The latest destination for rare and exclusive bottle releases is not a brewery tap room or bottle shop. It’s a website. Or several websites, as it were. Southern California craft brewers are increasingly using ticket websites like Eventbrite and Brown Paper Ticket to offer special batches of beer to the public. Monkish Brewing, Bottle Logic Brewing, and Modern Times Beer have all jumped on the ticketed-beer-release bandwagon.
I have—let’s call them “mixed feelings” about the ticketed special release trend. But I’m going to let Bob Kunz of Highland Park Brewery be our sherpa through the process (and its pros and cons). Kunz uses Eventbrite to sell almost all the beer bottled at Highland Park.
Pro: “I just can’t understand the idea of waiting in line for hours and hours—staying in a tent overnight!—for a bottle of beer,” Kunz says. Take the case of Russian River Brewing’s yearly Pliny the Younger bottle release madness. People start camping out days before kegs of Pliny are tapped. Kunz rejects that. If a beer has a limited supply and huge demand, move the entire process online. It’s still first come, first serve. But no one goes days without a shower to get a rare bottle of beer.
Con: Making a bottle release into an online event where a limited quantity of beer is offered for a limited amount of time could be ginning up demand. If the beer lives up to the hype, then fine. No harm. But if an online sale turns a mediocre beer into a hype beer? Nah. “I’m sure people use [ticketed beer releases] that way. But better that than having people wait in line for five hours.”
Pro: The ticketing process streamlines the supply chain for small breweries. It’s marketing, distribution, and customer care rolled into one package. Posting the event to Highland Park’s Facebook page acts as a marketing tool for the beer. But more importantly, Kunz says, the ticketed sale is a really efficient distribution tool. “I don’t want to use a traditional distributing company. But I want people to be able to try my beers.” If you snag a bottle in one of these sales, you pick it up at the brewery. No need for a delivery truck.
Con: Picking up an exciting bottle of beer used to be achieved in two-steps: Go to a brewery. Buy a beer. But the ticketed event release adds a bunch of steps to the process. First you have to keep up with all your favorite breweries on their various websites and social media accounts to make sure you know when a beer release is scheduled. Then you have to be free to jump on the release as soon as the the event goes live. Then you have to pencil in a trip to the brewery within a set period of time (for Highland Park Brewery, it’s a two-week window). Then you go to the brewery and pick up the beer. That’s a lot more than two steps.
Pro: “It’s a great way to reach a broader clientele. You can reach a lot of consumers who may not have thought to come to this side of town for a bottle,” Kunz says. He says that spreading the word is not his primary goal with these online sales, but it doesn’t hurt.
Con: One of the best parts about visiting a brewery is the haul you bring home with you. Part of the reason that I go to a brewery is to get access to bottles that I might not be able to find otherwise. Scoring a rare, exciting bottle on a random trip to a brewery carries a serendipitous pleasure with it. Selling special bottles only to people who plan ahead loses a bit of the romance of the hidden treasure score.
So like I said, I have mixed feelings. But the ticketed online release does signal a maturing of the Los Angeles beer scene. Our brewers are making bottles that are worth the hype. And worth waiting in line—or online—for.