Pubs and bars are under increasing pressure to be loyal to breweries in order to get special releases. What if the same measures were applied to beer drinkers?
In America many breweries have special clubs or societies which, for an annual fee or displays of loyalty, afford the society member access to limited release beers. They often include monthly allocations of other beers, merchandise, and invitations to special events.
We haven’t seen this much in Australia. This is primarily because of the different licensing laws. In America it’s not legal for breweries to ship beer directly to customers. Breweries need to go through distributors by law. We have many licensing and excise issues in Australia but thankfully that’s not one of them.
In America, membership schemes are one way around this. Society members can pick up their allocation from the breweries which also helps reward local customers.
But could we still see this become a thing in Australian beer? Already we’ve seen beers launched through special events such as Boatrocker’s Ramjet Day. Might other breweries take a similar approach for sought after or limited releases?
There are beer clubs such as Bridge Road’s Posse, where members receive regular deliveries of core range and seasonal beers, special access to limited releases, and invitations to events. Aside from Bridge Road, who are admittedly one of the more established names in Australian beer, there aren’t many breweries doing a similar thing.
In fact there are only a few doing online retail well at all. It’s clear there’s some way to go before brewery membership societies become common in Australia. There are pros and cons for both breweries and their customers that are worth considering.It's clear there's some way to go before brewery membership societies become common in Australia. Click To Tweet
Benefits For Breweries
The benefits for breweries are that they can engage and reward a loyal customer base, increasing brand affinity. It also means they can more confidently produce special beers. If the beer’s already paid for through membership fees, then there’s less risk involved in creating something a little different. Plus, the brewers know it’s not going to sit around on bottle shop shelves.
As long as the brewery has capacity, societies can also add another revenue stream. It encourages repeat purchases, as it’s paid up front and easy to renew. Demand dictates supply but in a nicely controlled way, allowing for steady and scalable growth. Societies can also be used as projects to retain talented brewers that want creative freedom.
Benefits For Consumers
For the customer, the positives are obvious. They get their hands on rare beers and get the satisfaction of supporting a brewery and brand they love. On an individual basis, there isn’t much more to it than that.
However, if delivery is factored into society memberships, it also opens up access to beer drinkers living in rural areas. Talking to some brewers, there is demand outside of the Sydney Metro area. The issue is the prohibitive shipping costs that make serving that demand a challenge.
Providing an easy way for rural customers to feel connected to their favourite brewery and receive regular and special release beers could be game changing for the Australian beer landscape.Providing an easy way for rural customers to feel connected to their favourite brewery could be game changing... Click To Tweet
Drawbacks For Breweries
Member societies raise multiple questions for breweries. Firstly, there’s the spectre of the secondary market or beer trading looming over such schemes. Let’s say for example the cost of a beer within the price of a membership equates to $20. If that special release beer then ends up being sold on the secondary market for two or three times that, it can only be frustrating for the brewer.
It should go without saying that a proper membership society needs to be done well. It necessitates logistical considerations, as well as event planning, an improved hospitality offering and all the extra admin that goes with it. It would require at least one additional hire to run it properly.
That’s a big investment and a brewery would first need sufficient capital. Such a venture would not be viable for small breweries. For some, it just won’t be something they want to engage in as it’s so far removed from their core offering to customers.
A brewery needs to be sure they’ll have the numbers before committing to such a scheme. For reputation’s sake, you can’t announce a society and then go back on it if you don’t have enough members sign up to make it viable.
Another consideration is if a brewery has made its name through special release beers. If these are then withdrawn from public sale and reserved only for paying members, that could alienate a large number of customers who had previously been invested in the brand. The wise move would be to create beers specifically for the society, but obviously that requires brewing capacity.
Drawbacks For Consumers
The issue of the secondary market also applies to customers. It’s tough to see a beer you would love to try change hands for considerably more than you’d be willing or able to pay.
In a similar fashion, membership societies might not do much for the overall vibe of the beer drinking community. It seems in the US that anything that contributes to hype or exclusivity serves only to intensify an already impassioned scene.
Otherwise, cost is the major factor. There’s no doubt that a brewery society membership would be a large investment. The good thing is it’s only likely to attract people who are inclined to spend a considerable amount on beer. Those who aren’t are still going to buy their six packs from Dan Murphy’s and both worlds can coexist nicely.
Will We See Brewery Membership Societies in Australia?
Brewery societies are dependent on demand. As the independent segment of the beer market grows, and competition for shelf space increases even more, brewers will aim to find new ways of getting their beer to customers.
Membership societies could be one way of doing this. It could suit breweries that can invest in doing it well, or provide a unique enough offering to warrant it.
If a brewery is to do it well, they need confidence in the number of members signing up, their brewing capacity, and the resources they can devote to the scheme.
It would also be wise to develop new beers unique to the society in order to avoid alienating existing customers. If the focus isn’t solely on rewarding locals then it needs to be made accessible to people who are interstate or living in rural areas.
Brewery societies are certainly an avenue for development in the Australian beer landscape and could be a part of its evolution in the coming years.