Craft beer's popularity is snowballing and with it the demand for rare, specialty and one-off brews. These hard-to-find, often pricey beers are also used as trade bait or sold on the secondary market at steep mark-ups, frustrating brewers and infuriating customers left out in the cold. Just getting the beers in the hands of customers presents challenges, but more breweries are looking to capture the attention of this small yet passionate corner of the market.
Some breweries release their specialty beer simply by having customers show up the day of release, as Green Flash Cellar 3 (12260 Crosthwait Circle) in Poway did recently with its release of Lustrous Frumento with Coffee. It's a black ale aged in bourbon barrels for two years before an infusion of Mostra cold brew coffee is added. Barrelmaster Pat Korn said the beer was an experiment in aging.
"It was kind of to see what extended aging would do to the beer," he said. "Especially that beer."
Korn said the base beer was previously released as Silva Stout.
Green Flash's Director of Beer Education Dave Adams said that one-off, barrel-aged beers give the brewers room to experiment and push limits, but make it difficult to make long-term plans.
"It's funny when we talk to marketing," he said. "It's a new thing for people who aren't familiar with these types of beers. They're like 'What's the plan? What are we going to do?" and we're like 'We don't know!'"
Online sales are another option popular with breweries such as The Lost Abbey, Modern Times and, new to the game, Abnormal Beer Co (16990 Via Tazon). M2 imperial oatmeal stout, Abnormal's first bottle release, was brewed with vanilla, cacao nibs, coconut, lactose and espresso from Mostra Coffee. It sold out of its run of 650 bottles in less than one minute. Head Brewer Derek Gallanosa said in an email the brewery went the extra mile to ensure smooth sales of the beer.
"Our CEO Matt DeLoach was up the entire night before the release coding additional functionality into our website," he said, adding that analytics showed 47,000 page views during the sale.
Not all beers sold online are necessarily rare, despite what brewery markers would like customers to believe, as fans of do-no-wrong brewery Modern Times (3725 Greenwood St.) found out last week. In May the brewery released its barrel-aged versions of Monster's Park Imperial Stout. The beers were sold in a much-hyped online sale for about $30 per bottle so buyers were understandably upset a few weeks later when they began showing up at local bottle shops for significantly less. Trader Joe's sold them for $20. Although the brewery was transparent about the beer being widely released, owner Jacob McKean apologized on a BeerAdvocate.com forum and said the brewery would offer buyers coupons for a future sale. McKean laid the blame on a "communication error" that resulted in the beer being sold to its wholesaler at too low a price.
BA Monster's Park is delicious, even more so at that tasty $20 price point, but the whole episode raises questions about price inflation and hype.
Beer does not have to be exorbitantly priced or exceedingly rare to be great. It is a fun hobby to hunt these whalez and maybe be the hero of the next bottleshare, but drinkers should not feel discouraged if and when they miss out on a big release. While some rarities rightly earned their coveted reputations, they are often just marginally better than easily obtained cheaper options. When fishing in a bountiful sea like San Diego no one goes thirsty, even after missing out on a whale or two.