First Sip Brew Box is not just subscription service. Yes, the Pittsburgh-based company ships monthly boxes of beer swag to more than 100 subscribers across five countries. But these curated boxes are only one part of First Sip’s mission. Owners Dennis and Samantha (Sam) Guy are giving small breweries and businesses a chance to connect and create.
Every month, First Sip features a different brewery. They’ve paired with breweries big and small, from New Belgium to Allegheny City Brewing. The box never contains alcohol (finding loopholes in Pennsylvania liquor distribution laws to ship beer would have required Dennis and Sam to buy an actual restaurant). Instead, it’s filled with “beer gear.”
“Beer gear” encompasses everything from hot sauce and jelly to chapstick and T-shirts or flyers for an upcoming event. Dennis and Sam facilitate partnerships between brewers and makers to create one-of-a-kind items, such as candy made with real hops or beer candles.
Dennis and Sam sent out their first box in July of 2016, just a year after coming up with the idea. It all started on a trip to North Carolina. At the time, the duo was new to the world of craft beer, but after a visit to Nantahala Brewing, they were hooked and the idea for First Sip started to take shape.
In March, Dennis and Sam won a place at Ascender, an East End business incubator. They began envisioning First Sip not just as a subscription box, but as a means to market and link other businesses.
“We did events and already connected breweries with small businesses to create things,” says Dennis. “It hit us that we can create these events that don’t exist, because First Sip Brew Box is in such a unique position.”
Dennis and Sam are alums of the Fresh Fest brew partnerships, and the duo has taken this model to heart. Special boxes have been created around military veterans (First Sip is a veteran-owned company), and with other brew fests like Fresh Fest. Collaborative events have become a major part of First Sip. The duo has helped forge partnerships between unlikely pairs, like between Enix Brewing and Julia Gross, a cheesemonger who Dennis met at Merchant Oyster Co.
They’re even teaming up with Kennywood and 412 Brewery on the amusement park’s first beer, the Log Jammer’s Revenge.
“The best friend of a small business is another small business. If they’re growing, we’re growing,” said Dennis.