Chasing the Elusive Rare Craft Beer
I want to address something today that has always been an issue in the craft beer community and is only going to become bigger as more people come into the fold: rare beers and trying to acquire them.
I got to have a conversation with a representative from a major craft brewer this week, and as we talked the subject of limited run, highly sought-after beers came up. Now, I try not to consider myself “old” by any stretch, but I’ve been doing this for a while, and I mentioned the difference between when I started and now as far as getting a hold of limited production beers goes. This led to an informative and reasoned discussion of the pressures facing retailers, bars, and breweries alike. What I gained from that conversation and wish to pass along is a greater appreciation for the limits of craft beer output and the limits of a given institution’s “buying power.”
I’ve read a great deal online recently about who is or isn’t getting ‘enough’ of one special release or another, and read some pretty harsh judgments of stores and buyers who I respect and know for a fact are doing their jobs to the best of their ability. What needs to be kept in mind is this: there are so many hands in the pot that weren’t there even two or three years ago that it means something if someone gets any of a special release at all. As an example: before I came to Arrowine I was buying beer for another shop in the area. When the Stone brewery put their 11th Anniversary Ale out, I got dozens of cases and sold them all within a couple of weeks. Last year, when the 15th Anniversary came out and I was at Arrowine, all of my contacts and expertise amounted to three cases for our shelf. That reflects on nothing but the exponential increase in attention for craft beer in the mainstream.
That increase in attention is a good thing. Those new eyes and palates allow growth (or in many cases, survival) for small breweries who otherwise wouldn’t be practicing the same fantastic dark magic otherwise. But it also means expansion into other states, other markets, and those markets demand attention in the form of some of the rare beers we may have taken for granted around here. I hate to think that I may have once taken for granted how much of one release or another I could get, or that I’m now of an age to have a “good ol’ days” of beer buying, but the facts say otherwise.
Contrary to what you may assume, growth of awareness of a brand does not equal output of their smallest production beers. Even if it does, there are so many more hands in the pot today for those rare beers that supplies are going to only become more limited. As a retail buyer, my default is to demand every last bottle made of these beers, but I know better in my heart and can often only do the best I can to make sure as many bottles as possible get into as many hands as possible.
If you’re chasing the rarest of the rare, I can only offer a couple points of advice:
- If it means that much to you, make sure you get it. Your local retailer can make sure you get your hands on something if you let them know how much you want it. If you expect to walk into a shop and just happen across some brewery’s Anniversary or once-per-year release, I gotta say it — it isn’t 2007 anymore. These things spend little time on shelves if they hit them at all. If it means that much to you, keep tabs on arrival schedules and stay in touch with your retailer of choice. Today’s environment benefits the informed consumer more than ever.
- Don’t trash the store that doesn’t have the super-rare beer you’re looking for. I’ve seen too much of this lately; too much discussion online and elsewhere about who isn’t what they used to be because they didn’t have overflowing shelves of this or that. As someone who goes out of his way to have unique and hard-to-get beers on his shelf, let me let you in on something: no one gets to have those overflowing amounts of rare beers anymore. Even those beers I bring to Arrowine through importers that you won’t find anywhere else are in limited quantities. That’s not because I don’t want more than I’m getting — it’s because craft beer is a thing right now. Craft beer is hot, and everyone wants in. That is a very good thing in terms of diversity of product, but it means that what was once occasional is now scarce, and what was scarce is now almost instantly gone once it arrives.
Limiting your beer interests to the rare and hard-to-find is a path that only leads to frustration, especially in today’s environment. Keep perspective and accept that you may have to make more than one stop and you’ll do just fine. Communicate with your local beer buyers; make sure you can get what you want. If you don’t do these things, you’ll have no place to complain.
Until next time.