Beer Below Zero’s motley crew dishes out the cold truth behind what they call ‘Filipino Ingenuity’

If Mexico’s famous beer brand, Corona, is served with a wedge of lime or lemon, two things stand when it comes to how Filipinos like their beer—ice-cold and with a mean platter of pulutan. It used to be that achieving the former entailed serving beer in a glass filled with ice, which is actually frowned upon by purists as it affects the taste of the beer.

But two years ago, the motley crew of Luigi Nuñez, Vincent Co, and Jay-Jay Angala discovered a way to freeze beers in temperatures below zero degrees Celsius, even to the point of eliminating the need for ice. What started as a backyard experiment that consisted of broken beer bottles, chest freezers and what the three jokingly call ‘Usapang Lasheng’ eventually became the nationwide phenomenon hearty drinkers now know as Beer Below Zero (BBZ).

Too Cold To Be True

“It took us about eight months to develop the technology and determine the proper mix per freezer,” shares Nuñez, an ad man and part-owner of Grilla Restaurant. “The important thing about Beer Below Zero is our business model. We are a value-added F&B service. Basically, it’s our job to process your beers, and the service comes with a modified chest freezer and a ‘Beertender’ who mans and shuffles the beers.”

From the get-go, the process looks pretty simple. But with factors to consider like the different freezing points for different brands of beer, the varying breakage points of the bottles, and the temperature of the air coming into the freezer every time you dispatch a bottle, it’s clearly not a walk in the park.

“The most important element is really the Beertender,” explains Nuñez. “The freezer is only 20 percent of the process. But the Beertender, the person manning the beer, he has a system. He knows how many San Mig Light or Cervesa Negra he can load, he knows when to shuffle the beer, how to dispatch the beer…it looks easy and competitors have tried to copy it but pumuputok lang ang beer nila.”

Buzz Marketing

When Beer Below Zero officially launched on May 16, 2008, the beer sold like hotcakes. “There was already demand waiting to be supplied,” says Nuñez. “The funny thing was that some people even thought it was a new brand of beer, which was actually how we initially positioned it. We wanted confusion in the beginning so people would ask the waiters about it. There was buzz and it became viral.”

Today, Beer Below Zero processes 1,200 cases of beer per night for over 80 outlets nationwide—numbers, Nuñez says, they’ve achieved without a sales team. “When we launched BBZ, everybody loved it. All our outlets were born from inquiries and referrals. Lahat ganon (everything was like that). But this year, we plan to be more aggressive in terms of penetrating outlets. Our biggest achievement so far is that we were able to launch in Guam.”

Marketing Beer Below Zero came naturally to the three partners, two of whom had strong backgrounds in marketing and advertising. Nuñez, whose day job involves advertising for big names like Cartoon Network, Time, Fortune and CNN, concocted a couple of marketing gimmicks that are generating positive response from the beer-drinking public—much to the delight of BBZ’s outlet owners.

‘Filipino Ingenuity’

One thing about getting BBZ is that the package comes with free consultancy services on the partners’ expertise in sales and marketing, public relations, and F&B. Nuñez, being a bar owner, says he understands the problems restaurant owners face in terms of lull hours. “You’re paying salary based on a shift that starts at 4:30 p.m. but people will arrive at 6. So I said, let’s do ‘Crazy Hour’. Let’s serve beer for only P9 from 5 to 6 p.m. In just an hour, puno na ang lugar mo (your place is packed).”

Other activities with catchy titles include the “Beermasutra: 102 Ways of Loving Beer Below Zero” and the BBZ Challenge. “Pabeerlisan uminom (beer speed-drinking),” enthuses Nuñez. “We have top five tomador and tomadora (male and female drinkers) in every outlet, and that culminates in a grand event in October. The fastest drinkers from all participating outlets will compete, and we’re thinking of calling it something like ‘PBA’ or Philippine Beer Association. Parang liga ng manginginom (like an athlete’s league for beer drinkers). That’s how we think. It’s always out of the box.”

Indeed, given how quirky BBZ’s marketing promos are, it’s no wonder the brand’s already got a legion of followers (“Sibeerians”, they’re called). “We’re really just being very patriotic here—we want to position the brand as ‘Filipino Ingenuity’,” says Nuñez. “We’re talking about how the Filipinos think, how they enjoy drinking their beer. Our thrust is really to make the Philippines known worldwide as the country serving the coldest beers.”

Published in the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin, August 9, 2010