Brewers adjust big beer debuts
Once every year, thousands of people flock to Munster, Ind., eager to get their hands on 3 Floyds Brewing’s newest Dark Lord beer—that is, once every normal year.
This year, COVID-19 caused the brewery to cancel Dark Lord Day, the festival surrounding the annual release of the imperial stout. The beer went on sale on 3 Floyd’s website yesterday instead.
Chicago-area breweries that have built followings around specialty beers are shifting from hyped-up releases to online ordering during the pandemic. The potential revenue lost without the buildup of an in-person release could hit hard in a year when beer sales are already down, experts said.
“While (the online sales) are still critical and important to do, they don’t come anywhere close to generating the type of revenue that traditionally these breweries see from these types of releases,” said Danielle D’Alessandro, executive director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.
Perhaps more significant than the sales figures are the brand impressions those big, flashy release events can generate, said Michael Kiser, founder of Chicago-based industry publication Good Beer Hunting.
“It creates a halo effect around the entire brand for the rest of the year,” he said.
Dark Lord has created a cult following. Shuttles schlep people from Chicago to Munster for Dark Lord Day, and online resales abound following the release. In that way, the beer companies are meeting some fans where they are, Kiser said. This year, people will choose a time between Nov. 5 and Nov. 10 to pick up their Dark Lord.
Craft breweries nationwide sold 10 percent less beer in the first six months of 2020 than they did the year before, said Bart Watson, chief economist at the Colorado-based Brewers Association. It will be vital for breweries to hold customer’s attention, even without flashy release parties.
Goose Island, which is owned by beer conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, also announced it would move its annual Bourbon County Stout release online.
Lottery systems, pre-purchasing and selected pickup times will replace overnight parking lot camping and long lines, according to Goose Island’s website.
Illinois law prohibits breweries from shipping beer, so people must come pick up their specialty beers. Lawmakers eased restrictions on beer delivery early in the pandemic, but some in the industry argue that’s not enough.
Revolution Brewing is offering curbside pickup for its Deep Wood barrel-aged beers, with sales starting today. The Chicago-based brewery does a handful of Deep Wood releases every year, and typically has an event surrounding them in each of the nine states where its beers are available.
Still, there’s usually a hunt involved, said Josh Deth, founder of Revolution. There were long lines at the taproom on Kedzie Avenue and it was a party. This year, that will be gone.
“It’s an opportunity for the beer nerd to geek out and to hang out with his or her buddies and to try the greatest of the beers that we make,” he said. “It’s also a moment for our brewers to showcase what they do all year long. . . .It’s the craft in craft beer.”
Deth declined to share revenue numbers surrounding Revolution’s barrel-aged beers, but said they sell at a higher price point. A four pack could sell for up to $40, compared to an $11 six pack of Anti-Hero, the brewery’s flagship IPA.