VOL. 123 | NO. 2 | Thursday, January 3, 2008
Naked Lion Owner Hopes to Go National
By Rosalind Guy
DRINKS AND DREAMS: Former Coors brewmaster Tony Vieira has created this specialty beer as the first step in what he and his family hope will become a larger brewing business. -- Image Courtesy Of Tony Vieira
When Molson Coors Brewing Co. decided to close its Memphis facility in 2006, some employees were left to make life-altering decisions.
For former Coors international brewmaster Tony Vieira, the decision was whether to pick up his family and move to another city or remain in Memphis.
After landing a job with FedEx Corp.'s global strategic planning operations, he made the decision to stay.
"Although I had an opportunity to relocate with Coors," Vieira said. "I had two boys that were in high school at the time, so (my wife, Cheryl, and I) just decided that I would resign."
Even after joining FedEx, Vieira and his wife would reflect on allowing his brewing experience to languish.
"As my wife and I talked about my career in brewing, we sort of said, 'Well it's a shame that we can't try to do something with that knowledge,'" he said.
Those ruminations led the family to invest $500,000 in savings on a new beer made from Vieira's own recipe - a mere beginning for the family-owned brewery company Naked Lion Brewing Co.
One brand at a time
The Memphis-based company began producing its Copper Flask beer last spring. The beer is from one of many recipes that Vieira has created, although he's only marketing the one brand right now.
"I have a slew of recipes," Vieira said, "but what we really want to do is try to build recognition for the first brand and for our brewery and then we'll introduce seasonals and that sort of thing. But we're going to focus probably for the next year on one brand."
The Copper Flask beer is brewed at La Crosse, Wis.-based City Brewing Co., which initially expressed interest in purchasing the former Coors plant at 5151 E. Raines Road before a local investment group, Chism Hardy Enterprises LLC, bought the plant.
Chism Hardy took over the Coors Brewery in September 2006, initially packaging and bottling products for Coors. Hardy Bottling now brews, packages and distributes Crunk Energy Drink, a high-powered energy drink. The company also distributes an energy drink named after guitar legend Jimi Hendrix - the Jimi Hendrix Liquid Experience.
Vieira's Copper Flask is distributed by Southwestern Distributors. But, the family hopes in the future to be able to invest capital to open their own full-service brewery in Memphis.
"The goal in the long run is to build volume here in Tennessee, build volume everywhere to a certain point where it makes sense to invest capital into building an entire brewery and packaging facility," Vieira said.
Starting out local
Around town, Naked Lion's Copper Flask may be found at Kroger, Schnuck's, Fresh Market and some other independent beer stores.
The beer also is served at Hard Rock Café, BB King's, The Flying Saucer, Interim Restaurant as well as other restaurants.
The ingredients in the beer were designed to go well with a wide variety of foods.
Tony Vieira gives credit to Cheryl for convincing him to create a beer that would complement any meal, from popcorn to prime rib.
Cheryl, a case manager at Baptist Healthcare, said they wanted to create a beer with a "taste that's not overpowering, a taste that you can enjoy with a variety of foods" to appeal to a distinctive beer drinker.
Copper Flask is what's called a craft beer, or higher-end specialty drink.
But while the Vieiras hope to build brand recognition for their new product before producing other varieties, they haven't done and don't plan to do any advertising.
"The market that likes this type of beer, the sort of high-end craft beer and import beer drinker, is a pretty sophisticated consumer and they get turned off by advertising and things like that," said Tony. "So the best thing for us to do is to try to get it in front of consumers so they then make a decision for themselves."
On the Web
The couple has set up a Web site to provide information about the beer and the business, www.nakedlion.com.
Naked Lion is very much a family-owned business. Right now their sons' involvement in the business is somewhat limited, because both young men are going to major in business administration, Cheryl said.
The oldest son, Christian, attends Saint Louis University and the youngest son, Joshua, recently was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania. And the family celebrated by having a nice dinner at the Interim Restaurant, accompanied by an ice cold Copper Flask.