Bear Republic Creates New Club to Focus on Niche of Fans

Adventurous craft beer consumers are out there. And brewers love to be as creative as possible. Putting those two groups together means small batch wonders.

For Bear Republic, a new club is borrowing from the world of wine when it comes to exclusivity and trust.

The Wild Club, which began about six months ago is a new way for Bear Republic brewers and fans to connect with barrel-aged projects that range from sessionable to high octane, and funky to woody.

Here’s the catch, which is a first for craft beer says Master Brewer Pete Kruger, Bear Republic wants commitments from consumers for a year to trust them with buying products that have yet to be made.

“Typically other [breweries] may have a club and you get to do it a la cart with what you want,” Kruger said. The last batch of Wild Club beers included Stumptown Funk, an American Wild Ale that is a part of a “Spontaneous Sonoma Series” along with Very Important Peche; Barrel 226+, a Belgian Brown Ale; and Tartare Berliner-style Wheat.,

“In a sense what [most breweries] are giving you is access but you are still, as a club member, influencing what you are getting,” Kruger noted. “I haven’t seen a brewery asking for blind faith like this before and it exists in the wine world and that is where we got our ideas. We want a one year commitment and we haven’t had someone say it doesn’t live up to expectations.

So far 35 people have signed up for the club with a cap of 300 Kruger said.

This means that brewers at Bear Republic have the flexibility to go real crazy with ideas and see them to fruition. The VIP Peche only netted 75 bottles of product for the club, while Barrel 226+ netted 372 bottles.

“I would say about two thirds that joined were the tip of the spear fan for us,” Kruger said. About four people per month have been added to the club over the past few months, many being wine consumers where a sticker shock of $30 per bottle isn’t threatening.

“The beers are bottled by hand, labeled by hand, everything is very labor intensive,” Kruger said in explaining the exclusivity and reason for a higher price point.

The Spontaneous Sonoma Series is five releases over the next 18 months that were crafted by using the terroir of Sonoma County, California.

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A total of 12 mason jars of wort were taken to 12 different locations to allow the air to mix with the wort and fermented them out. Some of the spots included near Stumptown Brewery on the Russian River, near Jack London’s summer home, and on the Sonoma coastline.

“If you are in the club, over time you will see the difference,” Kruger said. “It’s a chance to see what the influence of terroir has in a series that is difficult to explain to people unless you really have their ear. You can’t do that at a beer fest or brewpub.”

Pub only releases are great, but Kruger lamented that much of a small-batch sixtel may go out on sampler platters and not be appreciated. A small group of Wild Club members will be more appreciative he feels.

“Now we can make a strong connection to the people that really get it,” he said, indicating that these beers will have special tastings for members near the brewery along with shipments only going to residents in California.

“It’s high-touch stuff and it’s only going to be at tastings or being a part of the club,” he said.

It’s also nice to be able to have a quarterly deadline to push the brewers to work at these crafty beers.

“Racer 5 is our bread and butter and a lot of times you can get focused on cranking that out,” Kruger said. “This is like college, we have a deadline and we have to get it together. We have a year’s worth of stuff lined out to be packaged and to have to get the label done, get it bottled and get everything together is nice for us.

“It’s really nice to have this group of people that trust us without knowing what we are going to release. The price is steep and we only announce it a few weeks before it comes out.”

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