Given the expanding menu of brands and varieties, purchasing craft beer has become as much about the social experience as simply trying something new.
A Lancaster-based company is looking to give beer enthusiasts both, with a fun little history lesson thrown in.
The Case for Beer LLC is marketing a specialized beer box that bottle shop partners can buy and fill with unique collections of beer. Customers can then buy the boxes at the shops, or they can buy empty boxes online.
The boxes — designed by Fig Industries in Lancaster and made by Carlisle Container Co. — hold 12 bottles. The box lids are perforated with numbered squares that hide the bottles inside, similar to an advent calendar.
On the back side of each square is a code that people can enter on the The Case for Beer’s website to learn more about the breweries and individual beers, as well as rate those beers. The boxes are called craft beer flight kits.
“This can be beer tourism in a box,” said Ryan Sauder, co-founder of the company and also senior director of college grants and assistant dean of academic advancement at Franklin & Marshall College. “We’re interested in selling the experience.”
Sauder co-founded the company with Steve Denlinger, director at nonprofit Pressley Ridge in Lancaster County.
The Case for Beer has sold more than 1,000 kits since launching the idea in late 2014, including a few to Lancaster bottle shops. But through a partnership with the largest craft beer bottle shop franchise in the country, Craft Beer Cellar, the company is expecting to drastically expand its distribution of the kits.
Through in-store sales in Craft Beer Cellar’s franchised stores, which continue to grow nationally, and online, Sauder and his partners are hoping to sell thousands of kits each year.
The Case for Beer makes money on the sale of its kits. The retailers with the liquor licenses sell the beer to fill the kits, which can range in price depending on the mix of beers.
The concept is designed for people intimidated by the sheer volume of beer varieties today, but need a good gift for a friend or loved one. And places such as Craft Beer Cellar have trained experts curating the collections, so anyone with an interest in craft beer can appreciate the themed kits and the potential to discover a new favorite.
The average 12-pack collections sell for about $45 to $50, Sauder said, with some on the lower and higher end. “It could be a kit themed around the best local beers. It doesn’t need to be an expensive kit.”
During Harrisburg Beer Week last April, Grain and Verse Bottlehouse in Fairview Township sold a special 12-pack of craft beer using the flight kit.
The Case for Beer has a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign going to take its unique beer concept to the next level with four-packs for larger beer bottles and full cases.
The partners would like to get into more bottle shops as the craft beer industry continues to grow. “We’re completely open to increasing our local footprint,” Sauder said.
Brad Hash is a new partner in the company. He also is manager of the Holy Hound Taproom in York, which is opening a bottle shop. Hunger-N-Thirst in Lancaster is already a partner.
Most states, including Pennsylvania, don’t allow direct shipments right now, so brick-and-mortar stores are the primary channel for The Case for Beer flight kits.
But changes in liquor laws nationally could open up new distribution channels, similar to direct-to-consumer wine shipments. And for people who don’t want to buy a kit curated by a local bottle shop, there also is an option to purchase the kits online to create your own craft beer experience for friends and family.
“Are we going to make it?” Sauder asked on the Kickstarter goal, which was below $1,500 this morning. “I’m pushing hard to make it happen. It’s a big challenge.”
If not, the partners will continue to push forward, he said. “We’ll keep trying. This is our first public approach (for funding).”
He sees potential to create co-branded flight kits with larger regional breweries, who already have the variety in bottles, to create unique sales opportunities. Many breweries already sell mixes of flagship beer styles through beer distributors, but this could expand the experience to more of the experimental, or scratch, styles, Sauder said.
“There are a lot of beer festivals,” he added. “Imagine leaving with a flight kit, a best of show type thing.”
The Case for Beer also helps advance the efforts of social sites such as BeerAdvocate and mobile applications such as Untappd.