Are mixed four-packs the new six-pack? Spiteful Brewing's new release banks on offering variety
The fact that Spiteful Brewing is releasing four flavored versions of its flagship porter Friday afternoon is no surprise.
The surprise comes in how Spiteful is packaging the variants of its deep, roasty God D*** Pigeon Porter: as a four-pack of 16-ounce cans, with each version — coconut, peanut butter, raspberry and chocolate fudge — represented once.
A week after Off Color Brewing began releasing its most potent beers in diminutive 8.45 ounce bottles, Spiteful’s embrace of a multiflavored four-pack is yet another example of craft brewers evolving with consumer tastes.
This time, though, the change isn’t the beer. It’s how it is delivered to customers.
The classic model of beer sales — six- or 12-packs of a single brew in 12-ounce cans or bottles — will never disappear. But craft brewers are turning to ever-more-novel approaches to be more customer friendly while standing out in an ever-more-crowded market. In recent weeks, the Brewers Association said the U.S. is up to 7,082 breweries with more than 2,000 in planning. Five years ago, the nation was home to fewer than 3,000 breweries.
“To me this is where we are in the industry,” Spiteful co-founder Brad Shaffer said. “Something like this allows consumers to try a bunch of different stuff rather than forcing them to buy more beer than they want.”
Indeed, the approach in recent years would have been to package the beers in 22-ounce bottles, which instantly makes them “special occasion” beers — or at least would require a second person to consume. The larger format would also restrict the ability for many people try all four flavors.
The other option, which plenty of breweries still do, is to sell each variant in its own four-pack. The result in that case may have been more of any single flavor than one drinker wanted. As Spiteful planned its run of flavored Pigeon Porters, Shaffer was struck with an idea: Mix them up.
“The consumer is already overwhelmed by so many options,” Shaffer said. “We’ll make it easier for them.”
The idea turned out to be part of an emerging trend among Chicago-area breweries.
Last winter, Temperance Beer released a mixed four-pack of barrel-aged stouts. In September, Half Acre released a mixed four-pack of ambitious milk stouts. On Nov. 15, Sketchbook Brewing will release its barrel-aged stout, Turbulence, and two variants — one with coconut, habanero and lime and the other with maple syrup — in mixed two-packs.
Sketchbook will sell the beers from its taproom (821 Chicago Ave., Evanston) as three different two-packs of 16-ounce cans: Turbulence with either variant or the two variants together. Each two-pack will cost $15.
Sketchbook co-founder and head brewer Cesar Marron said the brewery deliberated at length about how to release a beer that’s boozy (9.7 percent alcohol), flavorful and expensive to produce in a manner that would benefit both customer and the brewery.
“The main reason is to make it more approachable,” Marron said. “I’m a proponent of giving the common person a chance to buy something like this and not have to shell out $35. We think this is what’s best for the customer — they can still get four cans if they want, but we’re not forcing them to.”
Temperance founder Josh Gilbert said demand for his brewery’s mixed four-pack of Might Meets Right barrel-aged stout in 12-ounce cans was “off the charts more than we expected,” selling out in three hours.
“People loved the fact that they could try all variants without buying four four-packs,” he said.
Temperance is planning a similar approach to selling its barrel-aged stouts in early 2019, though the variants are still being finalized.
Spiteful’s Pigeon Porter four-packs ($19.99) will go on sale Friday at noon at the Spiteful taproom (2024 W. Balmoral Ave.). Each variant will also be available Friday on draft in the taproom.
A relatively small amount of each beer was kegged, however, so that Spiteful could go all-in on the four-packs. The four-packs will begin reaching beer stores by the end of next week.
Spiteful co-founder Jason Klein said the brewery is uniquely positioned to release beer in such a progressive manner. It can operate on two levels: making beer in large volumes (in a 30-barrel brew house and fermenting in 60-barrel tanks) or, in the case of the Pigeon Porter four-pack, sending a 30-barrel batch to four seven-barrel fermentation tanks, each of which received its own flavor addition.
Spiteful used the smaller tanks when launching in 2012 in a Ravenswood basement, but held on to them for flexibility when opening its current brewery last year.
Though brands such as Spiteful IPA and Spiteful Lager will remain the core of the portfolio, Spiteful plans more mixed four-packs, including one involving its Hostile Harry Imperial Stout in the coming months.
“You need volume but also (need) to maintain your identity and what craft is, which is creativity and being different and having something interesting,” Klein said. “If we just make Spiteful IPA all day long, aren’t we just a mini Budweiser?”