I don't know if this still happens but I remember a few years ago when Internet marketers would put the title "free beer" on a piece of ad copy or SEO article. The first line of the copy would be something like, "Now that I have your attention, let me try to sell you on this completely unrelated product or concept." I always wondered how anybody could possibly think that would work. I mean, once you have tricked me into reading your lousy ad, do you think I will be more or less likely to buy what you are selling.
So, it is a dumb marketing strategy. Can we agree on that? I think so. But, what about free beer? Does it really exist? Yes, if by free you mean that there is no monetary exchange for beer. There are a number of ways that you can wind up with free beer. Some methods take significant dedication, even career changes, while other ways are a bit easier.
Tour a brewery:
This might be the easiest way to score free beer. For the 20-60 minute tour commitment you will most likely be rewarded with free beer. This is not always the rule but, more often than not, there is beer waiting at the end of a tour. The rules vary from brewery to brewery, some limiting the tasting to just a few ounces to others letting you taste how ever much you'd like.
The con to this method is beer geeks like me. We are not on the tour for the beer at the end - although we won't say no to it - we're on the tour for the tour. We will ask all kinds of annoyingly detailed questions that require even more detailed answers. We will ask to see something that is not part of the regular tour. We will ask about the original gravity of the brewery's barley wine and the hops blend in the Pilsner. We will daudle about, look in every vat and sniff every bag of grain all the while wasting your time and making you wait for your beer.
Befriend a brewer:
Now, this is a pretty cynical approach if your ultimate and singular goal is free beer but it works. Dropping by a brewery to hang out with your buddy will almost always result in free beer, assuming the staff does not mind you hanging around. This is a tricky method, though, because sooner or later you are going to be roped into doing some free work for the brewery.
Here is an example. There is a nearby brewpub/regional brewer, the owners and staff of which I consider friends. I spend a lot of my beer money there but I also get the occasional perk in the form of something like a free bottle of a new beer they are developing. A couple of years ago I headed out for a beer festival. It was a few hours drive away and I arrived a bit early. As I was hanging out, waiting for the gates to open, I heard someone call my name. It was one of the bartenders from the brewpub. He waved me over to the brewery's stand on the festival grounds. Turned out that, thanks to scheduling conflicts with the rest of the staff, he was alone, not the ideal situation for a beer festival. He wondered if I wouldn't mind helping out.
So, I spent the whole four hour festival pouring beer with him. I got in free and I was able to sample some of the other beers there. Most beer festivals are staffed with volunteers and I didn't mind it a bit. I'm just saying that befriending a brewer might be an effective way to get free beer but, don't employ this method unless you are really ready to be a friend.
Join a beer of the month club:
This is not a guaranteed way to get free beer but it has worked for me in the past. Here is how it goes: you sign up for a beer of the month club and get, say, your allotted nine bottles a month. You paid for these; they are not free. But, Brewery X just launched a new beer and they want to get the word out. So, they contact the company that runs the beer of the month club and ask if they can include a bonus bottle of their new beer in that month's shipment. So, you get ten bottles one month when you only paid for nine.
Sure, it is free beer in that you did not specifically pay for it. But, the rarity of this occurrence and the cost of the club does not really make this a viable way to score free beer.
Join a mug club:
It might not be called a mug club but whatever sort of membership club your local brewpub runs can lead to free beer.
Most of them work something like this. You sign up for the club and pay $20, $35, $40 or whatever they charge for it. You get a tee-shirt and get your name on their mailing list from which you start receiving monthly updates on the goings on at the pub. Most importantly for our goal of free beer, you get a special mug or, in some cases, you bring in your own. This mug will generally be larger than the pub's standard serving glass but, because of your membership, you get charged the same price to fill it up. So, say the pub usually serves a 16 oz. pour but your membership mug is 20 oz. but you pay the same price to fill it up.
The free beer is obvious here although it is up to you to do the math and figure out how many 4 oz. top ups you will need to make back your membership fee and actually start enjoying free beer. And there is the rub. You can only score beer from this method if the pub is close enough to where you live or work that you can visit regularly. However, if it is then you will likely be stopping in enough that you can start to employee the "befriend a brewer" method and start working a two pronged approach to your ultimate go of scoring free beer.