Let’s get this out of the way first. It is not hard — at all — to get good beer in the East Bay. Between the abundance of great breweries springing up in the area and the countless bars now specializing in high-quality brews, it almost seems impossible not to drink good beer.
But could it be more convenient? Sure.
Like anyone with access to a computer and smart phone today, I appreciate the ease with which I can conjure up dinner, booze, or a car from my living room couch. Shirt and shoes definitely not required.
So it was only a matter of time before enterprising beer drinkers came up with a delivery service for these creative hyper-local beers now available. Hopsy, which opened to the general public Jan. 5, is the answer.
At its core, Hopsy provides a platform for customers to order draft beer from local breweries directly to their homes. It picks up half-sized growlers (growlettes) from partner breweries, all of which have filled the growlettes using CO2 to keep the beer fresh for up to 60 days. The growlers are then transported at 40 degrees, further preserving freshness. The beers are stored at Hopsy’s headquarters in Albany and delivered to customers in the East Bay on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The 10 breweries currently on its platform range in size from niche nano breweries (Cleophus Quealy in San Leandro) to the more established outfits (Magnolia Brewing in San Francisco). Some are available at liquor stores, while others previously required a trip to the brewery or a bar for sampling.
All of these are huge advantages for beer drinkers. Fresh beer is obviously better than old beer, and you really can’t beat front door delivery. But we wanted to know if delivery is really worth it. After all, Hopsy prices its growlers higher than what they’d cost at a brewery or in a bottle. At 32 ounces, each growlette pours two full pints or two glasses plus a little extra. That puts the cost of the beer around the same as you’d pay at a higher end bar, even with the delivery fee (think of it as a tip).
We ordered a couple of growlers for delivery to try out the new service.
Ordering is quite user-friendly. Hopsy’s website includes pictures and flavor profiles of each beer, which include IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and ABV (Alcohol by Volume). In addition, the website has a profile for each of its partner breweries, should you want to learn more.
A few clicks will drop beers in your basket and then it’s just a waiting game. Right now, Hopsy is set up for next-day delivery on the weekends, or advance delivery early in the week. (Again, you can only get your beers delivered Thursdays through Saturdays). Often its three-person founding team makes the deliveries; you can choose the most convenient two- or three-hour window. There’s a $4.99 delivery fee if you order fewer than four growlettes. (Note: On Feb. 4, Hopsy joined forced with Caviar, the meal delivery service. Customers can now also order Hopsy growlettes for on-demand delivery through the service; however, the selection is more limited than through the Hopsy website. The partnership was not finalized by the time of this review.)
However, smart users should order early. One hang-up we discovered is that popular and harder-to-find beers like those from Cleophus Quealy sell out quickly. By the time we placed our order on a Sunday evening, close to half of the week’s beers were sold out. Hopsy seems to be tweaking its ordering and pick-up procedure, though, and it will likely be easier and easier to find what you’d like to order. As of this week, ordering beers on Tuesday is the way to go — most of the harder-to-find selections are replenished then.
We placed an order for one growlette of “Golden State of Mind” from East Oakland’s Ale Industries ($12) and one growlette of “Prescription Pale Ale” from San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewing ($11). Our beers showed up at the tail-end of our delivery window. Hopsy sent a text when the driver was about 15 minutes away, and suggested that we track the driver as he made his way from Oakland to Berkeley. Say what you will about this “Big Brother”-style service; we found it very helpful to know exactly when we needed to be at home.
Co-founder Andrew Perroy made the delivery with a smile and a high-five (perhaps a less bro-y evolution of Lyft’s fist-bump). He handed off the beers after some quick small talk. That was it. Easy.
The beers were super cold straight out of the delivery car, so it was easy to keep them that way until breaking into them the next day. True to Hopsy’s promise, both beers tasted fresh and poured out the bottle well-carbonated. Tasting blind, I could have been in a brewery tasting room. We even drank the Magnolia over two days, and it retained much of its freshness into the second day. The CO2 system totally works.
But considering the cost, is Hopsy worth it?
We think so, with a couple of caveats: our biggest issue with the service isn’t really with the cost, it’s with the growlette recycling system. Hopsy encourages customers to return its growlettes to its headquarters with a $1 incentive for each one returned. However, there is so far no other way to return the growlettes. Hopsy doesn’t have a system yet for picking them up during another delivery, so the burden is placed on the customer. It’s not a terribly big deal if you happen to live near Albany, but we can imagine the annoyance for customers in Oakland or further south. On the other hand, this is a problem that can easily be solved once Hopsy builds up its infrastructure.
We think we’ll use Hopsy more for parties than anything else. The service makes it very easy to organize a beer tasting or pairing party, should you and your other beer nerd friends care to do so. (Invite us!) You could order a flight of local sours, or hold a vertical tasting of beers from one brewery. And the smaller size of the growlettes means you won’t need to worry about finishing an entire growler or two in one evening.
Hopsy will work best if it continues to be a source of hard-to-find beers. It’s probably not worth paying the premium for standard-issue beers, even if they are good, local ones. We’re happy to pay a slight premium for a unique beer from a small brewery we’d never heard of. Bonus points if it takes more than 15 minutes to drive to its brewery. Hopsy is, after all, about convenience.
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