Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 From the Consumer's Perspective

My last post outlined Fork and Hay's 2010 objectives from the supplier's point of view. As in real life, however, all those goals are useful only in the context of consumer satisfaction: you can make the most consistent, high-quality products in the world, but if they're not what the consumer wants, they're not going to sell. Well, to be fair there's no selling going on at Fork and Hay Brewing (DO YOU HEAR ME ATF AND IRS? I'M NOT SELLING BEER), but the idea is the same: if the people who are the potential consumers of my batches don't like them, I will have wasted my effort and money in producing them.

What does the Fork and Hay consumer want? I said before I don't like looking backwards, but as I see it there are only two ways to determine what products to make: see what was popular in the past and make more of that, and do market research to determine what the people in your target market want and figure out how to provide that. (I know that's a simplistic way to look at it but, as some of you have heard me say, the only time I ever spent in the business building in college was when the Brewmistress and I would use their dial-up terminals to play Adventure on the campus mainframe - at that time the engineering building only had card punches and readers. XYZZY FTW.)

If we take a quick click on the ads...sorry, did that come out in print?...I mean, a quick look back at what Fork and Hay produced and how long it took to get it consumed, we should have some idea of what was popular in the past:

"Geordie" family: 50 gallons brewed, consumed
Por Favor: 20 gallons brewed, 10 consumed, 10 serving
Half Wit: 5 gallons brewed, consumed
Gayle Bait: 5 gallons brewed, still serving since October
Honey-Brew List: 5 gallons brewed, scrapped
Coldwater 420: 5 gallons brewed, consumed
Shaun of the Dead: 5 gallons brewed, serving

Clearly this tells us a few things:

  • I like the Geordie recipes and Por Favor
  • Honey-Brew List was a disaster
  • Half Wit and Coldwater 420 were enjoyed by other folks
  • Gayle Bait isn't a disaster but it's not knocking the crowd's socks off

What does it really mean? It's obvious that I'm the primary consumer of my work, which isn't news. Given that, planning for the new year should be pretty easy - keep the keg pipeline full of Geordie Boy and Por Favor. The problem with that plan is that it doesn't account for the other significant use case for my beer, which is serving friends and family during various gatherings.

For this year, I need to be thinking pipeline for some significant events: Spring Break, St. Patrick's Day, Scotty's graduation, and the Fourth of July are those most impending. The people who will be around the house during that time are a mixture of "serious beer" drinkers (some of whom are also serious "beer drinkers") who have already exhibited an interest in the richer recipes like Por Favor and the two flavors that Tim commissioned, and casual beer drinkers who seem to gravitate toward lighter brews. The challenge before me for 2010 is to determine what I can make to satisfy the casual drinkers, because personally I'll be satisfied to keep drinking Geordie-Boy and Por Favor.

Note: at no point in this discussion do I intend to be demeaning to those whose tastes aren't like mine. I'm not trying to stand in judgment of people who like lighter beer than I do. It may come out sounding pejorative but I don't mean for it to.

I had intended for Gayle Bait to be the principle beer that I could offer the casual drinkers, but so far it hasn't really taken off. I'm not sure why. However, I think that it has some of the characteristics that are likely to appeal to this demographic:
  • It's light in color
  • It's fizzy
  • It's not too hoppy
  • It's clear
Not coincidentally, those features happen to describe the main characteristics of the most popular commercially available US lagers.Thinking back on last Fourth of July, when my available offerings were Half Wit, Coldwater 420, and Geordie Ale, the most popular beer among the casual crowd was Half Wit. Geordie Ale was too dark and Coldwater 420 was too hoppy. Half Wit was light, fizzy, and had a mild flavor, even though it was based on a witbier and therefore was somewhat cloudy. It seems clear (no pun intended) that this is an area I need to try and master in the upcoming year. I can repeat the Half Wit recipe, and I think I can do it in a way that adds some flavor but doesn't risk the unfortunate consequences that the Honey-Brew List batch encountered.

So what do I do? I think that I am on solid ground by planning a 10 gallon batch of Half Wit for readiness by St. Patrick's Day. That should carry my light and fizzy inventory at a sufficient level to hold me through Scotty's graduation in May, and give me time to replenish before the Brewmistress's annual domination of the Indian Springs Fourth of July Celebration dessert contest.  However, I'm really not satisfied with that response. Am I really going to have to start lagering before I can make everyone happy?

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