The craft beer market has recently been oversaturated by many new players in the game. The only way for these newcomers to stand out is to bring something new to the table. Using creative names for their product, such as puns, and incorporating unusual ingredients into their brews, such as blue corn, are a handful of tactics new breweries have used to gain popularity.
The long-standing, highly-rated microbreweries have owned the market by not only brewing great craft beer but by limiting their audience to “beer nerds.” These self-proclaimed experts on craft beer are more likely to be knowledgeable about the craft and detail every flavor note found in the brews, which ultimately leads to higher ratings than your average citizen who would only decide whether or not they like the taste.
The breweries that don’t sell their product to surrounding bars and wholesale distributors are more likely to receive higher ratings and reviews from their patrons. They tend to hype up the fact that it will only be sold at their brewery in order to increase the demand. The feeling of being lucky to have access to the product increases the chances of the consumer having a skewed view of the product. Their ratings usually coincide with how “hazy” the beer is or the variety of hops used in the brewing process. Galaxy Hops, imported from Australia, appear to be the most expensive variety as they are used the least.
Furthermore, a handful of these microbreweries only have “can releases” during the work week at an inconvenient time for most consumers to be able to access the product. It’s human nature to desire the things we can’t have. Therefore, the limited quantities of canned four packs increase the number of consumers who will talk about the product. This results in unreasonable price hikes for the product. 16oz canned four packs can sell for up to 30% more than if they were readily available to more consumers.
Neighborhood beer nerds will line up for hours in hopes they might have the opportunity to purchase the cans. This leads to the customer being more willing to spend hundreds on cases, usually with a charge per four pack instead of one discounted price for the case, knowing they will be one of the few lucky enough to purchase it. This results in “beer trading” among the connoisseurs in which they will trade these “rare” beers or even sell them to each other for a higher price.
However successful it may be, it excludes working class individuals who can’t afford to take time off from work to stand in line for hours to purchase the beer. Limiting their patrons to “dedicated beer nerds” is a smart way to ensure they are only reviewed by the people who can describe every flavor note contained in the beverage, but it discriminates against people who can’t afford to make it to their midday can releases.
One may argue microbreweries that produce limited quantities have a higher quality product than those that distribute nationwide, or even regionally, but this is not always true. While at some microbreweries who don’t distribute to the surrounding counties receive a higher rating on beer nerd apps, such as Beer Advocate or Untappd, this is not always the case.
Even breweries that distribute both locally and nationally have beers sold only at their brewpubs, some even only on certain days, such as “firkin Fridays,” where the beer is only available for one night. When on tap, everyone in driving distance has access to it, but when sold in limited quantity cans, they often sell out quickly. This limits the sale only to people who live close enough to the brewpubs and have the free time to wait in line for the product.
After personally having asked a handful of breweries why they only brew enough for a handful of their customers, most of them said they don’t have the capacity to can or bottle enough of these “one-off” beers while simultaneously keeping up with the production of their core and seasonal brews. Another excuse was that they need to constantly produce kegs for draft at their restaurant partners. This simply can’t be true. One of the breweries contacted only is partnered with a handful of bars, one of which I have visited multiple times. This bar has had their same beers on tap for upwards of two months at a time, therefore they must not be selling out as quickly as they claim. Finally, a brewery who will remain anonymous came forward and said it’s possible to can large amounts of high-quality beer. They just won’t do it because they lose money.