Q&A: Sixpoint founder Shane Welch talks about the brewery's new canned suds, hitting shelves as early as Tuesday
Thu May 19 2011
The big news in beer this week is that Sixpoint Craft Ales—the trailblazing Red Hook brewery that recently celebrated its sixth anniversary—is launching its first line of canned beers. Finally! The initial run of 16-ounce tall boys will include Sweet Action, as well as Bengali Tiger, Righteous Ale and the Crisp. The blogs have been buzzing about a Memorial Day weekend release, but we just got word that the cans could hit certain retailers (Bierkraft, Whole Foods and Fairway) as early as Tuesday afternoon. Keep your running shoes on for the inevitable race to the nearest bodega that'll go down after the first sighting is reported.
More-patient boozehounds can set their sights on the official launch, going down next Friday starting at 4pm, at the Whole Foods Bowery Beer Room. All four varieties of the cans will be on sale, and Sixpoint will be taking over six drafts for growler fills of Harbinger Saison, Signal and more. The celebrations will continue through June, with a dozen tasting events lined up at bars that have supported the upstart brewery over the years, like Franklin Park and Huckleberry Bar. Each shindig will have a different theme (expect trivia at Franklin Park and a cookout at Huckleberry) and feature $2 cans. In light of the big announcement, we caught up with Sixpoint founder Shane Welch to chat about the benefits of cans, the Sixpoint design ethos and the possibility of getting Time Out for Porter onto grocery store shelves. Click through the behind-the-scenes photos above, then hit the jump for the Q&A.
Time Out New York: So it was almost a year ago that we talked about whether Sixpoint would ever distribute in bottles or cans, and you said you never wanted to do it until you felt sure the product wouldn't be sacrificed in any way. How'd you get over the hump?
Shane Welch: It was a decision we made about three months ago. I just got to a point where I thought the team we have at Sixpoint was jelling, the recipes and the reformulations and things we've done over the past year were really starting to be perfect—we were hitting our numbers every time, the bitterness was perfect, the aroma was good, the body was good, the color was good.... If you're going to produce and send beers out like this, you want to make sure you feel comfortable with the manner in which you're making them. Since the beginning, I don't know how many changes we've made to the Sweet Action—we've changed everything really, we're constantly tweaking things. But eventually you've got to just be like, "All right, enough's enough. Let's just settle on what we're comfortable with."
Cans are getting more and more popular among craft brewers, but the 16-ouncers are a little less common. Why'd you decide to go with that format?
One reason is that all of our accounts so far have been draft accounts, and if they want to get the cans, too, the standard drinking vessel nowadays as opposed to 50 years ago is the pint instead of a small glass. [At Sixpoint] we drink beer out of a glass, even if we get a canned beer we don't drink directly from the can. Aren't you annoyed when you take a pint glass and pour a 12-ounce beer into it and there's four ounces missing? So it's an incompatibility issue—you've got the wrong glassware with the wrong-size vessel. The other thing is, when you reach for a can or order one at a bar or restaurant, it's nice to not have to keep ordering more. It's also more efficient from a material-sourcing standpoint. Across the board it's just more efficient.
And these will be sold in four-packs, right? So you walk away with 64 ounces, just like a standard growler.
Exactly. You're buying a growler, except it's in can format.
The logos look great. How did you develop the badges that represent each beer?
I work closely with a friend from college. I actually lived with the guy while I was home-brewing in college, he was a roommate. We just rock it. We like to do stuff in-house. We like to work with a small crew of designers and forward-thinking people to create recipes and something really unique and really passionate. This guy saw me making beer when I was 19 years old in my basement. He drank the original creations.
What's the reach of the distribution going to be for these?
Pretty much identical to what we have now for our draft accounts. [Sixpoint is available in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Philadelphia.]
Do you think you'll go beyond that? Beer nerds on the West Coast are clamoring...
Well, we'll see. We want to see how we do keeping up with the current demand first.
What about expanding the line? Are you planning to put other beers in cans, or release any large-format bottles?
We're definitely planning on expanding the cans. Personally I think the Diesel [Stout] needs to get into cans eventually. But I also feel that as of right now, after looking at everything, I don't really have any interest in doing regular series of bottles. I might consider doing a one-off or special bottles. But I don't have any plans to do a regular supply chain of bottles.
Where are the cans going to be available beyond Whole Foods and bars?
You're going to be able to get it all up and down the city—everywhere. [Sixpoint's Jeff Gorlechen confirms that they'll be at Fairway, Food Emporium, Park Slope Co-op, Duane Reade, bodegas and more.]
Time Out for Porter was pretty awesome. Think we'll ever see that in the portfolio?
Dude, I would love to do that. Is there a good porter in a can? I don't think there is.