Sunday, December 13, 2009

Divine Opportunity Missed

Just this past December 1st, Houston’s Saint Arnold Brewing Company released the latest edition of its specialty beer series, this one sequentially dubbed the Divine Reserve No. 9. In a departure from previous versions of classic high-gravity styles, the No. 9 is a unique recipe of an “imperial pumpkin stout,” a Russian imperial stout brewed with pumpkin and traditional spices.

Saint Arnold has been brewing this rather irregular series since 2005. Even-numbered releases are based on the winning recipe of the regional homebrew competition, the Big Batch Brew Bash, with odd-numbered versions being original in-house creations. In the past they have produced barleywines, imperial stouts and heavy IPAs; No. 9 has proven to be their most original attempt yet.

These Divine Reserve releases have grown into something of a frenzied cult following. Because the batch sizes are limited, unique and never to be reproduced, they often sell out statewide within days or even hours—or minutes, as is the case at some retailers. Demand is high both for consumption and for cellaring purposes, both by casual consumers and hard-core Saint Arnold fans alike.

Yet is Saint Arnold missing a prime marketing opportunity with this series? Limited editions are always a good profit engine for brewers but Saint Arnold seems to be mishandling some of the success that has fallen seemingly at its feet. Almost all the Divine Reserve beers are very highly rated individually but the series taken as a whole can be viewed as a lesser success.

To begin, there is the issue of the styles chosen. These include a couple of barleywines, a Belgian quadrupel, a strong IPA, a heavy Scotch ale (twice), a Russian imperial stout and a weizenbock. Granted that half the styles are dictated by the Big Batch Brew Bash, the choices made by the Saint Arnold brewers have not been the most original or experimental. Hopefully, the latest No. 9 is a break in this uncreative trend.

The second problem has been one of supply, most likely dictated simply by spare capacity at the brewery to hold one of these batches for the long term required. The extremely limited supply coupled with attempts to distribute throughout Texas means shortages in all places, and the accompanying media attention has lead to a growing following that ravenously purchase and hoard sizeable quantities as soon as each release hits the shelves. With any luck, expanded capacity at their new brewery location will ameliorate at least some of this issue.

However, the largest problem with this special series is also seemingly the easiest to remedy: timing. There appears to be no set schedule or calendar consideration for each Divine Reserve batch. A mere three months elapsed between releases No. 8 and No. 9, whereas the No. 8 came out almost a year after its predecessor. No perennial character exists, nor is there any attempt to correlate releases with seasons or calendar dates.

This problem of scheduling is a grand opportunity missed for a great deal of positive (and free) marketing and exposure. With an annual “Divine Reserve Day,” the media coverage would extend for months and consumers would plan their events with anticipation; instead, Saint Arnold fans are left racing against each other due to grass-roots notification via a mailing list. Cameras would capture the celebration surrounding this ersatz holiday (re: Three Floyds Dark Lord Day) instead of covering the frustrated crush at liquor stores on the day of release.

Will these matters be resolved with the expanded space and capacity at their newly occupied brewery just north of downtown? Possibly, at least those concerns related to space, capacity and distribution. As for criticisms of the choice of styles and release dates, this is a matter solely under the control of Saint Arnold management.


whoneeds8 said...

Unfortunately, idiotic Texas laws will not allow an event much like "Dark Lord Day" or comparable events that Stone has for the release of their specialty beers.

SirRon said...

If the blog had one of those "thumbs up" icons, I would have clicked it. The styles and marketing of the Divine Reserves have been head scratchers... not to mention I dislike the name chosen for these special edition beers. The brewery's decisions may be explained by the fact they sell out despite how average some taste or odd they are released.

I live in Houston, like St. A's, and want them to do very well, but they are no Stone. Just saying.