Since taking over Silver Moon Brewing two years ago, owners Matt Barrett and James Watts have given the business a technological makeover.
Everywhere you look inside Bend’s third-oldest brewery and its adjacent pub, you’ll find evidence of the duo’s modern approach to an ancient industry.
There are dynamic digital tap lists hanging above the bar. Webcams protrude from the ceiling. A high-tech brewing management system is in place. And in Redmond, Silver Moon has just broken ground on what will be a new, state-of-the-art production facility.
But all that innovation doesn’t necessarily mean an end to tried and true techniques that have helped keep bars running smoothly for decades.
Barrett still gets phone messages delivered to him on drink coasters. And not just occasionally.
“It hasn’t happened today,” he says with a laugh, “because the day’s still early.”
There’s a lot of charm in the idea of a bartender jotting down a name and number on unused bar ephemera. But a growing brewery positioned in a competitive industry and a beer-crazy town can’t run on charm alone. In 2015, a Bend brewery must be willing and able to take advantage of technology or it risks being left behind.
That’s what was happening to Silver Moon. Two years ago, when Barrett and Watts were considering buying the brewery, they found that it had not only good beer and a long history in Bend, but also lots of potential for growth.
“We looked at the business and thought, ‘Man, there’s so much that can and should be done with Silver Moon that’s not happening.’ It’s been around for a long time. Great beers. It just kind of got lost in all the hype in town,” Barrett says. “So when we came in we (knew) there was a lot that could happen here to change the vibe a little bit, in the pub but also in terms of consistency and getting the beer out and coming into it with more of a sales and marketing approach.”
Barrett moved to Bend about a decade ago and Watts about eight years ago. Both “escaped the technology scene,” Barrett says, and went into business for themselves: Barrett owns the local Snap Fitness gyms, and Watts started the Cycle Pub. They met at Silver Moon, coincidentally, during a meeting of a men’s beer club, and bonded over their similar backgrounds and love of suds.
Once Barrett’s gyms were running smoothly, he found himself with time to explore another venture. And when the possibility of buying a brewery emerged, he reconnected with Watts. Together, they wanted a place with the kind of potential that would benefit from their tech acumen.
“When I was evaluating the business, that was one of the things I was looking at: Which businesses really need help and are not taking advantage of technology, because it can help so much,” Barrett says. “That was absolutely one of the key items. It was a good thing that (Silver Moon) didn’t have any technology then because we saw that as opportunity.”
First, the new owners worked with a marketing firm to retool Silver Moon’s logo, update its website and establish a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which have since become a “huge” part of the brewery’s marketing efforts, Barrett says. The duo recently hired a marketing manager, whose duties include managing Silver Moon’s bustling social media efforts, he says.
In the company’s pub — housed in a 1950s-era building near the Bend Parkway overpass at Greenwood Avenue — Barrett and Watts set about updating the interior. They took down an old disco ball and built a handsome new stage for live music. They had local artist Natalie Fletcher paint a new mural on the wall and generally introduced a cleaner, sleeker look without sacrificing the pub’s lived-in charm.
Tech-wise, Barrett and Watts augmented Silver Moon’s video offerings, adding a couple of TVs. They know they don’t run a true sports bar, but they try to cater to under-served sports-fan niches in town.
“We sponsor Hutch’s race team, so we make sure we have the Tour de France on. Some of our brewers are big rugby players, so we get rugby programming,” Barrett says. “You can come watch the Oregon game and that’s great, but a lot of places will have that on. But not a lot of places will have soccer on or they won’t have rugby. I love lacrosse so I’m always looking to get lacrosse games on.”
Above the bar, new digital tap lists replaced the old chalkboard system, giving patrons and bartenders a clearer look at what brews are available. Silver Moon has since partnered with local company The Growler Guys to test out how that company’s digital menu, seen at their growler-fill stations across the Northwest, can work in taprooms.
“We want to make it easy for the bartenders to just swap out a keg, put a new one in, hit a button and it goes up on the board. That’s the ideal,” Barrett says with a grin. “We’re not quite there yet, but that’s the ideal.”
The owners also installed webcams in the pub’s ceiling so they can look in on what’s happening from home. They came in handy last summer when firefighters from the Two Bulls Fire piled in for a bottle of Bull Fighter IPA, a special beer the brewery had crafted in a flash to honor their efforts and raise money for the Red Cross. A throng of them showed up one afternoon, and Barrett was able to watch their celebration despite not being in the pub.
But perhaps the most important tech-evolution at Silver Moon happened outside the public eye with the introduction of advanced management software into the brewing operation. For decades, Barrett says, breweries the size of Silver Moon have relied on a whiteboard — “maybe a spreadsheet,” he says — to track production schedule, inventory, brewing shifts, recipes and the rest of beer-making’s nuts and bolts. And moving from that system to something more modern tends to be a bumpy ride for any operation, he says, simply because it’s new, it’s extra work on the front end, and the folks using it haven’t yet seen the benefit.
“There’s a little bit of a curve that you have to get over up front. That’s painful. It’s like anything: garbage in, garbage out. So if you’re not putting good info into these systems, what you get out is crud,” Barrett says. “So then the brewers … look at it and go ‘Why am I having to enter all this stuff three times? Why are we even using this?’
“But then they start to see it,” he continues. “Once they don’t have to go back there and count kegs anymore, they get it.”
Silver Moon’s new system allows staffers to easily look at inventory and see what beer is available and what’s running low. It allows Barrett and Watts to monitor sales trends across different seasons and styles of beer, and it helps them plan next steps and communicate with their sales team, distributor and customers.
They’re seeing results, too. Sales at the pub are up more than 20 percent, according to Watts, and overall beer sales are up 60 percent from when the duo purchased Silver Moon, Barrett says. The company has expanded its distribution footprint into Washington (with California on the horizon), and its brews have been added to the shelves of major retailers like Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, Safeway and Costco.
As far as production, Silver Moon has been limited to about 2,000 barrels annually by the size of its building and the current brewing system. But the new Redmond brewery will instantly quadruple that figure, with room to grow to 25,000 barrels annually in the future.
Now more than ever, easy and efficient communication is key at Silver Moon.
“With the new brewery, that’s a whole other ballgame in terms of how do we connect the two and make sure that information’s flowing and we’ve got visibility into what’s going on,” Barrett says.
Indeed, phone messages on coasters may never disappear completely. But they will increasingly become a relic of the past as Barrett and Watts push Silver Moon ever-forward into the future.
“From the beginning, we’ve always said status quo doesn’t work. So we’re always going to try and do something different,” Barrett says. “That’s what we’re about. We’re trying to do thing unique and different and be creative and move at a really fast pace.”
(Photos courtesy Jeffrey R. Flones of Spooky Dawson)