The Newfoundland and Labrador Artisanal and Craft Beer Club (NLACBC) is no more, but club organizers aren’t walking away with a bitter taste in their mouths, but instead with the sweet taste of success.
“We’re extremely proud of what we were able to do,” says co-founder Mike Buhler, the first beer sommelier — known as a cicerone — in Atlantic Canada. “We completely changed the culture.”
The NLACBC, originally The Beerthief, was officially founded by Buhler and Tom Beckett in 2012 to offer local beer enthusiasts more selection than what was available on Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) shelves.
Beckett leveraged his 30 years of experience dealing with the NLC through Beckett on Wine and his experience running the Belbin’s Grocery cheese of the month club. Matt Power joined the team in recent years.
Originally, members would learn about new products via email, place an order for what they wanted and once it arrived it would be held at one of the 26 NLC retail stores.
As the club quickly grew in popularity — what started as a few hundred members in the first year has grown to over 4,000 today — the NLC started to bring in more products as one-time offerings available to all customers, not just club members.
“When the NLC changed the format from doing individual orders to putting everything on the shelf … that opened the door to Joe Public and it gave a lot of breweries and agents way more depth and exposure than they would have gotten without having the beer club,” Buhler says.
“We certainly changed the thinking of the NLC when they realized the potential of the market.”
Still, Buhler credits the NLC with being integral in the club’s success and singles out the efforts of Vicky Young, Peter Murphy and Tammy Brenton.
“They were the primary people we dealt with at the NLC and they were the ones that were backing us to help make it work and get the beer to the people.”
Over six years, the NLACBC brought in 39 beer offerings from Europe, the United States and across Canada; put out four sets of Christmas Beer Advent Calendars; and hosted two beer festivals, most recently last September’s Craft Beer Attraction.
In that time, the craft beer landscape in this province has changed dramatically. In addition to the NLC broadening its general listings to include more craft beer and a rotation of seasonal products, more local restaurants and bars are serving up a greater selection of suds and there’s been a veritable boom in microbrewery startups across the province.
“I don’t think that would have been viable — or it would have been a lot harder to make it viable — if we hadn’t done all the work with the beer club,” says Buhler, whose reputation and hard work landed him on the label of not one, but two beers during that time — most recently for Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.’s Mad Mike’s Big Bad Belgian and two years ago with an imperial chocolate stout brewed specifically for the NLACBC by Nova Scotia’s Garrison Brewing Co.
“We were super happy to see the effects and super happy to bring more people in and introduce more people to other options besides the industrial lagers. I know I’ve turned a few Coors drinkers off Coors as they learn how many flavours are out there and how many great tastes you can get into.”
With their mission accomplished, all three men are turning their attention to other projects, but they’ve left the door open to more beer club activities or events in the future, only this time flying under the Beerthief banner.
“We could certainly set up and do tastings somewhere and bring people out if we got our hands on something interesting,” says Buhler. “Maybe we hear about some beer that we’re dying to try and put together another offering.”
The best way to find out about any future offerings or events is to join the beerthief.ca forum, where users can read beer reviews, learn about food and pairings, pick up some home brewing tips, or just chat about beer with like-minded individuals.