Tuesday, April 16, 2013

'All-Day' Beers and Usefulness as a Useful Standard.

Yesterday I spoke for a while with Mike Stevens, CEO of Founders Brewing, for an upcoming article in Draft.  While I had him on the horn, there was something else I wanted to know about: the All-Day IPA.

When I first met this beer in 2011 at the Great Taste of the Midwest, there was an iffy, experimental air about it.  It was a brewers' beer, one they had been tweaking and enjoying for a few years, and I don't think they knew if it would really take off with a public making noise for Kentucky Breakfast Stouts and the like.  On this blog I've banged the session-beer drum, mainly for selfish reasons (i.e., I want to see more of them).  But aside from a few cranky writers there has not been much evidence of any wider session beer trend.  Most of the buzz and attention has gone, and still goes, to stronger, more extreme beers or those with weird stuff in them.

Session beers are not sexy.  But maybe that's the point.

My argument has been that there appears to be money in lower-alcohol beers, if anyone cares to make it.  The country's best-selling beers are light lagers that hover around 4.2%.  Granted, they're devoid of character, but they do say something about what people find useful.  More to the point of flavorful beer--as session beers ought to be--is the popularity of wheat beers in North America.  Boulevard Wheat (4.4%) and Widmer Hefeweizen (4.7%) have paid a lot of bills.  Is it because they're made with wheat?  Or maybe it's the lemon!

Or maybe people are just, I don't know, fucking thirsty.

Now we're seeing more session-strength hoppy ales.  Founders All-Day IPA is one of the more visible ones. So, two years later, how is it doing?

"It's killing it," Steven said. "It honestly is. ... We knew we had something great there, we knew we'd have positive results, but we didn't expect the results we're seeing."

Partly by design, Founders goes for variety and lacks an obvious flagship.  Meanwhile All-Day IPA is on its way to becoming the brewery's top seller.

Not bad for a "seasonal." For now the beer is only available from March to September. It was the brewery's second-biggest seller in the year's first quarter... and it was only available in March.

"We can't make enough of it right now. It's crazy," Stevens said.  Canned 12-packs of it will arrive in July.

(And let's watch what happens with Schlafly's new IPA, available in cans and clocking in at 4.5%.  I bet it sells very well. Without lemons.)

All this happens while Founders is in the midst of a $25 million brewery expansion.  It sold 70,000 U.S. beer barrels last year and estimates 130,000 this year, as the brewery expands its distribution footprint.  A session beer is part of that success.

Funny how that seems to happen when brewers sell beers that they particularly like to drink.  People who work with beer tend to--shocking, I know--drink it often.  There is utility in reasonable strength.

"It gets more and more difficult to do these all-day promos, so a session beer was sounding really good," Stevens said.

My crazy-insane theory: a beer that is useful for a brewer tends to be useful to other working people too...  and those may be the drinkers who, aside from a few cranky writers, make the least noise.

1 comment:

  1. Joe.. well written well done looking forward to your next Great Taste visit to see what other brewers have become session-able!