Is It Time To Streamline Port Brewing/Lost Abbey?
Yesterday, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey of San Marco, CA announced the addition of a third brand to their brewing operation. Hop Concept Brewing is set to be a hoppy focused line featuring simple, straight forward west coast IPAs. While the concept outlined in yesterday’s press release sounds great, I would like to ‘back seat drive’ and suggest the entire branding across all labels should be a bit more streamlined. While I am a savvy follower of the company, I can see a bit of confusion and perhaps a bit of dilution going on. Here are points made and some suggestions. Without knowing their numbers, these are just pieces of educated speculation.
The Port Brewing brand has been known for being the spin off production brewery from Pizza Port alumni Tomme Arthur. He was lucky enough to bring over some of his amazing recipes back in 2006 and it’s no secret these beers pay the bills. On the Port Brewing side, we have Wipe Out IPA, Mongo IPA, Hop 15, Shark Attack and High Tide IPA. When the announcement was made about the IPA themed third brand, those five beers immediately came to mind.
Fast forward to 2014, and Pizza Port Brewing began canning 3 of their most famous beers. Swami’s IPA, Chronic Ale and Ponto Session IPA all hit the scene in 16 oz. cans donning similar cartoony background with rivets. To this day, I still hear people confuse Port Brewing with Pizza Port Brewing. Whether it be a tap list at a well informed craft beer bar, a festival lineup or social media promo for a liquor store, often times one beer is labeled with the wrong brewery name. Just in talking shop or shooting the breeze at a bar, even the most seasoned geek will slip up and call High Tide IPA a Pizza Port beer.
Another brand confusion has been the two barrel aged beers that sit in the middle of this hoppy portfolio. Barrel Aged Santa’s Helper and Older Viscosity have lineage that date back to Tomme’s days at Pizza Port, however the beers themselves match up better with the Lost Abbey barrel aged bottle lineup.
While we’ve been informed that Wipe Out IPA is the cash cow (sold at grocery stores, big box stores, convenience stores (much like Lagunitas Hop Stoopid), the Port Brewing beers we see sitting on the shelf for a very reasonable price seem to need some love. The hoppy beers are amazing beers, particularly on draft and or at the source, they just seemed to be under marketed as bottled beers on that overcrowded shelf. A former employee once told me Port Brewing was the redheaded stepchild of the company, maybe he wasn’t kidding.
The Lost Abbey brand is the most famous or infamous brand coming out of the San Marcos facility depending who you talk to. While they have taken their lumps for that stubborn yeast strain and unpredictable barrels, the entire portfolio from A to Z is delicious.
You can break the Lost Abbey brand into four separate segments, or at least a beer enthusiast could. You have your 750 ml. Belgian/Farmhouse lineup. Beers like Judgement Day, 10 Commandments, Carnevale, Devotion and so on. These are clean, classic beers that would impress even the biggest wine snob. You have the sour barrel aged beers like Framboise De Amorosa, Cuvee de Tomme (another beer from the Pizza Port Days) and Red Poppy. Then you have your barrel aged strong ales such as Angel’s Share, Deliverance, Angel’s Share Grand Cru and Agave Maria. Lastly are the walez,bro. Lost Abbey pulls out the big guns a few times a year, in which they release a small quantity of highly coveted barrel aged sour ales like Veritas or Duck Duck Gooze.
Kind of like some of the Port Brewing beers mentioned above, some of those classic 750 ml. format beers seem to get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps it’s my perception only, and they sell like hot cakes. My gut tells me they could do better.
The Third Brand, Hop Concept Brewing is something I can’t speak to, as it isn’t on the shelf yet. Stone Brewing Co. and Lagunitas have done a tremendous job educating fans and retailers the importance of protecting and selling fresh IPAs, and this seems like another effort in that regard. They’re debuting this brand with a fresh IPA rotating seasonal and are calling it the Hop Freshener Series, which adds another layer of branding to the third label.
So what do I suggest?
While this might seem like getting rid of a child or pet that is near and dear to the heart, I would drop the Port Brewing label and name. I would prop up the new Hop Concept Brewing in it’s place, put the the beers such as Hop 15, Mongo, Wipe Out and High Tide into a “Tomme’s Classics” series. Get rid of the Pizza Port-esque cartoony logos. Sadly, I’d drop Hot Rocks and Midnight Sessions from the bottle line up, but keep it as tasting room only. I’d keep Old Viscosity, because the beer is amazing, it has a nice hop bite to it, but again, rebrand it. Older Viscosity would be moved over to the Lost Abbey brand, or made a tasting room only/draft account offering only. It’s an amazing beer, but kind of overlaps Deliverance. Not sure what to do with the two Santa beers. This would put the Port Brewing/Pizza Port Brewing confusion to rest, and would pump some life into the stagnant branding for the American Style beers.
I would consolidate the Lost Abbey brand from my perceived 4 segments into 2 segments. The 750 ml. table beers would be one segment, the barrel aged beer would be rolled into a revived “Membership Society” format like The Bruery does. Cuvee de Tomme, Framboise, Deliverance, Duck Duck, Red Poppy, Angel’s Share and such. Those beers are amazing, and with a tighter batch, would be worthy of $15 375’s and $30-40 750’s. You will still jazz the foodie fans who love those classic table beers and appease the money spending bros who want that limited release barrel aged goodness.
So in summary, I’d accentuate the company’s strengths, which is wonderful IPAs, sours, barrel aged strong ales and beer geek hype, while doing away with some rookie year branding issues that have lingered on too long and may have triggered the need for brand number 3.
Here’s a link to The Lost Abbey’s Website: http://lostabbey.com/
Here’s a link to Port Brewing’s Website: http://portbrewing.com/
Bonus: Google Port Brewing and see what comes up first!