Monthly boxes of goodies delivered to your front door are growing in popularity. Everything from food (Blue Apron) and clothes (Trunk Club) to nerd treasures (Loot Crate) are now available and have become a popular holiday gift item.
Craft beer has been limited to “beer-of-the-month” subscriptions in this craze. However, one company from Texas is looking to change that. I recently sat down with the founders of the Artisan Brew Club, Loc Trinh and Nate Church, who spoke about their new beer-in-a-box delivery service. Instead of getting several beers to try, subscribers get all of the ingredients to brew their own beer, along with a community of homebrewers that received the same recipes but may have done something different with it.
Ryan McAskill: What made you create Artisan Brew Club?
Loc Trinh: Nate got me into home brewing, and as I was getting into the hobby, I quickly discovered that there was a gap in resources available for up-and-coming home brewers. Almost all the recipes out there are either dumbed down for the newbie, or full of complex and arcane methods aimed at the masters. The first batch of brew was intimidating, that’s for sure. But I think that second batch was even more so. Where do I go from here? What can I do better? Nate helped me along with that progression, and that’s what we want to do for our customers. We make it easy for them to make that first batch, but our goal is to also help them along with the second.
Nate Church: A lot of it came from my personality and my relationship with beer. Beer is communal. Beer is about sharing and giving. Most people have had a friend offer to buy them a beer. Sharing home brewing is a natural extension, and so helping others start brewing has been something I have enjoyed ever since I started.
Besides, homemade beer just tastes better.
RM: How long did it take to get off the ground? How many different versions did you do through before settling on the current plan?
NC: We had been piecing together a plan of the original idea since May or June of 2015. The core idea has been pretty much the same since the beginning, but I would say that we have been narrowing our scope and execution. There were a lot of decisions about frequency of distribution and batch size that we did a lot of research on before settling on this plan. Once we figured that out, we thought we were done.
LT: Yeah, but we weren’t. This isn’t either of our first stint with a start-up, but dealing with raw food products is a beast of its own. There are so many regulations and permits you have to go through. But we got our lawyer team going through the paperwork, and all our ducks are lined up in a row. We’re ready to get this baby rolling.
RM: What specifically do you get with each box? How does it change month-to-month? Do customers have say on what they get month-to-month, i.e. styles?
LT: Each box is going to contain all the raw ingredients needed to make a one-gallon batch of beer: grains, malts, yeast, hops, as well as a muslin bag and some bottle caps. To go along with that, we include the recipe and instructions to make the beer. Each batch of shipment is going to be a different recipe, so your grains, malts, yeast, and hops are going to be different.
There are two subscription options: pale beer and dark beer. Customers aren’t going to get to pick and choose their specific recipes beyond that. There are going to be some recipes that customers might never overtly choose, but we believe that’s the beauty of home brewing: the opportunity to experience and experiment with the many variety of flavors and styles of beer.
NC: What he said, but I will add that there is love and fun in there as well. If we get a secret decoder ring vendor, maybe those too.
RM: How do you pick the recipes for each month?
LT: We will be launching with a schedule of recipes that we’ve been working on for quite some time now. They’re a compilation of some of our go-to recipes that we’ve picked up and worked out over time. Some of them originated from clones, some from recommendations by friends and fellow home brewers, but all with our own personal spin. And the past few months have basically been a marathon of tasting parties, trying to get everything put together!
We realize that a lot of our recipes are piggy-backing off of the work of brewers that came before us, and we hope to contribute back to the brewing community. The dream is to have brewers enjoy our recipes, and put their own personal spin on it and turn it into something they absolutely love.
RM: Where do you get your ingredients?
LT: We source our ingredients from a selection of wholesale distributors that service our corner here in Texas and that carry all of the items necessary for our slate of recipes. As we discover new recipes and new seasonal flavors, we will also try to reach out and get our hands on some of the more special or niche ingredients.
RM: What was your brewing experience like?
NC: I am a take-it-apart-and-figure-out-how-it-works kind of guy. I kind of happened upon brewing. One of the first beers I did was for my wife, who is British. Now keep in mind, this was like 2005 before the beer revolution; it was more of a beer skirmish at the time. She wanted a good ESB, but you couldn’t get an ESB at most places. Shoot, I didn’t even know what it was. But then she took me to London, and I had one. Well, now I needed more of this! So, I took to the internet and found a brew store. I must have spent 20 minutes learning about ESBs. I found out about stuff like Burton Water Salts and British Water. Well, this all just blew my mind, and so I went from there.
LT: Falling into the hobby was a pretty natural progression. You spend half your life drinking these bland macro beers, and then one day, you wander into these newer craft bars, and suddenly it’s like there are so many flavors! And then you embark on this long journey of self-discovery. With beer.
I’ve been lucky to have a more experienced brewer like Nate by my side to guide me through the learning process. He’s had me doing some pretty crazy stuff like putting I think seaweed or something in my beer. But everything turned out alright. We made good beer, and we were proud of it. That’s the kind of community we want to foster with Artisan Brew Club.
RM: What is your ultimate goal with Artisan Brew Club?
LT: Whoa, that’s a pretty loaded question. I don’t know that we have an “ultimate” goal, but our goal is to empower beer lovers to expand their experience in beer and beer-making. You don’t have to drink piss-water when you’re hanging out with your friends. Beer is a blank canvas, and it’s limited only by your own creativity. We want our customers to experience our discoveries in beer, and we want to partake in theirs.
NC: Total world domination. Imagine that we are the Costco in the movie, “Idiocracy.” No, but seriously, besides fame, fortune, a Loc bobble-head, and a reality TV show, this is the dream: other people drinking your beer and doing happy stuff.
RM: What are your next steps, if any?
LT: This question is so far beyond my thought horizon. If our customers can go through the experience that I went through in home brewing – to experiment with new beers, to discover new tastes, and to take pride in something of their very own creation – that’s the beauty in the breakdown.
NC: I just want to make it through this first year.
RM: Who are the patrons you are looking to capture?
NC: I want to capture people out there who want the experience of brewing a beer and the knowledge that comes with it. There are a lot of people who are curious. Others just want to make something that tastes good. I was speaking with a lady just yesterday who is interested because she wants to know what is in the things she eats and drinks. Some folks will grow into brewing powerhouses and maybe become the next Left Hand Brewing Company, but it all starts with an experience in brewing beer.
LT: We believe that we are offering a solution to an underserved segment of home brewers. There’s the complete novice who is simply dumping bags of ingredients into a pot and hoping for the best, and then there’s the guy who parks his car on the street around the corner because he converted his garage into a climate-controlled fermentation chamber. There’s an entire world in between those two phases, and we want to experience that with our customers.
RM: Are there other products like this? I can only find beer of the month clubs? If so, how is yours different?
LT: I truly believe that we have a unique product. Beer of the month clubs are probably the most obvious comparison, but those are a mixed bag of finished products. You can either love your beer or you can hate it, but that’s the end of your experience. We provide you with the tools to discover your own identity and taste. If you try one of our recipes, and you think there’s a little personal spin you can put on it to make it better, we provide you with the building blocks to make it happen. And we whole-heartedly encourage that.
NC: Confucius says that a teacher is only successful when the student surpasses him. I got nothing.
RM: Why should a customer in a major city pick you over a brewery shop?
NC: A kit in a brew shop is a cake mix. If you follow it, you get a pretty good cake. Our kit is a brewing experience. On the basic level, if you make ours you get a pretty good cake too. But we also offer a community of people who just made the same beer you did, so you can come together and talk about it. It is like playing spin the bottle. You don’t know which girl you are going to get, but whichever one you do get, everyone else gets her too so you can all talk about it. Well something like that, anyway.
LT: Local home brew shops will often have a brew of the month, where you can pick up a different recipe kit each month and then make your beer at home. It’s pretty similar to our product, except most of those are a by-product of good business and accounting: they take the ingredients that they haven’t sold and round them up into a recipe that customers might find palatable. Our approach works in reverse. We identify the recipes that we think our customers will love, and then we gather the ingredients for them to make great beer.