We’ve been following Firestone Walker Brewing very closely for the 9+ years The Full Pint has been in business. In 2007, Firestone’s flagship beers were Double Barrel Ale (DBA), Pale 31 and Firestone Lager. As craft beer became more popular, and tastes for hoppier ales became in favor, Firestone Walker quickly ditched the poor selling Lager as they put the finishing touches on their first bottled IPA, Union Jack. Looking back on that, it was the right move, as there was such a strong movement from enthusiasts to embrace the IBUS and shun anything that resembled an industrial lager (Firestone Lager was never that).
When Black IPAs became the new fad, we were introduced to Wookey Jack, which was a classy take on the style, compared to the abrasive hop bomb Stone Sublimely Self Righteous (which eventually fell out of favor with drinkers). One of the casualties of Wookey Jack was the retirement of Walker’s Reserve Porter. Walker’s Reserve Porter was a to-style, unoffensive dark beer that just wasn’t capturing the imagination of the current beer geek, and thus it was retired from the retail lineup.
Fast forward to this past week, and we’ve learned that Firestone Walker gave pink slips to the rest of their “Reserve Series”, comprised of Wookey Jack, Opal (a standard American interpretation of a saison) and Double Jack (a balanced and classy West Coast Double IPA). While this didn’t shock many, these three beers did have their fans. Much like the other retired beers mentioned above, they didn’t capture the imagination of the current beer enthusiasts to the point there was a high demand for them. There are a few factors to support this.
It’s well known that the current beer consumer is always looking for the next new thing. There is less brand loyalty and more hobbiest type of behavior. Those who were able to buy these three beers likely bought them, entered them into their Untappd app, and moved along, never returning. That is not Firestone Walker’s fault, and this behavior is also disrupting many other mature craft breweries of this size. The other factor was the small group of people that did love these beers and wanted to keep buying them, were stuck with the choice of buying old inventory. The problem with that is, Firestone Walker’s fresh ales are notoriously delicate. When I had my first bottle of Wookey Jack when it debuted, I wasn’t overly impressed. When I had my first glass of WJ at the source in Paso Robles, I was shocked at how complex and vibrant the beer was. Similarly, PiVo, Easy Jack, Double Jack and Pale 31 are beers that are night and day better when fresh as possible. So while all three are great beers, the double edge sword known as supply and demand was enough to defeat these ales.
Firestone Walker most likely had a hunch this was an issue to be dealt with as early as a year ago. Sure enough, they may have found their solution with Luponic Distortion and the promise of smaller run batches that will replace the retired Proprietor’s Series. Both projects address freshness, with Luponic Distortion heavily advertising a 90 day window, and the idea of smaller run batches scratches the itch of the “gotta tick em all” crowd.
I am personally saddened that beer drinkers aren’t brand loyal. I may be in the minority, but when I find a beer that is delicious, fresh and perfectly priced, I stick with it. With that said, I am glad Firestone Walker remains nimble, knows when to cut bait on slow moving brands, and stays innovative without losing focus on what makes them special. Wookey Jack, goodnight my sweet prince.