There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the international beer blogging community these days over so-called “cult beers” and their rapid followers. It all stems from the April edition of The Session which asked “What beer would you stand in line for hours to taste?”
Ireland’s Beer Nut offered his rejoinder, decreeing that beer does not truly matter, while young Mark Dredge of the U.K. chimed in with a contrary view and fellow Canadian Alan McLeod offered his view that…well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what his view is. And from the look of things, he may not be, either.
Of course, I couldn’t help myself and felt the need to chime in on my other blog. But I felt that this topic was in need of a distinctly Canadian spin, too, and so I am here to tell you all that, absolutely, Canadian beer needs higher prices and more cult beers. Here’s why.
Ask almost any Canadian craft brewer and they will tell you how hard it is to survive in the current environment. Margins are tight, they’ll say, and distribution is difficult unless you make a ton of any one brand. But that’s because most of them are producing solid but generally unremarkable ales and lagers. I say that more of them need to think like American craft brewers!
(Which is why, incidentally, I’m delighted to see a strong Ontario contingent en route to the Craft Brewers Conference in Chicago this week.)
Especially around our major urban centres, which is where most craft brewers are based, there now exist more than sufficient beer fans who will travel distances and pay good money for special releases and one-offs, à la Dark Lord Day. Hell, the LCBO in central Toronto sold 20 cases of $18.40 a bottle beer in a matter of hours without any advance press whatsoever! You think a whole whack of extraordinary, limited edition bottles of some bizarre but delicious hybridized style of over-the-top barley wine or IPA or Belgian-inspired lunacy wouldn’t sell just as well? Of course it would.
And here’s the kicker: such special releases not only add to the bottom line, they also tend to attract the media, thus resulting in great publicity. It’s the exact strategy pursued by Boston Beer in the U.S., and they are now the largest craft brewer in the country.
Brewers get money and hype. Beer drinkers get greater variety and more exciting brews. It’s a classic win-win!