Monday, May 11, 2015

Tavour, A New Take on Craft Beer Home Delivery

    With the rise of craft beer's popularity, and limited access to non-regional craft beer, people have been trading beers through the mail in order to get access to the best beers. Antiquated, prohibition-era three tier distribution laws limit the consumer's access to beer. In most cases, a brewery is not allowed to sell directly to the consumer, they must go through a third party distributor to get their product to the customer. As a result, not every brewery is able to distribute their beer to every part of the country that wants it. To get around this, a passionate group of beer aficionados have been trading beer through the mail. This allows people from all over the country to obtain sought-after non regional beers., a portmanteau of taste and flavor, is the first step towards a solution to this problem.

I had the opportunity to talk to Sethu Kalavakur about his company  Tavour is a website that sends at least one email every day to it's members with a beer offering. The email eloquently describes the beer and asks you to reply if you are interested in purchasing, and how many you'd like. This is a sample of one such email:


Sightings of Oklahoma’s famed microbrewery Prairie Artisan Ales are a once in a blue moon kind of event in the Pacific Northwest.

We’re talking specifically about Eliza5beth, a limited release Prairie Artisan Farmhouse Ale aged on apricots with Saaz Hops and Brettanomyces.

We’ve been holding onto a limited number of this highly rated beer to allow the fruit forward, adventurous flavors to reach their peak and now it’s time to drink!

Ripe notes of lemon and peaches head towards spicy, herbal esters finishing against a dry malt body. The Brett pops and keeps popping as it weaves its magic along a lush display of orange, grapefruit and peach into a sweet, stunning echo of apricot.

Every Farmhouse fan should have the funky fruit experience of Eliza5beth under their belt. If you just can’t wait until it arrives at your door, stare at the trippy label online. Squint really hard at the visual Quaalude that is Eliza5eth’s label and the eye popping flavors of this beer might seep through the screen.

92 on Beer Advocate; 99 on RateBeer

LIMIT 4 PER MEMBER. Limited Supply. Requests processed in the order received. 

Prairie Ales - Eliz5beth - $11.99 for a 500 ml bottle
Style: American Wild Ale, ABV: 7.5%

When you reply with how many bottles you want, an actual person will send you a response, letting you know that your bottles have been set aside.  After 30 days from your first order, your basket is closed and then shipped to you for $14.90 flat rate shipping.  No matter how much beer you order. Currently, Tavour is only available in Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington for shipment. But they are looking into expansion into other areas.

Q: How do you source all of these non-local beers?
A: We have a deep beer connection, Miranda from Portland was our first hire. She is the expert on knowing where different products are being released, and she manages all the brewery relationships. Washington state allows a retailer to buy beer directly from any producer around the country as long as they fill out that paperwork. What we have done is learned all about the paperwork and we help the breweries fill out the paperwork. And once that's done the Washington state liquor laws allow us to get beer directly from the brewery. Because we have enough of a scale now that we can move a significant amount of product these breweries we work with don't feel like they have to do all this paperwork just to move 5 cases. That's what most retailers do is only move 3-4 cases at a time. We can do a lot more than that, and that's why it works out as such a great relationship.

Tavour gets some beer from distributors, but more and more they are buying directly from the brewery. Tavour tries to build relationships and connections with lots of great breweries like Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR. Ale Apothecary gives them whatever they can because they know that most of their members are incredibly passionate beer fans. Brewers want the best beer fans to try their beer regardless of where they are. Inversely, beer fans want the best beer regardless of where it comes from. This is the business model upon which has been built.

Q: How is the shipping handled?
A: We use mostly regional carriers, there is no interstate commerce issue, they are completely debunked. Wine has made it clear through Supreme Court rulings that if your state is allowing a brewer to ship beer or wine outside, you can't stop your consumers from getting beer or wine from outside of your state. It's a two way street. There are very few states that explicitly ban both sides of the business like Texas and Utah. Most of the carriers still don't do it like UPS and FedEx. The regional carriers don't mind because we get prepackaged boxes to their hub and then they distribute from there. Washington state is pretty ahead of the curve on a lot of these laws.

Q: Do you see yourself expanding to other west coast beer cities?
A: Our focus is on building relationships with breweries. Any expansion in terms of setting up a base of operation would be for operational efficiency and so consumers could come pick up their beer. Which a lot of Seattle customers do.  While that's important that's not the critical part of our business now. Right now it's how do we get the best beer fans and the best brewers together. And that is the focus and we want to keep everything else on hold right now.

Q: Do you have any plans of allowing users to browse your inventory online?
A: No, probably not. Most of the beers we get are so limited that we would sell out immediately. So the whole notion of browsing is not that useful, and it also does not create the type of engagement for us that we are looking for. The one exception is that when a new person signs up they get to browse the previous inventories stock, because they have not had the opportunity to see the beers that have been offered. They get to look at that for a week and then we shut it off. I don't foresee us doing a regular e-commerce site. There's other things we are thinking about, we just pushed a release for our iPhone app it's still in its early stages, but it allows you to rate beers. One thing we could do is when someone rates a beer and tells us they really like it we can ask them if they want more if it. And we can procure that and send it to them. That's one way we can expand the way we get people beers, but as far as an e-commerce site that's not in the plans. The other thing about e-commerce is its not personal enough. One thing we wanted to do with Tavour is one of the reasons people love craft beer. It's about social relationships and friends. You rarely drink a great craft beer and don't talk about it with your friends. That's why we have an actual person respond to each request, so if they have a question about the beer they can answer it and let them know that the beer has been set aside for them.

Q: How are the beers stored?
A: We have a huge walk in cooler in our warehouse at 35-40°F so all the IPA's, pale ales, all the other beers that need a cool temperature get stored in that cooler. More cellarable beers like stouts and barrel aged beers get stored in the warehouse which is a little cooler than room temperature. It's near the water in Seattle so it's around 50°F, a cellarable temperature. Now what happens is all these beers are in our warehouse for maybe five weeks. They come in, they get offered, they get sold, and then they go out in the next shipping cycle. Because of the rolling shipping cycle beers will all leave the warehouse within five weeks. That's also one of the reasons that breweries from far away like working with us. They don't want to sell beer to somebody that's going to put it on a shelf and have no idea how long it's going to sit there. But our model has most beers going out within five weeks or less so they are very comfortable giving us their best products.

Q: How many employees do you have?
A: We have four full time employees and six or seven part time employees for different functions. The word is spreading pretty rapidly. There's a lot of people who want to get into craft beer who see this service as meaning they don't have to go driving around from bottle shop to bottle shop or to look for the latest release. All of these are things we do on their behalf. Its less effort for them so they can focus on the beer and focus on the brewery. From the breweries' perspective they get to know that their product is getting to customers quickly and it will be fresh. All these are reasons we have seen the rapid growth and as this continues we will hire to meet our business needs. We'll let the community decide how big we will get, we want to be involved as craft beer grows.

Q: What are your plans to expand to other states other than just the West Coast?
A: By the end of the year we will have a more clear idea. We want to get into wherever there are a lot of craft beer fans. Wherever that is, and legally allowed, we want to be there. Big population areas, like Michigan have a huge craft beer scene. There's a lot of people who sign up on our site who ask us to open there. A lot of people in Ohio are asking for us, New York obviously. There's a lot of big states on the eastern seaboard and Colorado is another big one. So there are some big states where people are signing up and asking us to go. We are going to focus on the west coast for now. We're going to make sure we serve these customers really well and we'll learn how to serve them well and from there we'll see where it goes.

Oregon residents are currently required to pay Washington State sales tax on all purchases made from Tavour.  

Q: How are you going to deal with Sales Tax in Oregon?
A: My hope is by late Summer or so we should have something worked out. We started talking with the Liquor control board early on about sales tax in Oregon they referred us to the department of revenue and we talked to them. We have to figure out how to do this, its something we have to solve. We didn't get a clear answer, it was just go read this document, go read that document. Then we said what do we need to do to prove that the sale is to an Oregon customer? Some discussion lead to they need a digital copy of their license every time others said just once. The technology part is maybe a couple weeks of work for us but knowing exactly what needs to be done and if that's going to be enough is a bigger problem. And I'm going to try to chase that down in the next couple months, and once that's done the technology part is not that hard to implement. Hopefully this will happen by late summer.

Q: How is it decide what people get which beers?
A: At this point everyone in a state gets the same beer. Very rarely do we send a different beer to different people in the same state. It's mostly driven by what product we can get. At this point there's much more demand than we can get product for. But when we get to a point where we can have more product on hand we'll get to a point where this person likes X type of beer, so we'll send him an offer to that type of beer. But before that we once the app is fully developed we'll start building profiles for what sorts of beers everyone likes and they will start getting custom offers in addition to the daily offer.

If you would like to join Tavour there is no cost to sign up, and you will not be be sent beer until you reply that you would like that day's offering.  However, if you are interested in obtaining specialty beers not available in your state, use this link to sign up and receive a $10 free credit after your first order. 

I'd like to thank Sethu Kalavakur for taking the time to talk to me about Tavour and I look forward to getting more amazing craft beer delivered to my doorstep.


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