Small-batch local beers are pretty common these days as breweries try out new recipes and ideas and offer their customers something different along with the core year-round releases.
But Catawba Brewing Co. has notably expanded on that idea with its small-batch Passport Program. Now in its second year, Catawba releases a new Passport beer each Thursday and serves them at its tasting rooms on the South Slope and in Biltmore Village in Asheville, as well as in Morganton and Charlotte.
Participants receive a passport-type booklet that is stamped each time they order one of the program’s brews. Prizes are awarded along the way.
“Thirteen stamps will get you the first-level prize, such as glassware; 26 will get you the second level and so on,” says marketing director Brian Ivey. In the program’s first year, about 70 Catawba customers tried all 52 beers and were invited to a private dinner party at the South Slope brewery. More than 400 passport booklets have been handed out just in the first few weeks of 2018, Ivey says.
According to Ivey, the series is a way of getting visitors into the Catawba tasting rooms on a regular basis and to see what styles and beers might be worthy of expanded production. This year, Catawba will bring back bigger batches of coffee porter, Mexican lager and peach grisette, all of which debuted in the 2017 Passport series. “We look at it as a way to challenge ourselves,” Ivey says. Catawba also releases other small-batch beers during the year that are outside this program.
The brews are made at least 7 barrels at a time and are usually brewed at the South Slope facility. “We try to make sure that the Passport beers are around for at least two weeks at all locations,” Ivey says.
The Passport Program divides the world (and its beers) into nine geographical regions: the U.S., South of the Border (Mexico and South America), the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Land Down Under (Australia/New Zealand). The Catawba marketing team picks the brew styles, then hands them off to brewers to create. “These are all styles that we have not put out in large scale for distribution,” Ivey says.
So far in 2018, Catawba’s Passport Program has released Russian Imperial Stout, White Walnut Imperial Brown, a Belgian-style singel and American Wheat Wine. Coming up in the series are: Cascadian Dark Ale (Feb. 1); English Brown Ale with cocoa nibs and black currants (Feb. 8); Pomegranate Sour (Feb. 15); Maibock (Feb. 22); Australian Pale Ale (March 1); Irish Red (March 8); Dry Irish Stout (March 15); New England Style Session IPA (March 22); and Thai Gose (March 29).