Last night I walked into the local bottleshop on my way home from work to check out a Pittsburgh Beer Week promotion– discounted pints of a certain IPA that comes out at every year at Christmas. Not sure I agree with hanging on to a keg of this particular beer until this late in the year, but I sort of understand it. Some (misguided) people often like age this beer for up to a year, and it seems to hold up reasonably well compared to most other beers in the style.
It tasted pretty good, and I perused the shelves looking for anything new. Lo and behold, they had tallboys of Oskar Blues G’Knight– a beer that holds a special place in my heart. It was a true gateway beer for me, back when it was called Gordon, that helped me understand what a hoppy beer could be. For me, a fresh, piney, danktastic can of G’Knight is about as good as American craft beer gets. But I almost never drink it. I can’t find it fresh.
Oskar Blues has a large presence in Pennsylvania. Most bottleshops have conspicuous (usually unrefrigerated) OB displays packed with sweet looking cans of Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub, and the like. The flagship Dale’s does a brisk business and you can generally find new cans of it fairly easily. But G’Knight, whether it’s the elevated ABV, the new name, or some other factor, just doesn’t sell as well. So it tends to sit on the shelves.
The reason I know this is because OB launched G’Knight in 16 oz cans during GABF week. Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for the new format, because new format = fresh beer. I drank some G’Knight tallboys in New York last December for a memorial gathering for Magnus Skullsplitter, and it tasted great. But this is the first time I’ve seen it displayed at my local bottleshop.
So I ask they guy working behind the counter about them– are they new? I’ve had my eye out for them. He replied: “We’ve had them in the back for awhile now. We had some of the regular cans to get rid of, and if we put the new ones out it would highlight the difference. So once the old ones were gone, we brought them out. They’re not that new.”
I guess I should appreciate his honesty, but this was not what I wanted to hear. I find myself returning again and again to this topic of fresh beer, but only because it is a very real and glaring problem for the craft beer industry. Who is winning in this scenario? I imagine Dale Katechis’ head would explode if he knew some potential craft beer fan’s first taste of G’Knight was six months (or more) old, especially with the new cans in the store cooler, after the care and detail that went into both the beer itself, transporting it from Colorado, not to mention the marketing dollars behind the new format rollout. The consumer is certainly not benefiting. The bottleshop owner, who I know loves beer, did not get into this business for the money. But operating on low margins and increased competition, he feels the need to squeeze every penny out of his inventory. Something about this whole system is broken and wrong.
So what is the answer? I wish I knew. I suspect G’Knight might fare better as a seasonal brew, one I would anticipate greatly. I also think very few breweries have the infrastructure and demand to be available in every market. Many are attempting to be national brands with selling a perishable product, and do so at this risk of compromising quality and their good name. In the meantime, check those “best by” dates, drink local, or brew it yourself. Don’t enable and support the status quo by buying old beer.