Screwed Up Beer Week (vol 13) - Are You A Craft Beer Connoisseur, Or A Craft Beer Troll?
Written By: Kevin Patterson on 04/04/2014
Without any doubt, the biggest fan of Founders KBS just walked into my bar. Of course he is the biggest fan of the beer because the beer is only releases once a year. It's quite limited. And, ooh- by the way- it's very good. And because that supplier truck ran fifteen minutes ago and he's already camped in my store in order to cherry-pick as much of the good stuff that he can, this was no surprise to me. Although I rarely see the guy, he has visited my store not once, not twice, but three time in the past week even though I haven't seen him at all since the last big beer release back in late November and he has done so just to butter me up. And it almost worked!
So, here he stands- but lets re-wind to a conversation we had at the begining of the week- "Ooh my gosh, I'm Founders biggest fan and as hard as I try, I have yet to have special beer. Mr. Barkeep, can you please set as much of the illusive elixir aside for me- I would happily owe you the world if you could..." (shedding a humble tear, of course)
After having to clean my own puke off of the floor, I explained the situation that I would give every effort to save a mere bottle for him and he seemed delighted at my gesture. After all, I'll do anything for a customer, right? Seeing that this special beer comes in limited quantities, retailers and bars are put in tough spots on how to divvy them out to such customers.
But this conversation isn't really about this specific beer, its about all of them. All of the super-premium beers that super-qualified brewers release to a super-hyper market in super-small batch sizes and subsequently create a super-sized frenzy because of it all. Even though it may seem that the blame and success for such beers would be on those breweries, but it is not- its on their buyers.
That's right- it's "Founders best fan". Its you! It's me! And it's everyone to is blessed and burdened enough to know what these beers mean. In this turbulent ultra-beer climate, we are all winners and we are all losers. If we know about the beer and can make the necessary adjustments in our personal lives, then we score a precious bottle. But with all those concessions to our personal lives, we only get a bottle! Yet those are both the successes and failures of our endeavors as our thirst for these beers grow every year... or is it?
It turns out that the fate for these bottles will never meet their intended consumer. Even though "Founders greatest fan" is thirsty for the beer, they may be even more thirsty for something more. That fan may be guilty of greed- either by selling his famed bottle on an auction website, or on a bartering website, or by trading it to someone in another market for something that they covet more- that's right, there's a black market for craft beer and it's savage!
Even though these practices go directly against the brewers intent, it simply happens when a taste of quality exceeds their distribution territories. See- most breweries don't make much money on these beers. They are simply too expensive, too time restrictive and too labor extensive to make any economic sense. Yet they do them anyway. Why? Simply because the artisans are at work to create masterpieces of their craft. To show off maybe? But also to showcase their skill and to reward their market with these unique and coveted tastes.
For distributors, these releases are an absolute nightmare! They receive a mere portion of the beer that the market demands and they have to ration them in the ways that they feel are honest to the brewers above, the retailers below and also with the business missions that are important to them. Unfortunately, they are in an must-lose situation as no one is ever happy with their allotment.
And for those bars and stores that are lucky enough to receive their case or two of the sought-after beer, its a double-edged sword. To claim the dollars that these beers bring, do they advertise such a glorious moment that one of these beers graced the presence of their store? After all, this would reinforce them as a go-to destination for only the best of beers. Or do they sit tight on them, only to sneak them under the counter to the "regulars" or those that just happen to pass by and mention the beer's release?
But alas, there's the consumer- Founders biggest fan. But, where the far majority of craft beer drinkers are happy to adorn the doorstep of their favorite watering hole for a mere suckle from the KBS tit, the problem lies in those who expect favoritism when it comes to the beer as if they deserve it every day and in large qualities just because they are deeper ingrained into the gray area of beer snobbery than the common consumer.
These are the delicate balances of a struggling market- not struggling against failure, but struggling with success! As the craft beer market ticks upwards and on-wards to transcendent sales, these are the new growing pains of an expanding craft beer market. Even with the frustration of a consumer base that far outpaces the production of great beers, I contend that this uncontrollable exuberance is much better that the complacent calm of a stagnant market. And the culture of Founders KBS and its like is a poster child for this climate.
Its simply unfortunate for the "Founders biggest fan" who set up such an extensive conversation with me last week, that he befriended me on a popular social-media site just before the release. I guess he didn't realize that I would see that latest and greatest "haul" of KBS that he snagged from that beer-ignorant retailer that he frequented just before he did mine and bragged so boastfully on that public site...
"Ooh, man- I'm so sorry. We just sold our last one." I say...
Or did we?