WeldWerks Brewing set an ambitious goal at the start of the year: brew and package 100 different beers.
The craft beer maker reached the mark in September — and kept brewing. By the end of 2018, the Greeley brewery expects to make 130 beers, the vast majority of which were new recipes and packaged for distribution.
“We knew we were looking to push the envelope of innovation and more specifically creativity,” said Jake Goodman, the brewery’s director of sales and marketing. “We wanted to see if we could harness that energy and bring that energy to the market.”
Other brewers try to do the same. Avery Brewing in Boulder expects to make 100 different beers this year. Most breweries will only pour them in the taproom, but WeldWerks went further by distributing most of them to retailers.
The more creative offerings included Fruity Bits Mango Milkshake, a hazy IPA made with mango puree, lactose and vanilla, and Red Velvet Cake Blonde Stout featuring 30 pounds of cake mix, an actual red velvet cake, cocoa powder and more.
“In general, the reaction was extremely positive, especially for people who make the trek up to the taproom,” Goodman said. “I think people appreciate the fact that we are just taking chances.”
But the experiment had its limits, and even Goodman says it’s a trend that is not sustainable.
The trend in beer is all about what’s new
What made WeldWerks project possible is the story of the beer market right now, particularly when it comes to craft consumer. The insatiable appetite of beer enthusiasts for new flavors, new styles, new brands is leading brewers to offer an ever-expanding variety of beers for taprooms, retail accounts and bottle shops.
The Nielsen Craft Beer Insights poll from May found that a desire “for more variety” is the No. 3 reason people say they are drinking more craft beer. Others include more rotating seasonal beers and more options available on tap.
“As the full-flavored beer movement has come of age, and craft brewers have gained traction, you had this explosion and exploratory culture when it comes to beer,” said Julia Herz, the craft beer program director at the Boulder-based Brewers Association. “And it’s no longer just about what’s good, it’s also about what’s new to many beer lovers.”
The consumer demand extends to retailers like Parry’s Pizzeria & Bar, which boasts 600 total taps across its eight locations on the Front Range that extend from Longmont south to Castle Rock. The restaurant focuses on craft beer and often pours rare kegs from popular breweries across the country.
“I feel a lot of pressure to stay relevant,” said Katie Nierling, the beer buyer for Parry’s. These days, she said, “I get texts from regulars at our locations when they travel around the country … and visit local breweries in California, or wherever they might be, and get excited about whether we can get that beer.”
The lessons learned in WeldWerks’ experiment
When it works, it leads to innovation, ingenuity and great beer. When it doesn’t, quality is often the culprit and consumers are left disappointed paying big prices for below average beer.
WeldWerks is the first to acknowledge the pros and cons, and the brewery says it will focus on refining the more popular beers from 2018 rather than race to 100 again in 2019.
One of the reasons: “I’d be lying is we weren’t noticing some fatigue,” Goodman said. “We couldn’t do 100 beers next year and be as successful.”
The finding from the experiment is profound. WeldWerks’ effort to make new beers, flavors and styles shows the trend may have its limits. The industry’s data is suggesting the same.
“I think there is still a big contingent of market interested in the newest and craziest, but there is a shift,” Goodman said. Other beer drinkers are finding the new styles and creations “a little too esoteric” and difficult to understand. “I think this crisis of choice has started to permeate the industry to the point it feels a bit fatiguing.”
In the same Nielsen survey, 40 percent of craft beer drinkers said there is too much variety and 47 percent said it’s just right. A 19 percent minority said there’s not enough craft beer options on the market.
In January, the market development committee at the Brewers Association, a trade organization, published a report that emphasized the need for the industry to offer seasonal beers, but suggested there are limits.
“Today’s consumer clearly likes variety, but too many choices can result in confusion and reduced sales,” it wrote.
At Parry’s Pizza, Nierling said she must acquire beers for the craft-beer explorer who comes into the restaurant as well as those who are loyal to certain brands. She finds that consumers will try new beers within brands they trust, but venturing beyond their favorites is difficult.
“People know Dogfish Head really well, or Left Hand or Avery, and they are really comfortable with these established brands,” she said. “They are excited to try the newest (beers) from those really familiar brands, but it’s a little harder to introduce breweries that are completely new to the market.”
The takeaway for the industry may be a move toward balance after reaching saturation with variety. “I think people want to see what’s new,” Nierling said, “but new within their comfort zone.”
Updated 8:45 a.m. Dec. 3, 2018: A photo caption in an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of a WeldWerks Brewing employee Lisa Nuss.
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