Beer may be the drink of the masses, but not all beers are aimed at the mass market. Increasingly, small independent brewers and major beer producers are making premium brews for those with a taste for something different. Until recently, however, one thing was lacking for millions of specialty beer aficionados—a quality magazine geared to their tastes. Two enterprising alumni, Austin Wilson (Col ’01) and Erika Rietz (Col ’01), are the creators of Draft, a magazine dedicated to the craft of commercial beer making and the discerning palate that consumes beer. “We saw there were so many wine magazines, but the beer market was barren,” says Rietz, the magazine’s editor in chief. “We thought we had really found a niche.”
Wilson, a former corporate attorney, and Rietz, an ex-magazine staffer, had wanted a career change and kicked around ideas for a new venture. They hit on the concept for Draft after this exchange: “Austin asked me to name my dream job. I said, ‘Someday, I want to own my own magazine.’ When I asked him, ‘If you could do your dream business, what would it be?’ He answered, ‘A beer magazine.’”
Potential investors in the magazine weren’t so sure. “There were skeptics,” recalls Wilson, the magazine’s publisher. Eventually, the pair found investors among friends and family. They quit their jobs and set up shop in Phoenix in a single room with one telephone, two computers and two large tables purchased from a discount store to serve as desks.
There’s no question that specialty beer occupies a different niche than its mass-market relatives. Consider Draft’s description of Old Foghorn, a barleywine produced by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co.: “There is no alcohol bite, and the peach and citrus flavors come through perfectly.”
The pair’s debut issue appeared in September 2006. Its drawing card was an inside look at the world of specialty beer—beer reviews, the best places to find good beer, brewery profiles—and stories about interesting people who drink beer. Recent issues have included profiles of guitarist Joe Pisapia of the rock group Guster and professional rodeo cowboy Todd Burns.
Ultimately, the magazine’s success depended on drawing readers—lots of them—and landing advertisers. Without readers, no one would advertise. Without advertisers, the magazine could not survive. They also needed celebrities to sign on for cover shots to help sell it. “We had no idea if this was going to work,” says Rietz.
They needn’t have worried. Advertisers flocked to the magazine. Celebrity cover shots have included actors Randy Quaid, Leslie Nielsen and Desperate Housewives star James Denton. Subscriptions have poured in. “We’ve got 180,000 paid subscribers and we’re growing extremely rapidly,” says Wilson. “We’re barely over a year old and these issues are flying off the shelf.”