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Big Beers, Big Pours
High ABV beers and their appeal in larger formats
Back in 2012 a couple friends and myself received word that a bar local to us was going to have a keg of Cigar City’s acclaimed imperial stout, Marshal Zhukov’s, on tap. At the time it wasn’t very often that we saw Zhukov on draft in South Florida, especially for a non-event. This treat was usually reserved for Cigar City’s taproom, tap takeovers, beer dinners and other assorted special events. It was a Friday evening and we decided to head over to grab one, maybe two.
We sat at a round top table and ordered the beers from a server that came over to us. A couple minutes later our beers arrived but something wasn’t quite right. We received Marshal Zhukov’s, for sure, but the beers we plopped down on the table in traditional, shaker pints. That’s 16 fluid ounces of a nearly 12% beer. Normally something so high octane would get served up in a smaller glass, usually between 10-12 ounces. We weren’t going to complain about this little snafu. We gladly decided to accept the extra few ounces of bliss. We were getting a deal as the beer was obviously priced for a smaller pour.
Where we made our mistake was gloating about the mishap to our friend that worked for Cigar City. He was the one that gave us the tip of this unannounced tapping of the beer so we just wanted to show our prizes. Shortly after those texts went out he called the bar and told them that it should be served in smaller pours. We found out about the glitch being fixed when one of us went to order a second. Sad trombone. Hey, we enjoyed it while we could.
A number of years later, in 2018, while living in Pennsylvania I came upon a restaurant that had Zhukov on tap and ordered one. To my giddy surprise I received the decedent delight in a pint glass. I was immediately taken back and had a laugh. I even texted my friend, who was still working at Cigar City, and showed him. This time I left out where I was.
For a long time in the craft beer game your high ABV beers were typically sold in large format bottles like the 22 ounce bomber or 750 ml wine style bottle. After a little bit these size bottles fell out of favor for smaller cans. Breweries started to package big beers in 12 ounce cans and bottles. Some even took to 8 ounce offerings. With these high ABVs many people only wanted a little bit. Having 22-25 ounces of a 12% beer was not possible for most and they felt they were wasting a high dollar item dumping the remainder of a beer after having how much they wanted.
Fast forward to today and things are kind of strange. Big format bottles haven’t made a comeback by any stretch but it also doesn’t seem that the smaller cans and bottles are exactly sticking either. Over the last year or two we have started to see high ABV beers hitting big can formats like the 16 ounce tallboy and 19.2 ounce stovepipe. And not only are they just moving to those formats but they are seeing an increase in sales from them.
Many of these big hitters seem to be in the IPA category with New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger family hitting this format hard and often. Victory has taken their Monkey family of Belgian influenced beers that branched off of their wildly popular Golden Monkey and found a home in the stovepipe cans. But the really crazy part about this move seems to be in the placements for these beers. Convenience stores, grocery stores and stadiums selling them as single serves seem to be the common place for this behemoths in big cans. Why? More bang for your buck.
We’re in a world of global inflation. No, Biden can’t fix this whole thing you mooks. People are watching their wallets more than we have in a while and the art of stretching a dollar has become something that people are selling Masterclasses on. While many low ABV go-to beers have seen 6 pack prices increase a dollar or two to the areas of $11 and $12 those fans have felt the strain. Going to a bar or restaurant you now see your favorite lager go from $5 to $6 or $7. Ouch. But if you can pop into a Wawa and buy a 19.2 ounce can of a 9.5% beer for $2.99 you are going to think, “Woah, this is where my money can get me there quicker.” Many have had that train of thought and breweries like New Belgium and Victory have reaped the benefits.
It also helps that these formats are the preferred size for stadiums and arenas a like. You would be hard pressed to find a 12 ounce cans at your local ballpark. They all go for the 16 or 19.2 oz cans. They can charge more for a larger pour and we all know how much stadiums love to smack you in the face with beer prices. Having the preferred format for a stadium is big sale potential for you. Then you get to have some big ABV beer to help you cheer on your team or to drown your sorrows in. Like a Mets fan.
I don’t know what the staying power of these sorts of beers are, especially if inflation starts coming down. I mean, Golden Monkey has had a place for awhile with a dedicated following. This one wasn’t created with a shot in the dark. New Belgium has had a knack for pivoting and being at the forefront of trends and innovation. If they don’t see the big cans of big beers working I’m sure they will figure something else out. Maybe 12 packs of 4 ounce cans becomes a thing. I kid. I truly fucking kid.
I haven’t found myself in many situations that have compelled me to buy a big can of any of these hosses. I did have a stovepipe of Golden Monkey during the Super Bowl because it was the only Philly area beer that I could find around me that wasn’t named Yuengling. It was $2.99 and it hit me hard. Made the 2nd half of that game not sting so much.
I’ve had a number of New Belgium’s big Voodoo Ranger IPAs but they have all been in 12 ounce cans, usually from a variety pack. I’ve been unabashedly a fan boy of their Fruit Force and Juice Force no matter how absurd that may seem with me being a traditionalist. Fucking sue me. But I can totally see the appeal in these to a younger demographic that may be watching their pocketbooks more closely. Fruit Force is tasty and hides the 9.5% ABV better than any slight of hand artist in the world.
Are big beers in big cans here to stay? They are at least in the short term. Don’t tell AirBnB.
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I’d Have a Beer…or a Cider
Cider has long been one of my favorite adult beverage segments that gets so little love. We have become too used to the names like Magners, Angry Orchard and Strongbow and their oftentimes sweet tastes that are so off-putting. And if I’m honest, I was one of those people for a long time. It wasn’t until I moved to Philly that I realized that ciders could be dry, artistic and flavorful.
One of the cideries that really grabbed my attention was Ploughman Cider out of central PA. I first had their Stayman Winesap, single varietal cider, on tap at a local restaurant and loved it. Shortly after that I met their owner, Ben Wenk, at a farmer’s market where he was selling cider and fruits. That’s because Ben is a multi-generational fruit farmer. He decided to start making ciders from his estate grown apples and I am forever grateful for him to be doing so.
In 2020 when Ploughman announced a quarterly cider club I jumped. To this day I am still a proud and happy member. I have gotten to drink some of the best ciders in the world and that brings me to Lummox.
Hops and tartness work well together. They just do. Ploughman takes this equation and applies it to their cider. Lummox is a Citra dry-hopped cider that adds citrusy notes of lime to their dry, beautiful cider. I had this cider at my wedding so I always like to add a 4 pack to my quarterly box when it comes time for summer.
If you are a sour beer fan and have enjoyed dry-hopped sours you should do yourself a favor and get this. This ship to 42 states so check out their site and buy yourself some if they ship to you. I make zero money off this endorsement. I just love them so much.
This is a Photo
Delray Beach, FL
Out a little bit west of the parts of Delray Beach that most locals head to is the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. It is a beautiful and relaxing spot to take a stroll, sit and reflect and just be, overall, tranquil.
Do you like this shot? I have prints available for purchase. All sales are super appreciated.
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