The Big Boys Are Taking Over

Posted on June 22, 2010 by

Over the past two weeks a number of blogs and news sites have been discussing beer trends of 2010. Some listed trends include InBev’s percentage of the market dropping, the constant ABV % battles that are going on and a seemingly increase in sour ale consumption and many others. However, one of the beer trends that I have noticed, at least in my area, is the increase in “Specialty Beers” or “Limited Releases” from brewers all around the country.

What is a “Specialty Beer”?

For simplicity sake, let’s group all the limited edition, specialty beers, anniversary beers, experimental batches, etc etc into one big category, Specialty Beer. The distinguishing factors though are, these beers are special recipes formulated by brewers for a limited release. The recipe either stands on its own or can be part of a series much like the Boulevard Smokestack series. These beers are Specialty Beernot the same as your typical tasty ales or luscious lagers. Often times they are infused with much more flavor and characteristics than their 12 ounce counterparts. The Special Release, which I’ll be calling it through out, comes in a larger bottle, have increased flavor profiles, have higher ABV and are in short supply as they are part of a single run, brewed batch or series of brews. Done.

The Trend

Over the past 9 months I’ve watched, hungrily, as my specialty beer section populated with new bomber and Belgian Style cork top bottles. This idea isn’t completely new, but my social media feeds flood with Twitpics and Facebook updates along with the occasional pic message with these beers front and center. I was getting pics of Redhook’s 8-4-1, Breckenridge Small Batch 471, and the Boulevard Smokestack series sent left and right. I’m merely stating that I believe these beers are gaining more and more popularity, therefore calling for more releases from more breweries. These breweries are becoming more sophisticated and creative in the recipe formulation which turns an avid craft beer drinker, like me, into a kid in a candy store. What is causing this apparent expansion in product lines for some of these larger craft breweries?

Why?

Of course this boils down to money with a side of celebration of creativity. I believe there are three contributing factors to this trend.

  1. There is a market out there for people who drink craft beer, but still think wine is the drink of choice for special occasions and dinners for two. Look at wine compared to these new releases…I see a few similarities. The first is price and size. The amount of wine for the price is very comparable to the amount of beer and price for these specialty brews. Not only that, wine has always had this “special” feeling surrounding it. If you drink wine with a meal or occasion, you get this feeling of sophistication that you just don’t get with beer. However, by mimicking a product and marketing strategy, that same feeling can be had by the craft beer drinker. Going one step further, the recipes are usually pretty darn amazing. They are creative, complex and employ ingredients or techniques that you will not drink up anywhere along the way. All of these factors contribute to an almost doppelganger effect between beer and wine. A gap that has yet to be bridged. The drink that was once reserved for peasants and serfs is now rivaling the drinks of royalty.
  2. In the early to mid 80′s craft beer was starting to boom. During that time it was not hard to stand out because the market was so thin. A funny name, weird label, different style, the list goes on and on. As the market expanded it become flooded with replica’s. How many IPA’s are there out there? Pale Ale’s, Stout’s, etc. With as many brewers as there are, how do any of them grab your monetary vote? They must distinguish themselves from the pack. What better way to do that than with a “Special Release.” A “first come first serve” mentality can do wonders for a product and brand.
  3. Last but not least, I believe there is a better profit margin on these recipes as well. With most big breweries not brewing at capacity and the factors listed above, it only makes sense to fire up those kettles and make a special batch. These special beers can cost more, are easier to sell to us craft beer people and rarely have any return product due to shelf life because of their limited supply, making them more profitable.

It is always about the money, but I believe there is a certain sense of creativity that most brewers don’t get to have on a daily basis that helps to fill these bottles up. It takes brewing back to the beginning a little bit. Where you use your tools and education to just try new things and I appreciate what the market is forcing breweries to do because it brings all of us better product.

Just on a side note, I don’t think these special releases are doing anything for expanding the craft beer market. They are just trying to take more of the already existing pie. If they are trying to make a bigger pie, they must look elsewhere.

So, I’m curious, what’s your take on this trend? Am I an idiot or do you agree that these special releases seem to be taking the store by storm? Let me know!

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  • http://twitter.com/bierfesten SDC

    In looking at the 'trends' in craft beer I definitely agree with your view of 'specialty' beers being one growing trend. Not only in the US but Canadian micro breweries are getting in on the act too. Whether its a hoppy saison, black IPA, or Imperial Stout with whiskey there are more choices and more press releases.

    Good article mike.

  • mikebiewer

    Thanks!

    One thing I still wonder though is if it is going to stay or just go away. Is it a trend or a fad? Will it come in smaller scales like six packs or will it continue to be in just the big special bottles? I for one enjoy this trend. I think it is pretty fun bringing big bottles of beer to friends houses for pre-dinner or post dinner drinking. My wife and I will drink them with dinner, but not everyone is down with that yet.

    Have you tried any of these special beers? What are your thoughts on them?

    Thanks for the comment!

    Mike

  • http://mikesbrewreview.com/redhook-ale-the-glass-is-half-full/ Redhook Ale Glass Half Full | mikesbrewreview.com

    [...] a Stout and so on. But, not everyone has special or limited releases. More on my thoughts on this craft beer trend here. These beers are really allowing us craft beer drinkers something of a treat to have with our [...]

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