When Megan and Steve Long tell friends and customers about their newest venture, Good Boy Dog Beer, more often than not, they're met with the same three questions.
One: Is it really for dogs? (Yes.)
Two: Is it alcoholic? (No.)
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Three: Can I drink it? (Um, sure?)
The beer doesn't exactly dance on a human palate, thanks to a complete lack of sodium. But that was never the intention. The Longs, who own Henderson Heights bar in the Sixth Ward and Reserve 101 downtown, wanted to create a new product that mixed two of their favorite things on the planet -- beer and dogs, the Houston Chronicle reported.
They're not pretending to be the first people with the idea. There's been a scatterplot of breweries offering pints for pups for more than a decade now. But they do seem to be the first in Houston, a city that has become increasingly dog-friendly in recent years, thanks to a growing number of patio bars willing to let four-legged friends tag along for Sunday funday. And that Fido-forward culture has helped the Longs find immediate success.
Within weeks of their launch, all three flavors of their beer -- IPA Lot in the Yard, Mailman Malt Licker and Session.squirrel! -- are available in 15 bars throughout the city, including Front Porch Pub and FM Kitchen and Bar, for a recommended price of about $5 a can. And they're getting requests to ship cans across the country.
"Everyone likes the idea of having a beer with their dog, you know?" says Steve, who is 41. Still, while the Longs saw the potential in their brew from the very beginning, they had no idea it would take off so quickly. The entire idea began as a way to fix a problem in their own home.
"It all started with our oldest dog, our Rottweiler, Rocky," says Megan, who is 30.
Rocky, who is 9, started having digestive issues as he progressed from middle age to his current status as a senior dog.
"We had to change up his food. He was having allergic reactions, and his body was just kind of changing into an old man's, so we had to adjust to it," she says. "We talked to our vet, and our vet said the best, easiest thing to do was to just start making his own food and treats."
It was a time-consuming process, but the Longs began cooking food at home for Rocky, and their 5-year-old German Shepherd mix, Chloe. They'd start with a bone-in chicken, so they'd get all the good stuff from the bone marrow, then add vegetables and other natural ingredients.
"We were just shocked at how many things dogs can eat, and the good side effects of it, like what enhances their metabolism or their fur," says Megan. "So for the last few years, while we've been making this for him, filled notebooks with good and bad things for dogs, and the purposes. Like, turmeric helps their digestion. Ginger is good for their fur, and coat shininess."
It didn't take long for them to start joking that they should brew the broth into a beer. But it was a couple years before those jokes turned serious. In January, the Longs began setting up a brewery in a friend's warehouse. They created recipes, found a canning company in Austin, and by this August, they were ready to brew three recipes, including an adaption of that original concoction for Rocky, which became the Mailman Malt Licker, and includes chicken, turmeric, ginger, oranges, carrots, basil, cilantro and fennel.
"We brewed one night, and we brewed, I don't know, 500 cans or so. And we went out to sell it, and we were like `Let's see if bars like it!' And we sold to like five bars, in the next day. So we were like, `Let's not sell any more. Let's go home and brew,"' Megan says, laughing. "We thought people were going to be like `Yeah, sure, maybe. Let me think about it.' Because when reps come and talk to us, sometimes we don't always have a space."
But the bars made space. And that makes sense.
The American Pet Products Association estimates that pets in the U.S. are a $72 billion business in 2018, up 29 percent, from $56 billion five years ago. Millennials -- like Megan -- are a huge part of this increase.
Leslie May, founder of Pawsible Marketing, and expert on the pet market says pet products are a no-brainer as the industry continues expanding without a ceiling in sight.
"Millennials don't really know of pets any different than as part of their family. They grew up that way, and that's the way the pet industry is going to go," says May.
In recent years, it's become increasingly normal to see pets in clothes and Halloween costumes. Pet parents, like the Longs, spend extra time and money focusing on all-natural diets. A recent Wall Street Journal story contends that millennials even buy their homes with their pets in mind (true of the Longs' house in the Heights, says Megan). And pet birthday parties are now a totally normal scene at places like Henderson Heights, where Megan says they see one "probably once a month. They reserve tables and there's decorations and party hats. And they bring their little dog cupcakes."
Those kinds of trends only blow up bigger now with the ubiquity of social media.
"Social media has changed pet marketing very much," says May.
The Longs were banking on that. That's why they take savvy photos of their dogs licking at the side of their beer cans. And they think their posting and hashtagging has helped bring them those national customers.
At first, they considered riding this wave to a big profit. But now the Longs are reconsidering.
"The ultimate goal, at first, was to sell like Karbach did, right? But now we don't want to do that. We're having so much fun doing this," says Megan.
"We actually see each other now," says Steve, who notes that before they started focusing on the brewery full time, they would each be at one of their different bars during the day. Now, they bring Chloe and Rocky to their warehouse with them, and spend the day as a family.
They're planning to produce 8,000 in the next couple weeks, in preparation for the 50,000-person Houston Pet Expo in October, and then they'll get to work looking for a location that can offer a storefront as well as brewing space, so they can offer a place to hang out and drink with your dog. Then, hopefully they'll add some rotating seasonal beers. And surely something new will pop up after that.
"When I said it's growing faster than we thought it's like," Steve says, letting out an exasperated sigh. "We're swamped."