Rebrand the Old Beer New

Slapping a new sticker on a tweaked beer recipe is becoming a common concern among some beer drinkers.

Some brewers release a seemingly endless stream of unique beers into a crowd of thirsty craft beer devotees with chronic FOMO that they can’t shake. No sympathy here from me. I do it too. We know what we are getting into when we get on the Veil train. We know it’s always a “new” beer. Beer after beer after beer is kind of the same. Usually, all pretty good but the repetition is there.

Buy. Drink. Check-in. Rinse. Repeat.

It is a concerning trend in Craft Beer sure, but it is giving a segment of the consumer base what they are asking for… a constant stream of new beers.

But what if the beer you are selling just sits. You brewed it. You sold some. Then it is 120 or 130 days since release and the kegs are not turning over. What do you do?

How about slapping a new label on it and rebrand the tired old beer with a fresh new name?

On August 31st Appalachian Brewing Company (ABC) had 717 Collaboration Ale on draft at their downtown Cameron Street location.

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717 Signage at ABC on August 31, 2018

When I visited ABC on September 6th, 717’s signage and tap had been replaced with “Cherry Sweet Tart.”

Cherry Sweet Tart
Cherry Sweet Tart Signage at ABC, September 6, 2018

I ordered one.

I asked the bartender “Is this the 717 Collab beer?” she responded “No. We tweaked it. Made a small change.”

Sensory permanence is a weird thing and I could have been wrong but to me, it was the exact same beer. I was sitting there thinking: ABC was selling the 717 the week before and now they are slingling the seemingly same beer or nearly the same beer, rebrewed and “tweaked?” They even kept the 7.17% ABV tag that is so closely associated with the Harrisburg Beer Week ale.

This did not make sense to me.

Cherry Sweet Tart Tap Handle
The Cherry Sweet Tart Tap Handle

I did some research, I spoke with friends, people in the industry, hell I even checked the TTB for a label. Nobody knew about this new beer.

This led me to reach out to ABC directly. I got a prompt response. Here it is in full:

Hi Bill,

Very simply, it is the 717.  We rebranded it to a name that better reflected the flavor. The beer wasn’t selling outside of the 717 area code. Most people didn’t understand the name.  We just made it more descriptive of the flavor to move the beer.

We made it clear to management that there was to be no deception. This is 717 rebranded!

Thank you.

[Name Redacted Per Request]

This probably goes without saying but I don’t want this to get lost: Brewers rebrand beers all the time and that is generally an acceptable business decision in many cases. Further, the flipping of labels on an increasing number of progressively more difficult to distinguish beers in Craft Beer, in general, is a weird but predictable business response to a consumer culture driven by social media and always chasing something new. This rebranding by ABC is not that.

In this case, 717 is not just an ABC beer. It is a specific collaboration that includes three other brewers and is tied to Harrisburg Beer Week. ABC is not operating in a vacuum on this one.

What ABC’s response tells me is that they believe Cherry Sweet Tart is a rebrand of a beer that did not engage with consumers outside of the what should have been a limited market.  717 Collab was a beer for Harrisburg by Harrisburg brewers. If people outside the 717 area code could not identify with the branding over the last four months, that was because the branding was not designed for them. Objectively, the branding should not be for those outside of the 717 area codes and the greater Harrisburg area specifically.

If this beer is not selling, yank it off the tap. Don’t just put a new sticker on the tap handle. That is a gross business decision. Frankly, I feel like this is dishonest to customers and at best dismissive of the work of others.

Postscript:

When I checked in the Cherry Sweet Tart Ale via Untappd on September 6th, an individual associated with the collaboration reached out to me and expressed their serious concerns with this rebranding. I think their concerns are legitimate.

Keeping the 7.17% alcohol by volume tag on Cherry Sweet Tart is not okay. 7.17% ABV is a nice wink to Harrisburg as part of HBW’s collaboration beer. It should be theirs alone. Using it as part of another beer seems like borrowing from your neighbor’s answers in math class. No one realistically thinks ABC is measuring a beer’s alcohol down to the hundredths place. Besides, those three numbers are the branding problem according to their own response.

The constant stream of newly labeled indistinguishably different beers from some brewers is not a sustainable business model. Eventually, the FOMO will wear out or a new brewery will be the hottest one on the block.

Takedown the Heat and Score on the Remake

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Michael Mann’s greatest work is arguably the 1995 bank robbery movie Heat. Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Wes Studi, Val Kilmer, a very young Natalie Portman, and Ashley Judd; plus a bunch of other guys who make you go… “Oh yeah, he is also in [Insert Movie You Like].”

Heat is a remake. A remake of Mann’s own work, specifically L.A. Takedown a lackluster made for T.V. movie that never got much attention. But it allowed for Mann practice. To perfect it.

L.A. Takedown has rough edges, and low budget elements that belie a tight but limited script.

Heat expands the story to nearly three hours and opens the characters and stories that sit alongside heart-pounding action sequences that are absolutely perfect in execution.

It is the opportunity to do the same story again that I think makes Heat such a fantastic movie. L.A. Takedown gets ignored as a made for TV movie and Heat stands tall as a classic film.

With Pizza Boy Brewing Co.’s Mango Bomb we get another remake. One that I was quite dismissive of during the first iteration. But with this new release, we have a more focused product. The beer’s breadth has widened and its focus more clear.

The flavors are all mango all the time; this is welcomed. The body is light and the finish is long. As it warms the fruit gives way to a vigorous hoppiness that in the world of ever-expanding soft NE IPAs is welcome. HazyBros conditioned to having their palates coddled need not chime in here. This beer is not for you. This is a beer for the craft beer drinker that “takes down scores.” This beer is not “a regular type of life. It is not barbeques and ballgames.”

The Citra and Simcoe of this Triple IPA are beyond assertive. They are guns blazing through the brutal rush hour traffic of 15 pounds of Alphonso Mango puree per barrel screaming “Where is the fucking van?!?!”

The booziness is where I held my exit strategy. I was not going to let myself get attached to this beer. If I felt the heat, I was going to walk out in 30 seconds flat. In 2016, the 14% ABV hung on the ale like something of a bum wine. Now dialed down to 12% it remains boozy but without the astringency and plastic explosive door key to the mouth.

The flavors give you a very long finish that lasts like echoing gunfire through the canyon of downtown Los Angeles.

The mango is sweet and rich. The color is a creamy yellow and orange buttercup with saffron at the edges. It almost appears illuminated in the glass and the head is bright like an icy lemonade.

As I reached the end of the Crowler, yes I drank an entire Crowler of this on my own, the biting hops got more aggressive. As I closed in around the end, they pushed back harder. Caged in at the bottom they finished assertively but I loved it.

2016 Mango Bomb was Waingro. Unpredictable and a liability. It was there not just to take scores but to settle some due to a chip on his shoulder and an obvious psychopathy.

2018 Mango Bomb is Neil McCauley. Planned. Rational. Dangerous but generally in control.

What has happened here? Pizza Boy flipped the script. In regards to the 2016 version, I summed up my feeling about the beer saying: “As a study for what is possible when pushing flavors to the extreme this beer achieves, but little else as it is nearly undrinkable.”

Having seen what was possible, now this beer achieves not only what extreme beers can be, but also works as it is thoroughly enjoyable.

2018 Mango Bomb is dangerous, dialed way up, and unrelenting but always in control. I loved it.

Cheers.

Postscript:

The use of Alphonso Mangos should not be ignored. These are the king of mangos. They remain very hard to acquire here in the US even after the lifting of a long-held ban, their use here is a statement by Pizza Boy about acquiring the finest ingredients, regardless of efforts or cost. This is a big deal.

I linked above but here is the link for my 2016 Mango Bomb Review: Total Mango Bomb.

The other great work by Michael Mann is The Last of the Mohicans. I would actually find it easier to argue that it is the finer film.

The changes between 2016 and 2018 appear to be minor tweaks in some cases but their impact has been incredible. I have to assume that this is what it is like playing at the edges and making extreme beers. Small shifts create incredible changes.

Each time I do a Pizza Boy review I end up coupling it with a movie. This is really fun.

NE IPA and the GTM Problem

Tree House Brewing Can Line
The now-famous Tree House Brewing Co. can line.

Go-to-market (GTM) is NE IPAs lingering problem and not only has it not been properly solved, it is now causing a narrative problem for the rest of craft beer.

Paraphrasing Wikipedia and other sources: GTM is a strategy for a company utilizing inside and outside resources to deliver a unique value proposition to customers to achieve competitive advantages.

Thus far NE IPAs GTM strategy has brought us direct sales of cans, almost exclusively pounders. Right around when everyone started to wake up to the fact that cans actually were the right container for beers, the one style that needed it most was nascent.

These fragile beers were brewed by small breweries in small quantities that needed to be sold and consumer “fresh.” Their turbid appearance and the bold yet ephemeral flavors of the style meant they needed to be stored cold, only briefly, and sold quickly to a consumer. Self-distribution as GTM answered all these issues. It was a natural result.

The GTM of NE IPAs is clear in hindsight. Limited runs of cans that are stored cold (if they don’t sell out within hours) and sold on location. Limited releases to thirsty bros that would either drink them up fresh or flip them into a fast-paced social media driven market that moved them to interested buyers quickly.

This has resulted in people drinking beer that is incredibly fresh, measured in weeks or even days, which is great. Really fresh NE IPAs are amazing. But the concept of freshness for NE IPAs is now being stretched into the broader market.

A West Coast IPA may remain fresh for three months without significant alteration in flavor. There is no reason why anyone should turn their nose up to a two-month-old Sierra Nevada Torpedo, but recently I saw just that. “Nah, I don’t drink anything older than a month” responded one craft beer drinker.

The rightful insistence on beer being exceedingly fresh for NE IPAs exists due to the nature of the beer and the methodology for the distribution. Small brewers needed to flip beers quickly. The Veil Brewing Co. seems to hardly make the same beer twice because it has a GTM self-distribution strategy for getting their beer out the door. But those rules do not apply to the broader craft beer market which is widely predicated on the three-tier system. Don’t @ me about the three-tier system, that is another post entirely.

This is not a defense of stale beer. I hate the off-putting flavor of a seemingly wet cardboard infused shelf turd as much as the next guy. The issue here is: Do we want to see a scenario where many breweries have logistical nightmares because what applies to NE IPAs suddenly is demanded of Brown Ales?

Tilting away from the broader impact on Craft Beer… What are NE IPAs producers going to do about their distribution problem?

Their GTM strategy does not scale.

Tree House Brewing Co has an amazing facility that I was lucky enough to witness first hand, but hour-long lines for six packs and cases have a ceiling. Lots of people will tolerate the wait and effort that but even more people will refuse to so much as make the drive. Tree House has a ceiling and they will reach it.

Tree House is not alone. Veil, Dancing Gnome, Trillium, Monkish… the list goes on. None of these guys distribute. Their product cannot or should not go into the distribution chain as they currently exist.

How long will can lines sustain these brewers? People, many of them brewers, dismiss NE IPA as a fad and in some ways, it looks like one. Watch this short video about Ty Beanie Babies and try to tell me you don’t see parallels. (Tip o’ the hat to Ed for finding this connection.) The standing in line for what is an endless stream of different labels on beers that are harder and harder to differentiate is going to burn some people out. Saturation of the thirstybros’ FOMO is not just possible it will be a reality. Waiting in line for two hours outside Dancing Gnome will not be a thing at some point.

I am not saying the GTM of self-distribution is unworkable. It is a great business plan as long as you can live under your ceiling. Maybe that is the long-term business plan.

But… If a major brewer can find a new GTM strategy for truly great NE IPAs, that would really be disruptive. But who can find it? So far, no one. Not Sam Adams. Not Blue Point. Not Sierra Nevada. We have hazy and juicy IPAs, but the true NE IPAs have evaded the big guys. Therefore we are seemingly left with but one method into the market, and that places a ceiling on the style and the businesses that trade in them.  

Post Script:

Easy Pretzel jumping in to offer his comments: Few breweries are putting out quality NE IPAs like Treehouse. Treehouse is the exception rather than the rule for breweries to even scale to the size that Treehouse is now. Treehouse recently said they are cranking out 1,000 bbls per week and growing, that is a ceiling that many breweries would love to approach. But does this style need to scale? Small quality NE IPA breweries can crank out some wonderful beer, self-distribute in the can game, and make a ton of cash (If they don’t load up on debt and try to scale too fast). The biggest competition (other than an economic recession with higher taxes and less disposable income) in this space is other local breweries because I don’t think this style can handle the current distribution chain. Not everything needs to be scalable. Thomas Keller can have great restaurants all over the world without worrying what Applebee’s is doing in their distribution chain.

Bearcat here again: Did you watch that video I linked above? Tell me it is not really on point in so many ways with what we are seeing in craft beer as it relates to NE IPAs and Pastry Stouts.

The self-distribution GTM is not just for NE IPAs. Lots of brewers are using this strategy and not brewing NE IPAs.

Personally, I think self-distribution is a brilliant method of selling beer, but it is far from perfect.

The more I consider it, the more impressed I am with Brew Gentlemen and the fact that they do not can their beers. I think it is a bit of a differentiator and a good one.

Mobile canning has had an amazing impact on Craft Beer. Someone should write about this. It should definitely be Bryan D. Roth. BTW — Bryan has been killing it over GBH.

I was drinking weak ass coffee while writing this but I wish it was a Doubleganger.

The Splinter Tour

Tröegs Independent Brewing has been expanding its Splinter line of beers over the past few years. It is a very diverse line up of super premium but accessible barrel aged beers. It includes Bourbon Barrel Aged (BBA) Stouts and Barleywines, Wild Ales predicated on their Pennsylvania roots and Sours.

If Hopback, Troegenator, Dreamweaver and Sunshine Pils are the undergraduate work of drinking Tröegs, then Splinter is the post-graduate work. To help with completion of your Masters, Tröegs will soon be launching a Splinter Tour.

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Disclosure: Tröegs invited me to get a preview of the Splinter Tour. The tour was provided to me at no cost in exchange for about 10-15 minutes of my time after the tour so that they could pick my brain about the experience and offer feedback. They did not ask me to attend so as to write about my experience. I did leave with some thoughts about the new tour and decided to share it.

The Splinter Tour started like any Tröegs tour, in the Splinter Cellar; a commanding but inviting space. It dominates the building from the moment you arrive at Tröegs and is a natural and obvious place to begin. I checked in with my guide, Christie. She gave me a paper wristband and offered either Sunshine Pilsner or Dreamweaver. I went with a half pour of the Pils.

Shortly, the dozen members of our tour had all arrived and we were then handed a half pour of Mad Elf while Christie explained what we would be covering over the next 90 minutes or so. (Pro Tip: Hit up the restroom before things get started.)

Christie began the tour by diving right in to explain those massive foeders that have come to dominate the image of Tröegs as you come to the brewery. It was there that we got our first special treat. It was so unexpected and cool that it was an absolute delight. Christie pulled small samples of Wild Elf right out of the foeder for each guest. This would not be the only time this was done on the tour either.

We talked about how Wild Elf was different from its mother beer we had just enjoyed. The dozen of us asked questions and discussed the nuances of this still forming wild ale.

We then headed into the depths of the brewery visiting familiar spots from the regular tour. Quickly past the grain mill and a brief stop in the chilly Hop Cooler to take a deep smell of what my kids like to call “beer flowers.”  Next, we found more foeders and barrels after barrels after barrels of beer.

We learned about the proper IBU level for lactobacillus growth, the “three-sip method” of beer tasting, what it is like at Tröegs to be all hands on deck de-pitting 3,000 pounds of fruit, and “wedding beers.”

We sipped from bottles along the way and saw and enjoyed some surprises that I don’t want to spoil.

We were joyfully plyed with stories about the beers we were tasting. How they came to be. Where the ingredients originate. We even got to visit Christie’s “zoo” of yeast and bacteria. It was a great analogy that cemented each one’s unique role in developing a beer. Christie, while we were tasting the beers, offered a gentle guiding hand; never telling us what to find but offering ways to develop our own understandings of the flavors for each.

Normally on a brewery tour, there is no discussion between the various groups on the tour. It is like a subway during rush hour. We are all together but no one talks amongst themselves; only the guide speaks. On this tour, everyone was discussing with one another. We were strangers when we started but friends taking a jaunt once we began. I knew only one of the 12. We never shared our names but we all shared our thoughts, questions and new ideas as we went through. It was intimate in the shared experience. This was a big part of the learning process. It was a trip we took together. I really liked that.

The tour ends with a final round of tasting in the Barrel Room behind the company store. A private space with a very large table and beautiful barrels of beer befitting the journey. There, we paired oaked beers with house-made salted caramels that opened new and more vibrant flavors from the ales.

Touring a brewery is a great way to learn how beer is made. Doing the brewery tour that is offered daily at Tröegs is a great way to learn just that. But if you are seeking to understand how specifically Splinter beers are made, the Splinter Tour is there to help the beer geek in leveling up. That is obvious on the surface.

But maybe what is the long-term lesson from the Splinter Tour is understanding how Tröegs beer is made. Why certain choices have been made over 21 years of brewing. How Chris and John think of beer, brewing, flavors, and even being an employer. The Splinter Tour pulls the curtain back on not just how Tröegs makes barrel aged beers but on the whole company itself. For me, learning those lessons will age better than any barrel of beer.

Cheers.

Post Script:

The Splinter Tour will be debuting soon. I was told they hope to hold their first one in July. It will be offered sparingly, about once a month to start.

Tours will be intimate. (There is that word again.) Only about a dozen guests at a time. For me, it was obvious that 10 to 12 on the tour is the right number.

They really want people to come asking questions. This is highly interactive. Don’t worry, you will have questions.

Tierney Pomone of Stouts and Stilettos was on my tour as well. She commented about how nice it was to have a woman lead the group. I did not think of it during the tour but in retrospect it was nice. Christie has this perfect personality and deep understanding and love for the job. It was nice. I hope you get to hear her tell you about her zoo.

Further disclosure, I am holding back some elements of the tour because the delight of these little surprises should not be spoiled by me. Nothing on this tour was off the record, this is an editorial choice.

I drank a When in Doubt while writing this. I am now going to have another.

The HBW 717 Collab Review

Collab-Beer-Logo_Final

The city of Harrisburg and the Central PA area is frequently talked about being “on the rise.” For 15 years I have lived in Central PA and for 15 years I have heard about Harrisburg city being “on the rise.” I am starting to feel like that is a bit dismissive.

Harrisburg city and the area surrounding it to a great extent has already arrived. Local politics has become stable. The city recently cut back on some draconian parking limits. The city’s previous constant state of financial exigency has eased. There is a well-established arts community. We have some excellent restaurants that have been operating for years and should continue to do so. Locally, businesses are growing and being founded all the time.

Things are good.

Craft beer gets the same type of talk: “The rise of craft beer.” This has made some people into craft beer evangelists. It has also made people treat craft beer like it is the little guy. In some places that might be true… but not in Central PA.

Craft beer in Central PA is the establishment now. It has arrived, grown and expanded. We have more brewers that I care to count. We have more breweries that I have yet to visit than I would care to admit. Hell… Troegs this summer will be drinking age.

Things are good here too.

Harrisburg Beer Week begins its fourth year as part of that establishment. It is part of both Central PA and its craft beer establishment.

Harrisburg Beer Week is a big tent with a lot of parts. The signature events are stakes in the ground and the 717 Collaboration Beer is the tent pole. 717 Collab is the first indication of the impending week-long celebration and generates for me the most interest.

This year’s 717 Collab came with a twist. The old guard of Central PA brewing (Troegs, ABC, and Pizza Boy) welcomed, comparatively a newcomer, ZerØday Brewing Company. Four years of 717 Collab and now four brewers. Also, new this year, Troegs stepped aside to let Appalachian Brewing Company’s brewhouse take over.

ZerØday’s Co-owner/Brewer Theo Armstrong named his brewery after the necessary day of rest during an Appalachian Trail through hike and this beer draws from the same well. 717 Collab references a break hikers take at Pine Grove Furnace State Park where tradition holds they eat a half gallon of ice cream to refuel for the second half of the hike. Theo ate Hershey’s vanilla with cherries.

The Harrisburg Beer Week page does a great job of telling the story of how the beer’s recipe was developed; you should check it out. As the beer came together I picked at the brewers for some insight. What I came away with was that the brewing process for a collaboration is as straight a path as the Appalachian Trail from which this one harkens. This year that winding path gave us a complex new beer.

2018’s 717 Collaboration – Extra Cream Ale with Cherries and Vanilla presents a bright pink in the glass with an ephemeral topping of pale cotton candy like foam. It looks light in body and it is. The nose is muted but clearly of cherries. It is sweet right up front at first sip and I would describe its flavor as being like a melted down cherry lollipop. The vanilla resides in a supporting role. The middle has a brief Robitussin hint but finishes clean and avoids being cloying. There is enough of a velvety mouthfeel as to hold true to the inspiring ice cream. The vanilla is where I bring a mild criticism. I would have liked more in the nose and if it came through as being more evident in the finish I would be really blown away. The Huell Melon hops seem like a brilliant choice here. The subtle honeydew and mild fruit flavors play well with the cherry. The hops in 717 are there in a supporting role and the Huell Melon plays the role well.

As it stands, this is a good beer. It is great to see the 717 brewers getting back to doing something weird that pushes the limits. The first (717) Collab from 2014 set the bar as being weird and crazy and wholly original. I believe in “fortes fortuna iuvat” and that holds true here. This beer was a bold idea, brought forth from a great story, and it is better for it.

In this fourth iteration of 717 Collab, we are no longer seeing a yearly event on the rise, it is established. It has traditions and standards to be met. This one meets them and starts a new one with the addition of a new brewery.

I think that is great.

Cheers to Craft Beer in Central PA and cheers to Harrisburg Beer Week.

Postscript:

It cannot be overstated that Harrisburg Beer Week is a nonprofit that raises a ton of money for Harrisburg River Rescue. This is good beer doing real good.

Tierney, Sara, Chelsea, Colleen, Jimi and all the other volunteers give of their time and do this for their love of the craft beer community and Central PA area. If you see them out, say thank you and buy them a beer.

I kind of like 717 as a name better when it has the parentheses around the numbers. It was a little more clear that it was in reference to the area code, IMO.

Each year the 717 Collab clocks in at 7.17% ABV. This one is the same. This year I wonder if sticking to that 7% target will be limiting on future choices. Personally, I think it would not mean much if, in some future year, they stepped outside of this characteristic.

This year’s logo is the second best 717 Collab logo. The 2017 version with the hands by Troegs was just so good. But this year’s is really great. It will be hard to develop a logo better than that 2017 one.

The speculation on who will be the fifth brewer for year five officially begins now. Early favorites in my mind are Ever Grain and Boneshire.

717 Collab this year has unique tap handles. They are sharp looking. They were done by Christopher R. Ditlow of Laser Leaf right here in Harrisburg. That is a nice touch.

Be sure to follow FridaySomewhere.com and @IFS_Podcast as we have two great shows that will be dropping this week related to everything happening in Harrisburg Beer Week.

The Rip-Off Artists

Breaking

Craft beer is developing a cultural problem. The constant and blatant process of ripping off the intellectual property of other industries is pervasive to the point of being normalized.

Today, news of

Followers of #CraftBeer on Twitter see literally a daily stream of rip-offs, plagiarism, and outright theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement. It is so constant and pervasive that it is becoming normal. Even the lampooning of other brands via tongue in cheek references and silly labels has become embarrassingly frequent.

Are some people at these brands completely bereft of a unique idea? Is craft beer where professional marketing and originality of branding has come to die?

These are serious questions.

Craft beer is a premium product. Sold to consumers as being better than the macros. Handmade with select high-quality ingredients. Made by people you can meet and know. People in your community.

But doing this low rent rip-off labeling shows that you are lowbrow, not premium. It shows that you as a brewer don’t respect other people’s hard work. That knowing you and meeting you as a brewer might not be that great for me as a customer.

A not insignificant portion of craft beer’s businesses needs to grow up and start acting like legit business entities that respect other people’s property, hard work, and the law. Because right now, too many are acting like the guys hawking imitation T-shirts in stadium parking lots before the big game and guys with card tables at NYC street corners selling knockoff Kate Spade and Louis Vuitton bags.

The story of the last three to four decades of beer is predicated on what is a revolutionary and quintessentially American product. It is founded on innovation and creativity.

What happened?

And if you think the guy selling phony gameday T-shirts and the guy slinging cheap ass imitation Birkin bags out of the back of a van is an unfair comparison just read this excellent story by Bryan D. Roth for GoodBeerHunting.com. Seriously, go read it. I’ll wait.

These games are pathetic. Moving quickly to beat claims and dropping C&D letters into the trash because your limited run of cans already sold out is an embarrassing business practice.

Modist Brewing brewed Dilly Dilly DIPA and then got owned via a then viral C&D order from ABI. Modist Brewing framed the parchment and hung it on their wall. WTF? Modist Brewing… You got clowned by the big guy, used to further their marketing campaign, and then hang it on the wall as a trophy?

Craft beer is better than this. These are gimmicks. Gimmicks are not going to be sustainable over the long run. More importantly, these gimmicks open a brewery up to lawsuits and damages that they can ill afford in a tightening market. If you think a new brewery has it tough meeting its debt payments now, tack on a treble damages award. At that point, it will be 

Post-Script:

I am starting to suspect that Greg Koch’s PR campaign lawsuit against MillerCoors is not just going to backfire on Stone Brewing Company via the countersuit. It might have the effect of shining a spotlight on the entire industry that has some pretty scummy practices related to IP.

Look at the label in the instant matter above. That chain around the deranged Hop Walter White’s neck is of a GABF medal and it states: “2016 GABF Bronze Medal American IPA” right beside it. This puts the Brewers’ Association in a tough spot. It could appear to some that they are tacitly approving of this type of copyright infringement or worse they are tangentially a part of it. This is a bad position for the BA.

When is the Brewers’ Association going to do something about it? Wake up and put your foot down.

If you think this is overly harsh… so be it. I can’t stand by and watch some of these breweries act like this anymore. It is embarrassing and bad for the industry as a whole.

Consumers need to step up here too. Stop buying these rip-offs. I am sure I have bought too many of these as well. If you go through my Untappd check-ins, I know I have bought products that are blatant rip-offs.

A shout out to Brenden Palferyman, Esq. His twitter feed is on fire these days with IP issues in craft beer and you really should be following him.

 

Long Tables vs. Long Lines

It can easily be stated that craft beer in America has been in a constant state of change and flux. Trends come and go. Growth accelerates and wanes. Styles rise to prominence only to be soon usurped by new variations. Breweries open. Breweries close. It is a near constant churn.

But there is a cultural shift that clearly has taken hold as of late. It surrounds NE IPAs.

I am not focusing so much on the fact that a hotly debated NE IPA style has shifted the culture we associate with craft beer. Even its enshrinement as a defined style was not without a lot of debate that left some on both sides seriously unhappy. There are lots of places debating this.

But the style, or more importantly the predominate way NE IPAs are distributed is shifting the way we engage with craft beer.

Can releases at breweries have brought us long lines. People lining up to buy limited four packs or maybe a case of beer. More frequently these lines are getting longer and longer and inherently people start lining up sooner in order to get to the front.

In the past, you went to a brewery or a brewpub and you sat at a long bar or maybe a long table.

Now increasingly we have people standing in long lines. Conversations become less about the enjoyment of the beer in the moment and more regarding the market value based on allotments and black markets.

High tops are replaced by folding chairs. Buying a round replaced with beer swaps in the line.

A lot of this is driven by the distribution format. A limited can release at the brewery for an in-demand short shelf life or every expensive barrel aged beer has implications. Some of this is a natural response. It can be argued this is just how it was always going to play out.

Self-distribution and limited releases as a method have been highly lucrative to many breweries. Some have seen massive or exponential growth occur in literally months.

This has not come without a cost. The lines can be disruptive to neighborhoods. Beer mules are not there for the enjoyment of the beer but to make fast cash flipping the product. Trash from sharing and swapping beers gets left behind by the few troglodytes that still litter… in 2018.

Vine Pair has a story about how this has shifted the fortunes of a number of breweries but also how it has changed the clientele.  It is not a flattering article to Vine Pair or the brewers referenced. 

One can simply say and without judgment, things have changed. To say it is the same as it ever was is beyond naive.

Therefore the question then shifts to: Is it better this way?

For me, I would rather sit at a long table in the brewery than sit in a long line outside of one, regardless of the beer in my glass.

Post Script:

This is not the end of the world.

This trend will be followed by a new one; just like the last one was.

Sitting in brewpubs are more fun than sitting in line. If you think this is a controversial statement or that opinion is out of line then I don’t know what to tell you. Just getting out ahead of what I am sure will happen with someone.

If you like sitting in lines for beer, good for you. These are truly halcyon days for you.

If you do wait in line, tell the asshole that leaves his garbage to pick it up.

VinePair really went over the edge in the piece linked above.

UPDATE: After I published my fellow podcaster Easy Pretzel had some thoughts. They are shared here for your consideration.

As the unofficial arbiter of NEIPAs, this article couldn’t have been more dead on. Listening to the neckbeard conversations about all the exclusive beer that they have tried is like listening to two world leaders discuss their nuclear capability’s: nobody cares about your small dick measuring contest. The lines are getting longer, and breweries can’t seem to understand the concept of prepaying. Get the line moving faster, so by the time everyone gets to the front of the line their beer is ready. This will allow people to stay instead of just wanting to take their beer and drive home. Some top NEIPA locations don’t even have on-site pours, which I find obnoxious.
This all could be solved if these OG brewers stopped being so stubborn and made a proper NEIPA. We are slowly starting seeing more and more embrace this great style, so much so that Tree House secondary prices alone have dropped 30% over the last 12 months. Wouldn’t it be funny that the same beer that divided the community would also be the same beer to unite us all at the long table?