Why is Tropicalia so hard to find?

Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

Six packs of the beer brewed in Athens remain elusive.

Want a six-pack of Tropicalia in your fridge? Join the club. The world-class IPA, rated 4.32/5 by BeerAdvocate, is a masterful blend of tropical fruit notes at the front with a smooth, clean finish. It's one of the highest rated beers in Georgia and is the flagship for three-year-old Creature Comforts Brewing in Athens.

The beer’s popularity exploded last year, with demand spiking seemingly overnight, making it difficult to score a six-pack of the blue and orange cans.

It has become increasingly available on-tap in bars and restaurants, but six packs remain in short supply, leading some retailers to stash the beer away on delivery days for their best customers, prompting less well-connected shoppers to get creative.

“We have a few guys who follow the delivery truck to the store,” says Matt Walton, a former associate at Lucky’s Beverage World in Woodstock. “They know which distributor brings the Tropicalia and they study those delivery routes. As soon as the beer is offloaded, they will try to buy all the Tropicalia we received.”

The brewery has even fielded complaints about independent retailers price gouging six packs for $18. Regular retail price is $10.99.

So why is Tropicalia so scarce?

“People ask me, why don’t craft breweries grow as fast as the market wants?” said Chris Herron, CEO and co-founder of Creature Comforts, which produces 28,000 barrels of beer a year. “The demand is there, why don’t we make it? The answer starts with the same challenges every growing brewery faces, and really picks up steam with raw materials concerns.”

Herron is talking about hops. In the beer world, sourcing hops is not easy.

Access to premium hops — especially those craft brewers use to achieve top-shelf flavor profiles — is competitive. The lion’s share go to craft breweries being bought up by multinational beer producers, such as Athens-based brewery Terrapin Brewing, which was recently bought by MillerCoors.

“Much of the independent hops production is set aside for the major producers, making more difficult the acquisition of hops by craft brewers without placing multimillion-dollar commitments spanning out into 2022,” said Herron.

Things aren’t going to get easier, either. An acquisition is in the works between two giant global players that could reshape the beer industry. The world’s largest producer, Belgian-Brazilian brewer Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA/NV (AB Inbev), is acquiring London-based SABMiller, the world’s second largest brewer and parent company of MillerCoors, among others. The latter will first have to divest its interests in MillerCoors to satisfy U.S. antitrust regulators, but the AB Inbev that emerges from the acquisition will represent more than $100 billion dollars in annual beer sales.

The merger has many implications that could change the industry, and independent craft brewers will be affected.

“The long term impact could be very significant,” said Herron. “The potential scenario where, through acquisition of craft breweries and synergies of the mega-merger, a single giant player could attempt to curb the craft beer movement from behind the scenes by reducing access to raw materials and distribution channels is a legitimate fear in the craft industry.”

For Jason Pellett at Atlanta’s Orpheus Brewing, there are other concerns.

“The big brand craft beers do get better prices: two or three times better than what I am paying at my size,” said Pellett. “The overall buying power makes competing on price a challenge, and the difference of $1 in the cost of a six pack makes a difference in people’s buying habits. I also worry about the extra marketing money they have at their disposal.”

But local craft brewers aren’t going to let the challenges slow them down.

“We try to bring passion and creativity to every challenge we face,” said Herron. “I think you will see Tropicalia six packs more and more, similar to its wider availability in Atlanta’s restaurants and bars on tap. It’s an exciting time at Creature Comforts.”

Exciting times in beer. Just, not in my fridge.