What a thrill it is for Shared Spirits to feature someone from Texas in this installment of our Industry Influencer Interview Series. Not only do we have Texas represented but also the state’s oldest craft brewery. Saint Arnold, whose namesake is the patron saint of beer started brewing in 1994 way before craft beer was cool in these United States. We are excited to share personal stories of industry influencers that love their work, their brands, and their customers. Today, we welcome Lennie Ambrose of Houston Texas. Lennie is the Marketing and Events Director at Saint Arnold. He started at the brewery January of 2007. Let’s get on with our visit!
Sherman: Lennie, what a pleasure to be visiting with you today. Shared Spirits learned of your work and the brewery from your lovely wife.Amber. She’s obviously a brand ambassador! Tell us what you were doing prior to your life in the beer business?
Lennie: I was a local news sportscaster in various markets around the country. The last place was at the NBC Station in Beaumont, TX but before that I was at two stations in Montana and Florida. It’s an awesome career for people that love stuff like Houston Texans football and Astros baseball but also can tolerate getting up at 7:30 AM on a Saturday to “cover” girls high school track.
Sherman: You’ve stated in the past you really wanted to work at a microbrewery prior to doing so. What was your mindset or thought around that life? How close to what you imagined work would be like did it end up being?
Lennie: I was looking to transition out of TV news and was really into craft beer but also craft beer culture. I decided at some point that I wanted to actually work in the business. People forget that working at a brewery is still work but, at the end of the day, it’s still beer. Beer is fun and the people surrounding this industry are usually fun.
Sherman: As the marketing lead for such a well known regional brand, how much of the creative work, the narrative, or the campaign work around marketing do you have to do personally? I’m wanting the audience that’s interested in perhaps taking your career path to learn a bit about what daily life is like for you.
Lennie: When I was hired, I was the marketing department but Saint Arnold already had a pretty strong brand identity. I think Brock appreciated though that I understood Saint Arnold and what he already had in place and then sort of let me run from there. We are very community based and do a lot of events out in the public and we’ve kept doing that. I just now have a great staff that helps out with messaging, branding and events. I do have a lot of creative freedom though.
Sherman: What is the most fun aspect of your work? What still makes you smile after ten years at the brewery?
Lennie: Executing fun and good events is still really cool. They are obviously very stressful but there is a lot of pride that comes from something that people have a great time at and something that runs really smoothly. Our One Pot Showdown is a great example of something that is super Saint Arnold-y and people love.
(Editor’s Note: Check out the Saint Arnold events page: https://www.saintarnold.com/news/)
Sherman: How about sharing the dark side? What’s the toughest part of being a marketing guy at a microbrewery?
Lennie: We still work on shoe string budgets so there are some events that I’d love to be a part of and would love to sponsor but the price tag can be a little steep.
Sherman: What would be your top two or three pieces of advice for the folks wanting to launch a brewery in today’s market?
Lennie: My opinion is that people should focus on their on-premise sales and experience, meaning having something awesome for people to come and visit. This is aside from having good, clean, beer, by the way. I really feel like if you can create a good tap room experience then people will want to keep coming back.
Sherman: You guys have a beautiful facility. The entire brewery seems to be prime space for the enjoyment of beer, groups, friends, and experiences. What was the inspiration for the facility?
Lennie: When we were moving out of the old brewery warehouse we really wanted something that Houston would be proud to have and I hope we’ve done that. The tasting room is similar to a big, German, beer hall and we’ve hosted all our tours and even things like corporate events, birthday parties and weddings here. The building is 114 years old so that’s something we’ve always liked to have is the history behind it.
Sherman: The Saint Arnold brand. Wow. It seems to us that getting a corner on that Saint was a brilliant stroke in marketing. How much has branding helped in making your work easier?
Lennie: One example of how we have tried to keep our brand image intact was when we were refreshing our packaging last year. It hadn’t updated at all during the history of the company and needed to be brought to be a little more modern. We had strong identity in the market though and didn’t want to mess with that. So, instead of an overall, we just did a refreshing where we added some new elements and kept the same structure and look. It has gone over very well, so far.
Sherman: In today’s social media driven digital world, has getting the message out about your beer easier or more difficult? In either case, share a little bit about what has been working for your team.
Lennie: I started our MySpace page and we had a Twitter account even before teams like the Astros and Texans so we’ve been working in the social space for a long time. It is a great way to keep the conversation going and this year we are using our social channels to help get the word out about project that we support and organizations we work with. So, not only are we talking about beer but our community partners too.
Sherman: What are a couple of marketing “fails”? Anything specifically come to mind that in hindsight, just didn’t work out as envisioned?
Lennie: I once suggested a Miss Saint Arnold pageant (even though it would have been tastefully done) and that was not met with smiles.
Sherman: What’s a typical day look like for Lennie Ambrose, Marketing and Events Director at Saint Arnold?
Lennie: Responding to interviews from people named Sherman. Ok, that but also… email. A lot of email actually. It’s not all just beer flowing through the hallways over here. I’m in a lot of meetings with various facets of things under my purview as well. We mix in fun too though.
Sherman: What do you feel the industry needs now more than ever? No wrong answer here. If you could do a solid for the beer industry as a whole, have any thoughts on what you would do?
Lennie: Clean beer. If you are brewing don’t be so concerned about wacky adjuncts…. just brew good, clean beer. Everything else will fall into place after that (hopefully).
Sherman: When you drink a beer what is your favorite?
Lennie: It very much depends on if I’m eating food and what food I am eating. But, if it’s just an everyday drinker, I gravitate towards our new Pub Crawl Pale Ale a lot lately.
Sherman: When you choose something other than beer, what is your adult beverage of choice?
Lennie: Recently Booker’s Cask Strength has been a favorite. I really appreciate good cocktails!
Sherman: We have noticed the beer and distillery communities are really tight and helpful to one another in most markets we follow. Is that the case in Houston?
Lennie: Honestly we don’t know a ton of the local distilling guys and it’s not super big here right now. I do need to get to some of the distilleries though and check them out.
Sherman: Man, Lennie, this has been a blast. I so appreciate you spending some time with me and Shared Spirits. Is there anything I’ve missed? Anything that you’d like the audience to know about you or Saint Arnold that I may have missed?
Lennie: A great double IPA and some spicy Indian curry is about a perfect combo!
Stay current with Saint Arnold in all the following ways!
http://saintarnold.com on the web.