A Winn Winn
One email is all it takes to recognize Chris Winn’s savvy marketing chops. His e-signature line—that tricky piece of cyber real estate that’s usually either meh with some official title or trying too hard to be clever— is bam, right on the nose: “Nice Guy, Likes Bikes.”
And there you have it, about all you need to know about one of the hardest-working, team-playing, high-fiving, beer-bedazzling dudes in town, who, in addition to his heavy-lifting nice-guy, bike-liking responsibilities, heads up sales and marketing for Tradesman Brewing Co. Beer is what brought Winn to Charleston, when he moved here as the New Belgium sales rep in 2009, but it was his love of bikes, mountain biking in particular, that initially led this Hawaii native to the beer industry.
“I grew up on the water, paddling outrigger canoes and all that stuff, but I always loved Hawaii’s mountains,” says Winn, who bought his first mountain bike in high school and was hooked. “Trail cycling was how I cleared my head, it helped me focus,” he says. He read mountain biking magazines, took note of killer trails and epic landscapes in Durango and Crested Butte, and applied to college in Colorado, earning a business degree from Colorado State University while cranking out miles on his bike. He also worked in restaurants and bars, as he had in high school, to help pay for college.
“This was Colorado in the nineties—the epicenter for new American craft beer. We’re talking lots and lots of really good beer,” says Winn, who did a stint in one restaurant with 19 taps. He developed an educated palate for beer’s complexities (“I think I was always a really good beer drinker,” he deadpans) and worked his way up the management chain, and after graduation got an offer as general manager. “But I realized I didn’t go to college to run a restaurant,” Winn says. So instead, he put his business degree to work at Enterprise Rental Car for two unsatisfying years, and then landed the job that was the ideal business/bike/beer fit: event planner with New Belgium Brewing Company, running the Tour de Fat (named after their Fat Tire beer).
“He works tirelessly to help Charleston become a top craft beer destination and a welcoming biking community. Plus, he distributes free high-fives, bear hugs and tasty beer in equal measure.”
“I got to grow my beer beard back,” says Winn, who also grew his event and marketing know-how as he expanded a fledgling “party in the park for 500 people and turned it into a festival for 9,000.” Now in its 18th year, the Tour de Fat travels to 33 cities and has raised more than $4.5 million for local nonprofits in host cities. He eventually transitioned into sales at New Belgium, and after years in the mountains, realized he missed the coast.
As the New Belgium rep in Charleston, Winn got to know the players in the beer and bar industry well, as well as the local nonprofit scene, generously keeping numerous fundraisers (including Charleston Moves’ bike advocacy efforts) well hydrated. He also recognized incredible opportunity in a beer market that he says was “so underserved. There were only two craft breweries when I moved here,” he says (now there are 21, and counting).
From 2011 to 2013, Winn worked with Ed Falkenstein at Palmetto Brewery to expand their craft brewing operation and open the Loading Dock, Palmetto’s tasting room and courtyard event space. Then in January 2014, he partnered with Scott and Sarah Gayle McConnell to open Tradesman Brewing Co., brewer and pourer of innovative, bold “well-built beers,” now based on James Island but soon to move to a larger production and tasting room space on King Street Extension.
Though his official bailiwick is sales and marketing, Winn, like his partners, plies many trades at Tradesman, from dreaming up inspired flavor profiles (beets and ginger star in a bright and crisp “Transmission Fluid” ale) to meeting with distributors. “I’m a hell of a keg scrubber, and I can down right waltz with a mop,” he adds.
Add “catalyst” to that job description, says Steve Warner, vice president of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. “Chris uses his knowledge and enthusiasm for craft beer and cycling culture to build community,” Warner says. “He works tirelessly to help Charleston become a top craft beer destination and a welcoming biking community. Plus, he distributes free high-fives, bear hugs and tasty beer in equal measure.”
The endless facets to the craft beer process intrigue Winn, as does the secondary process—“seeing what people do with beer, how it can be a playful, positive influence” bringing people together, whether for charitable community events, weddings or tailgates, etc.
“Beer drinking, thankfully, is still a team sport,” says Winn, who’s quick to acknowledge the dangers of overindulgence. “We’re focused on creating a product and culture that emphasizes quality over quantity.” Tradesman produced some 800 barrels of craft brew last year (bringing home gold medals and awards from national competitions). “What’s herculean is that we did that in a two-barrel brewhouse,” he adds (each barrel yields four kegs per batch). By comparison, Palmetto is a 25-barrel system and Coast Brewing Company runs a 30-barrel system.
Is the market getting crowded and competitive, now that Tradesman is joined by some 20 other breweries on Charleston’s ever-expanding suds scene? “I don’t think so, not at all,” says the ever-jovial Winn. “A rising tide raises all boats, and half the cars downtown,” he laughs.
Collaborating with other breweries, as Tradesman recently did with Revelry and Frothy Beard, is something Winn enjoys and values. “Beer people tend to be good people,” says the self-proclaimed “40-year-old kid.”
“We’re in this business because we love it. One of the things I love is that beer is still an analog technology,” he adds. “You can tweet about it all day long, but you can’t email a beer. There’s something about beer that brings people together—there’s a sweet spot, that pause where you look someone in the eye and raise a pint. It’s hard work, yeah, but heck, if we can’t have fun making and selling beer, then we’re doing it wrong.”