Eventually, most beer lovers end up mourning the one that got away. We’re familiar with the mingled frustration and FOMO of watching from afar as a special release sells out out before we can get it—whether because it’s small-batch, hails from out of state, or is only released at the brewery. This week, we asked The Fervent Few to talk about the roles that scarcity and hype play in the beer world—both positive and negative.
Tim Decker: “If I know of a brewery that has been around for a long time and has a popular flagship that is outside my reach ... I’m interested. Beers like Spotted Cow from New Glarus are not part of any current trend or hype; they’re just amazing beers that have built up a reputation over a long period of time. Being from NorCal, I suppose our local version would be Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder, which, up until this month, wasn’t even distributed to Central California.”
Daniel Castro Chin: “I still remember the first time I went to Jester King and kindly requested ‘one of each’ of all their bottles to go, without having thought about how I was going to fly them home. Turns out a cardboard box, tape, and heavily wrapping every bottle with all of my socks, shirts, etc. worked out just well enough—TSA inspected the box, but I got to keep my beers. I still have those bottles, now empty, proudly displayed in a shelf.
I think, over time, scarcity played a passive role: I’d frequent local breweries as much as possible so they'd continue to do really cool things. Nothing beats fresh beer. When I first started diving into craft beer, it meant that every trip I took was just a whirlwind tour of all the breweries in the vicinity, trying to get a taste of every type of beer without consideration for the inevitable acid reflux, or my laughably confused palate. Now, I focus on picking a solid beer to go with a meal, and going to one or two breweries in the city to enjoy what they have to offer. I don't enjoy beer flights anymore, and prefer one or two pints instead. Beer used to be an experience I wanted to collect, but now the beers that withstand the test of time are the ones I favor most.”
Andrés Muñoz: “I’ll admit it: when I started drinking craft beer for real, I was all about trying to get the limited, ‘rare’ beers. It made me feel cool. If I could go back in time, I would punch myself for doing that. I think it’s stupid, and I think it hurts the industry overall. Craft beer is already perceived as elitist by some, and this is the most elitist part of it. There’s too much beer in the world for me to care about whatever repackaged, rebranded recipe a brewery drops every other week.”
Matt Gordon: “I can remember seeking out Victory’s Storm King in the Boston area circa 2005–2006, because I had been impressed with that beer on a then-recent trip. When Oskar Blues first released Ten Fidy, my roommate and I had the beer buyer at Marty's in Newton, Massachusetts set aside a case for us because a 10% Imperial Stout in a can was so novel. But really, I've never cared about hunting down anything rare or unusual. I've never waited in line for a beer release, and I simply can't imagine what would drive me to do so. While I've had some good, perhaps even great, beers that were scarce or hard to come by, that part of the craft beer scene has always seemed insufferable to me.”
Jason Berg: “My view of scarcity relates to special bottle releases where I want to get a few—one to drink right away, one to bring to a bottle share, one to have with a little age—and it’s impractical or not possible to get more than one. In my area, there are a couple bottle programs from local breweries; they make just enough so their members get only one each, with no option for more. I would love to have another wood-fermented Dark Lager, but I don’t think any more exists! In other situations, I may be able to pre-order one bottle of an annual release and could stand in line for more, but life gets in the way, and giving up a Saturday afternoon does not work out. Instead of worrying about what I am missing, I am trying to be mindful of cherishing what I have in front of me. Whenever I need a reminder, I look at the seven-year-old Imperial Stout in my cellar that I was super excited to pick up at the time … and still have not opened.”
Brad Redick: “I got into beer just like everybody else. I tried a Hefeweizen at a nationally-known pizza/brewpub chain, and then chased down every Wheat Beer available in my area. Within two years I was obsessed with craft. My friends and I started ordering from stores that would illegally ship to Texas from all over. We could get Pliny delivered to our door at a time when people in California were lining up to buy it at their Whole Foods on a certain day and time each week. One time, I got 12 10-day-old Plinys sent to me through an unexpected connection—I still remember the kid-on-Christmas feeling of opening that box. We loved it, but undoubtedly part of that feeling was the hype of sourcing a hard-to-get beer. I started trading shortly thereafter, for beers like Heady Topper or Lawson’s Double Sunshine, back when it was only available at a farmers market. Chasing hard-to-get beer has helped me build so many cool connections with people all over the country. I know trading gets a bad name, but there are a ton of people chasing and shipping beer with genuine kindness.
Eventually, the feeling of capturing those beers wore off. I got bottles of the first Modern Times sours that Michael Tonsmeire helped to make, and they broke me. They were super scarce. Some of the batches had fewer than 500 bottles. I loved them so much that I knew there were no more beers to chase. Splitting those beers with my friends is a cherished memory. After a few years of trading and trying anything we wanted, that hype feeling dissipated. You get older, you have kids, schedules fill up without trying, and you see your friends less. Before you know it, you have so much more than beer to talk about. We all still love beer, but I don't think any of us are capable of putting it on that pedestal now. I feel fortunate to have connected with people who will still send me beer should I ever ask, but now those beers kinda fade into the background in a way that I could have never predicted.”
Nick Yoder: “I've always been curious to try hyped beers, but very rarely have I gone out of my way to grab them. Yes, I've done Dark Lord Day, had a buyer stash some KBS at a grocery store, and chased the Bourbon County drops on Black Friday. And when CBS made its return on draft a few years ago, I rushed to a tapping after work, only to be too late. But I eventually had my taste after a two-hour drive to Grand Rapids a few weeks later.
These days, I rarely seek anything out because it's a limited release. Part of that is getting older and getting busier. Part of that is my palate shifting away from the styles of so many of those beers. Part of it is that more often than not, I've just lucked into trying rare beers without actively seeking them out, like when I walked into the grocery store and saw Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Expedition Stout four-packs just sitting on the shelf. I've come to the realization that there's just too much great beer out there put too much effort into seeking it out, especially considering that most rare beer tends to become less rare over time. (I'm looking at you, KBS and CBS.)
Where I do put more effort into seeking out hard-to-get beers is when they’re constrained by location. I've made the hour-and-a-half drive to the outskirts of Chicago to pick up beers that don't make it to Indiana or Michigan. I stop at Woodman's every time I visit Wisconsin to mule back some New Glarus. Cedar Point trips mean stops for Jackie O's. But I don't particularly like to trade for these beers because they're tied to a place for me. I tend to value them more because they are hard to get. I used to grab Yuengling on those Cedar Point trips, but now that it's been available in Indiana for two years, I've probably had less than I did during those few years of cross-border runs. Any other beer is just beer to me, and I'll drink it when I get to it. Except Allagash White. I will go out of my way for it every damn time.”
Tait Forman: “I feel like scarcity has been both a negative and positive part of my craft beer experience. Specifically, I find the anxiety that scarcity drives, at least for me personally, is exhausting and ultimately has had diminishing returns. With that said, subconsciously, things are simply better when I think they're more special (i.e. harder to get). That's as true for spirits and experiences as it is for beer.
Just this past week, I went a mile out of my way on holiday to try a special Lambic, which was an excellent beer but realistically was that much more special because of the perception that I may never get a chance to try it again. It's the same for getting to travel to places like Hill Farmstead or The Alchemist, or even getting a bottle of Pliny back in the day. Scarcity also has the potential to be positive because of the shared excitement over an experience of having something unique and special with others—like when a couple Fervent Few members split a rare bottle of beer in a Chicago taproom last spring.
Ultimately, I believe scarcity can be a positive, but I do think manufacturing scarcity will lead to collective consumer exhaustion, as we all get emotionally drained from the highs and lows of seeking out these products and experiences.”
Melissa Jones: “This is an interesting topic, as I’ve just closed out an email from Floodland Brewing in Seattle about what’s to come for Adam Paysse’s beers. He doesn’t distribute, but there are times when his beer goes on sale to the public or is featured at a dinner or beer bar. That's when I find myself really contemplating the price of a plane ticket.
In fact, I’ve done just that with another brewery: I ‘won’ the chance to purchase a beer from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales that was a variant of a beer that had been on my bucket list. There were no proxies allowed and you were required to pick it up in person, so I planned an entire trip out to California around the pickup date. I don’t regret it one bit—it gave me a reason to finally get out there and explore the beer landscape I’d long admired. There are a handful of breweries and beers that I’d book a plane ticket for without hesitation even today, but I have become much more selective about which ones. Sante Adarius and Floodland are both at the top of my list, which, sadly for me and my wallet, means traveling to the other side of the country.”
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