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Analysis: Two Months of Bestsellers from the Craft Beer Cellar

Thanks to Jake Berg for his contributions to this article.

Erika Goedrich has run H Street Northeast’s Craft Beer Cellar since they opened in August 2016. She was kind enough to share her sales by volume of the most popular beers for the last two months. The results may surprise you or shed some light on a hypothesis we’ve been kicking around for a bit now.

Q: What does the craft beer drinker want? 
A: What they can't have.
— Ocelot head brewer Mike McCarthy

While there are plenty of stores in DC with excellent beer selections, the Craft Beer Cellar is a bit different in that, if you’re in there, you’re in there for one reason: the beer. (They’ve got local snacks and spirits as well.) This isn’t Safeway, Whole Foods, or Rodman’s, where shoppers might casually pick up a six-pack or a 750mL bottle while buying food. As such, sales data from Craft Beer Cellar may shed some insight into the purchasing habits of a more “beer serious” clientele.

Keep in mind that beer that comes in a four- or six-pack can be sold by the pack or individually at CBC. Some beers, such as large format bottles, are only sold individually. Below are January and February's best sellers.

JANUARY BEST SELLERS
Products Only Sold as Singles

1) Toppling Goliath PseudoSue (Pale Ale)
2) Toppling Goliath Dorothy's New World Lager
3) Toppling Goliath Double Dry Hopped PseudoSue (Pale Ale)
4) SingleCut Jim is Hardly Working (IPA)*
5) SingleCut Bon Bon (IPA)
6) SingleCut Softly Spoken Magic Spells (IPA)
7) SingleCut Harry Doesn't Mind (IPA)
8) Evil Twin Westbrook Imperial Mexican Biscotti Cake Break (Imperial Stout)
9) Singlecut Eric More Cowbell (IPA)
10) Hardywood Bourbon Barrel Gingerbread Stout (Imperial Stout)
11) Wicked Weed French Toast (Imperial Stout)
12) Krusovice (Pilsner)
13) Andechs Vollbier Hell (Helles Lager)
14) Maine Mo (Pale Ale)
15) Zyweic Porter

*The order of the SingleCut beers are dependent on which beers are available and when they arrive during the month.

FEBRUARY BEST SELLERS (through Feb. 23)
Products Only Sold as Singles

1) Singlecut Workers are Going Home
2) Singlecut Softly Spoken Magic Spells
3) Singlecut Harry Doesn't Mind
4) Wicked Weed Freak of Nature (DIPA)
5) Toppling Goliath PseudoSue
6) Wicked Weed BA French Toast
7) Three Notch'd Biggie Smores (Imperial Stout)
8) Toppling Goliath Dorothy's
9) Krusovice
10) Potter's Grapefruit Hibiscus (Cider)
11) Potter's Farmhouse Dry (Cider)
12) Hitachino White (Witbier)

Take a gander at the beers sold primarily as singles, also available for mixed sixers. According to RateBeer, the only place to find Toppling Goliath east of DC is in England. Or Spain. Take the map with a grain of salt. There's no denying that the rarity of Toppling Goliath has enhanced its appeal to beer buyers. This is a brewery that was previously unavailable in DC. The Toppling Goliath stuff was a one-off shipment; pretty cool that CBC was able to use DC's gray laws in that way. importing a sought-after beer.

Similarly, Singlecut, the brewers from Queens, are leading the pack in sales in February. New York is, of course, much closer than Iowa (though the PseudoSue was brewed and canned in Lakeland, Florida via an arrangement with Brew Hub), but nonetheless it gets back to our thesis: craft beer drinkers want what they can't have. Or specifically in this case, they want what they had previously been unable to attain, as Singlecut is new to the DC market. It’s impressive (or pick another word) that people are consistently willing to pay between $6-$9 for a 16 ounce can of IPA that is often the same price per ounce in area bars.

Should you find yourself turning bitter about the idea that rare beer equals beer sales, comfort yourself with the imports that made the top sales list. Krusovice isn’t the rarest Czech pilsner out there, yet there it is, a top 12 in both January and February. Germany's Andechs sold about the same amount as Maine's Mo in January, which in a way, however insignificant it may seem, means that pale lager stayed even with pale ale. Sure, pale lager outsells pale ale every day of every month of every year in the United States and most of the world but if every pale lager were as tasty as Andechs the beer world would be a better place. Worth noting is that the available volume of Mo to sell is smaller than that of Andechs Vollbier; assuming equal volume availabilities, it is entirely possible (indeed, likely) that the pale ale would outsell the pale lager as expected.

Surprisingly, a Baltic Porter out of Poland, Zywiec, made the list. It’s owned by Heineken International. That's a brewery that has been around since the 16th century, one of the best examples of a pretty "plain" style in Helles lager, and an actual Baltic Porter. Too often we see people chasing the flashy and the new ,and here are three absolute classics in styles that nobody thinks are the hotness. Maybe our beer market is more sophisticated than we give it credit for.

Here are the rest of the January and February numbers, as broken out by CBC Owner Erika Goedrich:

January
Products Sold as Single or Packs

1) RAR Nanticoke Nectar (IPA)
2) Troegs Nugget Nectar (IPA)
3) 3 Stars Ghost (IPA)
4) Manor Hill IPA
5) Denizens Lowest Lord (ESB)
5) 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison
6) Denizens Third Party Tripel
6) Denizens Born Bohemian (Pilsner)
7) Union Duckpin (IPA)
8) Anderson Valley Kimmie, Yink Holy Gose
9) Bell's Two Hearted (IPA)
10) Sixpoint Resin (IPA)
11) Lagunitas High Westified (Imperial Stout)

Goedrich notes that, “Denizens was our ‘featured brewery’ in January. This program gives us an opportunity to educate and make more people aware of some great breweries. We display their beers up front and bring them in for a tasting. We’re still developing the program a bit, and in February, added a spotlight of the brewery in our monthly newsletter.” Want to sign up for that newsletter? You can, here.

January Singles and Packs (Combined)

1) Toppling Goliath PseudoSue
2) Toppling Goliath Dorothy's
3) RAR Nanticoke Nectar
4) Troegs Nugget Nectar
5) Toppling Goliath DDH PseudoSue
6) 3 Stars Ghost
7) Manor Hill IPA
8) Denizens Lowest Lord
8) 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison
9) Denizens Third Party Tripel
9) Denizens Born Bohemian
10) Union Duckpin

February (through Feb. 23)
Products Sold as Single or Packs

1) RAR Nanticoke Nectar
2) Troegs Nugget Nectar
3) Three Notch'd Minute Man (IPA)
4) Brooklyn Bel Air Sour
5) 3 Stars Ghost
6) Three Notch'd 40 Mile IPA
7) Union Double Duckpin (DIPA)
8) Atlas Ponzi (IPA)
9) Austin EastCider Original Dry
10) Bell's Hopslam (DIPA)

February Singles and Packs (Combined):
1) RAR Nanticoke Nectar
2) Troegs Nugget Nectar
3) Three Notch'd Minute Man
4) Brooklyn Bel Air Sour
5) 3 Stars Ghost
6) Three Notch'd 40 Mile IPA
7) Union Double Duckpin
8) Atlas Ponzi
9) Singlecut Workers are Going Home
10) Austin EastCider Original Dry

Our analysis: If you think product placement doesn't matter in stores, look at Denizens and Three Notch'd. Denizens had a January window display–the tastings didn't hurt–and moved a lot of their product. There’s a lot of jockeying for position in grocery stores with regards to which beer, and from which distributor, goes where, and here you can see why. Switching up the location of the beer and educating the consumer can really pay off in sales. Speaking of promoting local beer, the IPAs are doing really well here. Anything with the word Nectar in it, Ghost, Ponzi, Double Duckpin…

So, do beer buyers want what’s rare? Sure. But look at what they also want: pitch-perfect styles from around the world; fresh, local beer; seasonal offerings like Bel Air and Nugget Nectar; and, above all, hops and stouts.

We send our thanks to the Craft Beer Cellar for supplying the district with world-class suds, rare, ubiquitous, and otherwise. Also many thanks for supplying the excellent data which drove us to better explain the scene via the transparency of small business owners.

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