Tomme Arthur’s Response to What Went Wrong With The Sinners and Saints Club
Earlier today, we talked about the Lost Abbey’s Patron Sinners and Saint’s club, and what we thought went wrong with the program, which might have led to customer frustration.
One of our loose policies here at The Full Pint is to give the brewer the floor to voice their side of any controversy. Tomme Arthur was kind enough to address many of the questions I had, many of which were based upon public perception within the craft beer geek community.
The Full Pint: Were your customers expectations realistic?
Tomme Arthur: Absolutely. They enrolled in our beer club with expectations that we would be on schedule with our releases and that they would have access to some incredibly rare selections. When we launched the club in 2007 there was nothing like this in the marketplace. So we had to spend serious energy working through the kinks. To this day, we hear many comments about the size of our customer service department. It’s always been one person ( Ruby) handling all of the inbound and outbound communications. That’s a LOT of work for a part time employee. I applaud her efforts.
The Full Pint: Why didn’t Lost Abbey hire a team of folks to dedicate to the club full time? (It’s The Full Pint’s opinion that not enough resources were dedicated to the program)
Tomme Arthur: It never was about the amount of time for the club. It really boils down to the fact that states are constantly changing the rules and trying to keep up is a nightmare. We felt it was better to focus our energies on things we could control rather then chasing and trying to police things we couldn’t
The Full Pint: How do you feel about the statement that part of your beer’s magic is it being hard to get?
Tomme Arthur: There’s certainly that sentiment out there. We have actively worked since day one to grow our barrel program. It hasn’t been easy. We started with 100 Oak Barrels and now currently have over 650 in the mix. We’re hoping to get up to 800 next year with more sour barrels being added. Barrel beers account for less than 5% of our total production. But, managing them has become a full time job. We’d love to make more of each of them but growing sour beer production isn’t as simple as just filling more barrels. In 2006 we launched our barrel room with a stated goal of 6 beers per year from the program. Angel’s Share (Brandy and Bourbon), Older Viscosity, Red Poppy, Cuvee and at least one more. So far, we have released 4 large versions of these beers and expect that Framboise de Amorosa will become beer # 6 in 2012.
The Full Pint: What is your take on the “Sinners 09” complaint? (the complain is Sinners complained that Sinners Blend 09 made its way to small events, outside of the exclusive circle of club members. This was a public belly ache on the two big sites, and I’ve heard it first hand in person.)
Tomme Arthur: I guess that’s just an argumentative stance taken by the haters. Making it available to a small group of people for special events shouldn’t cause so much consternation. But I digress.
The Full Pint: Why was the decision made to sell some of the Sinners beers via retail channels?
Tomme Arthur: This is somewhat of a miscommunication on our part. By retail channels we were referencing our distributors. We have let some kegs (and cases) go out for special events. We had left over cases and kegs and felt it would be good to share this with a larger audience.
The Full Pint: Did Lost Abbey take on more than they can chew by offering these clubs ?
Tomme Arthur: We don’t believe so. It’s something that many brewers I am sure have looked into. I can tell you, it’s an enormous amount of work. Some would say we struggled with these clubs. I would counter that we have many happy customers (now very bummed ones) who won’t be getting beer in the mail next year. If it was easy to do, more people would probably jump on board.
The Full Pint: If you had to do it all over again, would you have done this?
Tomme Arthur: Absolutely! When I think of all the positive emails and Patron Sinners and Saints out there, it brings a smile to my face. This brewery is known for taking chances. Offering a club like this had huge upsides as well as potential for disaster.
The Full Pint: What were all the factors that lead to this decision to end the clubs for 2011?
Tomme Arthur: Two things really solidified this decision. The first is that state laws are constantly changing. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to know where it’s “okay and legal” to ship beers. Secondly, we haven’t been able to expand the sour beer program beyond where we currently are. Most of our Patron Sinners want more sour beers than we can supply. In this way, we can’t add more Sinners to the club and grow the club without more beer. It’s a catch 22 for sure. The demand for the club has always exceeded the amount of beer we could place in the club.
The Full Pint: Do you have any advice for the Bruery, who is going into the second year of their reserve society?
Tomme Arthur: It seems that Patrick and Company have developed a strategy for their club. I’m sure they have headaches and success stories as did we. It’s important to note that the clubs function differently and that each had its respective merits for the consumer.
The Full Pint: There are a handful of haters out there, what do you say to them?
Tomme Arthur: We have busted our asses trying to produce thought provoking and boundary pushing beers. The love hate relationship that endures comes from taking a road less traveled. We’re sorry pain we’ve caused them.
The Full Pint: What do you say to the Lost Abbey loyalists that are sad the clubs are closed for the 2011 season?
Tomme Arthur: I’m sad for those people who have stuck with us through the highs and lows. 2010 saw some amazing beers heading to their doorsteps including first time releases Angel’s Share Grand Cru and Framboise de Amorosa.
The Full Pint: If this program is resurrected, what changes do you think will be made?
Tomme Arthur: That remains to be seen. Certainly we love the club and interacting with our consumers in this way. The challenges to starting the club back up aren’t insurmountable. However, at this time, we have a ton of energy focused on our expansion next door and adding a full time lab person for 2011. We’re less than 5 years into this crazy ride and we have seen enough to know that getting the club back is a priority. How we get there remains to be seen.