When Shmaltz’s line of award-winning Coney Island Craft Lagers were launched in 2008, a trio of Coney Island USA sideshow performers were immortalized on the labels and played a part in the marketing campaign. “It just made perfect sense to include the performers,” said the brewery’s owner Jeremy Cowan in an interview with the Daily News at the time. “A portion of every bottle and every pint will go toward updating their building and keeping the spirits of Coney Island alive.”
Last week, at a bar in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, the re-branded line was launched with new graphics and a new slogan: “Take the next ride with the Coney Island Brewing Company.” Cowan sold Shmaltz’s Coney Island beers in August to Alchemy and Science, a subsidiary of Boston Beer Co., which produces Samuel Adams, in a deal said in the press to be worth $2.9 million.
A new brewery and tasting room is planned at a yet-to-be decided location in Brooklyn, to replace their “World’s Smallest Brewery,” which had free space in Coney Island USA’s building until it got washed away by Sandy. But the non-profit arts organization that produces the Mermaid Parade, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow and other popular events is not a partner on the next ride.
“That agreement expired 19 months ago,” said Cowan, when ATZ asked him what the brand’s involvement with Coney Island has been since it was sold and their plans for the future. According to the terms of the sale, Cowan is still brewing some of the beers at Shmaltz’s brewery in upstate New York and advising A&S on Coney Island matters for at least five years. “I’ll be the liaison with the Alliance for Coney Island and the neighborhood and I’m still president of the NYC Brewers Guild.”
Last year after Sandy, Cowan organized a fundraiser by the nonprofit Guild at Brooklyn Brewery in which several breweries participated, raising $10,000 divided equally among three organizations –Rockaway Surf Club, Red Hook Initiative, and Coney Recovers. The Coney Island Brewing Company is a member of the one-year-old Alliance for Coney Island, which functions as a sort of Chamber of Commerce for businesses in the neighborhood and launched Coney Recovers to raise funds for the community after Sandy.
Asked how much the new Coney Island Brewing Company plans to contribute to Coney Island and with whom it will forge partnerships, Cowan said, “Well, I don’t think they even know that right now and it’s probably something they can’t give a dollar amount to.”
The new owners also haven’t decided yet what to do with all of the brands. “Nothing is absolutely final but it’s kind of a mad dash to make the transition so they have a new logo for the brewing company,” says Cowan. “Mermaid Pilsner is the flagship. We’re still making Coney Island lager with our proprietary Funny Face that Dave Wallin did for me, changing some of the graphics around it, but that will still be available for sale on draft in the city.”
The new graphics feature Coney’s landmark Wonder Wheel, Cyclone and Parachute Jump amid a towering glass of Coney Island beer. There’s also a gorgeous new mermaid in the surf and the beer’s trademark Funny Face looks a bit less freaky without his facial tattoos. And the newly designed taps for draft beer mimic Coney Island’s Parachute Jump.
At the time of the sale, new owner Alan Newman of A & S told Brewhound, “The goal is to broaden out the brand so it represents more than just the freak show and isn’t so scary,” he said. “We want to celebrate the amusement park, the beach, the boardwalk, the hot dogs and all of the things that make Coney Island interesting.”
Newman grew up in Long Island, and as a kid came to Coney Island when he was a teenager. “They want to make it wonderful and exciting and continue on with the project that we started,” Cowan tells ATZ. Alan Newman is also the author of “High on Business: The Life, Times, and Lessons of a Serial Entrepreneur” and the grand wizard of a brewery-sponsored annual Mardi Gras parade in Burlington, Vermont, where he lives.
Among the new beers that will be introduced are “Seas the Day,” an Indian pale lager with a Zoltar-like fortuneteller gracing the label and “Tunnel of Love,” described as “Watermelon Wheat” and featuring a couple seated in a romantic swan carriage on its label.
According to the Boston Business Journal, Boston Beer projected that it spent $3-$5 million on Alchemy & Science in 2012, the division’s first year, and expects to spend another $2-$4 million this year. A&S has also acquired L.A.’s Angel City Brewery, launched the Traveler Beer Co., and is developing the Just Beer brand after buying that name from another brewery. Boston Beer executives warned investors that the Alchemy & Science budget could increase again, and it’s not clear when A&S’s revenue will surpass its expenses, the story noted.
Meanwhile, the Coney beers are still sold at Coney Island USA’s Freak Bar, as Dick Zigun recently noted on twitter, when a follower called for a boycott after realizing Coney Island Brewing is no longer donating money from sales. “Such discussion is premature,” replied the Coney Island USA founder and Unofficial Mayor of Coney Island. Dick Zigun tweeted: “I’ve suggested no such thing-still serving it!” In response to a request for a quote for this story about Coney Island USA’s relationship with Coney Island Lager, Zigun sent an email: “I am restricted from commenting at this time.” (Update: On April 11th, the eve of Coney Island’s Opening Weekend, Zigun posted in reply to a question about the on the Coney Island Message Board: “The Freak Bar is open and serving…we are not (currently) serving the ‘specialty brands’ while we quietly try and resolve a legal dispute.”)
The beer is also sold in Coney Island at Ruby’s Bar, Paul’s Daughter, Applebee’s, Nathan’s, Tom’s, Peggy O’Neills, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, says Cowan. “You can buy it in most places but we’re still a little company trying to compete with Coors Light and Budweiser. Six of every ten beers is a Budweiser product and in Coney Island Corona and Coors Light are monster brands, so trying to compete in some of those accounts to drink our beer instead is a real challenge.”
To that end, Cowan has done tastings and co-marketing with some of the Coney Island establishments. Next fall, during the shoulder season, he hopes to kick off an Oktoberfest-type of event in conjunction with the Alliance.
As for the new brick-and-mortar Coney Island Brewing Company, where small batches would be brewed, it may not even be in Coney Island. Cowan says they haven’t finalized where it’s going to be. “We’re looking in all of Brooklyn. We’d love to locate it in Coney Island if possible, but as you know it’s a very tricky place to find real estate. There are about four or five people who own the real estate in Coney Island, so they set the rents. If we find a way to work with them that’s fantastic. And there’s issues for us. Specifically, the infrastructure in Coney Island still needs to continue to be upgraded for utilities and sewer and water, basic needs of a small business and certainly a small manufacturing business.”
Related posts on ATZ…
October 20, 2013: Photo Album: Four Transformations, One Year After Sandy
January 31, 2012: Remnant of Under Boardwalk Bar Found in Coney Island
October 11, 2011: Photo of the Day: Butterflies & Beer Island by Bruce Handy