Does anybody in craft beer write about specialized packaging? What I mean by that is not “limited release” or “one time release.” Instead, I am thinking about breweries who – mostly via canning – release small runs of their products. These beers are not released for national distribution but are informally, nationally distributed through trades and muling (thus creating reputation and hype) and likely will be produced again at some point in the future. Because of the small runs, the cans often have sticker labels (Tired Hands, Spiteful) or maybe the brewery has a special deal to not buy 100,000 cans at once. Or maybe the brewery is purchasing massive amount of cans, but they have divided the printing to a number of offerings and not just one or two (as our own Country Boy does with Cougar Bait).
Some examples: Hoof Hearted. Every so often, if you drive to the production facility in Marengo (on Sundays, I believe) and not the restaurant in Columbus (as I learned first hand), you can buy cans of some of their beers. Hazy. Juicy. Chicken broth, as one well read blogger notes. These traits have provided Hoof Hearted with national attention. Without much or any distribution (outside of the owners of Cappy’s in Loveland bringing down some cases every now and then to their store), these specialized cans receive a lot of attention also because of specialized packaging.
The Veil (a really nice write up on Good Beer Hunting by Cory Smith is here). This fairly new Richmond brewery is getting a lot of nerd attention, mostly from the cans that are making their way across the country in trades or mules (which is how I got mine). With a Hill Farmstead/Alchemist lineage, it’s no surprise that people would be interested in their beer. But what is interesting is how quickly The Veil is canning a variety of beer. Most breweries who are brand new start with one or two offerings. The Veil seems to be quickly packaging a number of offerings.
There is something about specialized packaging or a minimal release of canned beer, or whatever we want to call it, that shouts scarcity to a specialized population of consumers (like craft beer drinkers). Even if the overall production numbers are not low, the nerd factor kicks in quickly and treats it as such. One recent ISO on Ratebeer had the OP willing to send Cantillon Geuze, Russian River sours, Surly Darkness, or BA Jackie O’s for a four pack of Veil. A four pack. A four pack of a beer that probably costs between $12-$15 and there should be plenty of if you live in the Richmond area. A four pack of beer from a brewery that only recently opened (as opposed to Russian River’s long standing ethos and reputation). Such is the lure of specialized packaging. Such is the ability of specialized packaging to help build hype.
The opposite of specialized packaging would be a widely available canned beer – like Arrogant Bastard or Fat Tire. But the opposite might not even be that extreme. A brewery that selects a specific product and decides to push that product in the market place instead of – like Hoof Hearted – periodically canning a new beer – is not part of the specialized packaging vocabulary. Most breweries offer new beers on tap all the time. Few offer new beers in cans or packaging in general all the time. With canning, packaging typically means “flagship” or investment in a product since one has to purchase an extremely large amount of pre-printed cans to fill. What holds true for larger breweries like Stone and New Belgium can also hold true for smaller operations. Closer to home, Rhinegeist’s Truth or Against the Grain’s A Beer are not specialized packaging. They aren’t hyped as such and they are marketed as widely available even if only a few markets, for instance, can actually buy Truth (within Kentucky and Ohio). Truth is a very good IPA. But it’s hype is non-existent (no ISOs on Ratebeer). The Veil’s Broz Night Out is very very good. I’m not saying it’s super hyped, but if someone will give up Cantillon for a four pack of it in a trade, then its reputation via specialized packaging far exceeds Truth’s.
Reputation, we might say, is also created by the can. In other words, it’s in the can.
Speaking of specialization and “in the can”: Don’t forget to register for Craft Writing: Beer The Digital, and Craft Culture. The second time this event is being held at the University of Kentucky, and it is FREE!