Brewmasters Share Advice, Beer with Law and Business Students
Innovate, but stick to your core. Build and develop personal relationships. As a lawyer,
don’t thrive on conflict, but prevent it.
Saint Louis University law and business students were treated to this advice and more
Thursday, March 30, from some of the region’s biggest beverage innovators: Michael
Alter, founder of Fitz’s Root Beer; Florian Kuplent, co-founder of Urban Chestnut;
and Tom Schlafly, co-founder of Schlafly Beer and the St. Louis Brewery.
The event, “Beer-storming with Brewers,” was organized by two School of Law groups
– the Sports and Entertainment Law Association and the Business Law Association –
and the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business’ Chaifetz Center for Entrepreneurship.
It featured a happy hour with free beer (and root beer), opening remarks from School
of Law dean William P. Johnson, a panel discussion moderated by Chaifetz Center for
Entrepreneurship director Tim Hayden, and a raffle to have a private drink with the
three guests of honor. About 40 students, faculty, staff and alumni were in attendance.
During the panel, Schlafly, Kuplent and Alter each shared personal stories about the
risks, failures and successes of their respective businesses. They all agreed that
they had not gone into their businesses to make a lot of money but because they were
passionate about their craft, and that was what got them through tough times. The
beer brewers also discussed the complexity of alcohol regulations and ways to cultivate
loyalty in a time when there are so many craft breweries.
“After InBev bought Anheuser-Busch, we were experiencing double-digit growth,” Schlafly
said. “We taught people to appreciate everything, to appreciate variety. Well, it
was great for consumers, but more competitive for those of us still in the business!”
Schlafly said he misread two trends: indefinite growth of craft beer and regional
loyalty – assuming where there were St. Louis Cardinals fans, there would be Schlafly
“While the Cardinals might be the local baseball team in Evansville, we’re not a local
brewery in Evansville,” he said, but “in large areas (like New York) where there’s
a critical mass, you can have a cult following.”
“For making your product relevant to a market outside of St. Louis, building personal
relationships is very important," he said. "It's a very tedious scene, and it comes
down to personal contacts, talking to people and trying to convince them that what
you're doing is a good thing, telling your story.”
“All three of us as manufacturers try our best to come up with products that can feed
the distribution side of things,” Alter said. “Innovation is something that I feel
is incredibly important, because you want to keep the consumer happy, and you have
to provide products to keep the distributors happy. Without innovating, it's an incredibly
competitive environment out there.”
Alter said he decided from the beginning, though, that he did not want to try to come
up with hundreds of Fitz’s flavors – no “kiwi banana,” for example. “I'm having more
success staying with my core.”
One of the most interesting and perhaps unexpected points from Schlafly – “Beer is
“The consumer will say they’re driven by the quality, and they are, but it’s the influence
of the marketing, and that’s where I think you have to be innovative, meeting the
consumer where they live.”
He mentioned Schlafly Beer’s promotional events such as Art Outside and the recent
Oyster Festival, and said if people like them, they continue them.
“I don’t know what the difference between appalling and edgy is!” he said.
Following the panel, raffle winners – plus students who asked particularly strong
questions during the question-and-answer session – were invited to join the brewmasters
for a private drink.