Appervation: anatomy of a well-subscribed beer release

On May 11, 2017, a simple announcement appeared on the Jackie O’s Brewery Facebook page. It read: 

On May 24th at 11 am, we will be releasing a bourbon barrel imperial stout called Appervation. Brewed in collaboration with Side Project Brewing, the beer was formulated as a blend of two respective signature stouts: Dark Apparition & Derivation. After aging for 14 months, the time has come for this 14% ABV beauty to be enjoyed!

$15.99 per 12.7 fl. oz. bottle (limit 12/person)
Available at Jackie O’s Taproom & Brewery and Jackie O’s Brewpub & Public House.

Jackie o's
Appervation Imperial Stout, a collaboration between Jackie O’s and Side Project, made a big splash in the beer release world.

Shortly following this announcement, craft beer fans began hitting the social media with post like this series lifted from reddit.

  • Any idea if it’ll last into the weekend?
  • With that limit, most likely. Should last several weeks.
  • I think this is an interesting release to see how that goes. It involved a blend of Derivation from (Side Project) which is one of the most super-hyped breweries and stouts out there… and they just gave everyone 2 weeks notice. Should be a bit different than anything they’ve done before
  • I’ll buy that logic. It will be interesting to see how many (Side Project) mules make the trip. At least there’s not an airport right around the corner.

Charleston’s beer geek community was pretty excited and some of us began making plans to get a carload or two organized for the trip. It was a chance to get your hands on what could be a very special beer — one that included the cult-obsession Derivation stout.

Comically, not everyone agreed that this release was worthy of excitement. There was the guy who posted: “It’s a shame to just ruin a side project beer with that garbage Jackie throws out.”  That one made me chuckle. There were others, however, who correctly assessed the situation. “This is prolly gonna be fire!! Side Project is the TRUTH!!” wrote one beer fan on social media.

Word was out that it would be a rather large release by Jackie O’s standards, encompassing about 460 cases of 12-bottles each. Bolstered by past experience with Jackie O’s releases and by statements coming out of the brewery, beer fans felt confident Appervation would still be around for at least a day or so. Here’s an example from a Jackie O’s Facebook post.

COMMENT:  On a Wednesday.????!!!!!! Please more weekend releases. I work Monday thru Friday. I will miss this opportunity to grab this brew. (May 11 at 11:40am)

RESPONSE by Jackie ‘s Taproom & Brewery:  We are more than likely still going to have plenty for the weekend. If you are coming in from out of town it is always a good idea to call the Taproom at 740-592-9686 ext.2 to get a case count. Cheers! (May 11 at 1:35pm )

Release day arrives

We ended up departing Charleston at about 8:15, but, feeling no rush, we stopped for coffee at the Donkey in downtown Athens before heading over to stand in line.

As we drove though downtown, we saw two pallets of Appervation cases being unloaded at Jackie O’s Public House. We had visions of returning there after buying our beer at the main brewery, thinking we might be able to pick up additional bottles.

Jackie o's
A long line greeted us at the brewery.

Arriving at the brewery about 10:00, to our surprise, the line was much longer than we expected, wrapping all the way out around the front of the brewery. Even though it was a full hour before the appointed sale time, folks were already moving into the brewery buying beer. I guessed that around 150 people were ahead of us, but surmised that we should be in good shape to get our beer.

The line moved slowly, and allowed plenty of time for conversations with fellow beer fans. The coolest thing was hearing where everybody was from. It quickly became apparent that this morning release drew people from all around the region to Athens,  and it seemed like a large plurality of them came from about as far or farther away than we did. Bunches of folks were from the Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati areas. We met several from Indiana, Kentucky, and even a  guy from Arkansas.

After about a two-hour wait, we arrived at the sales area and purchased our Appervation — 12 bottles for each of us. Success. The line behind us, however, seemed just as long as when we arrived. And people were still coming.

I was standing at the check-out counter when JO’s Director of Brewing Operations Brad Clark said, “We’re going to sell out.” and added that the beer supply likely wouldn’t last an hour or so more. He seemed pretty amazed at that prospect. It was clear he didn’t expect this kind of overwhelming response.

Appervation cases sell out quickly

At 2:01 pm Jackie O’s posted on their Twitter feed: “Appervation has officially sold out. We want to thank everyone that came out and hope to see you again soon. Cheers!” Actually, it sold out by around 1:00. And that included all the bottles at both the brewery and the public house. The quick sell-out time impressed us.

“I knew that there was going to be plenty of interest,” Clark said. “We cut back on draft and ran all the bottles we could based on the number of labels we received.  I was expecting the bottles to sell out on Thursday.  I was a little surprised with the amount of people and the short amount of time it took to sell out.”

Sure, those who didn’t get the beer were disappointed. That included one of our Charleston friends who arrived in the early afternoon. The ones planning to come over that evening cancelled their plans. Fortunately for late arrivers, Appervation remained available on draught for the next few days.

From folks I talked to and from reading social media posts, it seems like most of the those who didn’t get Appervation took it well. People know beer releases can be a bit of a crap shoot. A number of them commented that while they didn’t get Appervation, they still walked away with a lot of great Jackie O’s beer.

Social media took notice

As the day went on people began posting about their experience.  A  visitor’s post on Jackie O’s Facebook page read: “Appervation release was flawless. They recognized there was a large line and opened the doors an hour early to get things moving. I don’t know how it could have gone smoother.” Another person wrote: “Awesome beer, well run Bottle Releases and a very friendly staff…super chill environment to enjoy Ohio’s Best Brewery!”

Kentucky resident and big-time craft beer enthusiast Kyle Cornette wrote about Apparition on Instagram: “I love this beer so much.”

Another Instagram poster summed it up this way: “Jackie O’s Appervation! Three hours each way and 2.5 hours standing in line. Totally worth it!!!”

Big turnout made brewery happy

A few days later, looking back on the success of the release, Brad Clark was thankful and provided these observations.

“This was a huge success in my eyes,” he said.  “We sold it all and sold it quick.”

He says he got some heat about the 12-bottle case limits being too high and wanted to explain the reasoning behind that.

“We had raised all of our bottle limits per-day to a case well over a month ago.  We make a lot of barrel aged and sour beer now and only sell in a small geographical area.  This means that most everything hits distribution and not many people travel to Athens to buy bottles via our taproom/uptown locations.”

He explained that from a logistical stand point, a case lot is very easy to handle, process, and carry.  On the other hand, having to break open a case to pull out a lesser number of bottles per person means that each bottle must be moved and repacked every transaction.

“It slows things down immensely and causes confusion and mistakes.  So we went with 12 bottles per person for Appervation.”

Clark said the reasoning behind using both brewery locations for the sale was simply that they could not handle the expected crowd at either location alone.

“There is not enough parking, physical space, line-up area, and staff,” he said.  “We looked to divide and conquer to keep lines shorter and processing times prudent.”

Hearing Clark’s explanation gave me the realization that there’s a lot more to pulling off a successful bottle release than just making a great beer. It takes effective planning, strategizing, and execution. And you’ve got to be ready for the unexpected.

Our hats are off to Jackie O’s Brewery

This was one of the hottest beer releases in Ohio’s craft beer history. What a serious good business decision by this little Appalachian region brewery. It shows clearly how good craft beer has the power to be a big economic driver in our part of the country.

Selling over 5,500 bottles at $15.99 each brought the brewery revenue of over $88,000 for the three-hour sale. Adding in the 3 half-barrels of draft beer sales and the hundreds, if not thousands, of other Jackie O’s bottles purchased by the crowd, brings the total revenue haul to about $100,000 (my estimate) — all at retail margins.

This Appervation release was really a nice shot in the arm — just the thing that small breweries like this need to stay successful.

Brad Clark, director of brewery operations

“We came off of a difficult first quarter of 2017,” Clark said. “The market is crazy right now, saturated, and everyone is packaging, so finding taps and shelf space is harder than it has ever been.  We also suffered unfortunate can seaming issues that caused us to destroy thousands of cases, which was a big blow to us.  Finally, we have 140 employees that rely on us.  We needed this release and are very thankful for everyone that came out and helped our company in so many ways.”

Success has not come easy to Jackie O’s overnight nor without a lot of hard effort. They’ve been working on it for over a decade. They didn’t come into this business with big money, but many gallons of sweat-equity later, they have shown what good brewers and good business people can accomplish if they give it a strong, passionate, continuous effort. In this case, they produced a major employer and tax revenue generator for their community, in addition to producing tons of great beer.

Our hats are off to the entire Jackie O’s Brewery family.

“Next year we will have more!” added Clark emphatically.

Find additional information on the brewery at their website.

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