Surprise Hits for Breweries | Brewing Industry Guide

Surprise Hits for Breweries

We talk with brewers from around the country who found increased sales and new fans from beers they never expected to take off.

John Holl 6 months ago


Courtesy of Champion Brewing Co.

Sometimes a beer that was designed to be a one-off or a limited seasonal recipe winds up connecting with customers. By paying attention to sales and the voice of drinkers, brewers can find themselves brewing an unexpected hit, one that can become a year-round offering or annual release. We talked with brewers from around the country who found increased sales and new fans from beers they never expected to take off.

Jeremy Lees

Owner and Brewer of Flounder Brewing Co. (Hillsborough, New Jersey)
“Our 1st Act Gruit brewed in the traditional style fits the bill. We didn’t think it’d be a big or fast seller because it was the polar opposite of hop-crazed hazy beers, but customers ventured to try this unfamiliar (to them) style, and it sold quickly. And we need to bring it back quickly! I think the light, delicate herbal flavors in our version timed with the start of the hotter days worked just right together.”

Matthew Steinberg

CoFounder and Head Brewer at Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Company (Framingham, Massachusetts)
“We anticipated that our kettle-sour beer, Leitmotif, would be a slow mover. It has quickly become a regular offering that we brew constantly. The fun part about this beer is it changes every batch. Opus 2, Opus 3, and so on. We are currently on Opus 9, which focuses on our house Lactobacillus blend, Belgian yeast, and a blend of fresh raspberries and red tart cherries, with a touch of cranberries and plums. Each Opus has had its own life. Opus 8 was fun with blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. We have also done this beer with dry hops and fruit. Opus 3 was Mandarina Bavaria hops and Cara-Cara oranges; Opus 4 was Citra hops and Cara-Cara oranges; Opus 5 was Citra and grapefruit and limes. We are having a great time messing around with this one. We’ll continue to create new beers like this. Thinking salt and limes on a future one, and toward the fall, a wet-hop version.”

Hunter Smith

Head Brewer at Champion Brewing Company (Charlottesville, Virginia)
“Our True Love Mexican-style lager really blew our hair back. It was a one-off collaboration with Cockfight Skateboards, a Houston company. One of my best friends from high school rides for them. It was a quarterly seasonal last year that turned into a six-month release, and it’s likely going year-round for 2019. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. If you visit our taproom patio on a warm day, all you’ll see is customers drinking liters of the lager.”

Jeremy Cowan

Proprietor at Shmaltz Brewing Company (Clifton Park, New York)
“We are just releasing in package for the first time an IPA we made on a lark called Hop Momma. It’s made with real puree of peach and apricot with a hint of habanero and was supposed to be a one-off for a new variety pack we did a couple of years ago. The shtick (gotta have it, of course) came from so many people calling Hop Manna, our year-round IPA, the wrong name. So many mistakes—Hop Mania, Hop Mantra, Hop Momma. So we did a variety pack that also became a bit notorious (ceased and desisted) but the Momma was clearly a crowd favorite. It also happens to be extremely expensive to brew—up there with our Jewbelation series. It figures! Flavor and quality come through! So many customers and buyers asked for it, so we finally packaged Hop Momma in 16-ounce 4-pack cans for this summer and fall, and of course, in our variety pack, Tribe Called Shmaltz. We’ll see how it goes and perhaps bring it back around again if the buzz continues.”

Josh Watterson

Brewmaster at Vista Brewing (Driftwood, Texas)
“I brewed a schwarzbier for our initial lineup that we have as our only ‘dark’ selection. We opened up with eleven beers on tap but only one that skewed past 7 SRM, and it’s as close to 20 SRM as you can get. We have been surprised that over the past several weeks, our schwarzbier is number one or two on the most popular list. I love the style and expected all along to make it our year-round dark offering, but to see the demand out of the gates for this style is a happy coincidence. I had the opportunity to chat with the bar manager who operates probably the highest-traffic craft-beer bar in Austin, and we discussed the surprise seller that the schwarzbier has become. He said that the drive for good German lagers, especially ‘local options,’ has really seen an uptick lately. Not only that, but the only commercial option that was local has been taken out of distribution recently, and now there is a demand for the style, and nobody is really brewing it. The beer has drawn over individuals who don’t consider themselves dark-beer drinkers since their contact with them has been the heavier and more viscous mouthfeels of porters or stouts.”

John Holl is the Senior Editor of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email tips and story suggestions to [email protected].