Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Purpose of Limited Editions

One of the fastest growing trends in the craft beer industry is the offering of limited edition products. A limited edition beer is a beer that is brewed only once by a brewer, often in a single small batch. Limited edition beers are different from seasonal beers, which are sometimes brewed in the same manner but are on an annual production schedule. Limited editions appear one time only.

Most limited edition beers are styles that are either high gravity or out of the ordinary. Favorite selections for limited editions may be alcohol-soaring barleywines, imperial stouts, old ales, Scotch ales or Belgian-inspired beers. Other choices can be based on specialty hop varietals, fruit or nut infusions, artesian beers or even historical or extinct styles. But why do brewers choose to produce limited editions at all?

Contrary to the true nature of beer festivals, this time the cynical view is correct: money. Limited edition beers are highly profitable ventures for most craft brewers. Even in cases where the specialty ingredients are not cost-effective, and even when normal production schedules are reorganized around a special batch, the brewer still benefits financially if only through the marketing value surrounding their new product.

First and foremost, limited edition beers get noticed. They are talking points in brewery newsletters, subjects of advertising and marketing campaigns, and fuel for the fire of craft beer consumer zeal. Saint Arnold’s Divine Reserve series consistently sells out in less than a day statewide, even with reservation lists and limits on purchase quantities. Stone Brewing has dominated the limited edition world with their Vertical Epic series, building toward an eleven-year series conclusion in 2012. Carlsberg brewed their Jacobsen Vintage No. 1, which retails for $400 a bottle, a price artificially inflated by that brewing giant specifically for press appeal.

The attraction for craft beer consumers is a sight and taste of something different and unique, often never to be seen again. It is the same allure that drives concert and sports ticket sales, the desire for the individual to be “witness to history” and build up a cache of stories with which to impress their friends. It is the draw to maintain a complete sample set from a brewer, leaving no product untasted, and brewers are happy to oblige.

For the craft brewer themselves, it is a chance to flex their skill and creativity. Unhampered by the necessity of providing a business-dependent product, consistently and perpetually, brewers are able to design beers based on their personal tastes or ennui to experiment. They are able to construct their own badges of honor within the brewing industry, gilded even more so at craft beer competitions.

More significantly and more practically, limited edition beers allow an ideal test market for the craft brewer. Risk is contained as new products can be produced on a narrower scale and with restricted commitment. Those beers that do not sell well can easily be forgotten; those beers that surpass all expectations may become the next seasonal or permanent edition to the brewer’s portfolio.

To the individual craft beer company as an entity, limited editions can be a chest-thumping roar to other craft breweries. It is a method to announce their presence, no matter their scale or lackluster public opinion of their more mainstream products. A limited edition beer is a calling card of aptitude and expertise from a brewery that forces others to take them seriously by demonstrating their own irrefutable dexterity in the market.

The point behind limited edition beers may be patently financial but they do provide an all-around win for both brewers and consumers. Craft brewers benefit from additional revenue and industry clout, and craft beer consumers benefit from an increased and perennial variety. With the imaginations of brewers nourished by the pocketbooks of consumers, the limited edition trend is not likely to slow down.


matt said...

So what's the purpose of beer?

assurbanipaul said...

To prove that God loves us and wants us to be happy.