Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dripping in This Strange Design

Packaging makes or breaks a beer. What's that you say? I'm crazy? Well yeah, but not really. Beer in and of itself should be judged solely on the liquid that is either in the bottle or from the tap. This alone is simple enough, yet it's getting to that liquid that can often prove difficult.

Here's the deal: I'm a sucker for slick packaging and presentation and really, we all should be. Why? Craft beer choices for the consumer continue to grow. Here in New Jersey we now have more than 100 American breweries that offer their products to us. I am of the mindset that as a brewery if you are taking the time to care about how your product is presented to the marketplace, be it through labeling, logos, tap handles, etc, then you'll be equally if not more so concerned with and attentive to the quality of the product you put in those same packages you took such pride in creating. That well designed packaging scheme is basically saying, "Check out how wonderful I look. The beer inside is even better. Take me home to drink and I won't let you down."

You can't be loyal to a product you've never tried, so why not start with trying to stand out from the myriad of other options surrounding your products on the shelves?

And yes, as is the case with everything, there are exceptions. There are breweries with top notch marketing and packaging efforts that couldn't brew a decent beer if their life depended on it, yet there are also breweries that have abysmal packaging schemes that put out some of the finest ales or lagers in the United States. But when push comes to shove, if I'm looking to try something new and am deciding between two or three brewery offerings that I know little to nothing about, then I'm picking the one that on the shelf is most appealing to my eye.

Sure, I understand that some craft breweries might not have the budget to develop their brand as much as they'd like beyond word-of-mouth marketing, and others may have both the marketing budget and also the creative brewing mind to capture liquid genius in a bottle yet can't fathom how to actually market that bottle, but in the end it's a shame that so many breweries are just unable to take that extra step to get their beers into the hands of consumers more easily.

Fortunately, there's a movement of breweries within the industry who do seem to get and thrive on the overall scheme of complementing great beer with great presentation (Great Divide, Stone, The Bruery and Dogfish Head are just some examples), and the latest to jump on board is the Left Hand Brewing Company out of Colorado, which is in the midst of drastically overhauling it's brand labels yet still very much keeping with the brewery vibe and marketing approach of the past.

Check out some of the changes below. While the old set wasn't terrible, it never really stood out either and got to the point where it had been around for so long that it seemed to be caught in that stale, 1990's looking, flat design. The new look just pops a whole lot more with more vibrant colors and lively graphics and certainly draws me in more at a quick glance to make me stop and find out what that beer is. I can easily see more people now doing the same and picking up these Left Hand brands to learn more and ultimately holding onto them to purchase, which in my mind means mission accomplished with the design reload. An excellent job all around by Left Hand.




Monday, March 29, 2010

Time of the Season

Seasonal creep has hit a new low in the brewing world. For those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about, seasonal creep essentially refers to breweries releasing their more popular seasonal beers sooner than the season that they represent dictates in order to maximize sales on that particular style from their portfolio.

From a business perspective, this makes complete sense. If you've got a Winter Ale that typically sells twice as much as your Octoberfest, then you best get the former on the shelves as soon as you can. The problem is that from a craft beer consumer standpoint it often leaves you scratching your head.

Case in point, and the reason for this post: I went out to dinner over the weekend and while the beer selection was limited, the bar had tap handles for Magic Hat Vinyl, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Samuel Adams Noble Pils, which if you didn't know is the new Spring Seasonal from Boston Beer Company and is actually quite enjoyable and in my opinion is a significant step up from their former Spring seasonal, the White Ale. Anyway, I happily ordered up a pint of the Pils and not five minutes later our waitress had returned to inform me that the Pils keg had recently kicked and had since been replaced by the Summer Ale. Huh? Spring was barely a week old and the Spring Seasonal from one of the largest breweries in the country was already being shoved aside. Unacceptable. I decided to pass on the Summer and go for a pint of the Vinyl instead as while it's not nearly as flavorful or enjoyable as the Noble Pils or even the Summer Ale at that, it's still decent enough and is actually Magic Hat's Spring beer. A light, refreshing lemony summer wheat beer just didn't seem right on a cold, windy and rainy April evening.

(As an aside, and this is not Boston Beer's fault in any way, if a keg of one beer kicks and you replace it with something else, change the tap handle! I'm pretty sure it's actually illegal in New Jersey to dispense beer from a tap that's marked as another brand. Bad form by the restaurant.)

And while Boston Beer might not be the biggest culprit, they are almost certainly the most visible simply because of their size, yet are of course not the only offenders. I've been able to pick up four packs of Dogfish Head Punkin' Ale in early August, have already seen Leinenkugel's Summer Explorer Twelve pack on the shelves this year and just recently purchased a Lakefront Brewery Sampler Eight-Pack (reviews of these beers coming soon) where one of the slots was reserved for a seasonal beer from the brewery. I assumed that slot would be occupied by Snake Chaser, their Irish Style Spring Stout, but alas was greeted by a bottle of White Beer which is, you guessed it, their Summer offering.

Now, I'm not suggesting that a Summer Ale for instance should only be available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but having it out in the market from late April until early September seems much more reasonable (although it's still too early for my liking).

Hopefully we've maxed out the seasonal creep for the breweries that are current offenders and others won't follow suit. The problem is that, again from a business standpoint, you can't really blame them for making the decision to do so as they'd just be trying to keep up with the other guys.

The only way to make these breweries realize that their release schedules can be a bit ridiculous is to refuse to purchase a beer that comes out with a crazy early jump on it's intended season. Maybe then they'll realize that they're doing a disservice to their other brands (you certainly can't grow a brand if you limit it's release window) and change their ways. Speaking for myself, I can say that my first sip of Samuel Adams Summer Ale is still weeks away...at least.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Otis Blue

Sure were still in the early part of the year and it's not a new beer by any means, but I'm telling you now that Otis, a fantastically tasty Oatmeal Stout from Brooklyn's own Sixpoint Craft Ales, will be on my Top Ten Beers of 2010 list. It's that good.

From the rocky off-white head and luscious near black color to the aromas and flavors which both impressively balance a roasted malt, heartier base with sweeter caramel and chocolate/cocoa notes, along with a touch of coffee. Bitterness is fairly tame overall and the great balance along with a bit of chewy ruggedness makes this one impossibly easy to drink.

I paired it with some lobster enchiladas which were layered with a spicy red diablo sauce, rice and beans and it worked perfectly. Much as the beer itself strikes a nice balance between roasted and sweet, it helped to balance the meal as a whole with the sweeter notes complementing and somewhat taming the overall spiciness of the food.

While the obvious and most common beer style pairing with spicy dishes is the IPA because the boldness of the hops stands up nicely to the intensity of the food, I usually prefer a sweeter based Porter or Stout to accentuate some of the flavors, especially if there is any seafood in the dish, as a spicy dish/IPA combination can often overwhelm the palate.

The Sixpoint lineup is draft only and is fairly difficult to come by in New Jersey, so if you live or find yourself near Asbury Park I highly recommend stopping into Langosta Lounge on the Boardwalk. The food is great and they've got Otis on tap, but who knows for how long...

Hopback, beer, Sixpoint, Otis, Oatmeal Stout, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Asbury Park

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Some good news and some sad news arrived from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania today via the Tröegs Tales March 2010 Newsletter. Let's start with the bad stuff:

Tröegs has announced that the last batch of Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale was brewed back in February and has officially shipped out for the last time. According to the newsletter, there was simply no longer any room in the portfolio (or the tanks) for Rugged Trail given the current beers that Tröegs is currently brewing.

I for one am sad to see Rugged Trail go. It has always been amongst my favorites from Tröegs (bet you can't guess my actual favorite...) and was a wonderful take on the style and a great session ale for sure. If you're a fan, I suggest you grab any and all six-packs of the stuff while you can.

Yet from this sad news comes some good, and while it's been out there as rumor for a while, Tröegs has officially given word that Javahead Stout, which was to be a limited, seasonal beer originally released last Autumn, has been given year round status and will now be available in 12 ounce, 22 ounce and draft formats. The 12 ounce bottles have already begun shipping and the 22 ounce and draft will be available starting in late March/early April.

Finally, Tröegs has also announced a new variety case called Anthology. It will replace the Tröegs Dozen variety case which has been around for a long while now, and will have two slightly different incarnations. Anthology Number One will contain Hopback Amber Ale, Tröegs Pale Ale, Dreamweaver Wheat and Sunshine Pils, while Anthology Number Two will swap in the Javahead Stout for the Sunshine Pils. The former is anticipated to be available from April until September and the latter from September until March.

beer, Hopback, Troegs, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Rugged Trail, Nut Brown Ale, Javahead, Stout, Anthology, Pale Ale, Sunshine Pils, Dreamweaver Wheat

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sweet Home Chicago

Collaboration beers are all the rage in the craft brewing world right now, and with the Brewers Association's annual Craft Brewers Conference coming up next month (April 7-10) in Chicago, a new one time only beer will make an appearance as the ultimate Windy City collaborative effort.

Heartwood Symposium Ale was brewed by members of the Illinois Craft Brewers guild at Chicago's own Goose Island Beer Company. It is 100% Aged in Bourbon Barrels and, according to the print on the label is the result of 15 Illinois breweries which "formed four teams, each creating a recipe and brewing it at Goose Island Beer Co: Imperial Stout, Imperial IPA, Scotch Style Wee Heavy and a Barley Wine Style Ale." These were all aged separately in Bourbon barrels and then blended into the beer that will be presented at the conference.

This sounds like an amazing project. I'd sure love to get my hands on some, and I'm sure most of you would too, but good luck in your quest. The Symposium beers are typically tiny batch offerings that are bottled and given only to conference attendees and perhaps some members of the local press, so coming across one for non-attendees will be next to impossible.

Beer, Hopback, Craft Brewers Conference, Chicago, collaboration, Goose Island, term one, Heartwood Symposium Ale