Libations | Craft Beer Variety: How to Stand Out on an Increasingly Crowded Shelf

Perusing the beer aisle at my local liquor store is a hobby of mine. It’s just too fun discovering all of the creativity flowing from microbreweries around this country. Yet, homing in on which six-pack I’d like to purchase is becoming increasingly difficult and somewhat overwhelming. With the number of microbreweries in the U.S. clocking in at 2,483, just to be exact, it’s no wonder the beer aisle has swelled. But, you have to question, what factors draw consumers to a particular brand or style? In that same vein, how does a brewery thrive in the beer aisle and connect with a consumer who will never have the opportunity to step foot in their tasting room? The answer to building a brand and a following is certainly multifaceted. It involves the aesthetics of the can or bottle label, trending styles of beer, the sense of community that each brewery can elicit through their bottle and the relationship they can foster with each liquor store.

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 7.44.13 AMJust a few options on the shelves (photo c/o)

We’re all told from a young age not to judge a book by its cover, but I will be the first to admit, that I judge every book by its cover. I can’t help it. Similarly, what draws me to look more closely at a beer is often the label. A well-crafted label can create strong buying power. Colors that pop or a name that makes you think adds to the amusement of buying the beer. Thus, the label could be the impetus a new consumer needs to take home a particular beer.

Take these examples below. Lost Coast Brewing has designed some eye-popping labels that are colorful and exciting. The playful nature of the label for their Tangerine Wheat Ale demonstrates the spirit of the brewery. While I may never step foot in the tap room of Lost Coast Brewing, I can relate to the free and easy going feeling their label shows off. It reveals the good time that could be had if I were to buy their beer.

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 4.17.55 PMPhoto c/o Lost Coast Brewing

Screen shot 2014-01-29 at 4.17.06 PMPhoto c/o Lost Coast Brewing

Similarly, I enjoy both of these labels as well. Left Hand Brewing of Longmont, CO recently rebranded all of their labels to stay current. Golden Road Brewing, out of LA, worked with a local photographer to snap some classic shots of the city and had the photos printed on their cans. The retro look engenders the timeless laid back California vibe.

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Photo c/o Four Firkins

Screen shot 2014-01-30 at 5.09.58 PMPhoto c/o Left Hand Brewing

Screen shot 2014-01-30 at 4.33.31 PMPhoto c/o Golden Road Brewing

143326Photo c/0 Wally Wine

Beyond the initial look of the label, I think that trending beer styles are a big pull. Which beer genre everyone is getting psyched about could be the deciding factor between the purchase one brewery’s porter and another’s IPA. Those looking for a particular style can immediately narrow their search. Customers interested in beer to any degree often make a journey down the IPA, hit-me-with-your-best-hop, path. During that time, they likely only had a taste for very hoppy beers and would try nothing else. Moreover, novice craft beer drinkers tend to know Blue Moon’s Belgian White or New Belgium’s Fat Tire. These are popular, session ales that don’t catch the palate off guard. Therefore, many people walking down the beer aisle with less of an understanding about beer styles, may look for Belgian beers or amber ales.  This means that any brewery trying to make a name for themselves on store shelves should diversify their portfolio of beers.

Everyone loves a story. People connect and feel included if there is a story of heartfelt passion behind a beer. If a bottle of beer can evoke a sense of community or the tale of the brewery can be summed up on the side of the can, that beer is on its way to the checkout counter. Likewise, the employees of your local liquor store most likely have strong sway over your choice of purchase. I’m constantly asking for advice from the guy stocking shelves next to me and I’m betting you’ve done the same. So, if a brewery can build a relationship with each liquor store selling their product, that beer will likely move off the shelves more quickly. Each beer needs an advocate and it could be pretty easy to find one in an beer store employee, looking for a cause.

While it’s easy to just close your eyes and merely grab a pack of beer off the shelf–after spending 30 minutes trying to discern the best option–I like knowing there’s choice for us avid beer drinkers. After all, it’s clear there’s a strong market when we’ve grown by 2,443 microbreweries since the emergence of the craft beer community. On the other hand, you could always market a beer in the way Anchor Brewing did when they sponsored Joe Breeze and Otis Guy on their tandem bike ride across the country in 1979.

IMG_0941Staying hydrated with beer. Photo c/o Beer Advocate June issue

I hope this whet your palate for your weekend choice of libations.




Libations | Pliny the Elder

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Here’s the beer you should be holding in your hand this weekend – it’s Pliny the Elder. It’s one to sit back and sip away at because it’s kicking with flavor and is worth savoring. There’s a reason this beer is so popular and consistently receives perfect marks. In fact, Beer Advocate has given it a perfect score of 100 points. Obviously, this beer is not joke.

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Pliny the Elder is brewed by Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California. I stopped into this brewery last week while I was in Northern California. Rock music played over the speakers and the clientele was a rough and tumble crew filled with bikers. But, they brew some good suds and while I wouldn’t have placed this particular scene with such a notable brewery, it was a part of the appeal. They haven’t swayed from their roots even with the fame they’ve garnered.

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This highly hopped beer is aptly named. The wise old Pliny the Elder was prominent in Roman times and is known for identifying and naming the hop plant, Lupus Salictarius, a quintessential ingredient in beer. This beer is not to be missed, especially if you’re a hop lover like the rest of the craft brew crowd.

Here’s the skinny:

Pliny the Elder 

Style: American Double IPA

ABV: 8.00%

Hops: Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe

Make sure to do something crazy with the rest of your weekend.