The Bruery in Orange County, CA, sold 1,300 Reserve Society memberships in 2012 for $295 each. Night Shift Brewing, a fledgling startup from Everett, MA, got the hint and on Wednesday announced a group of its own; The 2013 Night Shift Barrel Society.
It’s a variation on an idea that many new breweries are tinkering with: an attempt to create a fan base and raise money at the same time by soliciting donations from the crowd. But supplying actual beer in exchange for that money is a bit rarer.
“I think these societies make a lot of sense,” said David Dupee, founder of the craft beer crowdfunding site Craftfund.com. “Breweries have two jobs in today’s increasing competition for shelf space: produce great beer and create experiences for consumers. These societies are a way for breweries to raise the capital necessary to produce great beer while building relationships in the process.”
For $250, Night Shift — which first hit the market in January — provides a membership card, 14 bottles of seven barrel-aged beers, priority to purchase more beer if the barrels are more generous than initially expected, two Night Shift drinking glasses, a Night Shift t-shirt, first rights to membership renewal in 2014 and two tickets to the end-of-year Night Shift Barrel Society Party.
The seven beers will be made available only to members of the society and will have rested at least four months in oak.
“The barrel adds an awesome character to the beer,” said Mike O’Mara, co-founder of Night Shift.
According to press materials, six of the beers will derive from recipes of Night Shift’s own creations, likely including a Flanders Red, a Golden Brett, a few Imperials (Tripel/Barleywine/Coffee Stout), an IPA , a 100% Brett fermented beer and a crowdsourced society collaboration. O’Mara said that Night Shift currently has about 25 barrels aging and members can expect the first few releases in February or March.
“We’re going to space it out, so you’re not going to be slammed with all the beers in one month,” he said.
Dupee agrees with the idea of reinforcing your brand and said that craft beer is about experiencing and discovering quality, people and place. The many facets of a membership, tangible or not, cater to these widespread interests.
“These societies do not offer a virtual membership, but rather are experienced within the context of a specific place that people are passionate about,” he said. “What could be better than discovering rare beer with friends in a place that you love?”
Night Shift expects to sell the majority of its 400-member capacity and plans to operate the society like a community supported agriculture (CSA) organization. Members pay upfront to fund more barrels and fermenters and will receive the exclusive beers throughout the year.
“Some of the equipment we buy will roll over into helping us make other beers,” O’Mara said, “but the biggest purchase we plan on making is the barrel specifically.”
O’Mara said that The Bruery influenced Night Shift to try a similar kind of society. Many beer lovers know The Bruery for its widely-sought and award-winning Imperial Stout, Black Tuesday. An empty bottle of the stuff sells for $85 on eBay.
“The public sale of Black Tuesday, no one’s guaranteed anything. That’s a crapshoot,” said Benjamin Weiss, The Bruery’s director of marketing. “It actually sold out in 10 minutes this year.”
The only way to guarantee yourself two bottles of Black Tuesday is through The Bruery’s Reserve
“We’ve got a lot of dedicated fans and a lot of limited beer, so it was kind of a two-fold process,” Weiss said of the Reserve Society. “One was that we could truly cater to our most dedicated customers. Also, especially when we first started, we could fund a little cash flow.”
With their own society, O’Mara and his team aim to replicate that feeling of exclusivity and build a passionate following.
“A barrel of beer takes longer to produce, so inherently it’s a little more limited,” he said. “We thought people would enjoy being able to reserve those beers.”
While The Bruery and Night Shift have taken strong steps to gain capital and create a passionate fan base, Dupee believes that the future of craft beer crowdfunding is on the verge of a more drastic change — consumer ownership. With the passing of the JOBS Act on April 5, companies are no longer limited to offering just products or discounts; they can offer company equity. In October 2009, BrewDog of Scotland launched “Equity for Punks” and became the first European company to sell shares online to the general public. More than 1,300 people invested, boosting prescient BrewDog’s production and brand, while possibly trailblazing the future of American craft beer crowdsourcing.
“The connection will be even stronger as fans will now be able to call themselves part owners,” Dupee said, “thereby completely bridging the gap between producer and consumer.”