Your Association Should Make its Own Sour Patch Kids Beer

At the Hotel Bar

I’m not lazy, I’m providing opportunities for others to share their voice. LOL

This month’s blog takeover is by Nikki Haton Shanks. While she’s one of our strategists and an acknowledged industry leader in the association sector, more importantly, she and her husband run Troubled Waters Brewery near Tampa, FL.

Unlike me, she doesn’t learn lessons from drinking booze, but from making it.

Here’s some lessons learned and some takeaways for our association (and other) colleagues. Take it away, Nikki.

Nikki Haton ShanksMy husband owns a brewery (Troubled Waters Brewing in Safety Harbor, FL) and is a Certified Cicerone (kind of like the Sommelier of the beer world).

Being married to a brewer is fun and interesting. There have been days I’ve walked into the house and he’s toasting trays full of coconut in the oven for a new chocolate stout recipe or jalapeños for a new IPA with mango. His recipes, or “treatments” as he calls them, always test the boundaries of taste buds and traditional beers. And I’m glad to be a recipient! He loves making all styes, and I’m personally a fan of bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stouts and sours.

He recently came home with a gigantic 30-pound bag of Sour Patch Kids. While we got our Halloween candy fix in early by taste-testing them, suddenly a half-pound went “missing,” and he finally took them into work.

It was time for him to make his Sour Candy Berliner, made with Sour Patch Kids candy. We laugh about it now because three years ago he had no idea that this beer would be a big hit; it started out as a fun one-off beer he made for Halloween in 2019.

In the beer community some might look down on such a beer where you add candy (some beer snobs, Cicerones even, might think it’s absolute garbage) but it is one of his top sellers. Why? It’s what his customers want, it’s innovative and different, and it generated a lot of buzz.

It had me thinking about association strategy and leadership.

I’ve seen association leaders create products and services that THEY would like, not what their members and other stakeholders (i.e., non-members) would like. Leaders may make these key decisions in a vacuum, assuming members operate like they do (same problems, same goals, etc.).

Here are a couple of ways to create your own Sour Patch Kids beer.

  1. Know your audience – Do research and collect data. Your board can’t assume it knows it’s members if you don’t ask. Find out what problems your audience is having, what their goals are, and how your association might be in the best position to help address them (both members and non-members). And if you’re not in the best position to support their goals or challenges, perhaps you can partner with an organization that is. Or, maybe you need to rethink your entire strategy as an organization… After seeing some of his top sellers fall under the “sour” beer category, my husband focused his efforts on trying new recipes. He monitored and shifted to his customer demand, even if that meant producing a beer that had more Sour Patch Kids candy it in than hops.
  1. Enhance the Experience – Your organization should continue to be a trusted source for education, content, and innovation. Association Laboratory’s Looking Forward® Solutions 2022 found that Educational Strategies were extremely or very important to 79% of association executives. One solution is creating a compelling experience. For example, is your website difficult to navigate because it’s positioned like your department silos? Have you taken time to put yourself in your members’ shoes and walked through the website to make sure content is easy to find? At Troubled Waters Brewing, their menu is like their website and is one of the first experiences customers have when they walk in. The menu was originally very disorganized and listed their beers in alpha order and then guest beers in alpha order. This year, they transitioned to being style-focused so that when patrons walk in, they can easily find the style they are most interested in (sour, stout, IPA, etc.) on the menu, and, therefore, find the Sour Candy Berliner.


  1. Take Risk – COVID taught us that we can make drastic strategic changes in a short time that benefit the association. The legacy documents and processes that prevented us from holding meetings virtually were quickly changed to accommodate our new environment. Keep pushing the boundaries, keep exploring new ways to deliver value. It’s not OK to go back to the way you’ve always done it. If something is not working, change it. Now. New technologies, data, and new generations, even, are pushing the status quo, and it’s essential to maintain relevancy. If your association tries something new and innovative, and it doesn’t work, learn from it and share that lesson with your members. If my husband was always “Beer Cicerone Kevin” and operated in the framework of what the beer community would find amazing, he would have missed out on a huge market (and $$).

Bottom line, it takes stepping out of the comfort zone, learning what your customers really want/making it easy to find, and including it as part of your portfolio of offerings to expand reach and excitement in your association.

If you’re not taking risks, are you really growing? Create your own Sour Patch Kids beer.

Cheers, friends, from my seat at the bar with Dean.