With beer buses, as with great brews, less is more

The Brew Bus crew: Partners Brad Darrohn and John Monderine with Sean Martin, the firm's veep of operations.

By GREGORY ZELLER // The wheels in Brad Darrohn’s head go round and round.

Although the LI Brew Bus started rolling only three weeks ago, the guided tours of Long Island’s microbrew scene are “going very well,” according to Darrohn, a media specialist at Bohemia online marketing firm Fishbat and the Brew Bus creator. However, Darrohn and his team are already working to streamline operations and add new attractions – nothing worse, the thinking goes, than a stale Brew Bus.

So far, the tours, which depart Saturdays and Sundays from the Long Island Rail Road’s Ronkonkoma station aboard a retrofitted 1998 Blue Bird school bus, have made regular stops at Bay Shore’s Great South Bay Brewery, Holbrook’s Spider Bite Brewing Co. and the Blue Point Brewing Co. and BrickHouse Brewery, both in Patchogue.

Darrohn and his partners have also plotted a few extracurricular trips, including a special Friday voyage to The Paramount in Huntington, where fusion rockers Rusted Root and reggae legends The Wailers were performing. The bus, naturally, was stocked with Blue Point’s RastafaRye Ale.

That June 5 event proved to be one of the most popular in the LI Brew Bus’ short history – Darrohn counted 18 riders on a bus refitted to accommodate 23 passengers, including the bus crew.

“We’re getting a great response from everybody,” he said. “Everybody is enjoying the tours and the breweries are excited we’re bringing people in.”

To keep the momentum going, the company is planning some expanded tours, including new brewery stops and additional special events, among them a visit on Saturday to the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville, which is hosting BeerFields 2015. The idea, Darrohn noted, is to park the bus at the craft beer and music festival and invite festival-goers aboard to check out the ride and interest them in future tours.

The LI Brew Bus is also employing a little addition by subtraction, hoping to build business by removing some extraneous pieces. While he’s still “learning from brewers how to put the best content together,” Darrohn has learned one vital lesson already: When it comes to driving busloads of eager passengers through the Island’s burgeoning beer country, less is more.

“The first tour went out and we got into discussing how to make all different kinds of beers, and I could see people getting glazed over and getting into their own conversations,” he said. “So we decided the best thing to do was keep it really simple. Just the basic stiff: You need water, you need grain, you need hops.”

Anyone who wants to learn more can check out the pre-made videos looping on the bus’ flat screens, added Darrohn, who noted company officials have also taken steps to streamline the ticket-buying process on the LI Brew Bus website.

“I saw an increase in sales just by doing that,” Darrohn said. “We’re just looking to keep it smooth and simple, and the more we cut back, the more success we’re seeing with sales and the overall experience on the bus.”

It’s a good position to be in: A fresh company that’s barely gotten its wheels wet, tinkering with a process that’s slowly catching on, perchance to improve the customer experience.

Darrohn hesitated to call the LI Brew Bus a financial success already, though he did note the freshly brewed firm is maintaining a steady bottom line.

“Our expenditures are coming out of ticket sales, so we’re not going into the bank account and we definitely still have money in the bank,” Darrohn said. “So I guess you could say we’ve been successful so far.”