Beer with Wheels

Innovation by | Sep 2008 | Issue #20

The "Beer Man" has arrived

If you’re old enough, or lived in a quaint-enough ‘burb during your formative years, you probably remember the milkman—the guy who delivered fresh, wholesome milk to the front doors of households across town and throughout the countryside. The milkman would take your order and bring fresh milk to your doorstep, picking up the empty bottles and replacing them with full ones. You could even schedule regular delivery.

Now there’s a guy who’s doing just that—but even better: He’s delivering fresh, wholesome craft beer to doorsteps across town.

The town is Duluth, Minn., and the guy is Dave Hoops, head brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse, the first brewpub in Minnesota to offer home delivery of half-gallon growlers of their beer. And they even take away the empties! Hoops doesn’t work alone, though. He has a staff of brewers and deliverers who make their weekly routes across Duluth to bring Fitger’s beer to thirsty fans.

“We started quietly, with a soft launch on 4.20—April 20th,” Hoops says. “But things really started kicking into gear sometime in June.”

Until recently, home beer delivery wasn’t even something that could have been considered: What Hoops calls Minnesota’s “most restrictive” beer laws prevented brewpubs from selling their beer anywhere but on-premises.

The door opened a bit in 2000, when the state’s brewers formed a guild and, in 2007, got legislation passed that allows brewpubs the right to sell beer in growlers. They also won the right to sell beer through distribution channels at bars and other establishments throughout the state.

Shortly after the legislation was passed, Fitger’s set up a beer store right next to the brewery, where they sold growlers to go. They could barely keep the beer on the shelves. Growler sales are now about 25 percent of Fitger’s total beer sales—or about 500 barrels annually. Hoops bought a Helba—a device that pressure-fills two growlers at once—which helps them keep up with demand.

The growlers’ success got Hoops thinking: Instead of people always coming to the beer store to buy their growlers, why not take the growlers to the customers—just like the milkman used to do. He explored the possibility, got assurances from the state that there was no law prohibiting it, and set about his delivery program.

Now, Fitger’s fans can phone in or log on to the brewery’s website, pick a delivery time (usually within 24 hours), order from 12 to 15 different styles and wait for the beer to be delivered. Online payment is made through PayPal, and the purchaser must present the credit card used, along with photo ID to verify age at the time of delivery.

A $3 delivery fee per order—whether it’s one growler or 20—helps drivers cover rising gas prices, but returned empties can be redeemed for $3, negating the delivery charge. Tips are encouraged. Hoops says that if a driver is available, a thirsty customer doesn’t have to wait, although immediate orders can only be phoned in.

“Imagine, it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and you decide you want some good beer. Just pick up the phone, place your order and a little while later, fresh beer is delivered right to wherever you are, within the city limits,” Hoops says.

The milkman never did that.