21 March 2014

HBG Commentary/Conversation: What Makes a Brewery Attractive to You?

Perhaps this is a somewhat loaded question. And it's definitely an open-ended question--

In this state, we're facing a huge array of craft beer choices, and the number of choices just keeps growing. So what makes a brewery attractive to you?

I suppose the easy and standard answer for many craft beer fans is novelty: What interesting things is Brewery A doing that Brewery B isn't? If a brewery is brewing a style that other breweries aren't brewing and is doing a good job with that style, that certainly is attractive to me. I'm thinking of breweries like Chicago's Off Color and South Carolina's Westbrook, which are brewing a Gose or a Gose-like beer. An even if it's a style I don't care for (like rauchbiers), I will probably give that beer a try if I know the brewer produces good-quality beers.

Matt: For me it is about quality and value. I don't fault a place for trying to run a business, but I won't be part of or support that business if I don't feel the quality is there.

As the craft beer market continues to evolve, I find myself not seeking out new places and sticking with companies that I like that produce a product I enjoy for a price I want to pay.

I would say a big factor for new companies is getting your house beers in order. If a place can't brew their house pale ale without unmistakable flavors of diacetyl, why would I ever spend $20+ on a big beer that they brewed?

I do think there is plenty of space in the market for a brewery that is able to connect with their community, brew great beer, and charge a reasonable price for it. But I think it will be hard for many new breweries in terms of tap space, shelf space in liquor stores, and getting people to your establishment. I don't get why people want to compete in the pale ale space or IPA space. Should you brew them? Yes. Should they be your flagship? I would say no in this market.

Megan: For me it's consistency and quality. I like to know if I order X beer, it's gonna taste great on a consistent basis. I also think availability is key. If it isn't on tap or available in cans/bottles at some of the more well-known beer bars in town, I probably won't get the chance to drink it very often.

Kristin: Like Matt, I love a brewery that offers quality, consistent beer at a reasonable price. This gal is not made of money, and as the options out there become greater, the price point will always help me make my decision.

What's more, I have my basic go-to styles throughout the year. Right now it's IPAs, pales, and saisons, so if a brewery is all about porters and stouts, chances are I won't be looking their way right now. I'm also trying to cutdown on my beer consumption, not increase it. So when I'm out to dinner, and I'm having that one beer, I want to make sure it's something solid. Consistency is the key here.

Finally, how about a round of applause for diversity in brewing? I love a brewery that can offer a variety of styles that beg me to step out of my current beer comfort zone and try something different for a change. Surprise me!

Megan: I don't care about price. If it costs $100 I will buy it if I want to drink it. I think I'm in the minority here. I don't even LOOK at price (much to the dismay of my significant other). And if I'm out at a bar, I'll pick something that I don't normally get to drink from a place that consistently wows me. 3 Floyds...whatever they've got on the board, I'm drinking it. I'm a creature of habit.

Jason: When I started drinking craft beer 14 years ago, I was most interested in browns and porters. It would be years before I strayed too far from those categories, so I am imagining if I, my former beer drinking self, were transported 14 years into the future to modern Indianapolis and modern craft beer America, what would I want? Jason2000 would have cared a lot about house lineups and what is in that house lineup. He would have wanted a brewery that brewed a good brown or porter all the time because Jason2000 was not adventurous with his beers yet.

I am not that same person today. Once I have tried a brewery's house beer, I rarely return to it. I do not have a regular beer that I keep in my fridge and I do not order the same beer at every visit. I get where being consistent with a house beer and meeting a price point is important. But even if somebody made the best IPA at rock bottom prices, I would not return to that beer regularly. I think that's boring. I like variety. Rotate the beers frequently. Do seasonals, because I do like drinking by the seasons. Do special brews, because I like trying funky one offs. If your beer is a winner more often than a loser, I will probably come back. If the price point is higher than I would like, I probably won't order a second pint or tulip. But to be honest, I generally don't drink the same beer twice in one visit. I like variety so a brewery with a brew system that is slightly smaller than they need would be ideal. More frequent brew sessions means more frequent opportunities to brew something different. Keep changing, keep rotating, keep it funky, keep it fresh. That would make an attractive brewery for Modern Jason.

Megan: Modern Jason is a dick.

Jason: Jason2000 is a dick.

Jim: I think we can all agree that Jason's dickishness is timeless. Okay, back on topic--

Rodney: When I lived in Indiana, I was convinced I was at the point where I wanted to go back to "regular" beers. Unfortunately, something new and interesting will always grab my attention. I'm going to try any new brewery or any wacky one-off type beer. The only thing keeping me sane is my inability to try every single one-off beer. But over the last 10 years, I've learned that one-off beers usually aren't that good. I mean they're not bad, but they're not something you'd want to drink a lot of. Many of the barrel or sour experiments actually are bad. All that said, there are definitely beers that I come back to. A well made, quality, consistent IPA, porter, brown, pale, ESB or Pilsner will keep me coming back. My first beer at Broad Ripple Brewpub will always be an ESB.

Now that I'm down in Georgia, everything is new again. I'm trying so many breweries I haven't heard of, or hadn't had the opportunity to drink regularly in Indiana. I'm also finally putting in to practice what I originally thought - I'm drinking more regular beers. When I visit The Porter Bar in Atlanta, there's plenty of wacky stuff on tap, but I usually seek out a brewery I haven't had and a style that I know my preference on. Once a brewery has proven itself to my with basic styles, then I'll try their wacky one-off beers. But if I see a brewery I've never heard of and the only beer they have on tap is a wine barrel aged saison, I'm going to be skeptical and probably pass it over.

Jim: Yeah, I'm with you, Rod. I start off with a brewery's house beers. If the quality is there, then I'll trust the seasonal/one-off beers. But as a rule, I'm not into the whale hunting anymore. More often than not now, I find myself going for a six-pack of a well-made APA or IPA over a bomber/750ml of a mega-imperial-barrel-aged monster.

Gina: This issue intrigues me. I will still probably pick something new first, but my second may be something more familiar. I'm not price sensitive yet (on pints anyway), but I'm not seeking any whales either. There is a place and time for all kinds of beers and that determines my choice usually. Anymore, no matter what the beer is, I'm happy to be drinking with others.

Jason: You all are boring the crap out of me...

"I want a well-made ho hum beer..."

Sounds to me like I should introduce you all to a little known beer called Budweiser. They are consistent. They meet the quality standards for their beer category. And Sun King or Upland or any other brewery in Indiana can't touch their price point!

Hoosier Bud Geek, hell yeah!

Matt: I want to go to flavor country, Jason. My days of spending $13.99-$17.99 on a seasonal four pack or six pack are pretty much over. I don't buy bombers anymore. I still love beer, but I'm tired of being burned by low-quality beers at a high price point.

Rod: I'm also tired of breweries not being able to produce a basic beer before throwing their beer into barrels and making everything imperial. If I like your standard beers, I'm probably going to like your wacky beers. It seems like too many breweries are racing to the $20 bomber before they can make the $10 six-pack.

Jim: True. I mean, look at The Alchemist. I suppose you could tout them as proof that if you're really good at doing one relatively non-radical style--a double IPA--you can be successful without brewing the crazy stuff. But I think they're the exception rather than the rule there.

Jason: If bombers are your concern, Matt, the question should be about packaging then. I don't buy bombers anymore. I go to places with mix a six-packs. Or I go to the bar or restaurant. I don't drink at home much. I drink maybe once or twice a week. So when I do drink, I don't want the same-old, same-old. I want to mix it up, be adventurous, let a barrel-aged wild-fermented cucumber-infused double imperial India Pale Ale destroy my tastebuds and send me home.

You all sound like you want Paul Anka beer. Where are the people that want DESTRUCTION/MAYHEM/DIEDIEDIE beers? Just look at us. Old stand-by's are beating out new and different. HBG has become so... conservative.

Jake: I keep going back to the number 40. We have now heard of 40 different breweries that are opening in Indiana this year. My approach to deciding where I will start comes down to the founding team. Who is the brewer? What is his/her background? Do they have professional experience? Based on the answers to those questions, I have an idea of where their initial quality is going to be and can set my own expectations for when I first try their beer. I am attempting a thing where I try beer from a new, local brewery within the first three months they are open and then wait another six months to see if they have worked out the quality issues. The short answer for me is the background for a new team and quality.

I do have some beers that are consistently in my fridge: Firestone Walker Union Jack, Stiegl Grapefruit Radler, Bell's Oarsman, Schlafly TIPA, Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale. I have beers like these in the fridge because when I am drinking at home or having friends over, I want to know that I am grabbing something consistent that I can enjoy.

If I'm heading out to a beer bar for dinner with my significant other, I am ordering a full pour of something I know and sample pours of things I don't recognize but interest me. If I'm going with some buddies, I am getting a couple half-pours of stuff I haven't had before and then ending the night with something I know so that I am sure I go home with a good taste in my mouth.

Jason: I think in summary for myself, I drink less volume than before but spend the same amount as when I drank more. I'm willing to spend more per ounce for something different as I put a very high value on variety. I give preference to smaller pours or packaging so that I may spread my beer dollars across as many breweries and styles as possible. I never order a flagship beer because I've been there/done that.

I should note that I don't go whale hunting. If it's there when I'm looking for a beer, great. If not, oh well. I love Dark Lord Day as an experience. The purchase of beer is just the icing.

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