Award sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
When consumption of craft beer took off in the late 1980s, the owners of Ram International considered opening microbrew operations in all of their locations. Unfortunately, archaic state laws wouldn’t allow it, explains Jeff Iverson, co-owner with his brother Dave. So, they helped change the laws.
The family-owned chain established the Big Horn Brewing Company and began adding breweries to their restaurants in 1995. The Lakewood, Wa.-based chain has 26 C. B. & Potts Restaurant and Brewery and The Ram Restaurant & Brewery units in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and Washington.
“When we started in the beer business, we wanted to be different—so we decided to serve our beers in bigger glasses,” says Jeff Iverson. The beers are served in 18-ounce imperial pints for $4.25 that have the slogan, “Bigger, Better, Fresher” on them. Other sizes include 24-ounce mugs from $5.50 to $5.75, among others.
“Beer is complementary to what we do,” says Iverson. “About 20 percent of the recipes on the menu incorporate beer in them. We have normal 70-to-30 food to alcohol ratio. The majority of alcohol sales is from beer.”
He adds, “Our message is that you can have fun with beer.” This is exemplified in their signature drink—the Taster Curl, a sampler of six beers served in three-ounce shaker glasses that are set in the horn “Curl” of a big horn sheep. Priced at $3.99, it is a great way to introduce the customers to the brews and lead them to additional purchases. For RAM’s successful and innovative approach to their beer program, the chain has won Cheers Best Chain Beer Program Award, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Inc.
Brews offered vary from location to location, where they give the brewers latitude to create small batch brews for the local crowd. In 2009, the brewpub featured five seasonal selections company-wide, including Old St. Mick’s Irish Stout for St. Patrick’s Day, Mai Bock in the spring, Barefoot Summer Wit Belgian White in the summer, the obligatory and much anticipated Oktoberfest and Barefoot Winter Wit.
And while they do bottle the beer in Colorado and sell it retail, it is not something they plan to expand. “We want to sell every ounce over the bar, whether it is to go or not,” he says, referring to the 64-ounce jugs customers can take home. The bottled beers are not sold at the brewpubs.
All of the chain’s locations can feature up to 10 beers on tap at any time—including the six standards and four seasonal and local options. “We give our brewers latitude to create other brews,” says Iverson. “This allows the brewers to experiment and have some creativity.”
It’s important to note that while the majority of beer sold is the house-made brew, the chain still sells roughly a dozen other brands. After their own beers, Corona and Bud Light are top sellers.
If you aren’t convinced that they know their beer, just ask their Mug Club. The group of loyal beer drinkers pays $29.99 a year to be members of the chain’s exclusive loyalty program. Members receive a membership card that gains them access to Mug Club events, including discounts to brewer’s dinners and special Mug Club parties, where they can sample new beers and meet other enthusiasts.
“It’s a foot race to get in the door on the specific day that is set to get your membership,” notes Iverson; the club is fixed at 3,000 members—roughly 100 to 150 per location.