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Blurring the line between beer and wine

My first thought on seeing the headline “Craft Beer Steps Into Wine Country” was that wine country (Northern California) was one of the early beachheads for craft beer.

In fact, the story in Advertising Age (warning, sometimes you can link here and later the story will be listed as paid content) the story notes that small-batch brewers are “increasingly cribbing vintners’ marketing techniques in an effort to keep volume and prices buzzing.”

Methods long synonymous with high-end wine marketing, such as reserve bottlings, vintage dating, future-allocation programs and even vertical tastings (in which drinkers compare multiple vintages of the same beverage) are becoming increasingly commonplace among craft brewers.

The story looks into pricing, reporting how Grand Teton in Wyoming is able to charge twice as much for a single one-liter “reserve” bottle than it does for a regular six-pack Of course there is the success of Stone Brewing’s Vertical Epic Ales.

Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch says the brewery’s emphasis on vintages has created a demand for older bottles. A 2002 bottle, which cost $4.99 upon release, fetched $400 on eBay last November. Mr. Koch says that degree of consumer enthusiasm has driven production from 300 bottles in 2002, the inaugural bottling, to 7,500 bottles this year, which is on pace to sell out.

“It really is a lot like selling fine wine, very boutique-ish,” Fred Rosen of Sam’s Wine and Spirits in Chicago told the reporter. “The beer and wine sections are looking more alike all the time.”

Wine should be so lucky.

5 Responses to Blurring the line between beer and wine

  1. Donavan Hall June 20, 2006 at 5:44 pm #

    The ominous note in the referenced article comes near the end when the author mentions that Coors and A-B are angling the high end market. The article references Michelob Celebrate. I had (I don’t know why) high hopes for Celebrate when I picked up a bottle last December. The vanilla was overpowering and the sugar sweet finish really turned me off. I really couldn’t finish the bottle. I guess there is nothing to fear from A-B yet. I don’t like the idea of beer money being siphoned away from real craft brewers (more of A-B’s deception tactics, cf. Brookston Beer Bulletin for today).

  2. Stan Hieronymus June 20, 2006 at 11:35 pm #

    Having described Celebrate as a “double vanilla” beer I’m obviously not going to defend that one.

    Some of the other special offerings might be the best beer you find on tap many places. Is that good for craft beer (people try it and move up) or bad (people quit there)? I don’t think the answer is clear.

    The story mentions booming sales for Blue Moon, which gets no advertising support. That’s of note because Coors sold 200,000 barrels of Blue Moon in 2005.

    Maybe I’m forgetting one, but can think of just three craft labels – Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and New Belgium Fat Tire – that sold more. (It depends in part on how you classify Shiner Bock and Yuengling Lager, not to mention Michelob Amber Bock.)

    It would seem that Blue Moon is selling on a) good distribution, b) flavor [noted without comment] and c) from support at point of sale.

    Doesn’t that bode well for craft beers as long as they can find distribution?

  3. Donavan Hall June 21, 2006 at 11:24 am #

    I started to reply to your question: “Doesn’t that bode well for craft beers as long as they can find distribution?” and after writing 729 words I wasn’t even close to exploring all the angles. This is a seemingly simple question, but it isn’t really. The best I can do to respond is by asking another question. Is it really a good thing for a craft brewer to produce and sell 200,000 barrels? More sales is better business, right? However, I’m skeptical that one brewer should produce any one beer in such quantities. Whether the brewer can produce that much quality beer is not the question.

  4. Stan Hieronymus June 25, 2006 at 11:38 pm #

    Since I just spent the last four days at the National Homebrew Conference in the presence of people who might produce 5 gallons of a great brew and not make it again I sort of understand what you are asking.

    But if a brewery can make whatever amount of a great beer why should we balk if it truly is a great beer and customers are demanding it?

  5. Donavan June 29, 2006 at 5:30 pm #

    Well, for one thing, as a craft beer drinker who is interested in developing the local beer culture, I would like to see more breweries within easy driving distance of my house. If on Long Island I can buy any number of fantastic brews from the West Coast, then there is small incentive for a local brewery to sell its own product. Basically, if each local brewery limits its production to what is sufficient to support its operation and its community, then there will be more room in the market for others. Although I’m aware that I need to demonstrate that it is better for craft beer to have 10,000 small breweries supplying their local markets than to have 100 national breweries supplying all craft beer drinkers from coast to coast. Also, I like traveling to a place far from home and finding beer that I can’t get in the local beer shop.

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