Got Beer? Hitting the Lottery

Anyone who’s been into craft beer for more than 10 minutes has heard of the likes of Pliny the Elder, Heady Topper and our own local hit IPA, the Captain’s Daughter. These aren’t just good IPAs put out by talented brewers; these are IPAs that fans go insane over. People will drive for hours to get their hands on limited quantities of this beer, hoard their supplies, and drink them while saving up for the next run. That kind of rabid dedication is hard to come by, and one has to wonder exactly what it is that makes them so rampantly successful. That kind of fanaticism doesn’t happen often. They’re both delicious, unique, stellar examples of an IPA. But they’re not the only beers in the world, and one can’t help but wonder why other beers of similar quality aren’t flying off the shelves at the same rate.

Why are these beers such runaway successes? It seems to be an odd combination of limited availability, hitting a trend at just the right time and pure dumb luck. Captain’s Daughter came out at a time when Heady Topper was unavailable while the Alchemist shut down and relocated operations. Even when it reopened, the much-beloved Heady Topper was still hard to get since you couldn’t pick it up at the brewery anymore. You had to line up outside one of the few stores on delivery day, sometimes at ludicrous times of the morning, for the chance to even see a can of it.

So when the Daughter arrived, it filled a void in the hearts of hardcore IPA fans and does to this day. Also, since major beer hoarders were the main clientele of the Alchemist, Captain’s Daughter would be snatched up in bulk, especially since it was initially going to be done in limited quantity. Grey Sail inadvertently tapped into a dedicated market that was already willing to shell out money for something rare, and didn’t have their dollars dedicated elsewhere. Both Grey Sail and the Alchemist really caught lightning in a bottle, or in this case, a can.

But then, you can never really predict which beers will explode and which will flop. Samuel Adams never expected their Noble Pils to do so well on its initial release, but they also backed their declining White Ale for years during sagging sales and cool reception, which is ironic, because it’s the exact kind of beer that could have cut the legs off of Blue Moon before it exploded in popularity if they’d changed how they sold it. And, lo and behold, soon the White Ale was back as a year-round beer to try and snag some of those Blue Moon dollars.

Small breweries are better at hitting that lottery, since smaller breweries are more adaptable and can either follow or set trends on a moment’s notice. They can keep throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and that means their odds of making a beer phenomenon are far greater. Though, that being said, it’s also possible to play the lottery for your entire life and never win a dime, so take that for what it’s worth.

So how do you duplicate that formula? My advice is, don’t. The harder you try to copy or replicate someone else’s success, the more you’ll fall on your face. Hell, how many Hollywood reboots and sequels are out there that not only pale to the original, but outright flop? It’s even harder in the beer world, since most craft beer drinkers can see a copycat from a mile away.

Just do your own thing the best you can. Maybe you’ll never hit the lottery, but it’s better to work on something you love. The dedication will come through in whatever you do, which is ultimately more fulfilling and has a greater chance of success than copying or trying to duplicate what’s already popular. 

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