Friday, September 10, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: Trials, travails, supply, demand and Three Floyds.

(Late again this week. I try)

By any subjective measure, Three Floyds Brewing Company ranks among the top craft brewers in the nation. The beers, the vision, the graphics, the tattoos – the attitude – all speak of core values like virility and non-compromise.

Since I haven’t glanced lately at the fruits of their bookkeeper’s labor, I can’t speak to objective measures like profit and loss, but to judge from trending topics in the craft beer world, Three Floyds isn’t making enough beer to suit its various markets.

World Class Beverage’s Bob Mack wrote about it, and wrote about it, and I’ve gleaned my perspective on this topic partly from what they have to say because they're thoughtful and coherent. I have not immersed myself in the flailings and regurgitations of the beer ratings boards, for fear that the opinion I encounter might be that of a shadowy someone disgruntled because he could not “collect” an Oat Goop rating, rather than actually care about beer in the sense of liquid wonderment.

To Bob’s nicely reasoned piece, I appended my Top Five Reasons Why Three Floyds’ “Challenges” are Overstated. These are expanded slightly here.

1. The “problem” of having more demand than supply is a “problem” every brewer would love to have. You want to work full bore, you want to grow, you want to make a few bucks in the process, and you can’t do any of that if no one wants your product. I’m a reluctant capitalist, but there actually parts of the puzzle that I grasp.

2. I may not always have seen it in this way, given that for so long, my business dealt strictly in retailing beer from other breweries, but now that we brew our own, seek a place for it in the marketplace, and contemplate a burden of debt incurred to do so, I’d love to be gauging Three Floyds’ options. By the way, see #1.

3. This observation pertains more to the beer pelt collectors than those imbued with a sense of beer’s universal spirituality, but speaking of holy, have the disgruntled and oppressed not heard of Westvleteren? Once upon a time, the electronic intelligentsia selected Westvleteren 12 as the best beer in the world, and kicked back to await containers to unload at selected ports nationwide. The monks yawned in response, and continued brewing as they pleased. I’m an atheist, but thank God for that. Reread #1 sixteen times as penance, my son.

4. Consequently, you can’t always get what you want, and in fact, I’m not entirely certain you should, or that there’s any “right” to immediate gratification. For more years than I can count on two hands, I’ve been making the case that comfort zones in beer appreciation are to be rigorously avoided. The point is to make the search for your perfect pint (note to weights and measures: Can I use the word “pint” in print?) to last a lifetime, precisely because … altogether now … you’re not supposed to find it, and even if you did, you’d move on to the next one. Can’t get any Three Floyds today? I suggest trying something different. Will you jilt Three Floyds forever because you couldn’t get Alpha King this week? If so, you weren’t a fan in the first place. Grow up and see #1, above.

5. See # 1!

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that while Three Floyds certainly does face a challenge, the challenge it faces is infinitely preferable to having 5,000 barrels of capacity and 2,000 of sales. Nothing about the craft brewing business constitutes a license to print money, but people in a snit because they can’t get enough of your beer is a damned fine place to begin. Like all of us, Three Floyds makes a plan and implements it the best way possible. Get used to it.

In 2009, I was visiting Copenhagen, and purchased several bottles of Three Floyds from the Olbutikken shop for our communal tasting. I’m fairly confident that in a quarter-century of European travel, it was the first time I’d enjoyed such an opportunity to beam with pride and promote the wares brewed in my own home state, back home. It made me into something approximating patriotic, and not at all embittered because the brands I chose are allocated in Indiana, or otherwise are rare and periodically impossible to obtain.

Perspective … perhaps the one item more elusive than Dark Lord.


johnking said...

Thanks for this and very well said.

Three Floyds has become my "pitstop" on my bi-monthly excursions to Chicago. It's usually always packed, but I can usually talk myself into a seat at the bar.

I think what makes 3 Floyds great is the fact that you can't always get it. Within the past three months, the number of 3 Floyds bombers available has tripled in the Kentuckiana area. I love being able to swing by the brewery and get bottles that most people can't get unless they go directly to the brewery. I think that's what makes it special.

Case in point, if five million Michael Jordan rookie cards were made...they wouldn't be as valuable. If five million bottles of Dark Lord were made, it might just be any other stronger imperial stout.

I have come to let my tastebuds love 3 Floyds for who they are as brewers, there outlandish logos, and the fact that "it's not normal".

Bob Mack said...

Roger - another great piece. Thanks for writing on this topic.

Its not always apparent that there are serious problems for a small brewery related to either being "too popular" or being one that is just getting started. But of course the former problem is more desirable and I look forward to the day that New Albanian Brewing curses the problems associated with being "too popular!"

One thing I'd like to mention is that whether you're New Albanian Brewing or Three Floyds Brewing - you're still a small business fighting for survival in a very competitive world. If people were suggesting that the big brewers simply "brew more beer" I'd understand that point of view, but it isn't so easy for a small brewery to simply "brew more beer" and hope that it all gets sold.

To paraphrase a famous movie, I'm just a distributor, so when I'm not kissing up to brewers I'm stealing all their profits. But I have seen more than enough to know that it is tough to make a go of it in the brewing industry, even when things appear to be going well.

Rob Yoder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Yoder said...

Yes, yes and yes. So many expect to be able to plop an instant gratification lifestyle onto any product while not realizing that there is almost always a price to be paid. Small batch, "wait until it's ready" production methods go a long way to ensuring a quality product.

I was fortunte enough to have discovered 3 Floyds before my last trip up north and was able to swing by the brewery and pick up a few cases. I appreciate it much more for having been there, having met and spoken with the staff and to take in the environment - tucked into the back of the Munster version of Bluegrass park.

fabulous said...

All I know is that in one year I'll be buying growlers of New Albanian on a fairly regularly basis - once we move to Kentucky. Looking forward to that.