Good Beer Hunting

Shipping Off to Massachusetts — Wormtown Brewery Hires Texas Beer Industry Leader Scott Metzger

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As one of the fastest-growing breweries in Massachusetts, Wormtown Brewery is getting ready for its next big step by hiring a well-known beer industry pro to guide it into its latest—and perhaps most challenging—growth phase.

Scott Metzger, founder and former CEO of San Antonio, Texas’ Freetail Brewing Company, will join the business as general manager, providing day-to-day oversight to a brewery that has more than doubled in size in the past three years, and expects to produce about 35,000 barrels in 2019. It’s a far cry from where the Worcester brewery, which is located about 40 miles west of Boston, stood in 2016, when it broke 10,000 BBLs for the first time.

Metzger will start his new role Sept. 25, coming on board at a time of pivotal change for Wormtown. About 85% of its total production is devoted to one beer—Be Hoppy IPA—and 60% of all Wormtown sales are draft. Two-thirds of business comes from on-premise accounts like bars, restaurants, and its own taproom.

This year, however, the brewery started a slow move that so many businesses its size are forced to take, eyeing higher volumes of retail sales as an opportunity to expand reach. Sales in Massachusetts liquor stores more than doubled from 2016–2018. Through the first eight months of 2019, Wormtown already outsold all of last year's packaged product in those stores, as tracked by IRI, a market research firm that compiles scan data. In the most recent 52-week period tracked by IRI, Wormtown’s sales in those liquor stores jumped 47%, with flagship Be Hoppy IPA up 32%.

“A big white space for us is our off-premise execution and finding that secondary and tertiary brand that can help us drive closer to a 60-40 or 50-50 split between on- and off-premise sales,” says Wormtown managing partner David Fields. He adds that Metzger’s background in economics as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and his former roles at the U.S. Treasury and at Valero Energy Corporation, shows that he offers a unique perspective to a business figuring out how to grow responsibly. 

“He adds an enormous amount of weight to our financial management, which is something that has always gnawed at the back of my head,” Fields adds. “Some of the fastest-growing, rapidly-expanding breweries may not have that kind of expertise, and I look at businesses exploding in growth and hope they’re investing in their financial performance as much as their brewing performance.”

There are plenty of examples these days of breweries undone by a lack of financial planning, so as Wormtown enters a size of production that many peers have struggled with while trying to stay relevant, Metzger’s hire is evidence of foresight.

“One of my strengths has always been as a jack of all trades, and a master of none,” Metzger says. “I don’t specialize in one area, but I have a specialty in knowing how everything fits together. I saw a need for Wormtown to have that person to help them prioritize and strategically approach initiatives. They have a lot of great ideas, but not all of them have come to completion.”

It’s a sentiment Fields echoes. After spending a career in distribution, he now runs Wormtown with former wholesale executives Jay Clarke, Rich Clarke, and Kary Shumway, and admits that “process management” is something that the group needed as a key part of its next steps. Last year, a little under 6% of Brewers Association-defined craft breweries accomplished the kind of production jump (adding 1,000–10,000 BBLs in a year) that Wormtown will accomplish in 2019. That puts it in a rarefied space, though also means it needs more on-the-ground guidance. 

“We sit in a meeting every Wednesday and come up with 10 great ideas, and on the following Wednesday, we’ve forgotten at least nine of them,” Fields says with a laugh. “Nobody’s done anything to take that 10th one to start building a plan. Scott is very much a process guy who will help us do that.”

On top of that, Fields says that Metzger’s connection to the brewing world “is a must” in the current climate, where strategic growth only comes from careful consideration of where and how to increase volume and sell more product. Wormtown beers are sold in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, while Connecticut will be a priority in 2020, as well as expanding Wormtown’s presence in chain stores.

These are things Metzger grew to know well during his time running Freetail, which he started and ran for a decade between 2008–2018, before leaving last fall for undisclosed reasons, telling GBH simply “it was time for me to pursue a new challenge.” 

The experience Metzger gained from running that company seems like a great fit for what's to come with Wormtown. In a 2016 interview with GBH, he referenced how Dogfish Head Brewery co-founder Sam Calagione influenced the way Metzger started his own brewery, joking how he's talked to Calagione about how he "absolutely ripped off Sam’s whole basic business model" with inspiration from Calagione's "Brewing Up a Business" book.

"His book was like the bible for Freetail," Metzger said at the time. "Start with a brewpub, build a local reputation, then go into distribution.”

In building Freetail up to about 4,700 BBLs—the largest brewery in San Antonio—Metzger worked with wholesalers in the second-biggest state in the country for beer consumption, including the largest Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor in the country. He played a significant role in expanding sales and distribution laws in Texas, and also served as an at-large board member with the Brewers Association’s Board of Directors, including as chair of the organization’s diversity committee.

Those experiences have furnished him with a keen understanding of off-premise sales. Metzger says his background will help him expand Wormtown’s portfolio, which has been near-exclusively reliant on one beer: Be Hoppy, a “Left Coast IPA,” has driven growth for the brewery. Metzger sees that fact as a benefit, saying it means the company hasn’t “diluted their product mix,” where new offerings would immediately create problems for other brands.

Don't Worry IPA, a New England IPA created as a companion to Be Hoppy, debuted in 2019 as the brewery's second-best-selling beer in IRI-tracked stores. Metzger notes that Mass Whole Lager, made with 100% Massachusetts ingredients, is another brand that could play a big role moving forward.

“They have the opportunity to find the next big offering and leverage that into a real success,” he says.

Part of that will come from a new taproom space in Foxborough, where Wormtown is installing a seven-BBL system to produce a variety of new and one-off beers; the location will also serve as a retail space about 30 miles southwest of the business’s Worcester home. The space is particularly advantageous given its proximity to Gillette Stadium, which is host to the New England Patriots (NFL) and New England Revolution (MLS), as well as numerous concerts. The 4,000-square-foot space will make beer for Wormtown as well as Maynard, Massachusetts’ Battle Road Brewery, adding an additional revenue stream for Wormtown.

“He has exposure to national trends and ideas that will help us find the next great beer for our portfolio,” says Fields, quickly adding that “maybe it’s not going to be a beer,” and something like spirits are on the table for the company.

But for all that’s presumably going to be—Metzger says his first 90 days at Wormtown will see him immerse himself in the company culture and a variety of sales and growth data—he’s also excited about what this professional move brings to his personal life. His wife, Sheena Bellavance, grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and this cross-country move is a homecoming of sorts for his family. He has long said striking a work-life balance is a personal priority.

“It was absolutely the right fit, and we were really excited to be able to have our kids grow up in an environment she grew up in,” he says. “Plus, she’s pumped to take them snowboarding.”

Words by Bryan Roth