Bottle Clubs Give Barrel-Aging Specialists a Chance in Business

News by | Sep 2017 | Issue #128

For being 3,000 miles apart, Seattle’s Floodland Brewing and Odd Breed Wild Ales in South Florida have a surprising amount in common. Stacked full of oak casks, both resemble a winery more than a brewery. Their wort is also brewed offsite. And both breweries partially owe their existence to bottle clubs.

Unlike taproom releases, which are open to the public and often attract long lines, breweries with bottle clubs promise special releases to consumers who have purchased memberships. In Floodland’s Oakworks club, for example, a $200 yearlong membership includes 10 750-milliliter bottles and some exclusive extras, like access to limited releases and tasting tours.

The bottle club is a way of making the barrel-aged business model slightly less risky. “It’s something that helps us get a little bit of cash flow going, which is important to us because our beer takes so long to make,” says Matt Manthe, co-owner and head brewer for Odd Breed.

It also guarantees that someone will be waiting to snag a bottle when the final product is ready, says Adam Paysse, owner and sole brewer at Floodland. “The bottle club is a way of creating this community [that is] really into what you’re doing, and you know wants to continually buy the beers and support you,” he adds.

Photo by Tyler Rowe Photography.

Manthe and Paysee are far from the first American brewers to find support for aged beers through a bottle club, though. The idea has grown in popularity for at least a decade, starting at larger breweries like Crooked Stave and The Bruery. After a 2009 release of Black Tuesday, a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout, attracted a huge crowd, The Bruery launched its membership club in 2010.

The Ale Apothecary, a Bend, Ore., brewery with an international following, also owes its start to a bottle club. “I was using my 401(k) account and a small loan from my father for the bulk of my expenses, and our Ale Club ended up being the third necessary ingredient to get my brewery off the ground,” says owner Paul Arney.

While Arney’s gamble ended up paying off—he recently expanded to a taproom in downtown Bend—Troy Casey, owner of Casey Brewing and Blending in Colorado, warns against banking on bottle clubs to cover the capital costs associated with opening a brewery.

“I think it’s very important to use this as a way to grow once you’re up and running, but not rely on this model to just get your doors open,” Casey says.

Consumers, however, seem more than willing to make the investment in certain startup breweries. When Floodland opened up its memberships in August, it “sold out in 45 minutes,” Paysse says.