Mikerphone Brewing, Toppling Goliath Talk Beer Releases
Beer releases are a tricky thing. As more and more people take an interest in craft beer, the next release of a hazy NE-IPA, mix culture barrel-aged wild/sour, or big barrel-aged stout are getting more hyped, more complex and trickier for the brewery to manage. There is no such thing as a perfect release, however, breweries today are doing their best to figure out how to get their beer out to their customers.
Mikerphone Brewing Releases Vanilla Smells Like Bean Spirit
On Saturday Sept. 9, Mikerphone released Vanilla Smells Like Bean Spirit. The popular stout has quickly become one of his best selling beers. Whether it’s the original version, a barrel-aged version or for the first time, a variant, people go crazy for this beer.
Bottling Vanilla Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit! As I mentioned initially, I was very hesitant to do a variant. This beer took us several iterations to get it dialed in. But hey, you have to have fun and experiment right? I will be honest, this beer has kept me up at night. Throughout the process, this beer kept changing. One day it was a maple bomb. The next, a vanilla dream. A day later, a cup of straight coffee. It seemed like a cage match was taking place inside the fermenter, with each adjunct trying to come out victorious. As we got it into the packaging tank and finally got to taste it all carbonated, we quickly realized this beer is a journey of flavors. Cold it is one thing. Warmed up another. There is coffee. There is maple syrup. There is vanilla. There is Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit. There is Tastes Like Vanilla Spirit. There is Vanilla Smells Like Bean Spirit. At the end of the day, we are very happy with where this beer ended up. We hope you enjoy it as well. Cheers!
So when people started lining up at 5:30 a.m. for an 11 a.m. release, it didn’t surprise owner Mike Pallen. What did surprise him was how long the line continued to get. “I never would have thought we would have so much demand for the beer we make,” Pallen said. “It was phenomenal to see in person and it was such an incredible and important day.” Pallen actually couldn’t stay at the brewery for the release as he had committed to attend a beer festival down in Rockford later in the morning. As his staff continued to update him on the size of the line, he couldn’t believe it.
There was no advanced lottery or ticketing system for the Bean Spirit release. It was simply a get in line, first-come, first-served style of release similar to Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout. As the line continued to grow, there were some mounting issues facing the release. Originally the allotment had been set at three bottles per person, however, later in the release, the brewery changed it to two, hoping to accommodate more customers. While this made some people towards the back of the line happy, it of course angered people who were expecting to get three bottles.
The other issue was the pace of the line. With just one POS system, it took hours for people to get their beer and eventually they sold out and some were left with a long wait and no beer. People took to social media to vent their frustrations. While clearly there were people who felt jilted by the brewery, others understood that some beer releases come with long winding lines and that’s how it is.
For Pallen, he said the brewery is definitely taking what they learned during the release and changes will be coming to future releases. “We didn’t have the perfect experience,” he said. “We’re compiling all the feedback and we will do things differently. Customer service is key. Making sure customers are happy is so important, because without customers we’re nothing—we’re home brewers.”
There are some things Pallen can change and other things he can’t. He can’t simply add another POS system. The cost associated with having another system when it would only be utilized a few times a year doesn’t make sense. He also can’t just brew more of the beer. There’s a limit on space and while he’d love to make more, no batch of beer will ever yield more than 1,500 bottles.
People on social media asked for a lottery or a ticket system. Others said they preferred the line. Clearly there’s no win-win situation. But what will Mikerphone change? Going forward Pallen said that all releases for future beers will have an allotment of two bottles. No changes. They also are going to streamline the way in which you get your beer.
During the Vanilla Bean Spirit release, once customers picked up their bottles, they were also able to purchase other beers and merchandise in the same line. Pallen said that was the cause of longer waits. People got their Bean Spirit, but then they took extra time deciding on all the extras that they hadn’t thought about yet. That will change going forward.
Pallen and Mikerphone will have several more release opportunities in the near future. Their next release will feature Original Bean Spirit, but it will be in 12 ounce four packs for the first time ever. After that they will have Imperial Bean Spirit and their potentially biggest release will be Double Maple Bean Spirit that is being released on Black Friday.
“Mikerphone is my baby, it’s my life”
…said Pallen. “My family and I, we’ve risked everything we have for it. I never want to deter people from our brand. It’s time to learn from what happened, get better and move on.”
Toppling Goliath on the Perfect Way to Do a Beer Release
Toppling Goliath’s Marketing Director, Sarah Hedlund, says it’s an ever evolving process. Assassin, Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout and Mornin’ Delight are some of the country’s most sought after beers. Toppling Goliath uses a lottery system to determine who will be able to purchase bottles. And while the system does work very well, there are still issues for the brewery.
“Everyone’s worried that they don’t have their info entered in correctly or something else,” Hedlund said. “There’s a lot of questions we have to answer. It’s something we will look at going forward. There’s a lot more back end work for us to do with lotteries. There’s a lot more information to manage and then having to communicate that with the customers. While, we have a strong idea about the number of people that are going to show up, it does take a lot of man hours leading up to it.”
Toppling Goliath starts planning their releases three months before the actual day. It’s a collaborative effort because even once you think you’ve planned for everything, someone brings up something you haven’t thought of. “There’s always 500 more details then you think there’s going to be,” Hedlund said. “We spend a lot of time making maps of the event. We got an aerial shot of the taproom and mapped everything out; where each station would be. The nice thing about that is that when you’re talking about it with your team things come up that you never thought of. It helps make sure it flows well and we know the staffing that we’ll need.”
The brewery continues to tinker with their release set-up. In January they implemented order forms for additional bottles and merchandise. They were experiencing similar issues that Mikerphone had with people quickly collecting their expected allotment, but then taking much longer for the other things. The order forms allowed you to pick what you wanted before you got in line. You dropped off your order form, paid and then got into a specifically color-coded line and got your order fulfilled.
As for the actual release, it’s very well run. You get to the brewery and go to a station to check-in, show ID and pay, all the stations are set-up alphabetically. After that you get into a line to pick-up your bottles. In January, for the first time ever, the brewery used session times similar to Dark Lord Day. On a day where temperatures hovered around 13 degrees, people were through the line in as little as 20 minutes which made Toppling Goliath very happy. They’ve continued to make changes to make sure their customers not only have the best experience, but that it’s a safe experience.
“In January for KBBS we didn’t want people getting really drunk and wondering around Decorah drunk and on icy sidewalks. We no longer allow drinking at our releases. It’s changed the vibe at our event, but it’s made it much more containable,” said Hedlund. The taproom did open up after the release, but outside of the one pour you got with your bottles, there was no bottle sharing or pouring of any kind. For Toppling Goliath, they’re getting ready to open a new brewery/taproom, that will allow for even bigger and better releases, but will also require all new planning for them. “We’ll have more POS systems in the new facility, more room and more staff members,” Hedlund said. “The current space isn’t ideal for 2,000 people to come to. Our new space will make things a lot better.”
Hedlund does have some advice for any new brewery that’s experience large releases. “Walk through it a 1,000 times,” she said. “Make your maps, walk through the space, put the tables out in the exact spots you need them. Don’t underestimate how complicated it can be. The more work you do ahead of time is so important, when the day comes, it’s busy and crazy but it’s not stressful. It’s also helpful because it’s easier to train the staff on the release day. It makes it as clear as possible. On the day of, you don’t have 32 co-workers asking you what they should be doing.”