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How to start a mug club

Congratulations! After months and years of hard work, you've finally opened your craft brewery. You're pursuing your passion for brewing and bringing your beers to other enthusiasts in your area. 

Soon, you'll likely have a legion of superfans who become regulars in your taproom. These fans deserve to be rewarded and engaged—starting a mug club is the perfect solution.

A mug club is a program that many breweries use to show appreciation for customer loyalty. Mug clubs often have limited membership, plus discounts and other benefits for members like exclusive tastings and access to special offers from the brewery.

There are  several tips to remember when considering how to start a mug club for your brewery or taproom.

Plan your mug club

Once you've decided to start a mug club for your brewery, there are several ways to develop how it'll work. Finding the mug club ideas that work best for your brewery takes some planning and careful consideration, but there are a few common formulas for mug clubs that are easy to follow when you plan your mug club.

Membership Fees

Mad Anthony mug club mugs with numbering

For many breweries, selling mug club memberships for a one-time fee is the easiest way to run the club from year to year. Advertising the beer club within your brewery and on your social media pages is a good way to start, especially if you announce to your patrons that space in the club is limited. People love exclusivity. Some people are even willing to pay for it.

A real-life example of a membership fee works well for craft brewery Mad Anthony Brewing Company. The Indiana-based taproom's mug club has limited memberships, but members get rewards after paying a one-time entry fee and discounts on dozens of craft beer options throughout the year.

Members of the mug club also get to take home their numbered mugs at the end of the year, while returning mug club members can rejoin at a discounted rate.

Punch Cards

Fermentorium Mug Club steins

Not unlike the customer loyalty programs found at coffee shops, you can use a punch card to push patrons to your mug club. Having a punch card system in place is especially ideal if your beer list is relatively small or you focus mainly on seasonal rotations.

There are plenty of creative ways to implement a punch card system for your mug club with multiple rewards, the top prize being that they get one of your coveted stoneware mugs.

Offer prizes for participants who get their card punched multiple times. This could include anything from patches to hats to shirts and hoodies, all leading up to the grand prize in your unique beer mugs. It's just like when you had to sell several thousand boxes of popcorn or fruit as a kid in order to win a bike or a Nintendo 64 during school fundraisers, only it isn't a scam.

Wisconsin-based brewery The Fermentorium has a point system like this in place for their mug clubs. Members earn their way toward new swag with each visit, including trucker hats, upgrades to bigger mugs and German beer steins, plus a chance to work with the brewing staff to develop their very own beer exclusive to the mug club as the top prize.

Tasting Challenges

Iron Hill Brewery mug clubIf your brewery serves dozens of different craft beer varieties, setting up a challenge with entry into your mug club as the reward may be the route to take. Set up a tasting list that your patrons will have to complete within a certain time frame for them to be inducted into the craft beer club.

Make sure to include variety of different styles of beer, if possible—some people are okay with drinking three different fruit-infused IPAs in a row, but challenging them to drink a pale lager, an amber ale and a stout over the course of a month forces them to expand their horizons in order to get the prizes they want.

The benefits of hosting a tasting challenge for entry into your mug club are twofold: Not only might your patrons find their new favorite beer through the challenge, but you'll also get additional sales each time they sample another brew. Depending on how many members you allow into the brewery club, the tasting challenge could pay for itself after each person has their third or fourth beer sampling.

Disclaimer: Encouraging your patrons to shotgun all 30 of your brewery's craft beers in a single 24-hour period is not advised.

Develop Mug Club Incentives

Being in a mug club becomes even better for members if you offer them more than just a special mug and some swag to go with it. Keep them coming back to your taproom every week with incentives that only mug club members get to enjoy.

Many breweries host weekly or monthly Mug Club Nights, wherein mug club members get discounts on beers or sneak previews of new or upcoming brews. You could also offer discounts to mug club members throughout the week, provided that they use their extra-large mug club mug to top off their next round.

Another way to treat your mug club members is to invite them to exclusive events. Got a new seasonal beer in the works? Let your mug club members have a first taste of it before anybody else at a private tasting party. You could also give them a sneak preview of your limited-batch brews through this method.Your brand on our mug

Offer Unique Mugs

It wouldn't be much of a mug club if you didn't offer your members a cool, unique mug. Whether it just has your logo or a design unique to the program, your mug club mugs should feel exclusive to club members.

Port Huron Mug Club 2018 Sunset Hill StonewareDon't be afraid to change up your mug club mugs, either. It's far more interesting to get mugs in a new style every year, or even changing up the glaze color to something striking for the next club. Regardless of the color or shape you choose though, stoneware is always a good answer for your mug club's mugs because it keeps your beer cold longer than a traditional glass or mug would.

Some breweries even offer new designs or artworks on their mug club mugs from year to year. One such brewery is Port Huron Brewing Company in the Wisconsin Dells. Using different images of the rustic 1917 steam engine for which the brewery is named, each year's mug club mugs feature a new design, color and style.

Another way to promote your mug club's exclusivity is to add bottom numbering to your mugs. Whether your club has 50, 100, 200 or even more members, numbering the mugs highlights the limited space in the group. Once members take their swag home for the year, they can do so knowing that that mug club mug is one of only a handful like it in the world.

Even though Sunset Hill Stoneware offers bottom numbering as a service for breweries who order its mugs, if you're just starting out as a brewer, there's an option for those on a budget. After you've received your stoneware mugs, number the bottom of each mug with a permanent marker for the same results.

Starting a mug club doesn't take as much time and resources as it did to start your brewery in the first place, but it's just as rewarding. It allows you to connect with your brewery's biggest fans and show them how much your appreciate their business and loyalty, all while making your brewery more fun and exclusive for everyone who joins.

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