Tom Kehoe | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tom Kehoe

Background:  

Philadelphia-based Yards Brewing was an early pioneer in the craft beer world. Launched 22 years ago, the company today brews about 42,000 barrels annually of its British-inspired ales, and is looking to build a new facility large enough to allow it to expand production to 150,000 barrels a year.

The Mistake:

We were probably one of the first craft breweries out of the gate that made a really big, bold India Pale Ale — similar to the ones that are so popular today. It was 8 percent alcohol and was really in line with the original IPAs that were brewed to be exported across the ocean to India. We came out with it and we really liked it, but it was an 8 percent beer at a time when everyone else doing their IPAs at 5 or 5.5 percent. These bigger beers are so popular today, and we were one of the first ones to do that.

What happened was, rather than keep that one going, we decided to pull back — to pull back on the alcohol. It was just so strong for that time, and people weren't drinking enough of it. We were probably ahead of the curve for the beer-drinking public. But now these big IPAs are the king of the heap. If we could do it again, we would probably stick with the recipe we had originally.

If we don’t like it, it means we won’t believe in it.

The Lesson

I don’t think it was a matter of us failing to read the market. I think the issue was, we made that big beer and we really loved it. And that’s why we started this in the first place: We made beers that we liked to drink. The way we thought was, "Well, we like this, and everyone else should love it, too." But in that case, we didn’t stick to our guns, and we should have. 

The takeaway is that we need to continue making the beers that we ourselves really like. If we don’t like it, it won’t get made, because if we don’t like it, it means we won’t believe in it.

Follow Tom Kehoe on Twitter at @TomKehoeYards.