The Winner’s Circle

What: Brew Club Rate Night
When: Thursday, June 25th • 7 p.m.
Where: The Grape & Ale
8521 E. Oak Island Dr., Oak Island
Cost: Membership in Brew Club, $15/mo.
Info: (910) 933-4384

From the establishment of America’s first microbrewery since Prohibition in 1976, the nation’s brew making only gets more innovative by the year. Ingredients have expanded from the essential malts and hops to include such items as coffee, agave nectar, and apricots. Even bacon, oysters and algae grace the list of concoction components now being used in craft beer.

The Winner’s Circle: Terrapin Moo Hoo Chocolate Stout and Brunehaut Amber both received high scores at the last Grape and Ale Brew Club rate event.

The Winner’s Circle:
Terrapin Moo Hoo Chocolate Stout and Brunehaut Amber both received high scores at the last Grape and Ale Brew Club rate event.

As brewers become bolder, customers become braver, exploring the new tastes in their bottles and drafts. The craft brewer’s hold on the market is evident as sales grow annually: The market’s retail dollar value in 2012 was an estimated $10.2 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2011. Locally The Grape and Ale in Oak Island, which opened in July 2008 and started its Wine Club three months later, capitalized on the craft-beer movement in January 2013 by forming a brand-new Brew Club.

Members of the club receive six assorted bottles of craft beer per month, a 20-percent discount on reorders of the Brew Club selection throughout the month, 15 percent off all beer purchases every day, and 15 percent over invoice price for all special order, non-stock items (such as Miller Lite, even). Plus, club members get a Grape & Ale beer glass and church key as well as invitations to private tastings and special events. The cost of membership is only $15 per month—a tab one could easily rack up on six craft bottles alone.

Through the private tastings, the Brew Club assists owner Candace Hobbs in selecting which beers to bring into the store next. She typically keeps around 75 different brews on hand at any given time, but the club can sway the stock to include their favorite flavors by attending monthly Rate Nights. During these events, the 24 club members (folks can also join the night of the event) are eligible to taste 20 to 25 beers, rating each on a five-point scale.

“At our last event, Brunehaut Amber and Terrapin Moo Hoo both received a four-plus average rating, which is a very good average,” Hobbs details. “These will definitely be brought in and offered as Brew Club selections in the coming months.”

With the chance to try out the brews before purchasing the bottles—plus Hobbs’ own discerning taste buds—the owner says the club members are always thrilled with their selections.

“They typically share them with friends and hold their own mini-tastings,” she muses. “We try very hard to select limited-quantity, seasonal beers that most people have a tough time getting their hands on. Hopslam by Bells Brewing Company is one of those highly allocated beers that comes out every February. Brew Club members get first dibs on any we may be able to get. I was able to have enough for everyone to include for their March selection, plus a couple of extra cases that were all purchased by the Brew Club.”

Aside from the privilege of primary claim on popular releases, the Brew Club simply relishes in the fun of each Rate Night as they mingle with other beer buffs. “The reception to the private tastings is fantastic,” Hobbs declares. “The atmosphere is very lively and the conversation animated. We refrain from discussing the beers until all have been tasted and rated. Then we go back and ask how each person rated their beers and what their comments are.”

This month’s Brew Club Rate Night is slated for Thursday, June 25th. The event begins at 7 p.m. To participate, guests can become members of the club for $15 per month—and then they can look forward to receiving their first specially selected six-pack, hopefully including one of the club’s favorite Rate Night brews.

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