Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Philly Beer Week 2010: Contemplations, Conversations, Ruminations, and an occasional Diatribe: Part 8

(This is the eighth in a series of ten installments documenting both my time during Philly Beer Week 2010 and insights provided to me by customers, importers/distributors/representatives, brewers, brewery owners, publicans, et cetera. All of whom wanted their comments to be aired, but very few who wanted their name associated with them. Some of you may not appreciate the anonymity, but that's the way it needs to be if we're going to talk about these things around here. You'll need to trust in me that I've gathered up all of these notes and opinions during PBW '10 and am sharing them with you in order to continue the conversation about what will make a better Philly Beer Week 2011.)

Click back to see the seventh in the series. Click forward to see the ninth in the series.

I was once asked: "Did you ever stop to think that maybe Philly Beer Week isn't really about us?" And by 'us' this person was referring to the experience, well-traveled, already-spending-from-our-deep pockets beer geek extreme.

And it got me to thinking. He's quite likely correct. Or at least, the statement seems more likely that it should be correct than incorrect.

If you bear with me here and think a little more about that statement for a minute. Shouldn't the overarching goal of Philly Beer Week really be framed around the Base Market for Craft Beer--i.e. the entry- to mid-level craft beer drinkers? The bottom of the pyramid, if you will. The outer fringe beer geeks at the top of the pyramid are already spending almost as much of their discretionary income today on craft beer as they can. There's not that much more long-term gain from this proportionately small segment of the market. So, to the event planners, don't try to woo the hard core beer geeks; woo the newbies with your events during Philly Beer Week.

After all, if you pay attention to some of the online nose-in-the-air forums, you might have caught wind that many were blowing wind about what they deemed the unworthiness of the Monk's Café Lambic Beer Dinner and the beers that it was serving. As if a dinner with 3 renowned Belgian brewers, 7 variations on the Lambic theme, and accompanying courses of food created by a renowned Canadian chef was not enough. Dunno, maybe these guys thought $100/pp was too much (maybe it was, maybe it wasn't; it's too close to splitting hairs to argue, I'd say), maybe they were disappointed not to have secured a ticket, or maybe just maybe you can hardly ever satisfy this type of beer geek.

Just because an event doesn't impress you does not invalidate the worthiness of an event. For those not there, imagine seven pretty damn good beers--Had I had more than half of them before? yes....but, that doesn't bother me in the least...why would I turn away two and a half glasses of Rodenbach? I had the Doesjel the night before at Teresa's. I love it; why wouldn't I want to have it again the next night?---Imagine accompanying courses of good food coming out of the kitchen headed by an acclaimed chef from Toronto. Imagine three of Belgium's most famed Lambic beer makers and blenders in the same room talking with you about their vision of beer. Imagine a palpable buzz in the room because of all of these elements. Wouldn't you want to be there? Maybe you're saying "not so much so". Maybe you're saying that $100/seat was too much. That's a debate that could go on for some time without firm resolution. It didn't seem to phase the room full of people who did attend. Maybe you'd rather hunt down, trade for, tick off the most obscure beer you've never had, give it a rating put it into a database. I guess that Monk's wasn't serving any of those beers on that particular evening. Oh well, to each our own. But, do you know what two different brewery representatives and one brewer said off-the-record to me about people like you this week?..."that you're a-holes. But, Congratulations, you've got a lot of notches on your beer post".

Oops, I seem to have begun to veer of course here. But, the point--going back to the original statement near the top here--was that if you're one of those people that I'm describing, maybe Philly Beer Week is not about you and not trying to impress you with the most rare beer in the world that you've never had. Maybe these event planners are looking to interest a wider swath of beer drinkers, ones that they can convert into longer-term customers who still have more discretionary income to spend.

Continuing down this road of target demographic....For event planners, I'd propose that even if you pack your venue at least half full, an event is not a successful event if the majority of the attendees are the industry insiders and "usual beer geek suspects." It may very well be a fun and festive event, but you haven't done anything to grow and extend your customer base. One of these type of celebratory events every now and then is fine (I'm not trying to take the wind of the sails on these type of events...I'd even throw in a qualifier and say that I occasionally attend these type of events and they can be a WHOLE lot of fun!), but hardly anyone can base a viable, sustainable business model on freebies to insiders and the wallets of the extreme fringe.

You must grow your customer base in the craft beer world from the outside in to continue its future viability; that means not catering too much to the extreme.

Touchy topic, I'm sure...though one I continued to hear murmured by both bar owners who appear to be getting fed up with the finicky extreme and consumers alike who sound a bit miffed by some of what appears to them to be insider-ism amongst some brewers and the beer geek extreme.

Your thoughts, if you will?

Coming tomorrow...let's take a step back and not leave out the regulators and enforcers.


Chris Clair said...

Two thoughts.

First, I never thought about what the target demographic should be before and what you say makes PERFECT sense. I'm coming out no matter what. But some of my friends who enjoy craft beer casually never considered joining me. I should have brought them along if only to broaden their experiences even if it isn't a one-time-only-uber-rare-spectacular-super-awesome-extreme-you-only-get-one-sip-ever beer event. Besides, it is always nice to catch up with old friends, esp. the liquid ones.

Second, I am so happy I'm not the only one who thinks they are a-holes, esp. knowing that some industry folk feel the same way. I talked to a guy at the Russian River event at Local 44 who was VERY upset that they didn't have Pliny the Younger. All those wonderful beers and you are mad just because you can't cross that one off your list? Give me a break.

John Doherty said...


Of the 1,000 + PBW
events few were "celebratory events"! So many were meet and greet designed to 'woo the newbies' and mid level and I agree that's the way it should be!

I don't think 'sustainable business model on freebies to insiders and the wallets of the extreme fringe' apply's here to what these events are all about and to what any owner of any bar I go to is all about.

I hear what your saying about $100,
for some that is a lot of money and I hear what they are saying. For others, they are lining up at 11:30 in the morning to get to pay $100 for a RR event weeks away. It's all good!

dave p said...

Can't it be for both? More/different beer for those that are local and supporting craft beer. And an intro to those new/learning craft beer?

I'm kinda in between...I've traveled a bit, and support many of the local craft beers/pubs. Living in southern NJ, I usually get to Philly once or twice a month, but mostly go to the same spots that I know and like. I got up to Philly Beer Week on 2 days (was out of town and missed the last weekend). But in those 2 days, went to 4 new bars. And I plan to go back...which is part of the point. And I have a list of others that I didn't get to, but now want to try.

And Bryan, thanks for the spreadsheet. It was great to have all the info together....I cut out a day, then narrowed from there.

Bryan Kolesar said...

all great comments, thanks guys! Hopefully Philly Beer (its Week...and year-round) is something for everyone.