PickleGeddon 2019

PickleGeddon 2019

Posted by Kelly 'KFM' Meyer on Aug 17th 2019

So in 2015 I read a book titled “Farmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition” The book covered what happens, scientifically, when fermenting with a mixed culture of wild yeast and bacteria.One of the many things I learned was the science of how acetobacter adds to funky beers. Specifically how it metabolizes alcohol into vinegar and how a small amount of acetic acid (vinegar) is normal in producing barrel-aged beers, particularly ones that spend quite a bit of time in barrels. And ones that spend a short amount of time in barrels managed by shitty and lazy brewers.

I really can’t make this shit up but the week after I read that I ate the last yummy pickle in a jar of Best Maid pickles. As I went to throw the jar away, I though “Hey, I wonder what this vinegar would taste like blended with one of those kegs of lactic sour beers we made too much of.” So I brought the jar to the brewery and blended it 50/50 with our lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf BerlinerWeiss (sour wheat beer) in a 3 gallon corney keg and set it aside for our tasting room.

On January 16, 2016 on a Saturday I decided it was time to release this crazy little experiment. I named it PKL FKR not so much to be clever as to have some fun with what would invariably be a one-and-done little experiment. So then the keg blows in like 2 hours. I remember the Tasting Room calling me because I didn’t have a backup for that line. Well, that keg was never supposed to go that fast. I mean, really, who the fuck drinks a beer with pickle juice in it on purpose? Apparently our fans do. And if I’ve never thanked you guys in writing for being such bad-ass risk-takers so eager to try and experience new things…thank you. It takes something special to be a fan of my art and I appreciate each of you more than you know. 

After that we made another keg, then 150 gallons and then 500 gallons every 6-8 weeks. Then it grew to 1,000 gallons each month by the summer of 2019.

The beer was not initially met with fanfare. If you’re ever bored or feel too happy about the state of the human condition on the internet, go look up PKL FKR on Untappd.com and scroll back as far as you can. In those early years pickle fans were giddy like a High school boy getting his first kiss. But the haters were ruthless and wanted pain and suffering to befall me personally. I kept having this weird pain in my left elbow in 2017 and I’m sure now that it was a PKL FKR hater stabbing my voodoo doll. Nothing else makes any sense. And at that time, the haters outnumbered the fans 10-1. One of the very first accounts in San Antonio to tap a keg, The Growler Exchange, ended up taking it off and essentially banning my little brewery from their draft wall. They’ve literally not bought anything from us for over 2 years in spite of even liking the samples they tried of our fruited sours. Apparently pickle flavor stains the brain.

Over the years we’ve made process improvements to PKL FKR like not kettle souring the unfermented beer (known as wort).By adding our mixed culture to a warm fermenter, we eliminate the off-flavors of baby diaper and vomit that plague many kettle sour and sour mash beers. (no, I am not making that up, those are real off-flavors from oxygenating unpasteurized, unfermented beer that has a low hop bitterness)

We tightened up the recipe by adding a small bit of hops strategically to further protect the beer from off-flavors. We only hint at boiling and stop immediately at 212 degrees to keep a little more grain flavor in the final blend. I won’t tell you the final pickle juice to beer ratio but I will say it’s drastically less than that first experimental keg.

Now for the part I really fucked up at. Initially we started selling this amazing creation in 500ml bombers for about $10 at retail. Actually we did that for 3 years. It actually did decent numbers and our freaky-ass pickle people were willing to do whatever they had to in order to get their pickle fix.

Even if that meant buying a single bottle that was more than the 6-pack they normally bought. But our fans weren’t buying them quickly enough to make our grocery stores happy here in TX. The mediocre sales made it impossible to reach a level of sales volume that would allow us to reach scale on the production side so something had to change.

So in January 2019, three years after tapping PKL FKR for the first time, I experimented with putting PKL FKR in 4-packs of 12oz bottles. For a variety of reasons this is something I was adamantly opposed to for years. I convinced the local branch of Spec’s, a Statewide beer, wine and liquor store chain to allow me to test it in this one store. After 4 weeks in the slowest month of the year it was obvious that 4-packs were the solution to all of my problems. Well, no, not the problem with the compulsive sarcasm, but this blog is about beer so please stay on topic.

So I notified our distribution partners, ramped up production and got to work selling the fuck out of this beer. We went from 30 cases the first month to 120 cases/week in 3 months. We shipped some to Florida. We stocked up our TX distributors. Then we shipped some to Louisiana and Florida again. We sold out. Made more. Our distributors sold out. We made more. Except for one distributor, they were all on board with the new format and the retailers were moving them as quickly as we could brew and package them.

Then in early August, a brewery out of Fort Worth, TX announced that they were releasing a pickle beer collaboration with a TX local pickle company, Best Maid (that name sound familiar?).

They immediately got massive media attention. The internet blew up with ‘articles’ about the new beer. They don’t even distribute in Indiana and a TV station in fucking Indiana ran with the story. These are some of my favorite headlines on the nearly 30 posts I could find online:

Sour Pickle Beer Is the Best Thing to Ever Happen to a Brew

Texas sour pickle beer is here thanks to Best Maid and Martin House.

Sour pickle beer exists now thanks to Texas Brewery

Pickle-flavored beer is the real dill, soon hitting shelves in Houston and across Texas

Pickle beer and beer pickles are the real dill thanks to Fort Worth collaboration

New beer flavor becomes 'big dill' in the Lone Star State

Pickle Beer Exists and it’s making its way to San Antonio soon.

By the way, the insinuation that the idea was novel and innovative was not Martin House or Best Maid's fault. The press release didn't say that so its anyone's guess where it came from......

The average comment count on the Facebook and Instagram shares of these 'articles' was 200 with the biggest I saw over 3K. That's what you call viral.

Martin House posted the release info on their FB page and had over 1,000 comments per day for the first 4 days. It was a mix of puking emojis and people literally sacrificing newborn cats to get a taste. And by literally I of course mean figuratively. And by figuratively I obviously mean not at all. But people were losing their fucking brains to jump all over the hype train and buy this weird and sour beer. Something had tipped and made a blitzkrieg-like hole in the blonde and IPA canned beer market wide enough to fit a pickle through, bumps and all.

The Martin House beer was released on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and sold out almost immediately at most retailers. Those 3 days they delivered to 172 places that my distributors around the state hadn’t delivered to in the preceding 75 days. One of them was Growler Exchange in San Antonio. That's so fucking glorious. 

Now there are almost as many places Martin House DIDN'T deliver to that my distribution partners HAVE sent PKL FKR to. My point is NOT that my distributors don’t do a good job so don’t read into that. Or get it twisted like the kids say. With one notable exception they actually do a great job. My point is that Martin House expanded the reach of pickle beer and literally went where no pickle had dared go before.

Quite literally, Martin House killed it with their release and it’s a case study of how to do it right. Does that mean the example of PKL FKR is a case study on how to do it wrong?

No, not exactly. But there are some important lessons to be learned from why it worked so much better for Martin House. I will share them but you’ll have to wait for the book I haven't written yet. For now I want to thank Martin House and Best Maid for taking pickle juice sour beer into the mainstream. Now none of us have to hide in the shadows and drink our pickle juice beers in dejected shame any longer. Last week most of the people posting about this beer and running store-to-store to get it were as likely to drink a pickle beer as they were to eat a kimchi chocolate cake. (please God no one make that) But somehow we’re all on the same page now. We’re all skipping arm-in-arm down the pucker path and stopping to smell the funky flowers while bathing in the sour sun.

Best Maid, Martin House and us are all working to put puckers on the faces of the people.

Next week that job will be even easier so thanks, guys. 

Pucker to the People, 

Kelly 'KFM' Meyer