In an era when craft beer drinkers are crazy about India Pale Ales, one North Carolina brewery has gone to extremes to deliver what its fans want.
Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem created an IPA of Month series, brewing a different one each month for two straight years. The inspiration came from its president, Jamie Bartholomaus, and Brewmaster T.L. Adkisson.
"They are hopheads and they love IPA, and they wanted to do something that was outside the box in terms of IPAs," said Ray Goodrich, director of marketing and communications for Foothills Brewing. "Nobody was doing a different one every month, so they said let's give it a shot."
So the brewery started from scratch with a new IPA recipe each month. While finding inspiration for new recipes wasn't an issue, getting the required hops proved to be a consistent challenge, said Goodrich. But it didn't prevent the project from quickly growing in scope.
"We started making 15 barrels a month, and we're now up to 90 barrels a month. We've basically quadrupled production since we've started," he said.
Goodrich was tasked with the challenge of coming up with a new name and label for each release, while artist Kyle Webster designs and draws the label artwork, which makes for a tight turnaround each month.
"You can't rush art and this was all work Kyle was creating for us on a monthly basis," Goodrich said. "It was a grind because we were right up against the deadline to get the labels produced and printed."
Naming 12 different beers was a challenge, so Foothills came up with the idea of a series of names and labels inspired by classic World War II-era calendar pin-up girls so that rather than naming each beer, fans would name the girl of the month via submissions on Facebook.
"It was a very classy, throwback-style look," said Goodrich. "We had at our peak, probably six or seven-hundred people sending in names each week."
Feeling the pin-up girl idea was played out after the first year, Foothills found inspiration for the next year in its unofficial brewery dog, Barley. It held an online contest where it asked fans to send pictures of their dogs for consideration to be on labels for the IPA of the Month series in 2015. In addition to putting a dog (in cartoon form as drawn by Webster) on the label each month, Foothills would also make a donation to a rescue shelter in the winning dog's community each month.
Thinking they'd get a couple hundred entries, Foothills received more than 1,500 submissions from across the country and as far away as Finland, including one from actor and beer enthusiast Wil Wheaton, whose rescue dogs were ultimately featured on the July label.
The only thing Foothills Brewing fans seemed to enjoy more than naming each IPA of the month release were the IPAs themselves. Despite the brewpub being the only place to buy IPA of the Month bottles for the first year of the series, the beers sold out quickly.
"Of the 24 IPA of the Month (brews) we did, there was only one I can think of that was left at the end of the month," said Goodrich. "And we kept increasing the amount each month, and it just kept selling out."
Eventually, Foothills turned some of the innovation into something permanent.
"In May of 2014, we used the Azacca hop, and that beer sold out in nine days," said Goodrich. "It wound up being the new hop in our new session IPA called Hop Job. We never would have known how good Azacca was had it not been used for the IPA of the Month."
After two years, Foothills felt like it was time to expand the creativity beyond the the IPA-style so the IPA of the Month series was retired and reborn as the "Hop of the Month" series for 2016.
While the "of the month" series has expanded beyond IPAs, Foothills fans continue to reminisce about their favorite IPA of the Month releases.
"Craft beer people, as loyal as they are, they love new stuff, so that particular aspect was served well by the IPA of the Month. It was kind of a perfect storm for us," said Goodrich. "We still have people lobbying us for whatever their favorite IPA of the Month was, to make it full time."