Friday, July 27, 2012

Special Releases: One Beer Store's Viewpoint

As an occasional visitor to Minneapolis, I have signed up for a few email newsletters and Twitter accounts pertaining to craft beer in the Twin Cities. The following appeared in a recent newsletter from The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park, MN. It explains their policy on limited releases, and demonstrates that all markets suffer from issues of scarcity in our burgeoning craft beer universe.

Why we do what we do with special release beers like Surly Syx.

We'd like to take a minute to explain something. We know that there were a lot of frustrated people out there who missed out on Surly Syx when it landed here at the Firkins on Monday. We have experimented with all kinds of methods over the years when dealing with extremely limited and highly sought after beers.

Here are the most frequently asked questions about the situation:

  1. "Why can't you hold bottles for your regular customers?"

We have many people who shop with us who we consider friends. We see some people multiple times a week and if we made a list of who we think would be interested, most of our supply would be on hold before it even hit the floor. We LOVE our regulars, but we need to be fair to everyone, including people who WILL become regulars, too.

2. "Why don't you sell them over the phone anymore?"

It's unfortunate, but when we did that in the past, some people would take advantage of us and have all their friends to call in to buy the maximum amount. Then one person would come in and pick up say, 10 bottles when the limit might have been two. Greedy people like that have taken that option off the table. While we still allow phone sales for most items, we will limit it in specific circumstances where we think dishonesty will occur.

3. "Why can't you wait until I'm off work to release the beer?"

When the Surly delivery truck got here on Monday morning we already had people in the store waiting for it. We can't tell them to go home and come back after five. Some of those people started work at five. We have to sell the beer as soon as it gets here. When it gets here is up to the truck's schedule.

4. "Why do you have to limit how many bottles each person can buy?" When the brewery or distributor will only sell us a few cases of something we want to make sure as many people as possible get to enjoy it. On the super limited beers we don't even let employees buy any, it's all for you, our customers. We have to be fair to everyone, please understand we simply can't make exceptions.

Limited release beers are exactly that. Breweries only make a small amount of them. If there was plenty to go around they wouldn't be special! There is very little we can do about the situation. We have come to the conclusion that first come first served, while not perfect for everyone, is the method that causes the least frustration.

Thanks for understanding.

Jason Alvey


  1. Having been on the distribution side of this issue I can tell you first hand that it is also very difficult for us to determine which of our customers will receive these limited release beers. We encourage our customers to support a brewery by continually carrying not only their flagship beer, but also a second focus flavor, a rotating seasonal and a selection of bombers and or 750ml's. If their sales are good then it almost assures that they will be receiving the limited product. But understand that we as distributors may be limited to a hand full of cases. Take for example Dogfish Head 120min IPA, we were only allocated (12)cases and (1)1/6 bbl for about 30 customers who legitimately could have received the product. How do we decide who gets it? Now often times retailers will not want just one case. They feel it's better to not have it at all, and not upset those customers who might miss out because it sold out in 5 mins. I absolutely support Four Firkins policy. And as the saying goes, "you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time".


  2. Difference with Surly being, there's not a beer store 1000 miles away with that limited beer just sitting on the shelves. And that store 1000 miles away didn't receive it a week before the local market.