Pour Me A Story, Vol. 48
feat. Matt Serra, road trips and more
greetings everybody and welcome to the latest edition of Pour Me A Story, this time coming to you from the couch of an Airbnb in Philadelphia, or Manayunk to be more exacting.
Alex, the baby and I drove out here Thursday for the weekend, having been talking about making a Philly trip for like three years. I’m thrilled to be here, namely because (as you’ve witnessed several times in this space) I have some terrific friends who live here, and also because in the 13-plus years I’ve been traveling around this great nation, I’ve never spent more than like five hours here. the first time was a lunch stop on the way to New York City in 2008, where I had just enough time for a cheesesteak, a Miller Light and an emergency run to a public restroom shortly afterwards.
I came back briefly in 2019 when my flight home from festival weekend in Rhode Island had a lengthy layover here, so I rode into Center City and met some friends for (probably three too many) beers.
for years I’ve said that I dislike being behind the wheel for more than an hour or two at a time, but it appears that’s melted away in recent times. after having driven 1,200 miles around New England and Canada in the fall of 2019 and 1,200 miles in two days moving from Denver to Cincinnati this past summer, 10 hours in the car doesn’t seem like all that much anymore, and today was no exception.
the weather was great, the roads were mostly traffic- and construction-free, the kiddo was content in the back seat and even napped for an hour, and my back didn’t give me a single ounce of discomfort, which was probably the biggest miracle of all. the only thing I could fault is the bottle of cola I picked up at a rest stop, assuming it was some local brand, only to find it was a) not fizzy and b) a 7-Eleven house brand that was utter garbage. but as far as downsides go, that’s a pretty minor one.
anyway if you have fun Philly activity ideas for tourists with a toddler, hit my line. we’re planning to check out the Please Touch Museum as well as the Liberty Bell and the famous steps at the Art Museum, but all suggestions will be taken on board!
Anyway, We Have Company
this week, to align with our trip to the City of Brotherly Love, I decided to link up with a local small business whose brand marketing I’ve watched from afar with curiosity for the past few months. Matt Serra runs a beer company that he coincidentally shares a last name with and whose cans I’ve seen all over social media this year. let’s hear how that came to be, shall we?
AC: first thing's first. Tell me and the millions of eager readers a little about yourself!
MS: My name is Matt Serra. I am the co-founder of Serra Beer Company and Kenwood Beer. I am a 29 year old who, a couple of years ago, was sick and tired of selling beer for other companies (not really). This led me to getting 3 other guys together to pitch in some cash, and create Kenwood.
Directly before Kenwood I worked for Victory Brewing Company (or Artisanal Brewing Ventures). Before ABV I worked for Anheuser-Busch, and Muller Inc (the Miller wholesaler in Philadelphia). I enjoy beer (obviously) but enjoy watching sports as well. College basketball, MLB, NFL, and NBA basketball are typically how my pecking order comes in in terms of which I enjoy the most.
Craft beer was my first true interest outside of sports, and I dove directly into upon graduation from Saint Joseph's University. I mentioned I was with Muller, and with them I was on the craft sales team. Basically I was a 22-24 year old running around the craft beer hotbed that is Philadelphia, drinking and selling some of the best beers in the world. The exposure to great beer, breweries, people and bars was second to none. I fell in love with the industry. I was the dork bringing six-packs of Yards and Victory to the pre-game before the bar.
AC: my first encounter with Kenwood was on Twitter, when I started seeing more than one of my Philly pals posting photos of this very aesthetically pleasing cream-and-blue-colored can. how'd the brewery get started and who's behind it?
MS: Kenwood Beer is the first (and still only) brand from Serra Beer Company. As I mentioned, selling and marketing beer was basically my only job as a professional after graduation. I learned how to sell, market, merchandise, you name it. As I made my way through the industry I began to realize that essentially all craft breweries were similar. They brewed similar styles, and had similar sales strategies, etc. I also realized that there were very few craft breweries focusing on one product, and even less breweries having their focus product be a light lager.
That is where I thought there was a void in a market that I knew so well; a company that focused on a light beer. With that, I knew that the Philadelphia market did not have a light lager to call their own, the way that St Louis has Bud or Milwaukee has Miller. Combining these thoughts I decided to get my brother Mike Serra, and two friends, JP O’Connor and Steve Snyder, to support the cause with some money and get the company started on the most basic of levels. We got our "funds," cold-called local craft breweries and told them the idea. The first guy to say yes to brewing our beer was Joe Modestine at Doylestown Brewing Co. So we reached through our channels to find cans, kegs, tap handles, everything , and we had Doylestown Brewing Co. brew our first few 7-barrel (60 cases = 7 kegs) batches of Kenwood. It wasn't exactly the FIRST batch. The very first keg of Kenwood Original was brewed by my friend Dan Shaw, owner of Wrong Crowd Brewing Co. in West Chester, PA, and was served at no other place than my son's 1st birthday party in 2019.
Now we are fortunate enough to be brewed at Mainstay Independent with Brian O’Reily at the helm!
AC: correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel as though the U.S. beer market is a very competitive realm. what's it like being a growing brewmaker in 2021?
MS: It is super competitive. It has been for 10-15 years now I guess. Trying to grow and compete is fun, and frustrating. There are more breweries making beers that directly compete with Kenwood — not directly AT Kenwood, just the same style. They see the same trends that we see. It is still fun though. The core of it all is still about building and maintaining relationships so people will talk to you and give your beer a shot.
Is there more beers for each manager to choose from? Of course. But if you can consistently put out a good product and connect with consumers and customers that can go a long way. Some breweries try to sell beer by simply putting it on a shelf, and that is VERY hard to do, with the exception of a few breweries.
AC: we've spoken before about one of your online side projects, Kenny For Your Thoughts, where you commission freelancers to write about beer- and Philly-centric topics. how's that going, and have you learned any lessons along the way so far?
MS: Yes! Definitely a project of ours that we are diving into head first and hoping for the best. What we have learned is that there are a lot of talented folks out there who enjoy writing on a variety of topics. We have gotten emails and messages from all sorts of people wanting to write about all sorts of things. It is really cool to see.
It allows us to keep our hand on the pulse of things that we would otherwise not, and allows for other communities to be brought into the Kenwood world. We know that we are not a major publication, that is not the goal. Our goal is to provide engaging content that we can work into the world of Kenwood Beer.
AC: what's your absolute pipe dream of what Kenwood could look like in the future? how do you get there?
MS: My pipe dream from day 1 was to be Budweiser. I think it always will be, even if this thing falls flat on its face. Yuengling can be thrown into the pipe-dream realm as well. Again — PIPE DREAM for sure. If we ever get anywhere near those two companies we will have lived a good life.
I think we get there by proving to drinkers that there is a really good light beer option on the market being brewed in Philadelphia that is affordable. We need local markets to be consumed with the product first (gaining tap lines, running fun promos & events) and then slowly work our way out from there. We will never be an overnight thing, that is not the goal. We want every market and every account to understand what we are doing and support us because of the people and because it is a good product.
AC: around these parts, the weekly special guest gets to choose the song of the week (and tell us a little about why you chose it). go nuts, it can be whatever you like.
MS: Oh boy. Let's not look at my Apple Music (#TeamAppleMusic). It is just a bunch of Disney songs that my 3.5-year-old requests on car rides. But lest we forget that You Got a Friend In Me will forever be good. I have been on a Jay-Z kick, Black Album and The Blueprint specifically. Public Service Announcement never gets skipped. Let's go with that.
AC: the second special guest privilege is the Free Plug -- you can plug something meaningful or important to you or just a great sandwich you ate recently or whatever. sky's the limit!
MS: Man. Funny you say sandwich, because I went to Fink's the other day. NE Philly royalty. Their Finksgiving is phenomenal. I also brought other hoagies on the menu to a Halloween party and they were a HIT. Beside the sandwich, we got some great social media friends. It is crazy how social media can work with or against a brand in its growth. We have folks on Twitter and Instagram that have been brand champions (I HATE that phrase) since they've discovered Kenwood, and if you (anyone) thinks that we are talking about you while reading this, we certainly are.
back in the 33rd edition, we met Eric Fink, the Hoagie Prince of Philadelphia. I very nearly held this week’s newsletter back until Saturday so I could write in this section about the sandwich I intend to get for lunch today from his family’s award-winning hoagie spot, but I’ve made a commitment to my subscribers to send these out at 8am Fridays “every week.” so while I’m excited about lunch, I cannot in good conscience write about a sandwich I have not yet had.
in more depressing choices, this week’s pick is the Hulu limited series Dopesick. it stars Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson and a handful of other folks that will have you saying “shit, what was he in that I saw recently?” (it’s Peter Sarsgaard, for reference) and is a mostly true-to-life depiction of the start of the opioid crisis in the United States and OxyContin’s role in it.
if that sounds incredibly heavy, well, it is. it’s fucked up to the point that multiple times per episode I’ve scoffed in absolute disbelief at the attitudes on display from Purdue Pharma executives and sales reps. obviously there’s some dramatization here, but there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s all based heavily in reality.
Michael Keaton and the rest of the cast do a phenomenal job, and since it airs Wednesdays on Hulu it’ll leave you on the edge of your seat once you catch up. I’m hesitant to recommend you binge it because, as I said, it’s heavy and depressing and stressful and anxiety-inducing. but it’s a must-watch in the sense that everyone should understand how crooked and broken the American healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are. remind me next week to tell you the story of my MRI last weekend.
you heard the beer man! it’s the Roc!
thanks as always for spending some time with me in your inbox this week pals. if you need me, I’ll be over here in Philly enjoying multiple sandwiches of varying fillings and sharing some brotherly love. until next time!
— adrian ✌🏻