In today’s climate of self-promotion, DIY production, and social-media saturation, everyone knows how hard it is to get a brand name that sticks. Any business known widely for one product is, obviously, succeeding—yet some breweries in the area are known for only one beer, but don’t necessarily want to be. One such stands out to me: Mac & Jack’s.
While the Seattle brewery has produced a number of beers since opening in 1993, it is best known—to some, solely known—for its African Amber ale. So I decided to ask Mac & Jack’s co-founder, Mac Rankin, what he thought about his brewery’s good problem. “It’s kind of funny,” he says. “Because we almost have an identity crisis. When people ask for Mac & Jack’s, they’re really asking for the African Amber—it’s known as Mac & Jack’s.”
Rankin says it’s “wonderful” to have a product so many people have “embraced”—and, he notes, other breweries like Sierra Nevada and Elysian, known for their Pale and Men’s Room Red respectively, seem to be doing just fine. “There’s a limited number of tap handles,” he says. “If you have one that’s really popular, bartenders and owners are going to stick with that one.” But Rankin still notes frustration “because we have other great products, that if they were allowed to get [to the taps], people would really enjoy them.”
The 2,500 barrels of African Amber that the brewery churns out per year make up a whopping 70 percent of its total sales. There’s a lot going on in that other 30 percent, though. For instance, Mac & Jack’s continues their in-house “one and done” program: Anyone in the brewery can propose a small batch of any type of beer for trial consumption within the company. “Most of our employees are home brewers,” he notes. And if that small batch hits, Mac & Jack’s will produce it on a bigger scale for retail.
Currently Rankin’s brewery is working on a new grapefruit IPA, and has a dunkelweizen (a dark, caramely wheat beer) in production, which he is excited about. “It should be coming out in the next few months,” he says of the dunkel. “There were only about 25 breweries in the state when we started, so the competition for handles wasn’t like it is today. Today there are 300 breweries in this state alone. Not only do we have a lot of great beers, so does everyone else.”