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Your Beermonger: Conflicting Trends

by ARLnow.com — February 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm 921 25 Comments

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

Without a doubt the event of the week in our area was the yearly release of Bell’s HopSlam. We received our 25 cases at Arrowine on Monday and they sold out in under an hour, way faster than I had anticipated. Considering the madness surrounding its release, I thought of making this week’s column more an open forum where folks could discuss it, as it seems to be all anyone wants to talk about right now — but I thought that would be lazy even by my standards.

So instead I’m going to take a moment to talk about perception, trends, and realities. Because while trophy hunters have been calling incessantly about HopSlam, I’ve had to restock classic, more balanced brews from Bell’s itself, along with some from Devils Backbone, Great Lakes, and more. In my retail experience it seems as if there is always at least one Great Contradiction at play no matter what the business might be: currently the greatest of these in craft beer is between the amount of hype and media attention the big rare beers garner, and the maturing palates of craft beer drinkers, many of whom are looking for less volume and more subtlety.

Great Lakes in particular has been on the upswing lately: coming up on the first anniversary of its entering the Virginia market, the Cleveland brewery has built a following in our area by offering flavorful, well-made beers that stay true to their styles without bowing to the pressures so many breweries face in terms of making high-ABV, in-your-face, stupid rare offerings. Yes, their Christmas Ale was in very short supply this past holiday season, but I think that had more to do with demand in Ohio and other, more tenured markets than anything. The point is that even the biggest of the Great Lakes beer that I’ve had — the ‘Imperial’ beers that from most brewers tend to cut your evening short after a bottle — are enjoyable in feel while providing the depth of flavor that is expected from bigger beers.

It is easy to think being a beer geek is all about finding the rarest of the rare, the biggest of the big, and flaunting one’s finds in the faces of those mere mortals who missed out. When craft beer gets big media coverage, it tends to be related to something like a HopSlam or Founder’s KBS — so I understand the perception. What is more interesting to me is the shift toward great everyday beer, and the broader audience that can be gained through such beers. Neither can exist without the other, nor should one overshadow the other; the everyday and the extraordinary reaching out to a world still only beginning to wake up from the bland stupor that the big conglomerate breweries had kept them under for decades.

Don’t worry if you miss out on the crazy-rare beer that’s just been released; the next one’s right around the corner, and in the meantime there are more truly great beers available than ever before. Until next time.

Cheers!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

  • Ballstonian

    I think that overall the boon of craft/micro breweries has been great for beer culture and beer drinkers. The fact that the DC area already has several local breweries with more on the way is a good thing. But the downside to the boon is that there’s been a beer geek or beer hipster movement where beers that are rare or “weird” are better based largely on their rareness or weirdness. Ive said in another post that there’s a trend that “hoppier = better” which I dont think is necessarily true, but there’s a race to make hoppier beers because of the perception that they’re cooler and, therefore, better.

    • Ballstonian

      As an example, Westvleteren 12 is considered by many to be the “best” beer in the world, and people creamed their jeans when it was available in limited quantities for a short time in the States. I wonder if it would still rank so high if you could buy a bottle at the Sunoco.

      • drax

        I remember when Coors and Corona were both hard to find and people would flip out over them.

        That was a long time ago.

      • hoser

        Where my parents live in Ohio, the local Sunoco has one of the better beer selections around. Big walk-in beer cave with lots of crafts. They wouldn’t have West 12, but still some good stuff.

        That being said, I’ve never had HopSlam, but can people honestly justify it being more than double the price of other DIPAs? There are so many other IPA/DIPA options, I have trouble understanding that one can be $23/sixer while many other great beers can be had for less than $13/sixer. I’d rather get 12 Two-Hearted or Commodore Perry for the same price as 6 HopSlam.

      • JamesE

        I’ve had Westvleteren 12, it was very good, but not OMG best beer in the world good.

  • SteamboatWillie

    My only complaints, and I use that in the mildest way possible, about the Hopslam issue at Arrowine were: 1) the email notification went out in the middle of the morning on a workday, meaning that unless you could leave the office immediately, you were aced out; and 2) allowing 1 case/customer instead of a single 6-pack or 12-pack, also sped up the depletion and limited the number of happy customers.

    I was able to buy a 6-pack of Hopslam from another vendor, so no big deal, and I agree that there are plenty of equally, if not more, enjoyable beers without the hype.

    Also, I was able to get my hands on some Westvleteren 12, so I’ll have an opinion about that by Monday.

    • TheBeermonger

      Good on you for getting the Westy. Still want to try that someday.

      I understand the complaints about HopSlam. I found out about it arriving during the weekend and decided to take a “tear the band-aid off” approach–just getting it done and over with. So, I took the delivery asap, which turned out to be Monday morning. I only sent the email b/c, along with our Twitter and Facebook pages, I didn’t want anyone to be able to say they didn’t get notice of it arriving. I could have just sat there, without saying a word, and sold it all withing a couple hours.
      The case limit was something I went back and forth about. In the end I went for it because last year we only saw HopSlam in smaller deliveries; I had no choice but to limit it. I figured in light of the 25 cases coming in, and knowing it was going to fly regardless, I’d at least make the folks I could make happy VERY happy.

      I’m not sure I’d do it differently, but I still wonder about the case sales. I just get so sick of telling customers “no”, I figured why not just say yes this time? Also, unless I were to get a 100-case drop or more one year, most folks are getting “aced out”. The demand is that strong these days. Sorry I couldn’t do more to help you, but I’m glad you found some and appreciate the tone of your post. Thanks!

  • Yup

    Founder’s KBS?

    • Shaun

      Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Aged in oak bourbon barrels for a year. Unspeakably delicious (just like the HopSlam that I still haven’t gotten my hands on this year).

      • JamesE

        I want the Canadian Breakfast Stout so bad.

  • PhilipDC

    I really love a good session beer–well balanced (maybe a little to the hoppy side), but without the crazy ABV. Anything above 6.0 I tend to skip right over.

  • John

    Nick,

    Just curious if you’ve had a New Albion yet?

    • TheBeermonger

      Really need to bring that in. Hoping to have room next week.

  • Matt

    If you are still looking for HopSlam, MOMs in Alexandria on Mt. Vernon still has a lot of 6-packs left!

    • TheBeermonger

      There we go!

  • Adolphus

    HopSlam tastes like Pinesol.

  • mickey_

    Wrong answer on “event of the week”. The event of the week was the Justice Department nixing INBEV purchase of Modelo, etc. Ever since INBEV bought Budweiser, prices have gone up on beer. It is almost $40 a case locally for most beer, not including Bud and a few of the lesser brands.

    • TheBeermonger

      The interesting part of that is the implications for the long-rumored AB/InBev & MillerCoors merger. No way that happens if the Modelo deal gets axed.

      Beer prices, outside of macro-made, have gone up on the whole over the past few years mainly due to cost of materials rising. A couple bad hop harvests and natural disasters shrunk availability of hops while the number of breweries exploded. Most breweries have done a pretty remarkable job of holding prices or keeping increases as modest as possible, but the unfortunate truth is that stuff costs money.

  • Shaun

    As of 45 minutes ago, the World Market on Joyce in Pentagon City still had at least four 6 packs for $18.99 each. I resisted buying it all only because it’d be difficult to bring that mch on the Metro.

    • TheBeermonger

      Damn. That’s crazy.

  • novasteve

    When I lived in Michigan, Molson Brador was all the rage. What happened?

    • Bo Schembechler

      Most people grow up and stop focusing on their college days, so maybe that is what happened.

  • CourthouseYinzer

    I gotta say, as a guy from Pittsburgh…there is a lot of stuff I hate about Cleveland. However I couldn’t hide the smile on my face when I noticed Great Lakes brews showing up around town. Elliot Ness is one of my favorite beers ever. Definitely a great “go to” beer for any day/night.

  • Like ‘em dark

    Can anyone tell me why the Whole Foods stopped selling
    Port City Porter?

    • TheBeermonger

      I hadn’t heard that. No idea why they would–I think it’s excellent.

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