We kind of skipped the starter-brewery phase,” said Dan Hershberg, the CEO, who had zero beer experience before Workhorse opened in late 2018.
Here are the eight ways Workhorse has become a regional player in only a year and a half, selling its ales and lagers in about 400 bars and restaurants, as well as through retailers such as Wegmans and Acme.
He found the beer scene welcoming and collaborative. “You can walk into any other establishment and basically say, ‘How did you do what you did? Where did you have successes? Where did you have failures? If you could do it all over, how would you do it?’” Hershberg said. "We were fortunate to essentially get a blueprint where we learned that across the board, the single biggest issue for every craft brewery was that they didn’t have room to grow.”
Hershberg surrounded himself with industry veterans, including brewmaster-partner Nate Olewine, who had worked for Victory for five years and then for Devil’s Backbone in Virginia.
Hershberg and four dozen investors came up with a lot of capital — what he describes as “multiple millions of dollars, approaching 10.″
Workhorse spent heavily, too. It acquired a 70,000-square-foot building, a whopper by brewery standards and about the size of Yards Brewing’s facility in Philadelphia, and bought a custom-designed Rolec brewhouse. No piecing together parts of defunct breweries.
The building, off Crooked Lane in an industrial park, also houses a taproom, where retail customers can stop in for beers, snacks, and branded merchandise. It also hosts corporate events in a private room and is planning a beer garden for the warmer weather. The building is underutilized now, but has been laid out to allow expansion in phases.
Instead of selling through a distributor, Workhorse salespeople go directly to customers, effectively setting up Workhorse as a trucking company. It’s a matter of power. With thousands of breweries opening, each competing for shelf space and attention, beer distributors now have leverage. “If you own a bar or a restaurant, if I deliver it to you personally, I have the opportunity to understand what type of products you are looking for in your location and when you want your beer delivered,” Hershberg said.
Through a partnership with Spread Bagelry, and using its brewery license, Workhorse set up a full bar that serves Workhorse beers and Pennsylvania wine and spirits inside Spread’s flagship location at 2401 Walnut St. The partnership, which gives Workhorse exposure, will last until late May at the earliest.
Workhorse sells mixed six-packs of 8-ounce cans. “What we really understood was people love to-go beer," Hershberg said. "They love variety packs. They also love flights at a brewery. To date, there had been no way to combine that. We had been using these little 8-ounce cans of samples when we went to visit bars and restaurants, because we wanted to pour them essentially our whole portfolio. But because we had so many beers, we didn’t want to pour it into 32- or 64-ounce packaging. We didn’t have 16-ounce cans at that time. So we had these little 8-ounce cans and everyone loved them. Well, no one was doing a mixed pack at that size. We thought it would be a really great way to expose our brand to new consumers, because they’re not required to purchase a whole case or a 16-ounce four pack of beer they might not like. With flights to go, they get to try six different beers from a brand that they’ve never had before. It’s functional, it makes sense, it’s attractive, and it serves a variety of use cases.”
“You know how competitive the market is, especially in the beer world,” Hershberg said. "People would ask, ‘Well, are you worried that it’s saturated? Is it too competitive?’ And our mentality has always been, and I think this is part of the reason why we named it Workhorse and why we chose Philadelphia for our general vicinity for the project, is that if you create a good quality product and you sell it at a fair price point and you treat people well, this market will be responsive to that. The Workhorse brand, he said, “is blue collar. It’s accountability, it’s dependability, it’s reliability, it’s consistency. It’s not fly by night, it’s not a gimmick-driven thing.”