Gerald Bustamante 8:34 a.m., May 24
I stopped in at Bottlecraft in Little Italy the other day to replenish my supply of wacky, special occasion beers and pick up a bottle or two for a friend. It's tough to overstate how cool of an idea Bottlecraft is; with it's boutique selection of beers, tasting room, and helpful staff who don't make you feel like a dolt if you're not 100% up on things in the world of craft brewing. And speaking of good ideas, I spotted one of the coolest promotions I've seen in a while.
Dogfish Head Brewing, best known for making killer IPAs and resurrecting ancient styles of beer that end up being pretty tasty, recently released a run of its new beer. Called "Positive Contact," the brew is a hybrid of ale and cider with a dose of cayenne pepper and cilantro in the mix. Input and inspiration came from Dan the Automator, a hip-hop producer who is part of Deltron 3030, Lovage, Handsome Boy Modeling School, and other projects.
The beer was packaged with a Deltron 3030 EP named after the beer, although perhaps the beer was named after the EP. I suspect that, in some respects, they are one and the same. Rather than conventional album art, the record's packaging had a half-dozen recipes printed on the outside. Devised by successful chefs, the recipes were all "Deltron-inspired" and used beer as an ingredient.
On the surface, the combination of craft beer and vinyl records seemed little more than a quirky novelty, but the promotion reveals much about the brewer and craft brewing. The appeal for something like Positive Contact seems extremely narrow. The ideal customer would be into strange, spicy, herbal beers and also listening to music on vinyl records while working through fairly complicated recipes. There's no way that the company can expect to sell enough Positive Contact to make any money off of it.
The idea must be to send out a message.
The message this conveys to me is that Dogfish wants to be seen as doing things "the hard way," or perhaps as doing things for the sake of artistry and craft instead of just making a tidy profit.
That's not a very bad message to send. In fact, I daresay that characterizes the best aspects of breweries, restaurants, vineyards, and other companies that have found success by operating under "obsolete" principles. Vinyl records have been buried under successive generations of superior technology, but their use by hip-hop artists and occasional home consumers has kept the medium alive. This has happened in much the same way that the food and brewing industries have survived on sub-cultures that isolate specific elements of gastronomy and push old ideas into new territories.
Think about restaurants serving "grass-fed" beef. Technically speaking, that's stone age technology at work. We have developed more efficient and economically profitable means of production, but the use of outdated methodologies has invigorated a cottage industry that caters to a very specific group of consumers whose tastes lie outside the norm. This movement has added, and continues to add, variety to a culture which might otherwise stagnate.
In that respect, Positive Contact is a great snapshot of the industry at its most progressive, which can oddly come from looking backwards.