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