You stop in at your local bottle shop to pick up some suds for the weekend. You grab a six-pack of your preferred brew and head to the checkout. Then, you head home, where you’re able to enjoy those six beers (in either bottled or canned form). That’s how most beer lovers do things, but it’s beginning to change. Today, you have the chance to build your own sixer, rather than buying six of the same beers. Why bother and what should you know?
What It’s All About
On the surface, it might not seem like building your own six-pack is really that big a thing. After all, what’s so great about being able to choose random brews? How is it better than just buying random six-packs, or purchasing a few bombers?
Some of the arguments in favor of the BYO (build-your-own) movement are pretty obvious. First, you get to try six different beers rather than being stuck with six of the same thing. That’s important if you’re trying something new – are you really going to want to drink all six of those bottles if the beer really isn’t to your liking? It’s an investment in diversity. Second, it’s an investment in protecting your tastes. What if you don’t like a new beer? You’re either stuck with five bottles (or cans) that you won’t drink, or you give them away, or even toss them out. That’s a huge waste of money considering the fact that most craft beer isn’t exactly cheap (in comparison with the watery content produced by Big Beer).
It’s also something else – an almost inevitable evolution that speaks directly to what the craft beer movement is all about. This seemingly simple thing actually has a vast number of ramifications.
Diversity – What’s the craft beer world all about? Is it about brewing something different than what’s available from Bud, Miller and the rest? Yes. It’s also about creativity, innovation, invention and passion. It’s about brewing things that have never been done before, about reinventing things that have gone before and doing everything while staying true to yourself as a brewer and beer lover. The BYO movement ties directly into that by giving beer drinkers the chance to expand their horizons while reducing risks. It’s a safe way to try new things without being saddled with duds that just take up valuable room in the refrigerator (that could be used for beer you actually like!). It’s about exploring new options and trying new things, getting to know the various breweries out there and their offerings.
Sharing – What’s better than a cold craft beer? One that’s shared with good friends. The craft beer movement is, at its heart, a social thing. Innovative brewers try new things to share with their friends, families and customers. Drinkers try new things to share with their own friends and families. It’s really about inclusiveness and sharing, about spending time with other people who share your passion for great beer. BYO options give you the chance to share multiple different moments with those who matter most in your life.
Where They’re At
You won’t find BYO packaging everywhere, but it’s a growing trend. Most bottle shops that cater to craft beer lovers have had this option for some time, but it’s starting to grow beyond those bounds. Kroger (a grocery store chain in 31 states) has introduce the ability to build your own six-pack from its selection of both craft and Big Beer brands and other grocery stores are getting into the act as well, although some are slow to adopt this model, and some will likely never offer it (Wal-Mart is one of those that does not, but might rollout the model in some markets, but certainly not across the board).
How Does BYO Stack Up to Growlers?
If you’re a confirmed craft lover, then you’ve at least seen growlers – you buy a reusable bottle and then pay for refills from a variety of different beers. Growler stations offer variety, but they also give drinkers the chance to enjoy daft beer without having to sit at the pub. They go back to the early days of American brewing, when patrons would carry home their beer in a pail with a lid. The carbonation inside the beer built up and leaked out past the edges of the lid, creating a “growling” noise. Thus, the name came about. How does the BYO movement stack up against these options?
Actually, building your own six-pack is a better option for most drinkers, particularly those who want to enjoy a wider range of beers. While growlers let you bring pub-fresh beer home and they’re ideal for sharing, they’re not without their drawbacks. One of the most important of these is cost – ounce for ounce, growlers are more expensive than cans or bottles. Another drawback is lifespan. A half-full growler goes flat in a couple of days, whereas a bottle or can will stay fresh for months.
Choosing Your BYO Retailer
The BYO model has grown in popularity and is offered by a number of different stores and bottle shops. Of course, they’re not all created equal. To really get the most out of the experience, you need to choose a store that offers a wide diversity of beers. Look for labels from around the world, not just the American craft scene. You should also consider how easy the store makes it for their customers to choose beers wisely. For instance, many shops have followed Total Wine’s model and begun putting informative labels on their singles section. These detail everything from the beer’s ABV to its country of origin, flavor profile, IBUs and a great deal more to ensure that customers are able to choose their brews with as little guesswork as possible. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t choose whatever tickles your fancy and that’s part of what makes BYO options so much fun.