The Novelty Curve

One of the best things about living in Oregon is the variety. Yesterday I posted a piece talking about four new brewery/pub openings slated for this year--make that five if you include Coalition. Nearly every week a new beer is released, and if you include brewpub-only beers, it's more like a dozens every week. I constantly have a backlog of beers I mean to try, and let's not even get into the question of national and international offerings.

There is a downside, however.

Another of the many interesting things to emerge from that conversation with Karl Ockert was a comment he made about the "novelty curve." It arose when we were talking about the question of selling BridgePort IPA, an ancient beer by craft brewing's standards, one released way back in 1996. It is truly one of the best beers brewed anywhere in America, and one of my all-time favorites. But how often do I buy a sixer? Once a year, twice? (I have it in restaurants more often because it's often the pick of a small litter.) The beer hasn't lost any of its interest to me, and yet, because it's a familiar old standby, I usually opt for something I haven't tried--and there's almost always something I haven't tried.

If you look around at all the premier brewing regions, they are known in part for a stable of landmark beers that have been around for decades. In forty years, when I'm a doddering old man, I want to be able to get a bottle of BridgePort. The thought of it vanishing is something I'm not prepared to entertain. But the market thrives on novelty. Here's Karl:
“Every beer that comes along goes through a novelty curve, and ours is no different. [Brewery X] is the current big one on the streets. They’re going through a novelty phase where people are out there trying and sampling. All breweries go through that. If I left BridgePort now and went out and started a new brewery, I could do the same thing. I could take tap handles right and left and get a lot of sampling. But it’s that “stayability”—being able to develop loyalty. That’s the tough part.”
Certainly, BridgePort IPA has earned some loyalty--according to Karl, it's still the best-selling IPA in Oregon (though no doubt their slice of the total pie has declined since '96). When you are an established brewery, there's always a wave of novelty coming at you. Since BridgePort IPA was released, great breweries like Laurelwood, Ninkasi, Roots, Double Mountain, Hopworks have entered the Portland market, all bringing their own IPAs along. With each one, BridgePort still had their same-old, same-old, never mind that it continued to be one of the best on the market. Looking forward, there will be scores more breweries opening in the next fifty years. And with each one, BridgePort will have to continue to coax consumers and retailers back to theirs.

As markets mature, this novelty curve will come with a sharp edge. I don't expect BridgePort IPA to go away anytime soon, but it's a good example because it is so beloved. As consumers, we love new beers, but in the long run, we love some of the old ones even more. As the market gets more crowded, we'll have to watch out that benign neglect doesn't nip some of our old faves.