More breweries are selling high-demand beers at ticketed events

Would you pay more than $100 for a beer event? Lots of Columbus beer enthusiasts would, considering how fast tickets sell out for private parties at Wolf's Ridge. While Ohio doesn't have its own version of 3 Floyds Dark Lord Day in Munster, Indiana, we do have Dragonsaddle Day courtesy of Hoof Hearted, and this year it comes with a Dinosaur Jr. concert at the beer maker's Marengo brewery.

Exclusive, ticketed events surrounding new beer releases are gaining traction with local breweries. While part of its appeal is the ability to sell your latest to your best customers first, sometimes it's more about managing customer expectations and crowd size.

Wolf's Ridge Brewing, which is known for its barrel-aged and infused stouts, holds two or three big bottle release parties each year. Prior to making beers public, the brewery sells tickets to a private pre-sale party.

“We've been doing big releases like this since early 2016,” said Jenny Hauck, marketing coordinator at the brewery. “It gets bigger and bigger. It's almost an animal of its own.”

Hauck said advance tickets generally sell out in less than five minutes.

Wolf's Ridge started hosting bottle-release parties after hiring head brewer Chris Davison.

“He's a big fan of Jackie O's, and he would go to their bottle releases in Athens,” Hauck said. “A lot of how we modeled our early bottle releases was based off of what they did.”

Anthony Joseph is a self-described “beer enthusiast” from the Polaris area. He's attended two of Wolf's Ridge's private parties, one of which he paid $125 for a ticket, which covered breakfast, coffee, a collector's glass, a flight of all the different beers offered and four 22-ounce, limited-edition bottles.

“It's the opportunity to get your hands on a truly unique beer,” Joseph said. “And it's the only way you can guarantee you're gonna get one. It's also … the thrill of the hunt. You can brag to your friends and family, and share with them.”

Hoof Hearted also hosts events, holding can releases every other Sunday at its Marengo headquarters. The cost is less, but it's also a very different event than what Wolf's Ridge puts on with less frequency.

The $5 ticket secures your allocation for whatever the brewer happens to be releasing that week, serving as a placeholder, and the ticket cost is then credited toward the purchase.

“The five dollar tickets are not about exclusivity,” explained Brayden Volk, operations manager at Hoof Hearted. “We're not looking to make money off ticket sales. We just don't want people coming all the way to Marengo, which is in the sticks, and having to wait and then we can't accommodate them.”

That said, Hoof Hearted has dipped a toe in the water when it comes to bigger-ticket events. The brewery is about to announce the sale date for tickets to its second annual Dragonsaddle Day. The inaugural event took place last fall, and was half beer release party, half music festival, with Guided by Voices as the headliner. This year's event will be even bigger, with five different beer releases, music and a brand-new beer festival, complete with 13 visiting breweries.

Plus, Dinosaur Jr. is headlining, along with several Ohio bands.

Volk said tickets will be sold in tiered packages. For the concert only, 1,500 to 2,000 tickets will be sold. An additional 400 tickets will offer admission to the music festival and the can release. Finally, a select 400 tickets will offer access to the music fest, the can release and the beer festival. All three events are scheduled to take place on Saturday, Sept. 22.

Seventh Son co-founder Collin Castore admires these ticketed events hosted by Hoof Hearted and Wolf's Ridge, but isn't in the game. Because Seventh Son has a distributor, beer goes out for sale at the same time it comes out in the tap room, he said.

“We've done some things that have generated lines … but nothing super crazy,” said Castore. “We haven't seen the need to go that far with it. But the event with Dinosaur Jr. is a really great idea. You get a good beer, good music. I'm hoping to go.”