Much as I looked forward to the return of Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale, the old-school (a.k.a. “venerable”) Virginia pale ale that was out of production for the last two years, like many of you I was surprised to see sticker prices of $10, $11, even $12…for a four-pack. Who even sells pale ales in four-packs? This is a workhorse, all-day-barbecue beer, so what’s the deal with the high-falutin’ price tag?
Tuppers’, once contract-brewed by Old Dominion, went out of production in 2007 when OD was bought by a joint effort between Fordham Brewing and Anheuser-Busch, who decided it would make them less money than selling water. Progenitors Bob and Ellie Tupper searched for two years to find a brewery that would once again make their beer, to their specifications before settling with St. George Brewing Co. in Hampton, Va., who has revived the brand.
Good beer costs more to produce than cheap yellow stuff. But bring contract brewing into the equation, and more obstacles arise. I e-mailed Bob Tupper, who said that many of the breweries they approached were “good craft breweries who are selling every drop they can produce of their own beers. There’s clearly no incentive to produce ours when it means making less of theirs.”
If a brewery does decide to tinker with some of their production capacity and make a one-off like, say, a beer with Aztec cocoa powder, they might not make any money on it. But even then, it builds up their brand among the minions who are really turned on by faux-ancient recipes and is overall a win for the brewery. With contract brewing, the brewery could take a monetary loss and no one would even know. St. George isn’t in a position to make such a sacrifice either — they were already operating at capacity and had to buy new equipment to make Tuppers’.
The real loss here is that the higher price will likely keep Tuppers’ Hop Pocket from become what D.C. lacks: a good, ubiquitous local beer that you should be able to reach for at any half-decent bar. An inexpensive six-pack you can bring to any party because everyone’s had it before — like Yuengling in Pennsylvania, except without the taste of carbonated Tootsie Rolls. At its current price point, Tuppers’ is competing with some seriously high-end brew.
So what does the revived Hop Pocket taste like? Check it out Thursday in this week’s paper.