Steve Barkate Interview
Pale Rider Ale
(Clint Eastwood's Beer)
You just knew it would happen. Clint Eastwood has his own beer. Called Pale Rider Ale (named after his famous 1985 western Pale Rider). Mr. Eastwood has become the first celebrity to create a specialty beer to benefit charity. Proceeds from Pale Rider Ale sales will be donated to his favorite charities around the country including the Carmel Youth Center (Carmel, California) and the Monterey Peninsula Boys and Girls Club.
We talked with Steve Barkate Vice-President of sales and marketing for Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas (the brewer of Pale Rider Ale) about Clint Eastwood's beer.
Q - Steve, Let's start at the beginning. Who approached whom
about this beer? Did Clint Eastwood approach you? Did you approach him? How
did this all come together?
A - Actually, it was a friend of Clint's who had the idea or a friend of a friend who had the idea. Through talking with one another they said well, this sounds like a fun idea, let's call Clint and see what he thinks. So they called up Clint, got him on the phone, presented the idea to him. He's a big beer drinker. He enjoys good quality types of beer. He said, "You knew it sounds Tike fun. I'd like to do it". They discussed some ideas about the funds going to charity, 'cause Clint was not really interested in the financial end of it. He does quite well. They decided if they pursued it, all proceeds from Clint's standpoint would be given to charities. So, all the proceeds that come from this, that Clint makes, goes directly to his chosen charities. He usually gives to either environmental or youth-oriented charities. They've asked us not to give out those specific names yet.
Q - The friend of a friend. Would that be someone who is well
- know to us?
A - Not really. They're in the industry, but not real well known. There's no problem in using their names. One gentlemen's name is Tony Wainwright who is actually an advertising executive. He's been in the industry for quite awhile. He has a friend named Dennis Holt. Dennis is the President of Western International Media, which is probably the largest media-buying source in the country, if not the world. He and Clint are very good friends. Tony contacted Dennis with the idea. Dennis contacted Clint. They were all in a three-way conversation, they all liked the idea, and one thing led to another. The concept sounded good, but what do we do next? They had a contact with Miller Brewing Company at the time, and said let's call them and se what they think about it. Miller said they'd be interested in doing something like this. They did some research and found the best fit for a brand like this would not be at Miller but at a micro brewery, a craft brewer, particularly one that was located in the Southwest. Over the year prior to that, Miller had formed a relationship with the Celis Brewery, here in Austin.
Q - Do you produce beer for other celebrities as well?
A - This is the only celebrity per se that we deal with. We have been approached by another (celebrity), but we decided it was best not to do that at that point, until we have this one reallv flvins. The onlv other project we do that is a non-traditional Celis brand is for a group of New Orleans called Lagniappe. I’m from Louisiana originally, and that term means a little something extra. That's the only other beer that we make, and we've only been doing that for six months now.
Q - How do you arrive at a taste for the beer? Does Clint
tell you he wants a light beer or a dark beer? How do you determine what
goes in that bottle of beer?
A - It's a combination of us and Clint's input. A lot of it was Clint 'cause it does have his endorsement and it needs to be a product he strongly believes in. It can't just be with his name stamped on the side of it. He described to us what he liked in a beer, as far as bitterness or smoothness, and color. He knows what he likes, but he's not a brewer. He does not know how to reach those things. He would not know what recipe to use to reach all those ingredients, to reach that final taste. So, he told us what he was looking for, as we could best understand it and what we knew about the industry, and what would be a product that would fit Clint's taste, but would also fit the taste of a lot of consumers. So, we had to be aware of what would be appealing to Clint, but also what we felt would also be appealing to consumers. So, we came up with a couple of options up front and I believe at that time he was filming the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". We had to locate him in Savannah, Georgia and we shipped the beer over to him and said "Here's the first round, what do you think of it?" So, he tasted it and said, "I like this, but, what do you think, a little more after-taste, or a little less after-taste?" I can't recall at this point what those exact changes were. He wanted to make some slight modifications in the taste. We made some modifications. I think we went thru three rounds before he said, "Yes, this is what I was looking for." It was difficult tracking him down, finding out where he was. It takes several weeks to brew a beer, so the time would kind of drag out. We had to make sure he was happy with the product before we went to any kind of schedule we had to commit to. But, on top of the product itself we also had to design packaging, support materials and things like that. All of those from the label to the bottle crown, to the six pack carrier, the mother carton it all comes in, Clint approved. He was very actively involved. Part of that was great, because it's very authentic in that this, is: Clint's beer. He was actively involved in every stage of everything we did. But. the hassle with that is, with his time. With the demands on his schedule boy it sure was hard tracking him down and getting all these things done. (Laughs) But, from our standpoint it certainly was well worth it.
Q - How is this beer selling?
A - It's doing quite well. In Texas, our home market we're going quite well. In the other Southwestern states we're doing quite well with it. We tried to get out of the Southwest and it hasn't done that well yet. I say the Southwest - Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas primarily, is where our core states are. We got out of those states and the brand did not do as well because we were not supporting it that strongly just yet. We didn't have any advertising behind it. It was primarily just merchandising and word of mouth. Our core markets were happy with the performance. It's doing pretty much as expected. We've tested a few places outside of those states, and we're relatively happy, but not to the level where we'd want to go out and expand it. What we've found not just to be true with this brand, but, with any brand you usually do better in the short run and the long run if you get a solid market of core geographic success and then slowly expand it.
Q - Where in those states that you are selling it in, can
it be found? Supermarkets? Bars? Restaurants?
A - Supermarkets are our biggest channels. Then liquor stores. Then on premise bars and restaurants.
Q - Why haven't you introduced Pale Rider Ale to New York
State? We have a lot of Clint Eastwood fans here.
A - Yeah, there's Clint Eastwood fans everywhere. What we found out when we introduced this we got inquiries from practically every state in the country, not to mention every country in the world. We got inquiries from every continent there is I believe, about wanting the product. It goes back to securing distribution: a solid positioning for the brand in a core geography, and then expanding beyond that. We did inquire and investigate with some of our distribution partners around the country what they thought the brand would do and the response was, there maybe an initial interest but because the specialty category was flattening out, and in some areas there were down trends, that another product would not necessarily root itself very strongly. So, rather then going out and getting distribution and getting some volume fur a short term and losing it for awhile, we decided to focus on our key markets. We are doing a test right now in Philadelphia where we'll be shipping the product. And the reason Philadelphia is because we have a strong distribution partner there who is very anxious about the product. They had a good action plan about how they could support it. We will keep our eyes open to other markets on the East