How easy would life be if hand-selected beer from breweries throughout Texas appeared at your front door? Thanks to Rob Banzhaf and Marc Atnipp, co-founders of Texas Craft Beer Club (TCBC) based in The Woodlands, it can be that easy. The longtime friends and more recent business partners saw value in what national beer clubs offered but felt there was room for improvement, which inspired the launch of TCBC; they began selling memberships in November 2015 with the first shipments hitting doorsteps in January 2016. By tailoring their range exclusively to the Lone Star State, they are expanding the craft beer community and creating a network between creator and consumer that shortens the distance between barrel and pint glass—one case at a time.
For $50 per month, a beer-filled box shows up to members’ homes or offices, creating a virtual pub crawl of sorts and introducing consumers across the state to suds they may never have a chance to try otherwise. “You’ve got a lot of pride in Texas and people want to drink local, and drink local beers,” says Banzhaf. “But we’ve got such a big state and the distribution just doesn’t always allow it. There are a lot of very good beers in Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, [and] West Texas and they just can’t get their product into these other markets and so we’re kind of bridging that gap and allowing these breweries to spread their audience a little more across Texas.” Translation: Members get to taste beers from all over Texas that they often wouldn't be able to access without an hours-long road trip. Each delivery is designed to be diverse, with 12 12-ounce cans and bottles split into three each of four styles from two breweries featured each month.
How do the beers make it from brewery to box? It's a tough job tasting it all, but someone has to do it. The painful task falls to Banzhaf and Atnipp, whose research and development involves traveling to find unique beers they think their customers will appreciate, such as Oak Highlands Brewery in Dallas. According to Banzhaf, that brewery started when a few friends won a home brew competition before raising money to start their small business. “I just happened to stumble into the neighborhood,” he says, adding that the owners looked surprised at the size of the order Banzhaf wanted to place after tasting their concoctions.
What happens when you sample the best IPA of your life made by a small brewery in a tiny town half a country away with no hopes of it landing on local shelves? You never get to drink that beer again, that’s what. Well, usually. TCBC attempts to eliminate that horror at the Lone Star level by giving members the option to reorder favorites. Love that stout from Sherman or that amber from Austin? Bottoms up. And there’s no waiting a month for those special orders since the club relays requests to breweries on the double, meaning refills are typically delivered in about a week.
Really, really want more of that Dunkelweizen from Dallas? “People could order a pallet from us, we’d be okay with that,” says Banzhaf, a touch of humor in his voice. The unexpected variety of the monthly mix also encourages members to try things they might typically ignore, thus opening their minds and taste buds to new experiences. Not feeling the love for a particular beer style in your box? Start by giving it a try, says Banzhaf, who garnered new love and appreciation for a beer style he previously avoided by sampling from a club delivery. Worst case scenario, you toss two of the three beers, which is still better than sacrificing most of a six pack in a normal store purchase. Or take to Facebook and Twitter to arrange a swap with another member.
Members also gain special access to seasonal, limited release and exclusive stock that is often difficult—sometimes impossible—to locate with no lines, long drives or bribes required. Though collaborations are still in progress, Banzhaf says, “We have talked to some breweries about doing a special Texas Craft Beer Club special release where they brew a special recipe that goes to just our customers. They might have it on tap at their breweries but for the most part they’d be running a special batch just for us with special label and our customers might be some of the only people to ever get this beer.” Another perk is freshness: With such large orders coming from TCBC, some smaller breweries are able to can specifically for members on Wednesday for pickup on Thursday. To ensure you're not drinking blind, a "Brewsletter" is included in every box, filled with info and reviews about each beer and featured brewery, plus details on club news.
Though still in its early days, initial responses from members gives Banzhaf and Atnipp good reason to expect solid growth in their first full year. “It’s been a great reception,” says Atnipp. “The breweries have been really receptive to it, we’ve gotten to know some great people from it, the customers we have all seem to be really happy with it and some folks have started to renew. Nobody ever gets upset when they’re forced to go drink beer.” Aside from attending one holiday market and managing social media, marketing efforts have been minimal; 2016 will find them tapping the metaphorical keg at beer festivals throughout Texas with a focus on promoting the club and increasing membership, which already includes supporters from El Paso to East Texas. While they can’t purchase club beer directly at the festivals, attendees can stock up on swag such as T-shirts, pint glasses and hats to enjoy until their first shipment arrives.
Social events for members are also in discussion, with ideas ranging from on-site tastings to collaborations with Whole Foods and Hop Scholar for hosting featured brewers in a version of a tap takeover. In the meantime, Atnipp and Banzhaf are creating regular video reviews on their website with plans to add podcast interviews and brewery video tours. All with the goal that subscribers will go forth and drink—as educated local consumers.