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Check out Part 1 and Part 2, of this 3-part series, which discuss:
Part 1: Beer Singles-By-Style, Consumers Pilot Test, Beer Singles = Experimentation, and Fizzy Yellow Beer
Part 2
: Too Many Choices, Women Beer Shoppers, “Wine-ifying” Beer, the Restaurant/Bar and Retail Store Experience, and Beer Education.


Brewers Assoc & BeerAdvocate Beer Style GuidesWhile not an exact science, and with room for variances based on brewer interpretation, defined beer styles do provide general color, aroma, flavor, and strength parameters within which beers may be purposefully brewed or in which they may fall, even without specific brewer intent, as a basis for characterizing the beer. Total Wine & More follows the Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines as our standard regarding style definitions and vernacular, and we reference the beer style list on the popular BeerAdvocate.com consumer website, in an effort to ensure that our beer style nomenclature is not only accurate in accordance with a respected industry source (BA), but also in accordance with this popular consumer website which many beer enthusiasts reference in their early and ongoing learning process.

Some styles may seem a bit confusing based on the name on the bottle label, such as “Black IPA”, “Cascadian Dark Ale”, “American Black Ale”. Which is it, or are these three different styles? We know from the Brewers Association Style Guidelines that neither “Black IPA” nor “Cascadian Dark Ale”, by virtue of their omission, is a recognized style name or an IPA at all. These beers arguably do not belong in the IPA style category.

Beer Geek KnowledgeIn our classes and in Total Guide to Beer we teach customers the origin of this style and these various names, and we teach the Brewers Association official style name; American-style Black Ale. Where, then, should it be categorized within a style arrangement? Since the beer is not an IPA and is not part of any other larger style grouping, yet it is usually always strong in ABV (6% +), we have it in the Strong Ale & Barley Wine category.

It is true that if a person were to select a beer of this style from within the IPA grouping, she or he could get the wrong impression as to what IPAs are all about. We believe the same holds true for “Belgian IPA” with its unique aroma and flavor character from the Belgian yeast strain used, making it more suitable in our view to be in our American Belgian-Styles grouping.

There is obviously more than one “right way” to categorize some beers, and we’ve certainly heard from beer geeks looking for “Black IPA” in the IPA section, for example. While by no means perfect, we believe that our beer singles-by-style set is both meaningful and educational for the majority of consumers. As brewers continue to innovate, our beer set will continue to evolve.


Questions signpost in the skyWhen launching our beer style arrangement pilot test in 2008 we suspected that some beer geeks may not like it. We “moved their cheese”. It’s new. It won’t initially make sense from “the way it has always been.”

But we also knew a few other important things:

– Make no mistake; we LOVE our beer savvy/geek customers. And we know the geeks are knowledgeable enough about beer to find their way around any beer set for the beers they seek. Novices don’t have that ready-knowledge.
– The reality is the geeks are far outnumbered by the non-geeks, and non-geeks buy a lot of beer, and will buy more if we can help them to navigate the wall of beer and discover flavors (styles) they like.
– In time, many of the geeks will come to actually like the set, perhaps even prefer it, or at least get to know it enough to know how to navigate to their list of beers. Yet, some will eternally dislike it. Regrettably, this will be part of the percentage of customers we won’t please with the way our store is set.
– 80/20 Rule: Where the prior alpha-by-brand set was great for the geeks (let’s say that is 20% of our customers, but the number is really lower than that), and this set was bad or unhelpful or indifferent to everyone else (the novices; the other 80% of our customers), and the style arrangement is more helpful to 80% of our customers, then the style arrangement is the right thing to do.

The pilot findings seemed to bear this out.


winwin2To be sure, consumers aren’t the only winners from this merchandising formula. All four tiers of the value chain, from brewers to distributors through to customers, are winning with this approach.

Brewers get maximum brand exposure through our buying program; we essentially carry EVERY BREWERY BRAND we can get a hold of in the markets we serve and EVERY year-round, seasonal and special-release beer item carried in distribution of those brands in the market.  Our 6-packs, case stacks, end caps, cold box doors, and other merchandising displays are driven by brand-adjacent displays, while the singles style arrangement helps consumers discover or rediscover American craft brands.

Distributors enjoy large buys and fast product sales from our stores. We work with both breweries and distributors to ensure ongoing brand displays and promotions.

In doing the above everyone wins and then Total Wine & More wins, and then this winning cycle repeats.


Brewery District imageWhen customers step into a specialty store such as Total Wine & More we hope that they are seeking a different beer/wine/spirits experience from that of a grocery store or warehouse club or convenience store. Customers should expect to not only be able to find packs and cases of their known favorites, but also a huge selection of additional choices that often cannot be found elsewhere, all at great low prices.

Customers should expect that, as purveyors of these fine products, Total Wine & More has knowledge and expertise about them and about the many different genres they come in. The ability to categorize accurately by style the many thousands of beers in our portfolio across markets across the chain, and write for each one an informative description that is visible on a shelf talker and via our website, is certainly more than any grocery or warehouse or convenience store is able to do or takes the time to do. Indeed, we would hope this communicates our expertise in craft beer to savvier consumers and beginner consumers alike.

Cheers to beer!

rob_hill_photoRob Hill, Certified Cicerone®
Author of Total Guide to Beer
New Programs Manager, Customer Experience
Total Wine & More
Twitter: @TWMBeer