Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Not To Beat Up On Point Brewery

Look, I like Point Brewery. I really do. Point Amber is my go-to all-weather neighborhood get-together beer. Personally I haven't really been sold on their new-ish craft lines (Cascade Pale and Oktoberfest excepted) and, honestly, I haven't had any of their "Whole Hog" lines. Part of it is just because they are relatively new, and I haven't gotten around to it.

Part of the reason for that is that I don't really see Point filling a "quality craft" niche. I could be surprised, you never know, but I just can't imagine that, say, the "Six Hop IPA" would really hold up well against Stone, Three Floyds, Surly, Ale Asylum, Tyranena or even New Glarus.

Which isn't to say that Point shouldn't try, but as a business person I prefer to see businesses who understand themselves. It is not the usual case that a 153 year-old company redefines themselves. And Point has never been a "quality craft". Point serves a great area of the market - mass-market style beer that actually has taste and appeals to its consumers sense of locality. There is a huge market selling beer in quantity to people who want something better than Bud, Miller or Coors, but aren't interested in $10 six-packs and like to support local beer. Yuengling has made a killing in this market and Point could easily be another Yuengling.

So, when I see a CEO/owner commit in print to a direction that doesn't seem to recognize the company's core competency, I get worried. Joe Martino, interviewed by the Wausau Daily Herald:
I would say it would be to anticipate trends and try to get to the front of the line of what is going to be popular in the future. Evaluate and anticipate trends. Introduce brands that would be the next thing, and not be second or third in the marketplace. ... We can't wait until the wheat beer phenomenon comes around and then we have one.
Stevens Point is not a "trend leader". We can argue this until you are blue in the face, but to insist on it is to show a sorely misplaced understanding of the craft beer market and Point's place in that market. As if to emphasize that misunderstanding Mr. Marino hopes that the "wheat beer phenomenon" comes soon - a comment which shows Mr. Marino's market research to be about 2 years behind the curve and completely usurps any credibility in the first part of that statement about wanting to be a trend setter.

Iin the craft beer industry, if you're looking at trends you're already behind it. The trend leaders are not out looking to set trends, they set out to experiment with beer and the trends find them. Indeed, one brewery is rarely always a trend setter - consumers find a brewery or beer that they like and that becomes the trend - breweries do not, indeed cannot, set the trend. [As a side note, if you want to understand this phenomenon, look into the concept of Brand Hijacking] And Point, as much as Mr. Marino protests, is not an experimental brewery. I'm not saying they can't be, I'm just saying that they aren't.

All of which isn't to say there can't be money in lagging on trends. Great Lakes does it very well. But if that's the game Point wants to play they need to compete with not only Great Lakes, but Bells, Summit, New Glarus, Goose Island and Sierra Nevada just to name a couple of big obstacles. And, while I can appreciate the aspiration I'm not sure Point is there yet. But neither is Yuengling, or Saranac and they seem to do alright for themselves.

11 comments:

  1. The Whole Hog Imperial Pilsner is really good. So was their pumpkin.

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  2. I don't read the 'wheat beer phenom' comment as being off-base. It appears to me that he was using the wheat beer phenom as an example of a trend that many folks jumped on...the kind point brewing is going to try to anticipate. 10years ago the cutting edge was hops and then it was abv then it was seasonals (ala dark lord, etc) now it seems to be sour beers. Wheat beers were in there somewhere...
    As to the beers produced there, I've really liked the Point White Beer for quite a while though haven't had it recently; they did a nice maibock several years ago and the old point bock was a mainstay for me in my college days.
    An interesting note: in the mid-90's Point special was exported to europe! I stumbled into a Edinburgh pub that had it in the cooler...of course I had to try one. It didn't taste any better, or worse, than it did in its home state.

    I wish them well, and hope they brew a great breakthrough beer in 2010

    cheers

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  3. The Whole Hog line has been pretty impressive so far! The impy pilsner is very smooth and tasty, the six hop ipa was off the mark (in that it was more malt based than hop, still good), the pumpkin had just the right amount of spices and abv! I heard the next release is going to be a russian impy stout, should be interesting. When I think of Point, a stout is the last thing i think of. As far as there brand concern goes, I think they are a hometown brewery that people grew up with. Now there just trying to get there lil piece of the craft industry pie...........I wish them all the best!

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  4. This reminds me of Lennie's a few years ago, when they tried their "Big Eddy" brews: IPA and Imperial Stout. I thought both of those, particularly the stout, were excellent. If these brewers want to do a beer well--and the key is to do it well, on style--then more power to 'em. As for Point brews, to me, none have been great; I much prefer to pay a bit more for other breweries that produce top-quality styles, or push the brewing envelope, so to speak.

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  5. These guys brew the "Horny Goat" Brews! And they suck. It's been popular in Milwaukee lately. They are very watery brews kinka like Point Beer. I wish Point brought back the original Point Bock. That was a good brew.

    Happy New Year J.C.

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  6. << These guys brew the "Horny Goat" Brews! >>

    Yep, they brew it for a marketing company. It's not their recipe, and it's not their beer, it's a revenue stream for them.

    The Horny Goat brews were originally brewed in LaCrosse at City Brewery...they weren't very good then either.

    Cheers

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  7. Another vote for the Whole Hog Imperial Pilsner. It was my #2 favorite from the Great Taste this past August, and I've gotten four-packs multiple times since.

    I also have a soft spot in my heart for the James Page beers that Point makes. The Iron Range Amber was one of the first non-NG beers that I really got into.

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  8. Memories of days past growing up in central Wisconsin and the Point radio jingle.

    Point Special Beer, Point Special Beer
    Brewed to perfection it tastes so good
    Satisfies completely like good beer should
    Better quality, smoothness you'll agree
    Point Special Beer

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  9. I would definately suggest not ripping on the Whole Hog series until you've tried it. That's an obvious no-no when you're doing beer reviews. The Whole Hog beers have actually been very impressive, both the six point and the imperial pilsener. I said once before if they made the whole hog their regular lineup, you would see me buying it more often.

    And Horny Goat beers definately are some of the worst around.

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  10. I'm a longtime Point drinker myself, and understand your apprehension at the prospect of Point being an innovator or becoming the next big thing.

    But after taking the tour last June I can see how they'd look at the Whole Hog series as being innovative: it's innovative for them! Likewise, marketing these beers in 4-pack cartons and at a "super-premium" price required a broader understanding of the market than you seem to want to give them credit for here.

    Don't get me wrong, though. Seeing as you live in Madtown I have the utmost resepect for your understanding of beer and the drinking arts, but you seem to be laboring under some misapprehension, here.

    From his comments in that quote Mr. Martino appears to be speaking using hindsight as his reference rather than speaking to future market needs; as Point have been brewing three wheat beers year-round (plus one seasonal) for over two years now, they would be foolish to add more wheat beers to their portfolio at this juncture.

    A tour of their facility would help dispel whatever worries one might have that Point is trying to be the next big thing with respect to any Craft beer style. However, to think they could be the next Yuengling is ignoring both the scale of their operation (Minhas is a much better comparison to make in terms of scale) and the market realities: Wisconsin is awash in better-than-average beer, whether it be Craft or "Macro" lager.

    Still, in terms of growth or market leadership, I see Point having this capacity in a regional manner only, in terms of fulfilling Craft contract production, and principally with respect to canning: Mickey Finn's and BrewFarm come to mind, as do the Capital brands packaged seasonally in time for the peak outdoors demand -- summer!

    Cheers!

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  11. Bring back the original Point Bock! The one with the mountain goat taking a swig. i thought that was rather tasty. Point Special is also a tasty mass produced beer, similar to Leinie Original. Not a craft brew, but still way better thanMiller, Bud, etc.

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