A few months back I got into a conversation about beer reviews and ratings with Brent Osborn of Osborn Brewing. I’ve been simmering on this, trying to formulate it into an article, and finally resolving to change the error of my ways.
Edit 4 years later: Some of this info is slightly out of date, like Ohio’s ABV cap, but the vast majority is still highly relevant.
When I talked to bottle shop and bar owners about my series on the 3 tier system one of their concerns and challenges was dealing with beer allocations. Each store generally only gets so much of each beer. Craft breweries are just too popular and too small to fulfill every demand for their beer in every store in every state. So read on to learn more about beer allocations and, most importantly, for the master magician (that’s me) to reveal his secrets on getting those rarer beers!
It seems that many Cincinnati-area bars and beer stores need to do a little vocabulary work. Per good ‘ol Merriam-Webster, rare is:
1: marked by wide separation of component particles :thin<rare air>2a : marked by unusual quality, merit, or appeal : distinctiveb : superlative or extreme of its kind3: seldom occurring or found : uncommon
For our purposes, definition three is what we will be examining, though two does factor in.
Nearly every week, there are numerous cases of the “rare beer tasting”, “rare bottle release”, or, my personal favorite, “the first/last/only keg of xxx in the State of Ohio/City of Cincinnati.” Any of these increasingly-encountered phenomena would be much, much less irritating if they used the word (or at least concept) of rare correctly. If I can buy the “rare” beers at your tasting or at any reputable beer store in the area ALL YEAR LONG, those beers aren’t rare.
If you have the only keg of such and such that has ever been made in the history of mankind, but I can buy the same beer in bottle format anytime I please, who gives a crap? And that’s without even considering the fact that actual rarity has nothing to do with how good a beer actually is. Give me a Bell’s Two Hearted that I can buy any day of the week from the gas station down the street over your one-hundred bottles ever created of triple-dry-hopped-barrel-aged-wild sextuple stout.
The Store Who Cried Rare!
Words have meanings and when those meanings are detached, the words become pointless. Just as in the case of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, if you’re a beer store who bombards me on email/Facebook/Twitter with a critical mass of hyperbole regarding the rarity of your stock, I’m going to stop listening. I realize it’s a marketing ploy and I know that we craft beer lovers have largely brought this upon ourselves in over-valuing the latest “White Whale” and riding the hype train on certain beer traits (barrel-aged, sour, and, yes, rare).
I’m just asking this: the next time you need to market an event or product as “rare”, take a step back for a second and think about whether or not it’s 1) true and 2) necessary. If you’re going to sell a good product, it doesn’t have to be rare.