It goes without saying that craft beer businesses are struggling. Both brewers and retailers alike are working with pandemic difficulties and regulations just like any small business, maybe more so given the political eye that lives upon the alcohol industry. Not only are direct sales impacted by taproom restrictions but secondary sales at closed restaurants and bars have cut even deeper into established revenue.
Brewers and brewpubs have adapted the best that they can. Many have significantly modified their business models by adding menus and applying for a food license to skirt bar limitations and function as ersatz restaurants; others have partnered with nearby restaurants as hybrid satellite outlets for their kitchens (to the benefit of both). But one element craft beer businesses have been slow to embrace is new product development, possibly due to the overwhelming service nature of their industries.
Enter the Monkly Fun Beer Box. With his Denton bottle shop The Bearded Monk closed to customers and regular social events (drive-thru sales only), local publican Ben Esley created the Beer Box program several months ago. In essence, it is an informal subscription program giving patrons a surprise mix of craft beer products every month without having to search the aisles for new releases. Plus, it’s a way to keep servicing his regulars and make craft beer fun again.
For those veterans of the North Texas beer market, Ben Esley needs little introduction. Owner of The Bearded Monk, entrepreneur, columnist, local radio host and craft beer evangelist, Esley is the beating heart of the Denton craft beer and small business scene. In his own words, “The Monkly Fun Beer Box is a journey through the styles and ages of craft and premium beer all wrapped up in Denton Culture!”
Lakewood Peanut Butter Temptress, Martin House Bloody Mary Pickle Beer, Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale, Orval, Duvel
The Box itself is a simple cardboard shipping box covered in a few fun stickers (games, trivia) and includes roughly a dozen individual beers of varying sizes. Contents may be bottles or cans, standard 12-oz or 16-oz, and occasionally half-liter, 22-oz or 750-ml; most of the beverages are beer but the occasional cider, hard seltzer or wine does make an appearance. A piece of glassware is usually included as well as plenty of stickers, small gift items or other brewery swag. (Because the bottle and can sizes vary, so may the count vary slightly month to month, but always equivalent to at least a dozen standard 12-oz beers.)
The specific beers customers receive span the spectrum of craft beer, if not several spectra: local breweries, Texas breweries and national brewers; domestics and imports; trend-setting new releases and American/world classics. One may think this would be an easy method of pawning off sales duds or outdated merchandise—and it may be so in some rare instances—but the ordinary is more than balanced by Trappist ales or seasonal releases or hard-to-find, high-gravity pastry stouts. It is more than fair to receive a craft non-alcoholic beer if the bottle next to it is a Dogfish Head 120 Minute. Esley does not short any subscribers with respect to value here.
Bishop Pecan Pie (cider), Real Ale Commissar, Untitled Arts This $+OU+ Just Got Serious, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, De Dolle Stille Nacht
However, the amazing value-added in this product comes from Esley’s expertise itself. The selection each month is spectacularly balanced, usually with equal amounts each of domestic, import, mundane and limited-edition beers. Untitled Art collaborations are just as likely as a Community Public Ale; Bitburger Pils is just as frequent as Kulmbacher EKU 28. Everything from an 8-oz can of cider to a bomber of Russian imperial stout is fair game. I wouldn’t rely upon it for a highly sought-after local release but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it appeared here.
And surprise may be the most valuable element in the monthly Monkly. Largely unable to wander the aisles of bottle shops as we once did, this Box allows the aisles to come to us to discover their wares. I confess to being a creature of habit: I tend to purchase more often the styles and brands I favor and avoid the ones I don’t, or even pass over the deserving but more common (“ordinary”) craft beers such as Anchor Brewing or Sierra Nevada. Having a curated selection prepared ahead of purchase has allowed me to revisit some old favorites or forgotten gems that may have been lost amid the tsunami of new styles and brewers that is our healthy selection available today.
Armadillo Honey Please with a Cherry on Top, Cigar City Jai Alai IPA, Jolly Pumpkin Jovian, Fair State Party Forward IPA, Hitachino Nest White Ale
Most of all, on a personal level, the Beer Box has become a welcome diversion in our pandemic age. Isolated as we are with varying degrees of lockdown, social distancing, remote work and avoidance of once-common festivals and entertainment venues, the random thrill of discovery has become a siren in a bland and unchanging social landscape. I eagerly await each unknown collection as much as an anticipated Christmas gift arriving in the mail, and drink through the selection day-by-day like an advent calendar. In a small way, the package brings back a glimmer of fun to our very serious age.
I would encourage more retailers (or even brewers) to consider similar mixed-package products like the Monkly Fun Beer Box. It may provide a wonderful additional sales channel both during the pandemic and for the after-times.