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Your Beermonger: On Greener Grass and Overreach

by Ethan Rothstein — January 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm 542 0

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

This week was supposed to be about some tasting notes I have (and we’ll get to a couple in a moment), but I wanted to write about something I’d been thinking about this week first.

It’s a little “inside baseball” but I think it’s worth getting into: I had an interesting conversation with one of my distributor representatives early this week. Now such an occurrence may be column-worthy in-and-of itself, but that’s not what I needed to talk about. The conversation veered from general “shop talk” to comparing the roll-outs of new breweries in Virginia over the past year or so, and the differences between those debuts that were more successful and those that weren’t.

I’ve noticed a convergence of factors when it comes to new breweries entering this market that I suspect affects others as well. One factor is the “grass is always greener” line of thinking that develops among us beer geeks: craft breweries grow regionally, eventually garnering national attention and building expectations. I hear often from folks who’ve gone to visit other areas of the country and reporting back how the big local craft brewer there was only “OK.”

There are just so many good breweries all over the country (over 2,700 breweries in the United States, with no signs of any slowdown in openings yet); it’s too easy to be underwhelmed even when a brewery’s entire lineup is good. The other major factor is overreach by breweries that buy into their own hype and the chatter among beer enthusiasts.

Over the past year alone I’ve seen breweries either enter the Virginia market with too many beers when only one or maybe two had the buzz to truly be successful, or at too high a price point across their lineups because they can sell their wares for that price in their local market.

The reality of the beer retail in Northern Virginia in 2014 is that while the craft beer bubble hasn’t burst yet, space is becoming tight as far as styles go (with the exception, it seems, of IPA: no one’s losing money making a great IPA). When a brewery overreaches with regard to the demand for its full lineup, beers sit that otherwise would better serve their home market and the availability of their most popular beer is limited.

When a brewery overreaches on price, they alienate consumers and retailers, regardless of the quality of the product. There is no one right way to open a new market, but it seems right now that the slow roll, allowing one great beer to build a fanbase for the rest of a brewery’s line, is the smartest move. If nothing else, it allows for the natural growth of a brand, as opposed to massive roll outs that can feel forced and overwhelming.

Ok, enough of that. Let’s take a look at…

What I’ve been drinking this week

Saucony Creek Schnickelfritz Chocolate Cherry Stout and Captain Pumpkin’s Maple Mistress: I just got to try these beers from Pennsylvania’s Saucony Creek. The Captain Pumpkin’s Maple Mistress is made with butternut squash, maple syrup, and spices. Clocking in at 9.5 percent ABV, Maple Mistress is intensely sweet and flavorful, and I’m sure it has a following but I just found it too cloying. The Schnickelfritz Milk Stout with chocolate and cherries added, however, was a pleasant surprise. The chocolate and fruit are subtle enough that the beer had to warm up a bit before they asserted themselves. I’d be curious to try a version of this without the added flavors. At the risk of being preachy I’d also really like to see both of these beers without the scantily-clad cartoon pinups on their labels; that’s an easy way to alienate a lot of potential buyers.

Cigar City Hopped On The High Seas (Ahtanum): We’ve been tearing through as much Cigar City Jai Alai IPA as we can get our hands on at Arrowine; enough that the Tampa brewery sent up a few cases of a couple of their other beers this week to see how they’d go over. One of these is another IPA, the most recent of their Hopped On The High Seas releases. The beer is brewed at Cervezas Del Sur in Puerto Rico, then dry-hopped with a different varietal in the tank as it sails to Florida before canning. This round uses the Ahtanum hop, which is similar to Cascade and Amarillo giving Hopped On The High Seas a focused floral and citrus note. I tried it with some curry chicken I made for dinner the other night and it was a great pairing. There wasn’t much Hopped On The High Seas sent up here, so snag it if you can.

Until next time.

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.

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