About this time last year, AleSmith's limited online release of Velvet Speedway barrel-aged stout sold out in seconds. This summer's most coveted whale seems to be Lost Abbey's Duck Duck Gooze, which sold out in minutes — give or take a couple of weeks. When ardent beer fans logged in to buy bottles of the rare sour ale at the announced sale time of noon, Tuesday, July 26, high demand led to an almost comical series of server crashes, rescheduled sale times, and cancelled orders.
The barrel-aged sour won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2009, and the cult favorite has only been produced twice since. The gueuze style takes three years to make, achieving sublime complexity by blending three generations of oak-barrel-aged sour ales of one, two, and three years old, respectively.
7200 bottles of the 2016 vintage were to be sold online to avoid a Black Friday–like rush at the small San Marcos brewery. So local fans would have a preference, Lost Abbey required all orders to be picked up in person, on specifically designated days. Nevertheless, when the $41 bottles were placed on sale at noon Tuesday, online customers were waiting to click from as far away as Chicago, Michigan, and Texas.
These beers essentially sell like concert tickets — fans flood the site at the appointed time, and, refreshing their browsers to get into the system before all tickets sell out. In fact, many beer companies have taken to using concert ticket vendors like BrownPaperTickets.com and EventBrite.com to sell limited release beers.
When noon arrived Tuesday, Lost Abbey was using the ecommerce platform Nexternal — which crashed under the weight of demand. Just as it did for the 2013 Duck Duck Gooze release. As engineers struggled to remedy the issue, impatient fans took to social media to air their frustrations, which several were experiencing for the second time. Some threatened to boycott the brewery, others complained they were taking too much time from work to order beer, and several lobbied for Lost Abbey to give up on the Nexternal system and switch to one of the aforementioned ticketing platforms. One user tweeted, "Your servers don't stand a chance against us."
When the server problem wasn't fixed by 1 p.m. Tuesday, Lost Abbey postponed the sale until Wednesday, then pushed it again to Friday at noon. On Friday, Nexternal didn't fare much better, delaying the start time to 12:05, then 12:15.
That's when Lost Abbey decided to move to plan B: rescheduling the sale to BrownPaperTickets at 12:45 p.m. Moments after that announcement, BrownPaperTickets also crashed.
At 12:56 p.m. Friday, Lost Abbey moved the sale to plan C: EventBrite. By 1 p.m., 2600 satisfied customers left happy. Too many satisfied customers, it turns out. Nearly all had purchased the six bottle maximum allotment, and due to an error setting up the unfamiliar EventBrite sales page, Lost Abbey inadvertently sold twice as many bottles as it had made available. At 3:30 p.m., the brewery announced the cancellation and refund of all EventBrite orders.
Of course, this initiated a whole new round of negative comments, especially by out-of-town fans who had booked plane tickets to come pick up their bottles in person. On Monday, August 1, Lost Abbey announced it had used timestamps from the EventBrite platform to identify the first 900 buyers who placed orders, giving them first opportunity to purchase a reduced maximum of 5 bottles apiece.
The remaining 1700 shoppers were placed into a lottery, with an undisclosed number of winners given a chance to buy up to three bottles apiece until August 10, at which point any unclaimed bottles were to be made available to remaining EventBrite customers.
Lost Abbey posted an apology letter to its fans on its website announcing the new terms of sale, which included a promise to absorb taxes and fees. It also pledged to release an additional 50 cases for the sale — 600 bottles originally earmarked for future brewery events that will now be off the market. It will have taken more than two weeks for 2016's Duck Duck Gooze to sell out completely, but it has definitely earned the distinction as this year's hardest-to-buy beer.