06 Jan Terre Haute Brewing and Others Embrace the Beer Release – What Releases do for Breweries
The ways to get craft beer from a brewery’s to its fans or potential fans are many. Brewery taprooms, bars, restaurants, package stores, grocery and big box stores, online services – they all work to the breweries’ benefit, but not all equally well. Some mechanisms of sales bring more money to the brewery and some bring less. Some ways of selling bring patrons closer to the brewery, and some keep them at an arms distance.
One method of selling beer has been popular at the hottest breweries around the country for a few years now, and is now expanding in both form and commonality. The sales type I’m talking about is the beer release. Goose Island and Three Floyds have been doing it for years with Bourbon County and variants and with Dark Lord and its variants. But nowadays, the versions of releases have expanded greatly, and they are catching on more and more in Indiana.
The trend started with the once-a-year release of a distinct beer. That was, and is, a great way to increase the desire for a beer – make a great one and then limit people’s access to it. The recent trend has been to produce more and more barrels of these beers, and it has been to their detriment, as exemplified by how much CBS is now languishing on shelves. The yearly release can come with or without an accompanying festival – Dark Lord at Three Floyds and Hunahpu’s at Cigar City being a couple of the best examples.
More Indiana breweries have joined this growing trend, like Bare Hands and their Double Thai Day and Death & Taxes Day for Evasion at Taxman Brewing. Others do a yearly release with some fanfare and activities, but without a full on festival – Pumpkin Ale or Sanitarium releases at Bier Brewery, Stalin’s Darkside at Evil Czech, Imperial Amish Krack at HopLore, Drunken Unicorn at Donum Dei Brewstillery in New Albany, or Breakfast Magpie at New Day Craft.
Walter and I did a couple of these releases this past weekend. First we stopped at Indiana City Brewing for a couple of different types of releases built into one. One was the yearly release of their imperial milk stout – it used to be called Double Uddercut and is now branded as Sweet Science. The others were new releases of beers that might be scene again – Regulate Session IPA and a vanilla variant of the BBA Haymaker oatmeal stout. We definitely took some cans and bottles home.
We also stopped at The Guardian Brewing Company in Muncie for their yearly release of The Bully, their barleywine. They actually had two years worth of Bully on hand, the 2018 and the 2019. And yes, we took home bottles of each, as well as bottles for friends who learned we were there. The Bully was very limited in its release, only 33 bombers of each year’s product, but most releases are now bigger than that. As for the name, it’s a tribute to head brewer Sean Fickle’s and his wife Aileen’s American Bulldog, Titan. The Bulldog passed away in 2017, and The Bully is a tribute to him that is released on the first Saturday of each year.
Instead of doing a single release of a single beer, some breweries do this as part of a club, something like the Secret Barrel Society releases from Upland Brewing or as a feature of the mug club. In the case of mug clubs, members are usually given first shot at bottles or cans. I like the releases that are targeted at populations to reduce the rush, and releases that are larger as to reduce lines and the crush. Walter and I aren’t big fans of the line up and wait.
The one off versus the once a year release is something I don’t have a huge opinion on, but one offs done too often will reduce the aura and the regularly scheduled release, while helpful for planning, are less exciting over all. If you know it’s coming, it’s not like making a discovery and being surprised to something new is coming your way. Riffs on a style leading to several different cans/bottles in a single release is one way to let people investigate a style and its possibilities more fully, but the releases don’t need to be cultish, I don’t think rush for one off beers are good for craft beer in the long run.
There is the rare brewery in Indiana that doesn’t have a taproom and therefore gets it’s beer out via can releases. The one example I can think of is Justin Case’s Viking Artisan Ales in Griffith. Viking held their first bottle release for their Orange Dreamsicle in between Christmas and New Years. They had 150 people in line before opening, and all the bottles were gone in less than an hour. In this case, having a special release is a no brainer – it’s the one way they can sell directly to their fans, but why have release become so popular and what’s in them for the brewery. Here are a few items:
1) When you sell a beer directly to the public, you get to keep the profit. When you sell a beer in distribution, the distributor takes some of the money. To make a decent profit, the price is going to go up. Therefore, a beer release at the taproom or brewery makes more money/beer for the brewery, and saves money/beer for the drinker.
2) Beer releases at the brewery or taproom bring customers to your door. They buy other beers, they buy food, and they get used to coming to you. That’s how you build regulars.
3) Part of building a regular is making them part of your community. By bringing a bunch of beer lovers together at one time for a release, a brewery is building that community.
4) As part of a neighborhood or town, a brewery is a better partner when they raise up other businesses. By bringing customers in for a release instead of (or in addition to) sending beer out to stores and such, they also promote the support of businesses near them – restaurants, shops, etc. It’s subtle, but having a release actually makes a brewery a better neighbor (unless patrons trash the neighborhood while waiting).
5) Limited beer releases promotes trades and shares. The availability is more limited than in distribution, and this can drive up desirability. There are fewer interactions this way as compared to distribution, but those interactions are deeper and more meaningful.
6) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a beer release at the taproom puts the brewery in control of the story that goes with the beer. You buy a beer in distribution and you learn nothing or next to nothing about how that beer represents the brewery’s story. By bringing people to their place, a brewery can educate patrons about the beer, about the label and the story of the name, about how it reflects their philosophy of beer. That’s how you build a strong, lasting relationship with a customer.
This last element is a factor in the choice of one of our favorite breweries moving to more limited releases. Terre Haute Brewing Company and head brewer Anthony Megali held one of their new multi-can releases on January 4th. They had draft and cans of three milkshake IPAs – Hop the Tracks was the base beer, using calypso, motueka, and lemondrop hops, and then two different fruited variants, strawberry and passionfruit/mango.
I talked to Anthony about THBC increasing their release business. He told me:
“This isn’t a totally new style for us but the first time really doing the milkshakes on this scale. With styles like this we definitely are putting a lot more in cans, mainly just because it’s what the market wants. We actually presold all the cans beforehand and had to pull back some so we would have cans available in the taproom.
This is a style that has definitely grown on me. It can be a lot of fun to brew and get creative with different fruit and adjuncts. I think you will see us continue to do these pretty regularly. We’ll probably increase the amount that makes it to cans on the next batch.”
As far as this first batch went, Anthony said, “ We did 20 bbl of the base beer, Hop The Tracks, and canned just 3.5 bbl of it. We then took five barrels and added strawberry for the variant called Some Berry to Love. Of this, 3 bbl was canned. This was also how we did the mango/passionfruit variant called Crime of Passion – 5bbl fruited and three of that canned.”
He added, “We presold 80 cases. The rest was sold in the taproom. It will most likely be sold out by Monday if it hasn’t sold out yet. We are limiting it to 1 4/pack of each variety per person to allow as many people to try it as possible. All three varieties will also be on tap while supplies last (taproom only) you can find a few cans in Indianapolis at Stoneys, West Clay (Carmel). In Terre Haute, there are/were some cans at Baeslers, A&G, and 7th & 70.“
In an important example of how a beer helps tell the story of the brewery and its town, the label for this series is well thought out. Anthony told me, “I really love the artwork on this one as well. EGC Group out of Long Island really did an amazing job capturing the spirit of what we wanted this series to be. If you are from Indiana and especially Terre Haute, being “railroaded” can be a daily thing. So, the art kind of centers around that theme (railroaded series).” Just another reason why it’s important that they do the bulk of this release at the brewery- how can you tell that story in distribution?
In conclusion, Anthony talked about how this type of event will be a bigger part of what THBC does in the future, but it won’t be a regularly planned type of thing. “It’s still tough to say how often we will be doing these releases. We certainly will be doing them again very soon. On the next batch we will certainly try to up the amount in cans. We also will be focusing on releasing a sour lineup this spring as well.”
The recent releases at THBC, The Guardian, and Indiana City show three different ways to bring people in and give them something they would have a hard time getting otherwise. Each event increased the relationship between the brewery and the patrons, and worked to strengthen their position financially at the same time. As for Walter and I, we like the laid back atmosphere of these events, while still being able to support them more directly. Plus, it’s fun to get something new, limited, and sort of insider-ish.
Walter’s question of the day: Why is Good Morning two words, while Goodnight is just one?