There’s no denying it — I’m a beer geek.
One of my favorite things to do on a weekend — or anytime, really — is to head to a local brewery and try its newest offerings. There’s nothing better than seeing a nice beer sampler lined up in front of me. The variety of colors, aromas and flavors is a blast to experience for the first time.
But then comes the check. Exploring the awesome world of hoppy pale ales and malty stouts and porters can get expensive.
At least that used to be the case. Now, I’ve found a way to visit local breweries, try their wares and help them make their businesses better — and get free beer!
How to Get Free Beer as a Mystery Shopper
There’s a relatively new company out there called Secret Hopper that invites beer lovers to secret shop at breweries. When I found out about this thanks to a loyal Penny Hoarder reader, I signed up immediately.
Within a few days, I had an email from Secret Hopper co-owner Andrew Coplon saying he thought there would be some opportunities coming up in my area. A couple weeks later, I had my first assignment.
My task was to head to Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa, Florida, and order a flight of four beers, followed by a pint of my favorite brew. OK, no problem here. The brewery had several new offerings on the board, including a couple Belgian pale ales, which I thoroughly enjoy.
How did I rate the beers? I didn’t. Secret Hopper isn’t about rating the beers themselves, but the experience at the brewery.
Were you greeted when you came in? Did they offer a sampler? Did the bartender engage you in conversation? There is a rather extensive questionnaire you fill out after visiting the brewery. It helps to review it beforehand so you know what to look for while you’re there.
In my case, Coppertail was slammed when I arrived, so while staffers did not do everything on the list, who could blame them? No one wants to see a bartender having a long conversation with a customer while eight more are waiting to order a beer.
How to Become a Secret Hopper
Signing up to be a Secret Hopper is easy. Just go to the web page and fill out the simple form. It will ask you about your age, gender and general beer knowledge.
“We select our secret hoppers according to demographics,” said Coplon. “We are looking for people who want to do more than just get free beer. We are looking for people who can tell a true story about their experience. Age, gender and level of beer drinker is also a factor.”
If your information is a match for what Secret Hopper needs in your area, the company will reach out to let you know you’re on the list.
Then, when it’s lined up some breweries that need a secret shopper visit, you’ll receive an email with dates and times. Choose which ones work best for you. Once I picked my date, Coplon told me I’d be headed to Coppertail.
The breweries in Tampa Bay are pretty spread out, so I was happy to get one that is close to home.
Once my visit was done, I filled out the questionnaire and emailed a photo of my receipt. My bill was about $16 for the sampler plus a pint and a tip. I was paid $20 via PayPal within a day or two.
For Coplon, it’s a dream job. “Both my wife and I had a lot of interaction in customer service. It’s about more than the dinner on your plate. It’s about creating an overall experience. What can we do to make a little extra money and also have a good time with something we love?”
The company isn’t in every part of the country just yet, but it continues to grow and will need more Secret Hoppers in the future.
Admittedly, being a mystery shopper at breweries isn’t the dream side hustle I’d hoped it would be. But, that was never Coplon’s intention.
“It’s not a career or even a part-time job. If you’re going to go out already, we’re happy to pay for it,” he said. “We are looking for people who want to do more than just get free beer. We are looking for people who can tell a true story about their experience.”
In short, if you like to head out to your local breweries, have a couple beers and maybe help them create a better customer experience, you may dig being a Secret Hopper.
Tyler Omoth is a freelance writer covering topics from personal finance to career advice and even lawn care. His work has been featured on TopResume.com, Writersweekly.com and more. He is also the author of over 70 educational books for children and a proud parent of twin toddlers.