Photo credit: Samantha Fuentes
By Allyson Sutton
Scott Hansen walked into Home Team BBQ about 12 hours after returning from a whirlwind three-day trip around Miami. Over a salad and cold beer, he shared stories of surfing, fishing, taking a six-pack to a bodega owner in Little Havana, and traversing a tropical storm to meet with execs from a major cruise line.
It’s that mix of adventure and grit that’s helped Scott and his business partner, Brandon Perry, grow Island Coastal Lager across five states just one year after launching.
“It’s been a lot of hustle and hard work,” Scott says. “When you have passion for something, you wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night and it’s all you think about.”
A native of New Jersey, Scott first fell in love with Charleston while attending The Citadel in the early ‘90s. He returned North to start his career, but after 12 years living and working in Manhattan, the coastal lifestyle pulled him back.
“September 11 was a turning point for me. I lost friends and colleagues and realized that life is short,” Scott shares. “Our kids were 3, 4 and 6 years old at the time, so it really struck a chord with me.”
Soon after, he and his wife moved to Sullivan’s Island, where they became fast friends with Brandon and his family.
In 2016, Scott – an avid surfer, sailor and thrill-seeker – was racing in the Conch Republic Regatta, a 90-mile open-ocean sailing race from Key West to Cuba. He decided to turn the trip into a vacation, bringing his wife and kids and inviting Brandon and his family along for the fun. Little did they know, those 10 days in Cuba would chart the course for Island Coastal Lager.
“The Cuban people told us, ‘don’t drink the water, drink the beer,’” Scott recalls.
Taking heed, he and Brandon tried the local brews: a light beer and dark beer created by Anheuser-Busch in collaboration with the country’s government. Both, according to Scott, “were horrible.”
“We started thinking they should have better beer,” Scott says. “At first, we had this idea to import craft beer to Cuba, but we ultimately realized that the same problem exists in the United States. Major beer brands are using corner-cutting fillers, acids and preservatives, but consumers don’t know that because beer ingredients aren’t labeled.”
With a new mission in mind – to create the craft alternative to mass-market brews – Scott and Brandon hit the ground running. They worked for two years developing the recipe with their brewing partner, fine-tuning the branding and securing regional distribution deals. Every little detail was painstakingly considered.
Take the logo design, for example, crafted to mimic a cigar label as a subtle homage to Cuba. Even the blue hue on their cans was meticulously developed to match the water in Varadero, Cuba (they spent an entire day at the Ball Manufacturing lab, mixing and heating pastes until the iridescent shade was just right).
Says Scott: “We both felt that the opportunity to create this brand should not be squandered. Every bit of what we do should have a lot of care and love put into it.”
What resulted was Island Coastal Lager, an “easy-drinking beer” made with pure ingredients.
“Beyond the branding, it’s really the juice that matters – the ingredients, what you put into your body,” Scott says. “We are on a mission to educate consumers that there’s a better beer.”
Island Coastal Lager is the first single-product American beer brand in over 100 years. In what Scott calls a “true David and Goliath story,” this new Southern beverage brand is going up against Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors and Constellation Brands, the three big players that account for most of U.S. beer purchases.
And they’re doing it without a background in beer, a factor Scott argues has actually aided in their success.
“We don’t have preconceived notions of things ‘you can’t do,’” he says. “We’re fighting against convention and just doing what we think works from a smart business growth strategy.”
Their approach seems to be working. This fall, Island Coastal Lager will open its flagship Island Tap Room on Shem Creek, a space that Scott says will give folks a chance to “experience the brand, the island vibe and other high-quality, regional beers that we’re super stoked about.”
They’re also eyeing a potential tap room location in Florida, finalizing distribution plans in Tennessee and Virginia, and inking a deal to offer Island Coastal Lager on a major cruise line before the end of 2018.
As the business continues to grow, Scott and Brandon try to keep the Island Coastal tagline, “Take it Easy,” at the forefront of every decision.
“We try to create a sense of balance. You can start feeling pressure or wanting to keep score, but we try not to let that expand inside of what we’re doing,” he explains. “Part of our success has been that we maintain a laid-back approach to what we do. I think you can lean forward and work hard and still maintain that vibe.”
For Scott, taking it easy means spending time with his family (his kids are now 15, 16 and 18) and cracking open an Island Coastal Lager with friends.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m at home or out on the water, as long as I’m having a good time with good people.”
We’ll cheers to that.
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