When Variety is a Problem

Bev Blackwood - Some Breweries are Making a Big Mistake.

One of the biggest differences between a craft beer drinker and a macro beer drinker is that the macro drinker will reach for that favorite “suitcase” of cans time and time again while the more adventurous craft beer drinker is often buying whatever’s new on the craft beer aisle. For the craft beer drinker, that strategy can result in some spectacular hits, but also in some spectacular misses once they open the bottle or can. However, it also speaks a lot about the current environment in the industry.

While every major brewery has their “flagship” beer (I.E., the one that pays the bills) most are now cranking out special releases, variations on the old standards, barrel aged versions and all kinds of other iterations to keep the craft beer drinker’s attention and (more importantly) score some of their hard earned cash. It makes a lot of sense for breweries to do this. There’s often a premium price for special releases, it gives their brewers a day off from cranking out another 240 barrels of the flagship and every so often, they create a legendary beer (think Dark Lord, Pliny the Elder or any number of other collectibles) that is highly sought after and creates “buzz” for the brewery.

I don’t begrudge them their efforts, but it does create a bewildering array of choices when you get to your local store and often that one mediocre beer from a brewery that sounded interesting but failed to live up to its promise can turn a consumer off an entire brand. Does that mean I want every brewery to simply stick to what they know best? Of course not. However, every brewery’s special releases should be just that … special. Something that excites the palate and makes you say, “Wow, I didn’t know beer could be that good.”

May second was National Homebrew Day and I participated in a club brew-in at my local homebrew shop, DeFalco’s. Scott Birdwell, the owner, has been homebrewing for over thirty years and has had something like 35 professional brewers who learned to brew through DeFalco’s as either homebrewing customers or employees.For National Homebrew Day, Scott made a simple English Bitter, dry hopped it, cask conditioned it and put it on a beer engine for the event. It was nothing short of spectacular and let me rediscover how something so simple can be so good.

Every time I pick up a commercial brewery’s beer, I want that same experience. I visit a lot of breweries and try a lot of their beers and while I try to be gracious about everything I taste, I often have to resort to the dreaded, “It’s not bad” when asked what I think of it. (I do tell them if something is actually problematic, since nothing will kill a brewery faster than poor quality and it will also damage the reputation of the craft brewing community.) Too often there’s pressure for newer, smaller breweries to get out there and start doing special releases before they’ve really made their regular lineup into something special and what a craft beer drinker will buy again and again. To me, it signals a lack of focus on making great beer and more of a reliance on being the “flavor of the week.”

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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