Here's the great paradox in the beer business. Most breweries achieve stability by selling large proportions of one or two labels to a broad, loyal consumer base. That's good, but it doesn't lend itself to clever hooks for bringing attention to the brand. So what do you do to make noise? Some breweries have a specialty line or a barrel-aging program; others have test breweries to produce experimental beer. Ninkasi, which has neither, has conceived a novel strategy with their summer four-packs.
Inside, you get four different 22-ounce beers: the best-selling label (Total Domination), the summer release (Radiant), the beer geek's delight (Maiden the Shade), and one beer you can only get by buying the four-pack (Nuptiale). In addition, Ninkasi has included info about how to download music they promote, which is not only an added bonus, but alerts people to the fact that Ninkasi is in the music promotion biz. (In a parallel universe, brewer Jamie Floyd is the front man in a hardcore funk band.) Finally, there are blotches on the box that, when scanned with a cell phone, will take you to videos of Jamie discussing the beers. (You can also find these vids the old-fashioned way, by browser. Here's the Nuptiale video, for example.)
This is all clearly a form of gimmickry--but it's a good gimmick! Ninkasi has always sold their 22s at a bargain, and in this form they work out to $3,50 each (a six-pack equivalent of $11.45). You get four solid beers at a very good price--reason enough to buy. But adding in a rare beer is quite clever. I've wanted to try Nuptiale since I first saw it appear on the Ninkasi website. For Ninkasi, it puts more than just Total Dom in the consumer's hand, which may broaden their other beers' appeal. And, while Ninkasi's taste in music does not mirror my own, the free song downloads are pretty cool, too. (That they further the brewery's rock 'n roll brand is also pretty smart.)
Some sales strategies are strange and mystifying, others just silly. Ninkasi's summer four pack is one of the rare birds that is both good business and also a great deal. I hope they do more of this kind of thing.
Oh, one more thing: the Nuptiale. It's called a cream ale, and for the most part, Ninkasi plays it straight. It's a bit robusto (5.7%) and a bit hoppy (26 IBUs) in relative terms--but quite subdued compared to what Ninkasi fans may expect. I think everyone wants to like cream ales more than they actually do. Recognizing this, Ninkasi used an all-malt grist (no corn or other adjuncts) and spiced the brew with a classic, neutral hopping. It's tasty, smooth, and summery. It won't knock anyone back, but on a hot day, you'll enjoy it more than a Total Dom.