Vince Capano is a two time winner of the prestigious Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.  

Vince's column is now  a regular feature of
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Vince's  Adventures in Beerland
The Mug Club               by Vince Capano        

One hundred and thirty eight. Count’em.  One hundred and thirty eight prodigious vessels
of prestige, pride and poetic expression.  There they hung, directly in front of me, on
suspended racks behind the bar.  An eye pleasing green / gray, the mugs belonged to
members of Washington NJ's
Libertine Brew Pub’s “Mug Club”.   Numbered, personalized,
and most significantly holding 20 ounces instead of the usual 16, they were each uniquely
decorated by its owner.   While the quality of the decorations seemed to be in direct
proportion to the level of the “artists” state of sobriety at the time of creation, the phalanx
of mugs was nonetheless an impressive testimony of the commitment of the pub’s
patrons to the brewer’s output.

If you’re unfamiliar with the general mug club concept here it is.  For a yearly fee, usually
around $50-$75, your local brewpub will not only fill that gloriously larger mug of yours for
the regular price (those extra 4 ounces can add up), you’ll also get food discounts too- on
selected weekdays only.  Naturally.   Some pubs will also include a once a year “mug
retirement party” after which you take the treasured goblet home with you for the first
time.  Truly a grand keepsake of the prior 12 months of beer filled bliss.

The real question is, of course, can it possibly be that a mug clubber gets to drink more
beer for less money?  Is it too good to be true or is mug club membership that rare “real
deal”? Clearly this was a problem worthy of the most careful research and expert
mathematical quantitative study.  I discovered that there are 16 ounces in a pint and two
pints in a quart; that 4 imperial pints are more than an entire six pack, while one standard
growler is less than half a gallon.  Now, at a cost of $4.75 per pint at the bar, $12 for a
growler, and $7.99 for a six pack, the value of the larger mug’s increased capacity has to
be factored in with one’s drinking proclivities, the day of the week, frequency of visits, and
of course, the wind chill factor.  Ah, but statistics alone do not tell the tale.  Only after
keen, insightful interpretation and sage analysis of each of these factors individually and as
a synergistic whole was I able to brilliantly arrive at the solution.  I can now unequivocally
state that the clear answer to the question is, ah….maybe.

I doubt however that economic benefit is the main motivation in deciding to join a mug
club.  In fact, most members would probably pay the club tariff even if the club mug were
4 ounces smaller in size than the standard guy off the street serving size.  There are
powers more significant than money at play here.   The true value of mug club
membership has nothing to do with bargains or quantity; it’s all about prestige and
power.   What a feeling of omnipotence it must be to walk into the pub and point towards
your very own personal mug on display.  Imagine the sighs of pure admiration and the
knowing nods of respect as you proceed to bark out your number and beer order:  “Mug
#23.  IPA.”   On such occasions I’ve seen even strong men, albeit non-members, put
down their pedestrian plain pint glasses and be moved to applause.  

Since the racks of displayed mugs often reach to the ceiling, some sort of elongated
curved retrieval device (otherwise called a stick) is needed.  The effort of finding the
correct mug and then using said device only adds to the drama and aura of the ordering
ritual.  One school of thought seems to hold that in finding the requested mug the
bartender should slowly stroll along the racks repeating its number loudly to notify the
other patrons that a club member is in their presence. The other believes that he should
memorize the entire rack grid, go instantly to the correct location, and then announce the
number.   Ah, nothing like bitter controversy to further ratchet up the stakes as we
approach the final hurdles.

It is in the next step that the tale is really told.  Now the mug must be removed from its
curved wall elevation support projection (known in the beer trade as a hook).  The
bartender’s need for dexterity and finesse is crucial.  It is a significant responsibility.  One
slip, one shaky moment of indecision and disaster awaits.  I’m sure many a new bartender’
s career has been cut short due to exceeding acceptable mug destruction levels.   Maybe
if he just got on a stool and reached up.  Oh well.

When the deftly retrieved mug is safely and securely placed under the appropriate tap
one final sensation awaits the mug club member.  His ceramic vessel, unlike the glass pint,
fills with a discernable, wondrous sound.   A plop, plop, gurgle, gurgle echoes from the
depths of his oversized goblet as the golden elixir rushes to the top.  It is a sublime
moment indeed.

Of course there can be some minor problems even in the nirvana that is a mug club.  The
mug numbers are usually assigned on first come, first serve basis.  And to make it even
worse, that number is yours for one year only after which it’s the sign up rat race all over
again.  Case in point.  I chatted with a forlorn soul at the end of the bar who lamented his
assignment of mug #36.  It seems he was convinced his lucky number was 19.  Always
has been he said.  Last year and the year before he had mug number 19, he had worn
#19 in Little League, always plays multiples of #19 in the lottery, and in fact has scored 19
points in a high school intramural basketball game 19 years earlier.   Sadly, this year he
was nineteen minutes late for sign ups and look what happened.  I gave him my
sympathies but quickly decided to move on since I realized that it was likely he was also on
his 19th beer of the day and that one of two things were bound to happen next.  His
distress would probably be forgotten with beer #20 eliminating any more human pathos
for this story or the bartender would cut him off possibly tainting me with guilt by

So there it is.  The mug club story.  Perhaps one day every pub will have a mug club.  
Perhaps one day there will be a universal mug club for those of us not blessed to have one
at our local pub.  Until then, well, at least we can all hope that the proprietors of our
favorite bar read this and understand that there’s no club like a mug club.

The Mug Club
Vince Capano
Adventures in Beerland Archive