In a market where the sky is the limit, are constraints the answer to ongoing success?
Think about it in the context of beer
San Diego is blessed with an unfair number of Craft Breweries. We are in the happy position of being able to compare not just quality but also style choices. How amazing is that? Having done some moving around I feel obligated to say that this is not the case everywhere.
In some cities Craft Beer is an arrival point. In San Diego it is a launch point.
San Diego has come to the point where the city has a huge positive association with Craft Beer the world over. We have been trained by experience to expect something great from our Craft Breweries. This makes it a great place to open a craft brewery, and in some cases a brewery does not have to be that great to get enough support to do well, because the ground has been tilled and fertilized with years of great work by exceptional people who did what everyone told them they could not do.
Now that we are here, on a much elevated playing field, are we on the edge of a redefining moment? Is craft beer approaching yet another shift?
I remember watching Third Wave coffee drive changes in the sourcing and service expectations in most urban centers, and hearing much debate about what it represented and what the next developments will be. I had the good fortune of living in the San Francisco Bay Area to reap the benefits of those continued changes. Now that I am back home in San Diego, a place I like to call “Craft Beer Disneyland”, anticipating a similar shift and separation.
What do I think the shift will involve?
Balls in the sense of bigger, badder, stronger or more offensive? No. Been there done that, the approach is too easy and the whole thing is boring and lacks nuance. When I say “Balls” I mean the ability to stick your neck out, make distinct, challenging choices, and to expect more from your customers. To once again, do ill advised and unproven things.
Constraints. Constraints are awesome at keeping you innovative, focused, creative, daring and true to your aesthetic. In an environment like California Craft Beer, where there are few rules to break, its easy to get lost, absent a driving and specific core aesthetic. The overarching vision of who you are, what you want to be and what you want your beers to be.
Case in point; Stone Brewing’s “Enjoy By IPA” …..
The choice to put an expiration date right into the name of the beer is a a bold choice. Of course bottles not sold by that date, or even as the date approaches, will be wasted! Stone has never displayed any shyness, but it goes farther than simple boldness. Stone Brewing has seldom lacked bold!
What makes the beer interesting is that there is a clear and defining reason for the bold choice. A reason for the madness. What is most gorgeous about the beer is not the expiration date, but the shocking dimension of the aroma and flavor experience that follows.
Never in my life have I experienced such a beer. I can only describe the aroma experience as having flower petals envelop my head and try to pull me into the glass. The beer is distincly feminine, and powerful with distinctly layered ranges of hop flavors that caused me to go on a comparison tasting spree based solely on a desire to get my head around the flavors.
I was so enamored that I tasted it on four consecutive days, 3 on draft and one in bottle. I highly recommend trying it on draft as the intensity of the aromas are beyond belief.
I tasted my way through the next few days, searching for a good peer beer to help place the overall experience in a good framework. A very astute young woman working at the Stone South Park store had mentioned Pliney the Elder as a possible comparison, and after all my tasting around I found she was correct, in that Pliney provided a balance of similarities and differences that worked for me, as well as a well known and respected reference point.
Stone Brewing Enjoy By IPA on tap presented an unrivaled brilliantly sinewy floral aroma which seems to envelop and caress the drinkers whole face. I am not joking. It borders on erotic. This is just the aroma, not even yet the flavor or mouthfeel. Hop flavors in the glass are distinctly layered and with the floral and citric notes dominating other bitter and malty qualities. I had to step back from the flavor experience to perceive that the mouthfeel was heavier than I initially thought. I was shocked to read how high the IBUs and ABV are in this beer, because I was mesmerized by the loveliness, not pummeled by the bigness.
Pliney on tap presented a familiar and pleasant comparison. The clean citrus aroma, hoppy flavor and balanced mouthfeel shared many of the broader categories with Enjoy By IPA. Key differences I noted was the clarity and separation of hop flavors in the Stone Brewing Enjoy By IPA. Where Enjoy by tasted like multiple layers with differing shades, Pliney displayed more of a blended harmony, more like a “wall of hop sound” traveling across the tongue. Where I had to pull myself away from the brilliant flavors to think about other aspects of Enjoy By, I was aware of the weight of Pliney on my tongue, perceived the bitter elements in a more up front way.
Pliney the Elder, in a sense, tasted “reserved”, a very strange thing to say
I cannot help but think that some of the difference could have to do with the very extreme choice to place a very extreme limit of the beer allowed the brewer unbridled freedom to present such an up front, distinctive, and specific experience without risking the beer being presented in anything other than its finest form. In other words
—BALLS and RESTRAINT—
OR with constraints or whatever.
(Oh and if you are into Social Media as much as my husband is you will literally freak out by the genius and glory that Stone has done on their Enjoy By IPA page!)