Louisiana brewer’s specialty has thirsty fans watching and waiting

T. Francis, general manager at Fenian's Irish Pub in Jackson, Miss., is seen Friday with stacked cases of Abita's Strawberry Harvest Lager. The beer is made by Abita Brewing Co. of Covington, La. / Joe Ellis / The Clarion-Ledger

Each year from February to May, a thirst hits the Jackson area.

Those affected keep a watchful eye on grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and bars, all waiting for the first Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager to make its way to the metro area.

It’s not a game. It’s a hunt — one that’s grown larger thanks to social media, yearly production increases and a “Disney Vault” approach to marketing by the seasonal beer’s manufacturer, Abita Brewing Co. of Covington, La.

Fans of the light brew keep their smartphones close by, waiting to send out a text, a tweet or a Facebook update at a moment’s notice — “IT’S HERE!”

In fact, the social media marketing for Abita Strawberry has taken off in the area, a move driven by customers and “Abita sightings.”

However, Facebook status updates are a mixed bag, said Jake Davis of Ridgeland.

“People post when they find it, and it sells out soon thereafter nearly every time,” he said.

Davis said he’s been checking out Kroger stores in Brandon and Ridgeland, finally finding a stash of the beer at the store off Old Canton Road in Ridgeland.

Another Ridgeland resident hasn’t been so lucky.

After checking with Kroger stores and Ridgeland’s Fresh Market at Renaissance, Laura Brown said she finally hit gold when she found the Abita Strawberry on the Coast.

“A lot of people are using our app (to find a store), but it’s lagging in data, usually updating in three days,” said David Blossman, president and CEO of Abita Brewing Co.

However, a component of the Abita app allows customers to post when they find a location with their treasured beverage.

“The whole idea is we wanted to have more customers interact,” Blossman said. “We see this happening on social media now.”

It was a Facebook status on Friday that alerted followers of Fenian’s Irish Pub to the Fortification Street establishment’s surprise big news — another Abita Strawberry shipment.

“This was a complete surprise,” said T. Francis, the pub’s general manager. “This probably won’t make it through the weekend,” he said, gesturing to the stacked cases in the bar’s storage room.

“This is hands down the best beer Abita makes,” Francis said. “I call it ‘grass-cutting beer’ because it’s the perfect drink to have after mowing your yard.”

Fenian’s last shipment of the fast-selling beer came just before St. Patrick’s Day, an already busy time for the Irish pub.

“It sold out before St. Patrick’s Day at every grocery store and gas station in this area,” Francis said.

“Jackson is a significant market for us, a very good market,” Blossman said.

“Every year we increase production of it,” he said. “Every year we try to predict demand, and every year we fail.”

The bottled beer has been around since 2006, he said.

During the 2010-11 brewing season, Blossman said his company upped production of its popular strawberry beer by 35 percent.

This year, the brewery increased production by 100 percent.

“And it’s a drop in the bucket,” Blossman said.

“It’s by far the largest harvest or seasonal beer we produce,” he said

Last year, Hops & Habanas in Madison only received one shipment of the much-lauded beer.

Now they’re hoping for four, said owner Rick Miles.

On April 23, the specialty beer store had its second Abita Strawberry payload delivered, he said.

“We posted on Facebook at 8 a.m., and it was gone by 4 p.m.,” Miles said.

Over the years, Miles said he learned to make sure he doesn’t advertise the beer until it’s on the premises. Changing shipment schedules and other events sometimes have led to delayed deliveries.

“Everybody loves it so much, and we don’t want to have people coming here just to be disappointed,” he said. “So we don’t ever put anything out there until it’s in the store.”

While the metro area has a variety of stores catering to the Abita Strawberry crowd, it all boils down to timing and a little luck.

However, there’s still hope for metro-area residents wanting to stock up on the seasonal beer, Blossman says.

“We have two more full trucks going to happen mid- to late-May,” he said.

While Blossman said the strawberry beer’s popularity partially comes from its Louisiana fruit and its dedication to taste like beer first and foremost, he admitted the short time frame during which the beer is sold helps add to demand.

“I think it adds to its specialness that it’s not available year round,” he said. “The anticipation breeds to the satisfaction of it.”

And for those who pray for the day when the Abita Strawberry is available 12 months out of the year, it’s not looking likely.

Blossman said the idea has been tossed around in the past, but the seasonal schedule seems to work best for the product and his employees.

“This beer just explodes on us,” Blossman said. “By the time strawberry season is over with, I think we’re all exhausted.”

Source: DUSTIN BARNES, thetowntalk.com

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