Crooked Stave owner Chad Yakobson wants his wild and sour ales to be more “approachable and available” in 2018. To that end, the Denver-based brewery began transitioning a handful of its core releases from large-format bottles into 6-packs of 12 oz. cans earlier this year.
“Certainly, a can is not something you would ever associate with Crooked Stave,” Yakobson told Brewbound. “Our brand, everything about it, really lends itself to 750 mL, cork-and-cage or the 375 Belgian-style bottles.”
However, he admitted that large-format bottles are becoming an afterthought for many consumers. In fact, Yakobson, who credits Oskar Blues with popularizing craft beer in cans, said many Colorado retail buyers have told him that about 90 percent of consumers skip the bottled beer section and head straight for the 6-packs in the cold box.
“A lot of people say it’s dying,” he said of large-format bottles. “I would say it’s dead — unless you have something really special behind you.”
Currently, Crooked Stave offers six beers in cans — St. Bretta Citrus Saison, Coffee Baltic Porter, Colorado Wild Sage Brett Saison, HopSavant, IPA and Von Pilsner — and the company plans to begin offering other wild and sour offerings in cans next year, including Sour Rosé.
Yakobson, who has wanted to can St. Bretta since October 2011, believes there is potential for the brettanomyces-fermented wild beer to reach more casual craft beer consumers.
“Our goal — our vision — as a company has always been to introduce consumers to wild and sour beer,” he said. “I always wanted us to be available.”
In his effort to make Crooked Stave beer more accessible to everyday drinkers, Yakobson said the company would offer its 6-packs at a “competitive” price point. Crooked Stave 6-packs range from $9.99 for Von Pilsner to $14.99 for Petite Sour Rosé, which puts that beer — a foeder-fermented, wood-aged wild and sour beer — in the same price range as Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.
“I think that’s a good, competitive move,” he said.
The transition into cans will also keep Crooked Stave competitive when Colorado begins permitting chain grocery stores to sell full-strength beer in 2019. However, making a play in chain stores wasn’t a motivating factor for Yakobson.
“We got lucky there,” he admitted.
Another benefit of the switch to aluminum packaging was a bump in sales. After selling 3,665 barrels of beer in 2016, the brewery is on pace to produce more than 8,000 barrels of beer by the end of the year. Approximately 63 percent of that production will make it to market in 2017, and the rest will be left to age in oak barrels, Yakobson said.
“It’s a really great jump up for us from years past,” he said. “We put in a lot of infrastructure in the last two years with the brewhouse and fermenters, and we just keep adding foeders.”
For 2018, Yakobson is forecasting about 9,000 barrels; the company currently has the capacity to brew up to 12,000 barrels.
“We’re trying to play it safe,” he said. “We’re looking only to grow 10 percent over what we did this year from a sales standpoint. If it’s much higher than that, then we have that window and that leeway to do it, but otherwise we’re being smart in not stretching ourselves too thin.”
Crooked Stave’s home state of Colorado accounts for about 70 percent of the brewery’s sales, and Yakobson said its taproom makes up about 20 percent of those in-state sales, while its self-distribution business accounts for the other 50 percent. In 2018, Yakobson said in-state sales could increase as a result of the move into cans.
“The last six months have been amazing,” he said. “Next year, I think we’ll take it even further, and it’ll make up to 80 [or] 85 percent of sales.”
Crooked Stave currently ships beer to 17 states. Yakobson said increasing capacity in the next year should help to better supply those markets while giving the company the flexibility to add distribution in Minnesota and Oklahoma and relaunch the brand in Idaho.
To help supply all of its markets, Crooked Stave has committed to spending $100,000 on a 4,000 sq. ft. dedicated packaging hall at its Denver production facility.
Yakobson said the company plans to pay for the project using cash flow, some of which will come via the reintroduction of the brewery’s Cellar Reserve membership club. Beyond helping to pay for the packaging hall, the limited-release beer club, which had been discontinued in 2014 due to production constraints, will give Yakobson a creative outlet to produce more experimental wood-aged beers.
“It’s a chance to get to play around, be creative and to use barrels that we haven’t used to make blends, try new fruits,” he said. “So I’m really looking forward to that in 2018 and see how people react.”