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Mug Club

As I continue to read more and gather information about brewpubs, the question of a mug club has come up. There are a million other things I am focusing on as well, but beer is always a fun side-part of the brewpub (the food part and the whole restaurant is the big piece of the cake). I have been to dozens of brewpubs in my short time of being of age and craft beer loving. In that time, I have never joined a mug club. What is a mug club exactly? Well it is a “fellowship” that you join from a local brewpub that entitles you to special beers, discounts, and other exciting offers that are not available to non mug club members.

From my personal experience as well as from my research there are a lot of options offered with mug clubs. The first option is a paid yearly memberships which gets you your own personal glass/mug, discounts on food/drink and access to special beers that are only made in limited quantities. The second is a paid membership, but no personal glass, but rather a communal (but larger) glass and the same benefits as the first option. The last one is a totally free mug club that mainly gives you discounts on everything.

The brewpub that I would call “home” is Bube’s Brewery (pronounced Boobies 🙂 ) in Mt. Joy, Pa. I would visit that brewpub every Wednesday so that I could drink a beer or two and also talk with the assistant brewer Rick. It was a blast for anyone interested in beer to talk with the brewer and also discuss beer and how they made their beer and all of the other beer related geekiness that goes along with that. Bube’s also had a Mug Club, which I never joined (I’m going to pull the poor college student excuse). Their Mug Club was $65 and got you a large glass that had your name and member number etched on it. At the end of each year you were able to take your glass home and a new style of custom glass would be put in place.

The glasses are larger than your typical pint but you pay the same price and you were also entitled to a discount on food. Additionally that also had a few special events throughout the year that only Mug Club members could be a part of. One of my friends/mentors joined the club and he has been very happy since joining and with the benefits of being a member. Bube’s also has limited edition beers that are only served in very limited quantities and available to Mug Club members and whatever is left is open to non-members at the regular or elevated price.

In my brewpub I want to have a Mug Club and offer it at a price. First off it is an additional source of income and hopefully guarantees repeat business. I would also want to offer special glasses. I don’t like the “universal mug club” glass where anyone in the Mug Club has a special glass, but it isn’t theirs. If I am willing to charge people to take part in a membership, then they should be able to get a piece of ownership over it. I don’t know about replacing the glasses each year as Bube’s does. I’m sure there are people who love that, but there are significantly increased costs with that along with the worry of making sure everyone get’s their glass when the new ones come out. I would like to keep one set glass, and each member has their own.

There is then the added concern of storing all of the glasses and the best way to go about it. I have only seen two versions of storing glasses; shelves and hanging them. I am a fan of hanging the glasses and plan on putting that into my brewpub. It allows a lot of glasses to be stored without taking up any additional space. They also look pretty neat when you come into a brewpub for the first time and see tons of numbered or named glasses/mugs hanging from over the bar.

The last question comes down to the cost. As I said, Bube’s Mug Club members pay $65 a year to enjoy the privilege of being a member. I have seen prices all the way from $10 and upwards of $100. I guess the main part of the pricing comes into the type of customers you are getting and how many members you have. The more members, the more they drink, the less they are playing per ounce, so I would assume the more you need to charge. To be honest pricing for a Mug Club and how to track everything isn’t within the scope of things that I am looking at right now. I think the most important parts are the following facts; paid membership, custom/personal glass, same type of glass for everyone year after year, and the discounts/special offerings members get. Let me know if you have heard of anything different or what you are looking for in a brewpub.

My brewpub: What kind of beer?

As I think about my brewpub more and more I have a few issue that come up in my mind. The current thing I can’t get out of my mind is what kind of beer to serve. While this is probably step number 52,561,021 and I am really on step 1.5 I am a beer guy, can I can’t help it. I also tend to get ahead of myself when I am excited about something.

My question breaks down into to parts; what kind of beer to offer and do we have set beers along with seaonals? The kinds of beer to offer doesn’t seem very tough, I enjoy all beers and I really like making different styles. I don’t want to “sellout” and make styles that are selling well, I want to make quality beers of my choosing. Of course the “typical” beers are going to be there; stouts, IPAs, Pale Ales, Porters, Ambers, etc. Yes there will be the occasional Imperial Russian Stout or something oaked or something else that is something different than what you see in a bottle.

The big question in my mind is to offer a year-round selection of beer with a few rotating specials or do we always keep a rotating selection. I’m going to go out on a limb (and I have nothing other than my own observations to support this) and say that 95% of brewpubs have a few set beers and then fill up the rest of their taps with seasonal beers or special beers. I have only ever been to one brewpub that has a new and different beer on tap each week; Bube’s Brewery. I talk about Bube’s last week, and the constantly rotating selection of beer always had me coming back.

There are a few problems with doing this though. You never really have a set cost, as your ingredients are always changing. When coming up with a budget for your brewing expenses it would be nice to have as little guess work involved as possible. I would imagine customers would also like to come back and have a certain beer when they come in. It can help build your brand and also increase repeat customers.

On the other side having a rotating selection of beers has benefits as well. While you don’t have the cost control you do with the other method, you do always have something new on tap. Releasing a new beer each week could really keep people coming back and build your brand in a different way. Speaking from a brewing stand-point you don’t get bored brewing the same thing each week. But for the people who seek consistency and have a favorite beer that they come in for, this doesn’t really work for.

Part of the decision also depends on how many taps we will actually have available to use. My plan is to start with four taps and grow into eight or so. I always want to have a “House Ale” that will been on tap no matter what. With the House Ale adding a anchor beer the other three taps will rotate. Once we are able to expand the taps I would then start have four or so year-round beers and having the other four be whatever we feel like making. I think this satisfies both groups of people who are there for the beer. We can keep things the same and different at the same time. Anyone have any different thoughts on this or any suggestions?

What kind of brewpub?

While I have been going over tons of details with starting a brewpub there has been one area where I am finding it difficult to get a clear idea now. The general idea of a brewpub is pretty easy, but narrowing down the focus is where I can’t decide on what I want to do. I’ve been to dozens of brewpubs and good beer bars and they all have something different to offer. There are brewpubs that focus on first rate food and come with first rate pricing but there are also those who want to be the neighborhood hangout.

Being from the Philadelphia area, I was exposed to great examples of both of these. I have previously mentioned Iron Hill Brewery. They are now a chain, and a super successful one that that, but they focus more on the upscale side of things. The food is expensive, the beer is expensive, and the decorum match it. They even have napkins with their logo on it, and they are those really nice napkins that you only need one of when you have ribs. The really focus on first class service and their waiters know their stuff. I have only eaten there a handful of times but the food is excellent. I have been to the bar part more than a handful of times and they also have a great variety of beers to drink.

Another brewpub that I am familiar with is Rock Bottom Brewery in King of Prussia, PA. It is also another chain, but totally different from Iron Hill Brewery. It has more of a “everyday” restaurant feel. By that I mean that the dining experience is more on the level with an Applebee’s or a Chilli’s and the prices are also competitive. They have also proven to be successful as there are multiple locations across the country. They have a nice selection of food and, from my experience, a nice, but more limited selection of beer as well.

The final brewpub that I want to talk about is Bube’s Brewery (pronounced Boobies, yup) in Mt. Joy, PA. It is by far the smallest restaurant out of the three, but it makes up for it by being a brewery, a restaurant, a dinner show theater, and a hotel all in one. Sounds neat doesn’t it? They also have a nice, but more limited selection of food, and they also offer a great selection of four homebrewed drafts along with another eight or so craft drafts. Unlike the other two brewpubs and most brewpubs that that matter, they do not ever have the same thing on draft. Every time you go in they have a different beer. But that is a discussion for a later time. The mood in Bube’s is extremely relaxed. The bartenders are knowledgeable and the waiters are usually helpful as well. There are no TV’s in the bar and you have the opportunity to enjoy your company.

So I guess the question still comes down to, what do I want people to experience when they visit my brewpub? I want there to be a great selection of food and beer, but also not at prices that would keep some people away. I want it to be more of a neighborhood hangout where the locals can come on a Tuesday just as easily as they would come on a Friday night. The staff should we warm and knowledgeable about beer and be able to answer most any question. I want the decor to be warm as well. I think every restaurant wants to be a place where people can spend a lot of time, and therefore money. But I really want this to be a place that you can sit down, have a beer and read a book with no one bothering you in the process.

I don’t know how clear of direction that is, but it is starting to piece together. I obviously need to do a lot more work on getting the finer details worked out, but the my focus is getting narrowed down and that can only mean progress. Let me know what types of places you enjoy or what a brewpub mean to you so that I can get a cleaner idea of what I am going after.

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Brewpub disadvantages

IMG_0996 (400x267) (200x200)Last week I talked about some of the benefits of owning a brewpub. To make this dream of mine a reality I also need to address the drawbacks of a brewpub as well. Granted I am no expert in any of this, I am purely posting my thoughts and what I am able to see, so if you have more suggestions please let me know. There are a number of disadvantages to owning and operating a brewpub vs. a brewery. Some may seem small and insignificant but they all add up to something that matters.

The first disadvantage that I am able to find is that you have a much more limited audience. A brewpub can realistically pull people from a radius of about 20-30 miles at a maximum. While I have personally traveled much greater distances to get to a good brewpub, that is not what the average consumer will do. A brewery can distribute in a large area and be in many places at once whereas a brewpub can only be in one spot. The advertising, marketing, and branding have to be completely different in order to bring in a crowd. I also believe that a brewpub must advertise to help stay alive, while most craft breweries do little if any advertising.

Another disadvantage is that a brewpub cannot focus only on beer. While the beer provides a nice profit margin and an additional source of income, food is more important. Nobody goes to a restaurant that doesn’t have good food. The restaurant market is much larger than the brewpub market, therefore food has to be exceedingly important. Customers can go to a number of restaurants to get food (and a commercial beer) if that is what they are looking for. So everything from beer to food needs to be quality as consumers have a number of choices.

The third disadvantage is that you are not just running a brewery. There are a lot of other factors to think about and be worried about while running a brewpub. A whole extra list of expenses comes into the mix as well. No longer do you have to worry about brewery equipment, you also have kitchen, bar, and restaurant items that need to be addressed. A brewery has no need for a flat-top cooker or bar stools or booths, but a brewpub certainly does. The decorum also needs to be more dressed up than what a brewery has. A brewery, while magical to most of us, is an industrial facility that makes a product. A brewpub is a commercial product that makes a product(s) and delivers an experience. You also have additional staff that need to be qualified for the job and trained on beer knowledge, service, and a number of other things.

The final disadvantage does along with the theme of a brewery being industrial and a brewpub being commercial. Breweries can lease space in places that don’t get a lot of foot traffic because they are not looking for traffic, they are looking to produce and distribute beer. A brewpub has to lease in a place with high foot traffic, ample parking, and be in a desirable location. Needless to say, rent is much higher in a brewpub than what a brewery would ever be.

Let me know if I missed anything when analyzing the disadvantages of owning a brewpub in comparison with a brewery. Thanks for reading and I will be back soon with more ideas for my brewpub.

My Brewpub

At some point in my life I would love to start a brewpub. If you are not sure what a brewpub is, let me give you a heads up. A brewpub is a brewery and restaurant together. Unlike a brewery, the beers made at the brewpub are made to be consumed on site. I am in the very early planning stages of getting my dream off the ground, but running a beer based website has it’s perks on helping me get my ideas out there. Below you will find several articles/ideas that I have talked about concerning my dream. I am using this as a testing ground and a forum to get ideas, feedback, and general impressions on what I am doing, thinking, and where I am heading.

  • My brewery/brewpub: I talk about my dreams of starting a brewery or brewpub and what all I need to look at and consider in getting such an endeavor off of the ground.
  • Brewpub benefits: In this article I explore the possible benefits of a brewpub over running a brewery in terms of costs, marketing, and distribution.
  • Brewpub disadvantages: We explore what a brewpub stands to lose in comparision with a brewery. Everything from location to staffing to marketing are covered.
  • What kind of brewpub?: There are a lot of different approaches to a brewpub, in this article we explore a few of the options out there.
  • What kind of beer?: Obviously a brewpub serves beer, but kind of beer and what type of selection should be offered? A year round vs. rotating selection of beer is explored in this post.