If you’ve ever enjoyed a Stone Xocoveza then there’s a pretty good chance you have heard the name Chris Banker. Chris was the creator of the beer that won Stone Brewery’s 2014 American Hombrewers Association-sanctioned homebrew competition. As the competition winner, the beer was commercially produced (with minor collaborative adaptations by Stone Brewing and Cervecería Insurgente) and released in 2014 as a one-time release collaboration beer known as Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza (pronounced SHO-CO-VAY-ZA) Mocha Stout. However, Stone Xocoveza was so popular that Stone Brewing decided to make the beer a yearly, seasonal release. You can read my original interview with Chris Banker about Stone Xocoveza by clicking here.
Chris is a prolific homebrewer but not a commercial brewer. In fact, Chris works as a software engineer at a high-tech company named Viasat. Headquartered in Carlsbad, CA, Viasat has “helped shape how consumers, businesses, governments and militaries around the world communicate” for over 30 years.
Each year Viasat holds a company-wide beer festival and homebrew competition as a charity event. And they held their 5th annual competition in 2017. Twenty-nine homebrewers entered the competition in this latest event. Chris Banker’s hazy IPA won 1st place for the People’s Choice and 2nd place for the Judges’ Choice.
An Emerging Trend – Increased Collaborative Marketing with Craft Beer
What happened afterward represents an emerging craft beer trend in collaborative marketing. Musicians, actors, and sports figures have increased their star power and influence through collaborative marketing with beer products for quite some time. In the past, much of this collaboration was with big beer brands. However, more recently celebrities and others are aligning themselves with craft beers and their customers. For example, read my article about Pennywiser Session IPA by clicking here.
What is collaborative marketing? As noted by David K. Williams in Forbes Magazine – “Collaborative Marketing, in a nutshell, is the process of sharing resources to increase leads, brand, and influence.”
And now Viasat is one of the first high-tech companies to leverage craft beer strategically for collaborative marketing. To help launch a company-wide re-branding initiative, Viasat partnered with Rouleur Brewing to commercially produce and can a 20 barrel (BBL) batch of Chris Banker’s homebrew competition winner. Named Viasat High Capacity Haze, the commemorative beer was distributed to Viasat’s employees, vendors and customers. The beer’s name reflects Viasat’s satellite communications business focus, including the recent and future launches of their high-capacity bandwidth satellites. Viasat’s visionary use of beer in marketing could signal a new branding trend involving high-tech companies.
Chris Banker brewing Viasat High Capacity Haze at Rouleur Brewing – Photograph courtesy of Viasat Inc.
Viasat High Capacity Haze
Viasat High Capacity Haze is a slightly hazy, New England style IPA. The beer has a delightful citrus and tropical fruit aroma with a mild floral character. Medium bodied, the beer delivers a slightly toasty malt flavor with huge tropical fruit and citrus notes. Also, the beer finishes just a little dry.
To make Viasat High Capacity Haze, Chris used a grain bill of Halcyon and Pearl malts. He also used Magnum, Citra and Mosaic hops. The beer clocks in at 7.1% ABV and 70 IBUs.
I loved it!
Q&A With Chris Banker
Q. What should people know about you?
A. I am an avid homebrewer, cheese maker, and hobbyist. I tend to pursue perfection in anything I enjoy. By day, I work as a software engineer at Viasat on satellite communication systems.
Q. Was this your first entry or win in the Viasat competition?
A. No, I believe I have won at least one award each year and I have also won awards for my appetizer entries.
Q. Any particular reason you chose to make a hazy IPA for the Viasat competition?
A. This entry was targeted as a People’s Choice winner for two reasons: 1) hazy IPAs are a very popular style now and 2) Viasat is an IPA-loving company. I had made great hazy IPAs previously and knew I could make a crowd-pleaser. I have also witnessed the popularity of IPAs at Viasat over the past few years, as the IPAs are always the first beers to run out at company events.
Q. Whose vision was it to create a canned version of your homebrew as a commemorative beer for Viasat?
A. The vision for this collaboration came from the Government System Division Marketing and Communications team. As part of a company-wide re-brand, they were looking for a variety of ways to commemorate the event and make use of the new branding materials. They had discussed the idea with Rouleur Brewing and reached out to me about the possibility of producing this beer.
Q. How was a connection with Rouleur Brewing made to produce this beer?
A. Viasat’s Marketing and Communications team contacted Rouleur about the idea to see if it was a possibility in terms of availability and logistics. After confirming basic details with Rouleur, we had a joint meeting to ensure that it would be possible to replicate my beer.
Q. How was the can designed? Were you involved in that aspect?
A. Viasat’s expert graphics design group did the majority of the label design, using aspects from the new branding materials. I had some input on the label text and had a chance to approve the design.
Q. I hear there were only about 4000 cans produced. Is this correct?
A. Yes, it was a 20BBL batch, which produced just under 4000 cans.
Q. How was the beer launched by Viasat?
A. All Government Systems employees were given a gift package that included 2 cans of High Capacity Haze, as well as a branded cooler bag and pint glass. We held a 2-day pickup event, where employees could pick up their items. I was available during some of the popular pickup times to answer questions and sign cans. In addition, cans were distributed to employees at 12 other U.S. offices. Executives were also provided with additional cans to share with customers and employees.
Q. What has been the reception to Viasat High Capacity Haze?
A. The reception has been great. Everyone is really excited about it. I have heard lots of positive feedback. I constantly have coworkers approach me in the halls and around campus exclaiming their enjoyment of the beer. Many employees have shared the beer with their friends and family, who have also loved it.
Q. You make cheese also. So what cheese would you pair with Viasat High Capacity Haze?
A. My favorite homemade cheese to pair with this would be one I call “Orange Cheesicle”, an orange-vanilla Gouda. The moderate orange zest flavor and subtle vanilla play nicely with the hop-derived citrus components of this beer. A great commercial option would be a bright sharp cheddar, such as Quebec Vintage, although there are many other great options as well.
Q. Any thoughts on the similarities between high-tech engineering, cheese and craft beer?
A. I would say the common ground is attention to detail and process control. Repeatable quality is important for all of them and creating quality processes and procedures helps facilitate that.
Q. Any plans to make a second production run?
A. There are no plans at this point to make a second production run, but it’s not out of the question.
Q. You’ve won the Stone Homebrew competition and the Viasat competition. What’s next?
A. I am always working on new projects and also enter occasional competitions.
Craft beer has had strong growth in the U.S. economy. Hence, the trend for other businesses to conduct collaborative marketing with craft beer is a smart move.
I’m hoping that Viasat, Chris Banker and Rouleur Brewing decide to proceed with a second and larger production run of Viasat High Capacity Haze. If they do, you should definitely try to get some of this really tasty craft beer.