Toward a Mass-Market IPA

Although beer drinkers have apparently known about this for awhile, it's just making news today: Walgreens is selling their own canned beer. Walgreens opts for the classic "nouveau-antique" motif, styling it Big Flats 1901 and plopping an old waterwheel on the can. (Memo to Walgreens: using the word "flats" in your title was perhaps not the stroke of genius your PR people suggested.) It's the color of dirty water, sells for $3 a sixer, and is apparently awful.

But you don't care about Walgreens cheap new beer, and neither do I.

Seeing the story, though, made me reflect on my post from earlier this week, wherein I mused that there's no reason the US couldn't become a good-beer country. If that happens, one of the mechanisms might be the appearance of mass-market cheap-good beer. Imagine if Walgreens had instead decided to market a $4 sixer of below-average but adequate IPA--let's say an inoffensive 5.5%, 42-IBU beer. Using economies of scale, cheap ingredients, and high-alpha hops, a company could probably make money on such a beer if they could sell enough. Beer geeks would hate it, but many would buy it nevertheless because it was so much cheaper than better IPAs. Could a brewery move two million barrels of the stuff? Probably.

(Maybe it's not an IPA. The success of Blue Moon demonstrates that weird styles can have national appeal.)

If we do see such a beer--or at least, see such a beer that is a commercial success--it would signal the tipping point away from the kinds of beers Walgreens is hawking and toward fuller-flavor beers. I'd like to see someone give it a shot.

PHOTO: Chicago Now's Beeronaut