Monday, October 24, 2011

Liquor stores' sale of Venetucci Pumpkin Ale draws criticism

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 3:06 PM

Bristol Brewing Co.'s Venetucci Pumpkin Ale is a victim of its own success. The release of the seasonal "community ale," whose brewery profits benefit the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and Venetucci Farm, is perhaps the biggest local beer event all year, and it's turned into a complete cluster ... um, muck.

This year, the brewery instituted presale orders in an attempt to thin the crush of people that annually descend upon on it; this, of course, only led to a line out the door of people pre-ordering (which was still a puny thing compared to the line around the block that comes with the beer's actual release).

And there's really no end in sight. The release is a bigger deal each year, and yet Bristol can brew no more than they do with the limited amount of pumpkins allotted to the cause.

I've spoken with brewery representatives, and even they say they're a little mystified by the hype; it's a good beer, of course, but so's the seasonal (with a similarly timed release) Christmas Ale. The VPA's just turned into a self-supported rolling tide of want.

So you have a fun supply-and-demand problem that some of the city's liquor store owners have responded to like most happy capitalists would: an increase in price, reports our friends at UpaDowna. (The blog's Steve Hitchcock also periodically freelances for the Indy.)

In a post titled "The Great Pumpkin Ale Caper," Robert Mitchell relates his tale of hitting liquor stops across the city in an attempt to wrangle as many of the bangin' bottles of pumpkin brew as he can. (Those with the patience to brave the line and purchase the VPA at the brewery are limited to six.) He generally finds liquor store owners — who buy the bottles from Bristol at a flat rate, and then set their own price — selling in the $6 to $8 range.

The lowest I found was $5.50 and the most bottles sold per costumer at any one place I could find being 4. Some clerks when asked the price even joked, "how much are you willing to pay". Flags should have been up by now, but it is easy to get caught up in the moment and blinded by all the hype. Oren told me he just ran to a liquor store on the north end of town where the guy was trying to charge a steep $10.43 per bottle. This is outrageous!!! Our conversation quickly turned to the root of this brew being a non-profit and Bristol giving back 100% of the proceeds to the Venetucci Farm.

In a related post, Eric Steen at Focus on the Beer links to a like-minded story of specialty beers selling for much more than their suggested retail price. He then gets comment from Mike Bristol, who says:

I'm a little troubled by the thought of confusing customers with the concept of "100% of profits going to the farm" - it has never come up before and we certainly weren't thinking of other business' profits when we implemented the Community Ales program. Our commitment is to donate our profits from the beer to the farm, but it was never our intention to confuse or to speak for our liquor store customers and their commitment to our causes.

So there you go; feel free to comment with your pricing experiences. (I personally grabbed the two pictured bottles at Swirl Wine Emporium for around $6 each.)

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