Fellow beer blogger, Josh from Lost in the Beer Aisle, recently reviewed Founders’ Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Before he got to the actual review, he gave a little rant on rare beers. I commented on his post, but figured I should probably write it a bit better and go deeper into my thoughts. So here I am wondering if rare beers are actually good for the craft beer industry or could they cause problems for the industry. I may not actually answer the question. I’m more thinking out loud and looking to start a discussion.
Josh’s rant was more that he gets annoyed by rare beers because beer geeks love them and rave about them, but they’re nearly impossible to find. He had to do a questionably “douchey” thing in getting the people who run his local beer store to hold some for him (it never gets put on the shelf, you have to ask for it). I won’t go into the “douchey-ness” of it because I have my local store hold me special and rare beers all the time. I will say that it is annoying that there are all these fantastic beers out there that are hard to come by. But that’s not really the point of my post.
The way I look at it, there are a few different types of rare/hyped beers. I’m grouping rare and hyped beers together because while some might not be “rare” per se, they end up being so because of the hype.
- Beers from a small brewery
- Beers brewed in small quantities
- Beers brewed in relatively normal quantities that end up hyped up
- Beers artificially hyped up
I’ll use those as my type of rare/hyped beer. They cover pretty much all the “rare” and hyped beers for the sake of this post. I’ll be referring to them as Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, and Type 4. So please remember what they are and feel free to refer back to that list. Type 2 can include Type 1, but for the sake of this, I will assume that Type 2 beers are not brewed by small breweries. By “small breweries”, I am talking breweries with only one or two employees. Breweries that don’t really distribute their beer outside of their state or region within the state (depending on the size of the state). Examples of small breweries include Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead Brewery, both of Vermont (I’m a New Englander, give me a break for being a little New England-centric). Their beers are rare simply because of the size of the brewery.
In the case of Type 1, the beers are rare because the brewery can’t physically produce more. They might have a small brewing system. They might be a brewpub. They might be just a hobby for the owner/brewer. This type of rare/hyped beer can be a double-edged sword for the industry. There are a lot of what have been called “nanobreweries” opening up. They tend to be homebrewers looking to get into the industry. They release small batch beers. The beers can range in quality, but most tend to be experimental. Both Lawson’s and Hill Farmstead fit this category. They both make high quality beers. Those two breweries are great for the industry. The problem is when these breweries hype up their beers, but aren’t making a good product. I honestly have no examples of that, but I’m sure they’re out there.
In the case of Type 2 beers, the beers are rare simply because the brewery does not produce a lot of it. This could be because the beer is expensive to make and the brewery just can’t afford to make anymore than it already does. It could be because they want to drive up the hype of the beer. Examples of this type of beer include Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Brooklyn Black Ops (see? I’m not entirely New England-centric). These beers can also go either way for the industry. They tend to be hyped up because they are, in fact, high quality beers. In those cases, it is great for the industry. A brewery puts out a high quality beer and it might turn on people to that brewery’s other beers. Luckily for the industry, that tends to be the norm. However, if a beer gets hyped and the brewery puts it out, but for some reason it’s not up to par, it can be bad. It can turn a newcomer off from that brewery and even other beer geeks. Why listen to someone’s suggestions when you bought an expensive beer listening to their hype and it turns out bad? The only beer that comes to mind, while not actually being bad, is New England Brewing’s Imperial Stout Trooper. The beer is pricey. I think it’s $20 for a 750 ml bottle. I like the beer. It’s an excellent beer. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think it’s worth the price. In the past, it was. On tap, it totally is. Maybe it’ll age and be better, but who knows. Anyway, you get someone buying a bottle of that and because it’s not brewed with consistency from year to year, it can turn people off.
Type 3 beers tend to only be hyped. Maybe they’re rare for a while. It tends to be that way because the hype is about the brewery as a whole rather than the beer in general. I look to beers like Tröegs Nugget Nectar and new breweries like Pretty Things (no longer new, but they were super hyped when they started). As beers, they can be seasonals. They tend to be high quality beers. They’re not hyped up by the brewery other than normal marketing. They’re hyped up by the consumer, which is how it should be. These are great for the industry because they get people excited. In the case of seasonals, they turn people on to that brewery’s other beers. In the case of new breweries, they turn people on to the whole brewery and beer scene in general.
Finally, there’s Type 4. These beers are artificially hyped up by either the brewery or the consumer. I look to beers like Newport Storm’s limited seasonal series that gets release in blue corked wine bottles each year (back to my New England centricity). The brewery keeps it super secret until the release. So far most of them have been a bit of a let down. In these cases if the beer is artificially hyped up prior to actually being tried by the public, it can be a very bad thing both for the brewery and the industry. Take Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. It was hyped up. While it was a tasty beer, it was so limited that it was actually rare (even though it wasn’t pricey). It was totally not worth the hype it received.
Rare and hyped beers tend to distract us from the bread and butter of the industry. While we might think a brewery is making bank on a beer that costs $20 for a four pack, they probably aren’t. In fact, they probably make next to nothing on that because that beer costs a lot more to make than their regular beers, both in time and ingredients/supplies. So next time you hear about a rare beer or see a lot of hype about a new beer, think twice. Go ahead and try it, but don’t let it blind you from all the other great “regular” beers that are out there (by “regular” I mean craft beer, not Budweiser). The rare and hyped beers get us excited, but keep supporting the industry by buying the everyday beers. And most importantly, support your local breweries (I have a post about what it means to be local as well).
Those are my thoughts, and it’s just an opinion. Feel free to disagree, berate, comment, agree, and write out your own thoughts in the comments.