Jeff Crabtree wants to party with anyone who likes his beer. But the owner of Crabtree Brewing in Greeley can't always be there -- not in person, anyway.
So Crabtree Brewing's newest bottled beer, a German-style sour wheat called Berliner Weisse Ale, will feature a massive QR code on the label -- a code so big that only the name of the beer, its alcohol content and some other regulatory mandates can fit in around the edges. That way, anyone who is thinking about buying the beer, or anyone who is already drinking it, can scan the code and go directly to a video message from the brewer.
The video will be embedded on Crabtree Brewing's website, but it won't be visible to anyone who hasn't linked directly to it using the QR code.
"The idea for this hit me about a month ago," says Crabtree, the mile-a-minute-talking beer enthusiast who founded his namesake brewery more than five years ago. "I couldn't sleep, so I got out my phone and Googled 'Crabtree and Berliner Weisse,' and all these blogs popped up with pictures of people laughing and having fun and drinking my beer.
"And you know what? I want to be there," he says. "I want to be invited. I want to be the one to tell you about the beer. This way, if you don't want me, I won't be there. But I'll be in the corner, and if you want to talk to me, I'm there." Crabtree first brewed Berliner Weisse for Euclid Hall in May. He had always wanted to make one, since his brewery features a rare German decoction brewing system that would allow him to make the tricky beer -- but it was one that he'd never had a chance to use.
"It's like owning a Ferrari and never getting it off the streets," he explains. But Crabtree didn't feel like beer drinkers in Greeley were ready for the style, which can be a little off-putting at first. (And, in fact, Crabtree has made a couple of beers targeted more to Denver and Boulder than to Greeley; Syzygy, which was just released last week, is one of them.) So when Euclid Hall asked him to make it, he jumped at the chance.
But now that the beer, only 32 cases of which should hit shelves in Boulder and Denver on September 8, is in bottles, Crabtree doesn't want just anyone reading about it. "I only want to be talking to you if you have the beer," he says.
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And he hopes that beer drinkers who like the Berliner Weisse will help him come up with the next beer in what he is calling the Digital Age Series. "Berliner Weisse is the first; the second one will be dictated by the consumer. Our QR followers will be able to sign up for a special e-mail list, and we'll ask them what they want to see next.
"This is a shift. It's a bold, bold move. We will be the first brewer to embrace [QR codes] this hard," he explains. "We want to build a relationship with our consumers. To learn what they want and where we have made mistakes and to correct them. Social media is not just another advertising channel. We're not just advertising when you can refill your growler. That's not social media. People want sincere content. They want to know that I snapped a picture today and told them what I'm brewing that day."