Subsequent to Erik’s post last week, I wanted to share a few notes we made after visiting Dead Frog for a Brewery tour last summer. As Erik mentioned, we both grew up in Langley and so desperately want Dead Frog to succeed. The biggest problem I’ve had with them is that I don’t like their beer very much. Some of their one off seasonal releases and their Nut Brown Ale, when fresh, are just okay, but then I actively dislike the rest of their lineup. I’d lost interest in them completely until I saw them on The Big Decision. Shortly after we saw the episode we were contacted by someone at Dead Frog for a free brewery tour. We gladly accepted and here’s a few things we noticed:
- Brewery tours are not normally free and have been sold on Groupon for the past six months at least. We were joined by thirty others on our tour, all through Groupon.
- Our tour was conducted by Dead Frog owner Derrick Smith and tasting was done in the Dead Frog boardroom.
- Derrick told us that The Big Decision deal fell through and that they didn’t really need the money (maybe because they now contract brew for Steamworks and Double Tree? Note: don’t try Double Tree, terrible stuff).
- We were told the show was overdramatized, no confirmation on if the tears were real or if their financial statements were actually a picture of a puppy. Check out the episode here if you haven’t seen it.
- Derrick told us he thought high ABV beers and super hoppy beers were a fad that would pass, and that session beers were where it’s at.
- He mentioned that they sold ten times more beer in the summer months than in the winter months (probably because of their light session beer lineup).
- They import a container of custom bottles from China per month. These bottles are not reused and are all crushed.
- Dead Frog does not sell much draft beer and they are not focused on the draft market.
- They have gone through many, many brewers, recently including Graham With now of Parallel 49 (who is crushing it there).
- They were getting a lot of good feedback from the crowd, mostly from girls raving about the Pepper Lime Lager (I despise this beer).
- They were proudly displaying their Canadian Brewing Awards, Gold and Silver in the fruit category 2012.
- The Dead Frog brand was developed by a marketing company for memorability, no story behind it. (Doing it froggy style! Get it? it’s like sex).
- When tasting (from bottles, not draft), we found all of the beers had very mild flavours and super low hop profiles. Only beer I enjoyed was Nut Brown Ale, which was much fresher than I’ve ever had it before.
- They had a banner that said “Best beer in the universe” on the wall. This upset me and also goes to show there may be a reality distortion field in place.
Not many positive points in there, but those are my honest observations and opinions of Dead Frog and the tour. I can’t say I’m a huge fan right now, but I can see signs of them turning the corner. The statement by Derrick Smith that Erik reposted and the subsequent note by new brewer Tony Dewald are chock full of promising signs. I did enjoy their new Fearless IPA and Winter Beeracle, much more so than any of their beers to date. I don’t share the enthusiasm of others in thinking they are great beers, but they are definitely an improvement. Here’s where I hope Dead Frog take this:
- The Brewer – Sounds like Tony has already sunk his teeth in and made some changes. I hope they take it farther and give him enough control to make beer that doesn’t just satisfy beer geeks, but blows us away. I’m not going to stake out liquor stores for Fearless IPA like I would Driftwood Sartori, why not shoot for the moon?
- The Beer – Dead Frog currently sells three lagers and a mandarin orange ale that are all very similar in taste. Trim it down to one light beer and make it great. Make the pale ale a true northwest pale, up the malt flavour in the nut brown, add an IPA to the lineup, and mix it up with creative seasonals. Sounds like they have plans to revamp the product line, here’s hoping it’s good stuff.
- The Package - Importing custom bottles (clear bottles no less!) from China and crushing them is not so good for the environment and can’t make economic sense. Switch to the standard brown bottles (better for the beer), get a bottle washer, and buy back used bottles from the LDB. Your brand isn’t your bottle, it’s your beer.
- The Message – “Doing it froggy style!” doesn’t mean anything and “best beer in the universe” is clearly a lie. A dead frog isn’t all that appealing to begin with, but it’s probably too late to change that. They can still tell a great story about the beer, the brewer, the Smith family running the business, their plight against the big guy, or anything else real and true. People want to support their local brewery.
- The Craft – Get to local events wherever possible, produce crazy cask beer, get back into the draft market and make a beer worthy of the Alibi Room or St. Augustines. Beer nerds will spread the word about good beer and the pub is a great way for someone to try your beer with low barrier to entry. Pubs matter, get back in them.
So yeah, I think it’s great that Dead Frog are publicly stating their ambition and willingness to change. I have high hopes and look forward to seeing what comes from this. Judging by Fearless IPA and Winter Beeracle, they just might be turning the corner.