The Rise of the Craft Beer 4-Pack

by Billy Broas

Odell Myrcenary IPA 4-Pack

Odell Myrcenary Double IPA

If you’ve been paying attention, there’s a newcomer to the beer aisle.

Next to the 6-packs, bombers, and 750’s, another type of packaging has found room on the shelf: the 4-pack.

I first saw a craft beer 4-pack a few years ago when Dogfish Head released their Festina Peche in the packaging. I’m not sure which brewery originated the 4-pack, but its increased popularity over the past couple years tells me that they are here to stay.

In particular it was the recent commitment by one of my favorite breweries, Odell, to extend their 4-pack line that led me to give this newcomer more thought.

I haven’t seen a thorough discussion of the packaging, so let’s do it here. I’ve conducted some research to get the consumer reaction to 4-packs and even did a Q&A with an Odell Brewery sales rep to get the brewery side.

So let’s get into it.

Fans of the 4-pack claim that it allows them to sample more beers and that for specialty beers it is a preferable packaging to 22oz or 750oz bottles.

Opponents say that they are a bad deal because you are getting less beer than a 6-pack but paying similar prices.

Let’s see what people on Twitter had to say.

Twitter Survey

Twitter is great for short, straightforward feedback. It’s the perfect tool for getting people’s gut reaction to 4-packs. It also helps that 99% of my followers are beer geeks – just the people I want to hear from. I put this question out on Twitter:

Poll: Do you like 4 packs of beer? Why or why not?

Twitter Responses to 4-Pack question

Click to view all responses

In a matter of minutes I had 23 responses. The results were mostly positive, though most people added the condition that it depended on the beer. More specifically, they feel that if the beer is higher in alcohol and uses more expensive ingredients then it justifies the price.

So overall the craft beer community seems to like 4-packs, but I was also interested in getting the brewer’s perspective. This is a business decision after all, and I wanted to know what factors go in to making that decision.

I met Derek Struble of Odell Brewing at one of our #BrewDEN meetups. I shot him a few questions about 4-packs and he responded with very thorough comments.

Q&A with Derek Struble of Odell Brewing

1. Why does Odell choose 4-packs over 6-packs?

We choose 4 packs for some of our more recent beer releases, not instead of, but in addition to our already successful 6 pack line-up. We felt beers like Myrcenary Double IPA (9.3 ABV) and Double Pilsner (8.1 ABV) were truly unique enough, and made with the utmost premium ingredients in large quantities, to garner a smaller package size. We understand that for a brewery of our size, with limited brewing capacity, we have to be careful with the volume we do with certain beer styles. We started researching the successful rate of sale with other packaging well over a year ago for the kinds of beers we were planning to brew, i.e. 22 oz, 750ml, 6 packs, and 4 packs. After much deliberation we realized that 4 packs were the packaging that would best highlight the world-class beers we were planning. We didn’t feel 22oz pulled through as well, these beers were going to be available longer than our current Single Serve 750ml line-up (Myrcenary having year-round availability), and 6-packs were not feasible for the cost of goods going into each batch. 4 packs were clearly the appropriate packaging for our new, higher ABV line-up of unique beers. We received a lot of feedback from beer fans commending us for planning and implementing a 4 pack line-up. It allows the craft drinker to sample truly innovative beers in smaller quantities and know that he or she is receiving the utmost in craft beer quality.

2. How does Odell decide which beers are good candidates for a 4 pack vs. other packaging (750ml, 6-pack, etc.)?
We choose the packaging based on a variety of reasons, availability of ingredients being one of the biggest. When we are brewing/packaging one of our 750ml Single Serve series of beers (Avant Peche, Deconstruction, Saboteur, Friek), we are constrained by the amount of the necessary ingredients available to us. Along with ingredients, we barrel age many of our Single Serve series and we only have so many barrels at our disposal. Because of these reasons, we provide the lower volume packaging of this series in the more expensive, smaller packaging size of 750ml.

The 4 pack was a different decision all together. We knew we would readily be able to procure the necessary ingredients for these beers, but we also knew the ingredients would be expensive. We wanted to create a truly unique and innovative style of Double IPA, and to do this we utilize seven varieties of aggressive American hops. We also use twice as many hops per barrel as we do in our 6 pack Odell IPA, for example. This venture into 4 packs was definitely a brewery decision, and we all felt comfortable in this packaging being the most appropriate way to highlight Myrcenary. Our plan is to offset Myrcenary with two rotating annual beers, which may change from year to year. Currently Double Pilsner is on the shelf next to Myrcenary, and later this year Mountain Standard Double Black IPA will replace Double Pilsner to join Myrcenary. We feel like this is the best way to showcase some of our beers, and we are proud to provide these eclectic beers in the most appropriate, cost-efficient manner. Not to mention, we just feel like 4 packs are a cool way to drink beer!

3. What has been the consumer response to 4 packs and will we see more of them from Odell in the future?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive and yes, we do plan to continue the 4 pack line. We know that in order to gain the respect of the craft drinker, regardless of the package, the beer inside has to be stellar. We have consistently been pushing the envelope on craft beer styles and creating one-of-a-kind beers, I think this reliability has allowed us to have a positive following with our smaller volume releases. Obviously, if we were brewing mediocre, uninspired beers we would not being having this conversation, because the packaging would not matter. Everything starts with the beer – we’re not creating an image or a fad, we are consciously creating innovative beers and packaging them in the most appropriate manner according to OBC. There will always be drinkers who do not understand why we price the beer in the manner we do, which is why it is our job as representatives of the craft brewing industry to educate these drinkers. Often, upon clarification of the passion and ingenuity that goes into beers like Myrcenary or Double Pilsner, the drinker is more knowledgeable and understanding of the price point on the package. We will continue to provide world-class beers, and this type of innovation comes with a cost. We are very proud of our family of beers, regardless of the packaging, and will continue to do what we feel is right for our brewery, not necessarily what is popular.

Big thanks to Derek for the great explanations and for helping out with this post.

It’s relative

It’s my belief that the customer reaction to the 4-pack is in part influenced by the prior packing of the beer. With Myrcenary, the beer was initially released in 4-packs so there was no reaction to “the way things used to be”, but many 4-pack offerings once had different packaging.

Let me offer a couple examples…

The Odell Mountain Standard Black IPA is offered in 750ml bottles but will soon be released in 4-packs. It’s my guess, and my experience in talking to people, that this will be a welcomed change. I’m going to use the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator to compare prices. It tells you what the given package of beer would cost if it were put into a six-pack and priced on the same per ounce basis. It rocks.

Here’s an example comparing the Mountain Standard. I got the 750ml price from a local beer store and I’m just guessing that the 4-pack price will be similar to Myrcenary:

  • Odell Mountain Standard 750ml – $14.98 ($42.53 SPE)
  • Odell Mountain Standard 4-Pack – $10.98 ($16.47 SPE)

So with the 4-pack you’re getting more beer (48 oz vs. 25 oz) for less money on both an absolute and per ounce basis – who’s going to argue with that? You also have to look at the quantity in terms of servings, not just ounces. People think in terms of servings and in this case they get to enjoy the beer four times instead of once. A 48 oz bottle wouldn’t have the same effect as a 4-pack, even if it were the same price. This is important for the next comparison.

Going from a 6-pack to a 4-pack is a whole different story. In 2010 Green Flash went from selling their West Coast IPA in 6-packs to 4-packs. Here’s a look at the new packaging and pricing in a California market:

  • Green Flash West Coast IPA 6-pack – $9.99 ($9.99 SPE)
  • Green Flash West Coast IPA 4-pack: – $8.99 ($13.48 SPE)

This did not go over so well. You are paying $1 less on an absolute basis, but the per ounce cost goes up by 35%. Plus not only do you get less beer on a per ounce basis, but you get less servings. Frankly, this deal sucks.

This Beer Advocate thread reflects the ensuing backlash. Some of the comments I found interesting are:

  • “After offering us 6-packs for so long….bad business practice IMO.”
  • “I love GFWCIPA but at $9 a 4pk I will certainly pass. It feels asisine to pay the same (or really close to) for 4 beers when I used to get 6. Less bang for my buck = less purchasing of their product with my buck.”
  • “Green flash lost 100% of their former 6 pack customers in my store. i have yet to sell a single 4 pack of either the west coast IPA or the hop head red. and we used to sell 15-20 cases of the IPA 6 packs each month. we’re thinking of having the distro pick up all the 4 packs, and make them by-the-case, customer-orders only. Customers instead are buying 6 packs stuff like of racer 5 and red rocket. It was not a smart move by green flash. we can use the space their products occupy, for things that will actually sell.”

The last comment is particularly interesting because this person works at a beer store.

So the summary is that 750ml to 4-pack = good, and 6-pack to 4-pack = bad.

Final Thoughts and My Opinion

Overall it seems 4-packs are a positive thing for craft beer, both from the consumer and brewery perspective. The key is that it depends on the beer. We saw this both in the Twitter survey and in Derek’s response, “4 packs were clearly the appropriate packaging for our new, higher ABV line-up of unique beers.”

Put a 5% American Wheat in a 4-pack and charge $10 and it won’t work. Consumers won’t accept that.

Another no-no is changing the packing from a 6-pack to a 4-pack and only making a minor reduction in price. When you condition the consumer to a quantity and price and then suddenly give them less for more, it’s a recipe for trouble. We saw this with Green Flash.

A great high ABV beer made with unique and expensive ingredients, on the other hand, justifies the expense of the 4-pack in the eyes of the beer consumer.

Personally I love 4-packs. I don’t hide the fact the 750’s bug me. They’re very expensive and the serving size is inconvenient. 750ml of a 11% beer is too much when you’re the only one drinking it.

When I heard that Odell will release their Mountain Standard in 4-packs I was ecstatic. Now I can have a smaller serving multiple times, instead of struggling to finish a 750 in one sitting. Mycernary is a similarly amazing beer and it’s rare to see such a good double IPA in 12 oz. bottles.

So bring on the 4-packs I say, as long as the beer is right. I have no problem paying for quality.

But what do you think?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth Mellin April 22, 2011 at 9:57 am

Very well written and researched Billy. I agree going from a 6-pack to a 4-pack is a bad practice. But I to like the switch from packing a beer in a 750ml bottles to 4-packs. I’d like to see some breweries offer both options though.

Reason being is a 750ml bottle is great to buy if you are going to be sharing but I like the 12oz serving of a high ABV if drinking alone. Plus its easier to cellar a 12 oz bottle over a 750ml, takes less space to experiment with aging.

Reply

Billy Broas April 22, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks Seth, it was a fun one to write.

Your point about sharing the 750’s is a “pro” that I should have mentioned. Especially if you are going to a get-together, a 750 is a great way to share and it looks very impressive.

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Kevin April 22, 2011 at 11:04 am

How a beer shop is going to set up the cooler space is of vital concern here. Do all the 4-packs go together, or do they get grouped with other 6-packs from the same brewer?

Odell’s 4-packs are a strange sight to behold next to their 6-packs … I think the average consumer would see 4 bottles vs. 6 bottles and see the price point and immediately assume that they’re getting less bang for their buck. They might not know what a Double IPA or Double Pilsner is and be a little turned off and less likely to try what are two very good beers.

Reply

Billy Broas April 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Kevin, the shelf display issue is vital. I’d love to get a beer shop owner in here to discuss any challenges they’ve had with arranging 4-packs.

I agree many people will have the gut reaction that they’re being jipped, however I think that’s more the casual customer wasn’t going to buy the beer in larger packaging anyways. I believe the 4-packs are more targeted towards the people that buy 750’s and bombers. To these people, beer geeks, it looks like a deal compared to what a bomber or 750 would cost for the same beer.

Thanks for the comment.

Reply

Sheppy April 22, 2011 at 11:16 am

Never really thought about it much. The only 4-packs I’ve really noticed and purchased have been with higher alcohol beers where I thought it made perfect sense to package in 4 rather than 6 (Imperial Stouts and IPAs).

I do like 4-packs for another reason. I save the cardboard bottle holders and re-use them when I share home-brew. I do the same with 6-packs, but it is nice to have the smaller package option. If I like you enough to give you 4 beers (but not quite well enough to give you 6), I don’t look quite as selfish when I give you a 4-pack as opposed to a 6-pack with 2 empty spots.

Anyway, thought provoking article. I’ll have to pay more attention at the liquor store next time.

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Billy Broas April 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Glad you liked it Sheppy. Great point about reusing the 4-pack! That’s why I love having the homebrewers comment, heh. I actually did give someone a 6-pack of homebrew one time with 2 empty slots and I did feel like an ass, but hey I was running low. The 4-pack would have saved some remorse.

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Luis Tovar April 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I like the idea of buying less at a time. I vary so much in the beers that I drink that I haven’t bought a six pack in several months. It sticks around for too long. I always buy singles, either 22 or 12 ozs. The allure of a 4 pack is that it is more than a single bottle, but not by much. The key factor, however is price. It needs to be priced reasonably less. I don’t know how this would negatively affect sales, but in my mind it would be a better option because it allows those that are new to the brand to purchase a few bottles for less than the cost of a six pack. On a per ounce basis, the pricing would need to match between the two though.

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Billy Broas April 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Us craft beer drinkers are promiscuous aren’t we? I also rarely buy six packs because I don’t want that much of the same beer. As for the pricing, it goes back to what you’re comparing it to. Beers like Mountain Standard are most expensive to make, more unique, and better tasting (in my opinion) than most year-round 6 packs so you can’t put them on the same level. The relevant price comparison is between the 4-pack and the 750 or bomber, which the Mountain Standard example shows you get a significant price reduction on a per ounce basis.

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Luis April 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I agree with you that certain beers require a higher price due the increased amount of ingredients and quality added to it.
What I was referring to is that if a brewery like Green Flash is going to switch to a 4 pack for their West Coast IPA, that is ideal for me but only if the six pack equivalent pricing matches the actual six pack it is replacing. As opposed to being priced higher as Green Flash did.

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Billy Broas April 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I understand and agree 100%. In that case the 4-pack SPE price shouldn’t have been raised. That move seems like a big mistake. I wonder if it really hurt sales of their IPA.

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chris April 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm

The new trend by Odell is great. I for one cannot wait for the Mountain Standard 4 packs. The large 750 ml are just too big for one sitting. Sharing is great, but grabbing a bottle or two is easier than pouring a cup or two. the price point for Odell right now, at $11 is perfect. great beer at a great price is all that matters. Odell is working a great angle thus far. looking forward to more.great beers. I personally don’t like the big bottles, so this is a fun new option.

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Billy Broas April 23, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Chris, I couldn’t agree more with your comment. Thanks.

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SD (Aspherical) April 22, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I’m cool with higher ingredient cost beers in 4 packs, especially if they’re also higher ABV. There’s a certain amount of money I want to pay to sample a beer I’ve never had… However, I also like bombers, as it’s much easier to pack and ship them home if I find a great beer traveling that is not available where I live. Not that I would ever do that, since it’s a felony, this is just hypothetical.

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Billy Broas April 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I didn’t mention bombers but they fall somewhere between 4-packs and 750s on the likability scale for me. I also agree that were shipping beer legal and I were to partake in such an activity, bombers would be very shippable.

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Jason Harris April 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

I think one of the big reasons for 4 packs is to keep the beer under that $10 line. There’s a mental block people have with paying, $9.99 vs. say 10.99.

Green Flash going to 4 packs (and the price going up) was a bummer, but the stuff still sells like mad. My local store is often out of West Coast IPA, and usually the Hop Head Red display is a few 4-packs shy of full too. The alternative for a brewer like them is to do like Ballast point, who sells Sculpin in 6 packs for $14.99.

This presents a few problems:
1) $14.99 is rather high for most people to pay for a 6er.
2) When you’re buying something like a super hoppy IPA, it might take longer than you’d like to get through 6 beers. Fresher = better, but a 6er is more likely to sit in my fridge for a few weeks.

I think for bigger beers, 4 packs are great. Let’s me keep the price down while still enjoying more than a bomber (which can be too much beer in one serving)

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