Friday, December 19, 2014

My thoughts on beer releases

It seems like every month there is a brewery getting lambasted online about how they handled releasing a limited beer.  Hunahpu’s Day, Kane’s ANTEAD release, NoDa’s Monstro and most recently Fifty Fifty’s Masterpiece have all had problems in the past year.  Hype for craft beer and more specifically, limited release craft beers are at an all time high.  If you’re a popular brewery with any sort of following, people will be camped outside your brewery at 2 AM, weather be damned, the day of the release.  

                Since no brewery owner is also an event planner (that I’m aware of), I’ve put together some some fool proof ways to release a beer while keeping beer geeks everywhere as happy as possible.

                Probably the fairest way to release a beer is to do a silent release with a limit.  Unannounced, just put the beer in the cooler and let word of mouth do the rest.  Locals and frequent visitors to the taproom will benefit (rewarding your biggest customers) and there won’t be out of towners coming in and taking the beer before someone who comes to the brewery 5 days a week.  I’m not saying that once news gets out on twitter/Beer Advocate/Rate Beer there will be a crush to the taproom, but at least you give locals a shot.

                The hands down easiest way to release a beer and also give everyone a fair chance to get the next M is to sell it online.  Doing so makes sure that anyone with a computer (read: everyone) gets a chance to buy.  Bonus points if you make sure the sale is at a time when people on both coasts are out of work, but let’s be honest, beer geeks will call in sick and risk their jobs to get the next waelz, bro.  The key part of this plan is to use a website that can handle 5,000 people hitting F5 at once.  You’d think they would have learned but breweries like Cigar City and The Bruery put together websites themselves and they inevitably crashed during the first online sale.  AleSmith and Modern Times have done countless releases for their delicious BA Speedway Stouts and use Brown Paper Tickets and have yet to have a problem.

                The problem with online sales is that you’re not driving traffic to your tasting room where you can make the most money (remember that breweries are businesses first and foremost, no matter what they say, and pint sales in the taproom equal the greatest revenue).  I get that, so why not have a release party where everyone can pick up the beers they bought online?  Blow it out and have the beer on tap with other variants and other limited beers.  Win win, right?  Doing a release party makes sure you don’t have lines, everyone knows who is getting the beer and people who missed out still get to drink awesome beer. 

                Online sales certainly make the most sense but I still understand that they’re not making breweries the most money and to some extent, they’re not driving hype for your brewery, which I suspect, is why some opt for brewery only releases.  If a brewery insists on releasing beer on site at a predetermined time, they have to be aware that people will camp out.  Wristbands prevent people from cutting in line, saving spots or generally being an asshole.  Once the time comes to release the beer, count the people in line, look at how many bottles you have, then announce a limit.  That’s right, no pre-announced bottle limits.  You gain nothing by allowing people to take home a case when there are only 2000 bottles made and 500 people in line.  Someone will get upset and it will turn into a shitshow.  Instead, allow people to get back in line if they want more.  Basically, this will allow everyone who arrived on time to get a bottle if they want (unless the crowd is larger than the bottle count, in which case, you’re going to sell out anyways so it doesn’t matter even if the limit is 1).  Then if people aren’t on time, you can keep cycling through the line until it’s sold out.

                The thing that brewery owners seem to forget sometimes is that craft beer is big.  Bigger than that actually, it’s enormous.  Hype is at an all time high and you have to assume that if you have a limited release beer, there will be more demand than supply.  Quit saying that you didn’t expect such a big crowd.  Imagine the most people you think will show up.  Now double it and expect all of those people to be in line at 6 am.  You’re ready to plan your release party.  Being taken off guard isn’t acceptable anymore and any brewery that tries to claim that risks a black eye which might hurt them in the ever more competitive craft beer market.  If you want to have a non-ticketed release party, with a case limit, be my guest.  Just know the people who drove 6 hours and got in line at 5 am and didn't get beer are going to raise hell.  Hell hath no fury like a beer geek scorned.

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