It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - I vaguely recall former President Clinton once saying explaining an issue by asking
it all depends on what is is. AT least I think it was something like that; hey, I'm not political, I'm
just a beer drinker. Well, in beer circles the question is what does "rare" mean. It all has to do
with "Rare Bourbon County Stout" from Goose Island. The bottle label inexplicably features
"2015", despite the fact it just went on sale the day after Christmas 2016. The price a friend of
mine paid was $70 and that's for a 16.9 ounce bottle packaged in a wooden box. Way too
expensive if you ask me, but that's not the issue. The real problem is that maybe it isn’t so
rare after all. And that raises an obvious question: why are hundreds or thousands of bottles
of a 2015 beer dubbed “Rare” suddenly available at the end of the following year?
Now before you accuse me of flying off the handle without hearing the other side of the story
I carefully read a statement issued by Goose Island Sales Director Justin LaGrotta who said:
“We will always plan to release select vintages throughout the year in order to satisfy our
customers. While Black Friday has been, and will continue to be our national release date, it's
important that we use our barrel-aged beers throughout the year to grow the business.”
Come on Bill, read between the lines. It looks to me like they are trying to define rarity — and I
don’t mean just this specific beer — by how you release the beer, not by how much you make
of the beer, Hence Rare is more “rare” than rare. I even reached out to Goose Island for
clarification but they did not reveal to me or anyone as far as I know how much of Rare it made.
I don’t think it Goose Island (owned by AB In-Bev as you know) is being entirely genuine with
the consumer. If people knew last time when it came out that it would be coming out again
fairly soon, I believe it would have been thought of differently. Of course the beer sold out
when it was released but does a new wave of Rare from 2015 cheapen the idea that the beer
was rare when first released to a mountain of fanfare? Let me be specific, when I hear ‘rare’ I
logically think of scarcity: In effect Goose Island is implying that what they have is something
we’ll likely never get again or for at least another year. And that is simply not true.
As for my friend, he felt betrayed. He waited in line over 10 hours to get something that he
thought was rare.
I understand that a certain degree of cynicism is required when it comes to modern beer
marketing but this is a sales gimmick that goes beyond the pale or in this case the stout.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina - It's fairly easy to see why ‘rare’ would work as a marketing tool for a beer brewed at
the volumes of BCS Rare. Consider this Gina - we've seen many craft breweries bought up by
Heineken, Constellation Brands, Duvel, MillerCoors and, yes, Anheuser-Busch InBev (as you
pointed out) within the last five years almost instantly they upped production to unheard of
levels. With so much beer now out there that is brewed by automated machinery in a brewery
roughly the size of a city block that still is called "craft" then in a way maybe a BCS varietal can
be actually rare.
I can appreciate the fact that Goose Island has publicly said that the name of the beer reflects
the scarceness of the bourbon barrels — Heaven Hill barrels more than 30 years old — in which
Rare was aged. Barrels that old are not common, they say; they are, well, rare. However, at least
two other breweries I know of — Perennial in St. Louis and Pipeworks in Chicago — got similar
barrels. So the fact is those barrels are not that rare.
As you mentioned, Goose Island unfurled BCS Rare last year with the grandiosity of something
that was special, unique and, yes, it seemed as if it were as rare as the Cubs winning the World
Series.. Yet the reality is that the beer has been returning in waves even at places that are not
really beer centric including a major supermarket with more than three dozen locations. How rare
can it be if it sits on the shelf next to Bud Ultra and across from the soap aisle?
You find that hard to believe Gina? Well I just learned that inexplicably each of the 37 Chicago-
area stores of the Jewel-Osco supermarket group will receive between two and five bottle cases
(12 bottles per) of Rare Bourbon County Stout. That figures out to between 74 and 185 cases
across the chain, or somewhere between 888 and 2,220 bottles. And that's just Jewel-Osco.
By the way the supermarket's price is $79.99 for that 16.9 ounce bottle so at least your friend got
a few bucks off the going rate. And yes, a spokesperson for the chain said they expect a quick,
complete sell out. So, while the beer might not in fact be so rare, calling it “Rare” seems to be
working just fine.
The kindest thing anyone can say about Goose Island using the name "Rare" is that it's an odd
name for that particular beer. I'm guessing they're trying to evoke memories of the 2010 release
of a different version of Rare Bourbon County Stout that has become legendary since it was
aged two years in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. That has never happened again and
never well. Calling that rare edition rare is truth in advertising not the 2015/16 version.
Don't get too upset Gina. I think serious beer geeks realize that it isn't ‘rare’ in the way Goose
Island wants people to believe and if not they sure will after reading our comments.
By the way, There's an image floating around the Internet of a so called leak regarding Goose
Island's plans for its Bourbon County beers in 2017 including a "Rare Barleywine" — aged two
years in those same barrels that previously held Rare Bourbon County Stout. If it is accurate a
new question emerges: how rare will Rare Barleywine be?
Probably not all that rare either..
Here's looking at you Gina