The bell rings and pandemonium ensues — the screaming traders, the mad waving of colorful stock order slips, the smell of money. Wall Street? No, last week Brew Exchange rang the opening bell on a fresh concept of stock market pricing at a new West Sixth Street location.
Here, beer is sold according to the laws of supply and demand. Real-time market conditions dictate pricing allowing you to get some unknown beers at a discount, while driving the price of more popular brews higher.
Owner Nick Adams, is an idea collector. He constantly takes notes on things that catch his attention and when he stumbled across the idea for a bar with a trading theme, he and his four partners (including the three co-owners of Kung Fu Saloon — Michael Dickson, Chris Horne, Ben Cantu — as well as Tim Womac) moved quickly.
He paired a unique software program that interfaces with cash registers to create stock market price fluctuations on a huge selection of beer, capitalizing on the surging craft brew movement in Texas. “No one in the nation does it like Brew Exchange,” says Adams.
"It’s definitely a unique idea, one I have never heard of in the beer bar world. I’m not sure I fully understand it but hey, if I can get a good local craft brew for $2, bring it on.”
So, with fluctuating pricing, is it possible to end up paying more for a Miller Lite than a local craft brew? Adams says no and explains that there is a low and a high cap for every beer. In other words, Miller Lite, the best selling beer on W. Sixth Street, won’t be going for $10 a pint even if a bachelor party stumbles in and orders it by the case. “We’re probably not going to have mainstream beers going for higher prices than a craft beer,” says Adams.
Brew Exchange groups similar beers in categories, so if a particular beer within a group goes up, its counter-parts drop. For example, if Real Ale jumps 25 percent, then Live Oak in the same group will drop by the same amount. If a Live Oak is around $4 a pint and it gets to its upper limit $6, the software will cap it and then reset the price. (These are just hypothetical prices to give an idea of the system at work.) In addition to the supply and demand fluctuations, they will simulate “market crashes” to offer fat discounts on select suds that will last all day. The insider tip: don’t buy high.
Austin is blessed with some fantastic beer bars like the Draught House Pub, the Flying Saucer, The Gingerman and Black Star Co-op, and now this Beer Exchange will compete for our attention. It will carry 72 beers on tap and 50 to 60 more in bottles and cans, with at least 25 to 30 local brews including (512) Brewing Company, Austin Beerworks, Circle Brewing Company, Jester King, Live Oak Brewing Company, Thirsty Planet Brewing, and Real Ale Brewing to name a few. They will carry several more American craft beers, a selection of Belgian beers and many other European porters, stouts and ales. Brew Exchange plans to carry a rotating stock of seasonal selections and will even carry gluten-free beers. The menu is refreshed regularly based on customer input with up to 15 to 20 percent of the selection changing to keep things fresh.
Brew Exchange has a few added touches to keep beer aficionados happy. They have installed a glycol beer cooling system that keeps the beer crisp from cooler to tap via refrigerated copper pipes. Not only that, but they are fanatical about keeping the glasses clean with a four compartment washing system that allows for extra rinse. Of course the glasses are cold.
Who’s buying it?
Beer aficionados and Austinites pride themselves in their Portlandia-like reverence of anything authentic. Will a concept bar smack people as too gimmicky? Will protesters come to Occupy Barstool? Why in the hell would I want to pay more money for a beer just because it’s selling particularly well on a given night?
There are some skeptics. Chris Troutman, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Austin Beer Guide says, “I like going to bars where I know how much I’ll be paying for my evening out. The success of a new beer bar really depends on how many of those 72 taps they dedicate to better beers, and how many of those they allot to local craft beer. I’ve observed that the beer bars that work at keeping their selection fresh and up-to-date with national and regional seasonal and special releases tend to be more popular with the craft crowd. Better beer drinkers in Austin are looking for bars that consistently secure new seasonals, special one-off releases, and actively work with the brewers to host special cask tappings or other rare beer events.”
Matt Abendschein, the You Stay Hoppy Austin beer blogger, is more enthusiastic, saying, “How could I not be excited about a bar with that kind of offering? That just sounds like I’d be walking into an adult candy store. If the beer bar is truly passionate about the beer they serve and especially puts a high focus on local beer, then I see no reason why the craft beer community shouldn’t or wouldn’t support it. Having an authentic vibe of community is what the beer world is all about. It’s definitely a unique idea, one I have never heard of in the beer bar world. I’m not sure I fully understand it but hey, if I can get a good local craft brew for $2, bring it on.”
Adams believes the Brew Exchange key to success is interactivity. Bartenders study beer bibles and are trained to maintain a conversation with the customer on the pricing concept and on all the beers. “This is a way to influence people to take the leap and try new beer. If someone orders a Blue Moon, our bar staff can say ‘Hey if you like Wit Bier, we have four others that might blow your mind,’” say Adams.
Perhaps the time has come for a concept beer bar in Austin. “People expect a little more in a bar than a hot location with great beer," says Adams. "They want a great design with a cool feel, not a corporate feel. We put a lot of imagination into Brew Exchange.”
The architecture has unique elements, like copper bar backs and beer bottle light fixtures, keeping it fresh and giving it a 1960s stock market motif. Prices scroll on a ticker that runs 62 feet across the perimeter of the bar and on TVs. While employees won’t be required to wear a uniform, like one of those blue smocks popular on stock trading floors, they have the option of wearing the iconic red suspenders made popular by Bear Stearns Partner, Liam Dalton. Adams wore them on opening night.