Is the beer you've made a pilgrimage for really that good?
Or is it the journey and the hype saying it should be that good?
I'm writing this piece because like many others I stand in line for an hour on that special day of the year when my favorite brewery releases a rare or limited bottle. Sometimes I'll show up before they open just to make sure I get to take some home.
Or it's the beer you can only buy two 6-packs of when you stop by the brewery ( take a guess which beer I'm talking about ). In any case, craft beer aficionados go to great lengths to taste beers from across the country. Fans will also spend the sometimes little money they have to get a good beer, but is it worth it?
Does this journey change our perception of how good a beer tastes or how long we delve into the characteristics of the beer?
There are a couple things to consider when you look at highly sought after beers like BCS, Pliny the Elder, Dark Lord, etc. The first is scarcity, or how readily available is the beer. The second is groupthink, or the process in which we tend to agree with a large audience. Lastly, pricing, we tend to associate higher prices with better products even when we talk about beer.
Scarcity marketing is quite a common method of marketing for businesses to take, even outside of the brewing industry. If you have ever been to a website where you view an item to purchase and it tells you how many units are left, this is scarcity marketing. Or when you see your favorite brewery is releasing a new small batch beer and people are rushing to get some before they run out, this is scarcity marketing. There is an interesting article published by Queena Kim of marketplace.org. (See the footer for a link). In the article she talks about how scarcity marketing has indirectly helped in the legend that is Pliny the Elder. She also goes on to talk to Nir Eyal, who discusses how we perceive scarce products to be more valuable. We have what Nir discusses is a physiological response to when a product is more expensive and harder to obtain. So when we crack open that barrel aged beer that we could only grab one bottle of, is it really better than the barrel aged beer we can buy in a 4-pack?
Groupthink is a phenomenon where large groups of people tend to come to a consensus about an idea or opinion. For instance you could be swayed by how you score your beers on Untappd based on the score that has been averaged out. When we try a five star beer or a world-class beer according to Beer Advocate, we tend to believe it should be at that end of the spectrum without a second thought. This could work negatively for breweries. A beer that received mixed reviews initially and is slighted towards a 3 more so than a 4, will most likely continue to see 3s more often than 4s or 5s.
Pricing. Pricing is extremely important when companies introduce new products. If a company comes in with a low price, a consumer will view it as a lower quality good even if that may not be the case. For instance, Apple products are at a significantly higher price point than there competitors and most of us would agree we do not view apple products as lower quality, we view them as a high quality good. This works for beer, when I was at the store the other day I purchased a $12.00, 12 oz. imperial stout, which for the price, I believed would taste significantly better. I have had stouts that come in 6-packs with the same quality and great taste for a fraction of the price. This for me hit home again that the price of a beer doesn’t correlate with the quality of the beer.
Combine these three areas together and you have a recipe for some of the best beers in the world. You will hunt them down, you will take your time to smell the aromas, and you will focus on the notes and qualities of the beer.
So, when all of this is said and done I will ask again, is the beer you wait in line for really worth it? Maybe not, but I know I will continue to wait because of the journey and just to meet a couple new friends. At the end of the day, it is still probably a damn good beer.
I would also like to note that I am by no means an expert in consumer behavior or beer, but rather a college student who is observing and experiencing the wonderful world of beer through the lens of marketing.