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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Toward a Mass-Market IPA

Although beer drinkers have apparently known about this for awhile, it's just making news today: Walgreens is selling their own canned beer. Walgreens opts for the classic "nouveau-antique" motif, styling it Big Flats 1901 and plopping an old waterwheel on the can. (Memo to Walgreens: using the word "flats" in your title was perhaps not the stroke of genius your PR people suggested.) It's the color of dirty water, sells for $3 a sixer, and is apparently awful.

But you don't care about Walgreens cheap new beer, and neither do I.

Seeing the story, though, made me reflect on my post from earlier this week, wherein I mused that there's no reason the US couldn't become a good-beer country. If that happens, one of the mechanisms might be the appearance of mass-market cheap-good beer. Imagine if Walgreens had instead decided to market a $4 sixer of below-average but adequate IPA--let's say an inoffensive 5.5%, 42-IBU beer. Using economies of scale, cheap ingredients, and high-alpha hops, a company could probably make money on such a beer if they could sell enough. Beer geeks would hate it, but many would buy it nevertheless because it was so much cheaper than better IPAs. Could a brewery move two million barrels of the stuff? Probably.

(Maybe it's not an IPA. The success of Blue Moon demonstrates that weird styles can have national appeal.)

If we do see such a beer--or at least, see such a beer that is a commercial success--it would signal the tipping point away from the kinds of beers Walgreens is hawking and toward fuller-flavor beers. I'd like to see someone give it a shot.

PHOTO: Chicago Now's Beeronaut


  1. I bought a 6-pack of Big Flats right before New Years Eve out of curiousity. I still have 5 cans left a month later. I drank that 1 can right from the can itself and did not see the beer until the photo you posted. Frankly.. that photo shocks and frightens me. I would expect MGD 64 to have more color than that.

  2. There are few avenues for investors to profit from the US being a 'good beer nation'.

    To my knowledge, only one craft beer company [Boston Beer Company, Inc.; NYSE: SAM] and one craft beer alliance [Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc.; Nasdaq: HOOK] are publicly trade. SAM's stock value doubled in 2010; HOOK's, tripled.

    Have I missed some other related enterprise(s)?

    I suppose it suffice if someday in the not too distant future quality American beer can be found in every corner of this vast land.

  3. I wonder if one of the craft breweries with sizable distribution could sell enough of an IPA that it catches on and crosses over to macro-lager drinkers.

    Not likely, but it seems possible with something like Ranger IPA. New Belgium has been marketing the hell out of that beer.

  4. I believe pilsner lager or amber, golden, or wheat ale beer styles are more likely to convert interchangeable macro-lager drinkers to craft beer.

    Gateway / transitional beer styles.

  5. Is that picture what the beer seriously looks like? It just doesn't look real.

  6. That is the worst looking beer I have ever seen.

  7. The stuff in that glass looks like dog slobber.

  8. Jack R., do you remember the '90s? Because your arguments seem to be drop-shipped directly from about 1996. Right before the sh!t hit the fan and good-beer sales flattened like a pancake for the better part of a decade. Bubble city, baby.

    Granted things are different now, they always are, but your musings reflect the gold-rush mentality that has defined our culture since it began.

  9. Hah! Thanks for attributing my photo of the lesser-known Transformer Schoolbusitron contemplating a beer paler than himself.
    The trouble with trying to mass market a cheap IPA is that we'll hear the same old whine: "I don't like beer that's bitter." Too bad, because throwing a few extra hops in a light beer might make it interesting. There are some "ales" on the mass market like Genny Cream, and Ballantine's is still out there somewhere, but who's rushing to buy that? The reason Goose Island sells lots of 312 is because it's their beer that tastes most like a Miller.

  10. I like good beer and I don't like beer that's bitter. So what? We all like different things. No matter how much I'm told that Red Chair is a great beer, I still can't drink it. That doesn't make my opinion (or taste) any less valid than a good beer drinker that likes bitter beer.

  11. Shawn, the problem is too many mass market consumers complaining that, say, Bud is "too bitter."

    At least my local Walgreens has Fat Tire and 312, but that's it.

  12. Back to Alworth's premise that an inexpensive / mellow 42 IBU / 5.5% ABV IPA could / would sell well.

    Using the interweb thingy, I found the IBU and ABV for the IPA of the first 30 of the 'Top 50 Craft Brewing Cos' based on 2009 sales volume report by the

    Additionally, I included Widmer and Redhook due to their membership in the Craft Brewer Alliance [with the attendant benefit of AV-InBev's distribution]. Two of these top 30 craft brewing cos. [Spoetzl and Gordon Biersch] produce no IPA. The IBU for 06 of the 30 were not reported and were estimated at 10X the %ABV.

    The mismatch [miss distance] between these 30 IPAs and Jeff's_ideal was determined as the rss [root sum square] of the difference from Jeff's_premise of each IPA's IBU and ABV [equally weighted].

    The eight IPA's which most closely match are listed below with IBU and % ABV; ordered nearest to furthest. All IPAs except Abita-Jockamo reportedly exhibit citrusy, fruity, floral aroma/taste from Cascade hops.

    Harpoon, Redhook, Saranac, Full Sail, and Widmer IPAs very closely match Jeff's_premise.
    Jeff's_premise; 42 IBU/5.5% ABV
    1. Harpoon-IPA; 42 IBU/5.9% ABV
    2. Redhook-Long Hammer IPA; 44 IBU/6.5% ABV
    3. Saranac-IPA; 45 IBU/5.8% ABV
    4. Magic Hat-HiPAl 45 IBU; 5.8% ABV
    5. Widmer-Broken Halo IPA; 45 IBU; 6.0% ABV
    6. Anchor-Liberty IPA; 47 IBU; 6.0% ABV
    7. Lagunitas-IPA; 49 IBU; 5.7% ABV
    8. Abita-Jockamo IPA; 52 IBU; 6.5% ABV

    IBU and %ABV were equally weighted; probably IBU difference should be de-weighted.

    So, I conclude mellow IPAs exist; probably in many consumer markets. And, I should share a 6-pack with some macro-lager drinking friends and hope for conversion.

    Based on a limit sample, I notice craft beer cost about 1.5X the price of macro.