Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Talea Beer attracts an audience of 70% women and is one of the few women-owned breweries in NYC. … [+] Pictured is its latest taproom on Christopher Street in the West Village.

Brooke Helm

When LeAnn Darland and Tara Hankinson were trying to finance their proposed brewery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that catered mostly to women, they were met with skepticism by several male investors. Several said their wives didn’t drink beer so the concept likely wouldn’t succeed.

Nonetheless, the entrepreneurs showed data of how the number of women drinking beer was on the rise. Yet only 3% of the 9,500 craft breweries in the U.S. are owned by women.

Overcoming the skepticism, Darland and Hankinson raised enough money from friends, family and angel investors to open Talea Beer in Williamsburg in 2021, a brewery, producing various craft beers. They describe their target audience as 70% women, including many from LGBTQ audiences and people of color.

Its name Talea combines their names Tara with LeAnn. And it’s a true partnership as Darland oversees brewery production and leads financial forecasting and Hankinson heads the taproom, hospitality and marketing.

Just as the partners envisioned, Talea Beer prospered. It opened a second Talea Beer in Cobble Hill, a taproom, serving but not producing beer, and in October 2023 added a Christopher Street taproom in the bustling, tourist-filled West Village.

They’re slated to open a fourth Talea Beer in December near Bryant Park in the lobby of the Park Terrace Hotel. The two new outposts are being financed through a combination of debt and equity.

Two women entrepreneurs are proving with Talea Beer that breweries can attract women and remote workers to neighborhood taprooms.

Both Talea partners switched into brewery ownership from more corporate jobs. Hankinson worked at the New York Times in philanthropy and marketing and Darland worked in corporate finance at Google, before the craft beer world inspired them to entrepreneurship.

The two partners met working at Hopsy, a beer e-commerce site, which started as a Berkeley, Calif. delivery service and then moved to New York City. Darland was head of finance, and Hankinson was head of customer experience. The duo learned the ins and outs of selling beer and were mentored by Mike Seitz, CEO of San Francisco-based Barebottle.

More Than a Business But on a Mission

Darland acknowledged that it’s a business first but is also on a mission “to bring craft beer to an audience that has not been targeted before—women.”

It launched in Williamsburg in a more industrial area because its brewery occupies 9,000 square feet, and was previously gutted space.

Fruited Sours Beers Are the Specialty of the House

In fact, the beer that it produces at its Williamsburg brewery is known for being fruited sours, Darland explained, so customers aren’t tasting the usual malt or hops, which many people find bitter. “Hoppy IPAs are an acquired taste,” she adds.

Moreover, their taprooms don’t have TVs and don’t revolve about watching football and hockey games, a male preference. Hankinson says its clientele “focuses on the experience. They’re talking and enjoying their beverage.”

At their Williamsburg brewery, they produce bottled and canned beers that sell mostly wholesale. In fact, 75% of the volume produced go to wholesale accounts to over 300 bars, restaurants and retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s across New York City and Long Island.

Wholesale Generates a Quarter of Their Business

Talea Beer’s overall revenue stems 75% from the taprooms and 25% from wholesale sales. Their best-selling beers in their taprooms are Al Dente, their Italian-style Pilsner, Sun Up Hazy IPA and Peachberry Punch Sour Ale.

Why It Opens Early

The new Christopher Street location opens at 10 a.m., serves coffee, pastries and light bites, and has become a place where many people bring their laptops and work. “Beer is still our bread and butter and we don’t have a full kitchen,” Darland notes, but it is piloting paninis and flat-breads at its Cobbe Hill location.

When this reporter visited the new spot late morning, bartender Lizzie from Melbourne, Australia, said some guests come in early for coffee, work through the day on their laptops, then finish the day with a pint of beer.

It also partners with a host of local eateries to produce craft beers including Dante NYC, Don Angie and Magnolia Bakery for its pumpkin pudding ale.

Hankinson notes that several of these eateries like Dante NYC and Don Angie carried their beers on a wholesale basis so this enables “a broader reach beyond an echo chamber.”

The atmosphere at most of its taprooms is not the usual, “industrial feel with exposed wood that is more masculine but more natural, open and colorful with a different type of comfortable seating, a place to come and stay,” Hankinson explains.

People find out about Talea Beer from its social media presence, word-of-mouth and wholesale presence, though it has never paid for a digital ad. “We view our wholesale business as also a profitable marketing tool,” Hankinson adds.

Consumer response on Yelp was extremely positive without the usual skepticism in most online reviews. Jhanio from Brooklyn wrote, “If you’re a fan of fruity and sour brews, this is the place to be.” He praised the Peach Berry Punch Sour Ale.

Laura from Long Island called Talea Beer a “great space for dates, group of all sizes, remote workers and even solo diners like myself.” Genevieve from Long Island visited it mid-week and called it “bright, airy, super clean with mostly people working on laptops.”

Opening in the hotel near Bryant Park will enable it to reach commuters and business people. Hankinson says, “We’ll be able to meet our customers where they are, including those who can’t make it to Williamsburg or Cobble Hill.”

In 2024, Darland asserts that it doesn’t expect to open any new locations, having invested so much money in 2023 but will instead “want to make sure our business is profitable.” It’s also exploring producing non-alcoholic beer, which by law has to be under 25% of alcoholic content.

Asked the three keys to their future success, the partners replied: 1) Adapting to changing consumer behavior and tastes, which is an evolving landscape, 2) Staying true to its brand, culture and messaging, 3) Creating a long-term lens in their investment in people and equipment.

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