Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Audience Participation: Forgive But Don't Forget

Mark Twain once wrote: "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. This idea of forgiveness and giving a brewery another (another) shot.

When do you stop giving brewery another shot? When do you say "enough is enough, I'm done"? What can a brewery do to encourage that second (or third or fourth) chance?

How much of that decision is marketing? Can a brewery market itself out of a hole?

How much is simply the culture of craft beer? There seems to be a culture of consumer experimentation in craft beer - trying different beers from different breweries - how much is simply coming back around to the brewery?

In cases where the brewery is forgiven, what were the triggers? What changed about the beer or the brewery?

Three examples based on (un-named) in-state breweries:

Brewery A is from a small town. It makes a large range of beer that is firmly within the experimental tradition of craft beer. However, technical issues present flaws in the beer. I bought two or three packs from this brewery. Got frustrated, gave it a full 6 months to year off (didn't purchase any of it). I had some at a beer fest that was actually pretty good (no flaws), bought two more packs of it in the store and one had the same flaws as before, while the other did not. Gave it another few months off (put it in "the rotation" more or less) and came back to the same flaws. Have not purchased it since (2 or 3 years ago) and have no intention of purchasing it again.

Brewery B is also from a small town. It makes a medium range of beers that are all very good. There was a long run of beer, however, that had serious diacetyl problems in the bottles and on tap. I stopped buying any brands from this brewery for a long period of time (maybe 9 months or so). When I came back to it, some of the brands had been "fixed" (have not exhibited the problems at all), while others continue to be very spotty. In this case, I continue to purchase the "good" brands from this brewery, while I purchase with far less frequency (if at all) the "spotty" brands.

Brewery C makes a large selection of beer. Some of the beers are (subjectively) really good, some I don't like at all. I never purchase the ones I don't like. In fact, I only purchase the ones that I do like and won't purchase a new release from this brewery until I have had independent confirmation that it is even worthy of trying from friends and acquaintances whom I trust.

So, there seems to be a pattern on my part of willingness to forgive technical issues, so long as the brewery is able to fix them. However, I am far less willing to forgive compete market misses.

Have you given this as much thought as I have? Any conclusions?


  1. Living in Eau Claire I feel this way about Northwoods. I never had a "good" time there and I hear they don't treat their staff very well. There beer and food never really impresses me but I keep going back. Perhaps this is because there really isn't all to much to do in Eau Claire or maybe because I like beer so much I just think it good one of these days. Brewpubs should have a window of error that a production brewery can't but when everything you go there you leave disappointed? That's not right.

  2. That's an interesting problem, as well. Sometimes the beer you don't like is your only choice.

    It seems like we are far more willing to "forgive" where there is no alternative. Though this isn't true forgiveness; it is tolerance. And tolerance and forgiveness are two different things. Both virtues, to be sure.

    However, forgiveness can only be solved by absolution, tolerance can be solved by competition.

    But the last issue you raise is also an interesting one: do brewpubs have a bigger "window of error"? How more likely are you to forgive a brewpub than a production brewery? I would argue that Brewpubs can probably correct market perceptions and technical errors faster than production breweries. But are they more likely to actually do so?

  3. I wonder how many people would try a beer with a diactyl proble, or another off flavor and just assume that's what it's supposed to taste like? They'd probably decide they just don't like that beer and never try it again. I know craft beer tends to reach for a more educated consumer, but if they want to compete, they can't have those kinds of quality problems.

  4. I think brewpubs deserve more stylistic leeway than distributing breweries, but they should be held to the same high standards in terms of flaws. The notion that brewpubs inherently make inferior beer seems to be gaining popularity, and I think it's rubbish. Most brewpubs can't afford the technology to make bottled beers with six-month shelf lives, but their fresh beers should be just as good as those from packaging breweries.

  5. You are not suppose to like every beer from every brewer (no ones palate has that wide of a range); that is the point of craft beer; you make lots of small batches of beer all with varying flavors so there is something for everyone, not so every person likes every beer your brewery has, that is the mind set of macro brewers not craft brewers. Yes, you may not like any beer from a brewery but that doesn’t mean the brewer is bad or the beer is bad you just don’t like the brewers style and that is ok. My classic Wisconsin example is Rowland Sr. his beers were always diactyl; if you asked him about it he always said he liked diactyl and he meant for it to be there and I dare anyone to tell me Rowland Sr. wasn’t a great brewer he just had his own style and his beers contained the flavors he like and that my friends is the essence of craft beer!

  6. Joe, I agree. I would argue though that there should be some recognition that flaws are going to happen. Good breweries recognize them and fix them. Because of the scale and rapid production it seems that brewpubs are more likely to have fleeting production issues.

    As for the last Anon (what's with all the Anon posters lately?). I don't argue with anything you say, but it misses the point. The point is all about subjectivity - do you like it? And, if not, how many tries do you give a brewery get something you like? More particularly, it misses the other point - namely, assuming you like a particular style (or even particular brand) what does it take for the brewery to ruin that goodwill?

    Of course, very few people are going to like everything from a particular brewery. But point on Brewery C was that the (subjective) dislikes overwhelmed the likes to point that I'm not even willing to try new brands from that brewery - even if they are in styles that I typically like.

  7. The word is diacetyl


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