If you frequent brewpubs, you’ve most likely heard of the term “beer flight". However, if you’re…
Brewery Memberships are Better –
I want to get my craft beer loving friend a membership to a “beer of the month club.” Or some of you might refer to them as a craft beer club. Sounds awesome right? In reality it is a $300-$900 drain pour. While most craft beer club’s advertising make them sound like they have a wonderful variety of “hard to come by” beer, they are a roulette wheel of dashed beer hope. There are significantly better ways to shop for your beer loving friend than enrolling in beer of the month clubs or craft beer clubs.
Reasons To Avoid Beer Of The Month Clubs
Waste of Money
Most craft beer clubs are monthly payments of $40-$75 a month ($500-$900 annually) plus shipping fees. You will find fresher options, at much less cost and much better quality right at your local bottle shop and pay cost.
Lack of Freshness
If the beer of the month club offers IPA’s, by the time you receive that IPA its over a month old and sometimes considerably more than that. Hops are delicate and start deteriorating as soon as they are used, meaning, the fresher-the-better.
Lack of Community
My favorite part of craft beer is the social component. Beer of the month clubs take that part out of the equation. I love going to breweries and experiencing the people and the energy that is specific to that place and time. Craft beer clubs keep me on my couch, flipping through Netflix, sippin’ on inferior beer.
Beer of the Month Clubs are Misleading
The marketing strategies with these craft beer clubs makes you sound foolish not to join with promises of “rare beer” with tempting hooks like “the hardest to find…hand selected…proven brewing techniques” and endorsements from “the leading beer critic.” They are hard to find, because no one is looking for them and they are being brewed in a garage. What is a leading beer critic? I don’t recall running across any Roger Ebert of the beer world. I’ve also run into many people who think they are.
These are not on anyone’s bucket list. It’s just a group of marketing strategists trying to make a few bucks on craft beer trends. There are a few clubs that utilize legitimate Independent Breweries with good beers, however, the beers offered on the sites aren’t necessarily the top shelf offerings of your favorite breweries.
One Exception – Beer Drop
One exception to this rule is Beer Drop. They have decent beer offerings from some serious Colorado breweries. However, even with Beer Drop you are going to be spending quite a bit of money when it’s all said and done. They’re memberships range from $40 – $64 per month, plus shipping and you only get moderate flexibility to choose the beers you want.
Brewery Memberships are Better
The thing you will not find in Beer of the Month Clubs are any beers in the top 250. Really, craft beer fans are on a scavenger hunt for those beautiful liquids. To get those you really need to lock into a brewery. Many breweries offer membership programs that give you access to their most limited and regarded beers. This is currency for the craft beer enthusiast. These rarified brews can fetch nice trade offers from other breweries that you are not a member of. Get our “Guide to Trading Beer Online” when you sign up for our newsletter.
Basics of Brewery Memberships
Some things to keep in mind about brewery memberships, is that most required up front money usually in the $200-$500 range for anywhere from 8-15 beers per year. These are bottles at cost. Available openings for memberships are extremely limited and sell out in a day at most places. You must stay alerted to the open enrollment via the newsletter of the brewery.
Obtaining Your Beer
If you happen to live in a town that is a distance away from the brewery you become a member at, you will have to make the trip to the brewery to pickup your beers, most do not deliver. You can assign a proxy or trustee to pick them up and deliver to you. You can find a proxy on facebook, because most memberships have a facebook page and you can put in a request for a proxy. The usual transaction is a thank you package of beers for the effort. You will also have to provide the cost of shipping. If you have a FedEx account you can email the label to your proxy. Beers are usually release quarterly and you will generally have a window of 3 months to pickup your beer, some breweries require quicker pickups.
All About Barrel Aged
Finally, memberships are generally only at breweries with a barrel-aged program. There is no benefit to storing IPA’s for 3 months. So, if you’re not into barrel-aged beers, this will not be worth it. If you are, it’s a gold mine.
Best of Brewery Memberships
American Solera is a craft brewery located in the wide open plains of Tulsa. Chase Healey, the owner and brew yoda, built this brewery on specializing in the oak barrel aging process. American Solera was named the 2nd Best New Brewery in the world in 2016 and the Number 1 Best New Brewery in the US for 2016 by RateBeer. I have been a member since year 2 and it has been an amazing investment. This membership is honestly one of the best bangs for your buck.
Members receive 4 bottles of 3 member only stouts (12 bottles total). Enjoy first dibs on purchasing extra bottles of most releases. Also, you will receive the opportunity to purchase limited barrel-aged releases before the public. You can purchase beers online plus receive some bonus swag. This membership runs $300 annually, but you are receiving some highly coveted beers that trade extremely well. Beers like Dollar for Dollar, Triple Purple Lemur and Distraction’s Grasp.
The membership has an open enrollment that is typically in May. Subscribe to their newsletter for updates and alerts. These memberships sell out quickly. The drawbacks are that there is no shipping, meaning you will have to pick up your allotment at the brewery or have a proxy pick up your allotment (if you’re out of town, this is the best option).
Cigar City has long been one of the country’s most prestigious breweries. Their annual Hunahpu Day is a festival to behold that draws thousands from across the world to celebrate the release of their signature beer.
Membership is $250 per allocation of 7, 750ml bottles. The allocation is broken down into 1, 750 ml bottle each of 7 different barrel-aged beers with an incentive of 20% discount of Cigar City Brewing Tasting Room and Oskar Blues Taproom plus access to a member’s only event determined by pickup location. You also get dibs on Double Barrel Hunahpu their most tradable beer. It currently sits at number 3 on BeerAdvocate’s top 250.
You can join through their open enrollment process. To be alerted register for updates through their site.
Fonta Flora is a real find for craft beer fans. The brewery emphasizes blending of agriculture with the esoteric artistry of beer making. They blend English tradition and Belgian spontaneity that take advantage of seasonal flora. It is beautifully nestled into the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. This membership grants you access to incredibly rare and exclusive beer that are blended specifically for you.
Formerly known as the Appalachian Wild Ale Society, that concentrated on wilds and sours, the Barrel-Aged Society is more diverse including a choice of the Imperial Stout Package: 2, 750 ml bottles of 3 different exclusive barrel-aged stout blends totaling 6, 750 ml bottles for $225 or the Wild Ale Package 2, 750 ml bottles of different exclusive barrel-aged wild ale blends totaling 6, 750 ml bottles for $225 or the Combo Package: both packages combined for $400. Benefits include dibs on most special releases, such as their highest regarded beer, Rhythm Rug.
There is a quarterly pickup designated on certain days. If not local, you’ll need a proxy. Fonta Flora ships to states that allow shipping (Sorry Texas, you’re out of luck). ABAS is open for enrollment right now for a limited time.
Modern Times is quickly becoming the prize brewery of San Diego. These guys have amassed a slew of brewers and coffee roasters who are masters at combining coffee, spirits and beer. This membership is available through open enrollment usually in November of each year. You will need to subscribe in order to get alerts to the membership window. This is one of the more popular memberships as Modern Times has become one of the quintessential purveyors of barrel-aged stouts in the world.
Modern Times has a tiered membership system. The League is available to first come first served, but their Theory of Leisure membership is by invitation only (more on that in a moment). On top of the liquid spoils of this membership, there is also a bounty of killer merch, VIP privileges, exclusive events and more. The membership runs $350 annually. It includes 13 League-exclusive barrel-aged beers, first dibs on rare special releases such as Beastmaster, Modem Tones and Devils Teeth.
The membership allows proxy pick-ups, invitation to the welcome party and advanced tickets for special events. The member beers trade very well and are coveted by people all over the country. The membership included high traders such as Modem Tones aged in Bourbon-Barrel with vanilla, Altar of the Orc Lord (Rocky Road), Chaos Grid (Banana Shake edition).
This is an invitation only membership. So, how do I get invited? There are no written criteria, but the consensus seems to be a rubric of money spent on Modern Times beers (bottles and taproom), attendance at events and membership longevity in the League. Basically, support the heck out of this brewery. That’s harder to do if you live out of the San Diego area, but you can gain friends who are in this tier if you attend an event or two during the year. The perks are that you get even higher exclusivity bottles in your membership (this years included the highly coveted Beastmaster aged in ancient Gitzferald barrels).
This is a highly coveted membership and it is difficult to get in. It is an invitation only membership that offers members a limited number of their delicious and unique beers. SARA is one of the premier brewers of barrel-aged saisons in the world. In all honesty, this is the beer I trade for the most. Their beers trade extremely well all over the country. Memberships are determined toward the end of every year and are evaluated much like Modern Times Theory memberships, based on support of the brewery, yada, yada, yada… If you can pull off an invitation, your trade possibilities are endless.
There are no details on how much the membership costs, but chat rooms on reddit and beer advocate suggest anywhere from $200-$350 per year. There are also tiered levels to this membership allow for greater access to and quantity of exclusive beers, including their most exclusive gem Westly.
AleSmith is a dynamite brewery who specialize in barrel-aged stouts. Hence, their beers are exciting and in high demand on the trade market. This membership includes 10, 750 ml bottles of exclusive barrel-aged bottles that include:
Additional swag comes with the membership such as the Order of the Anville Bottle Bag or a 32oz Growler. You also get dibs on exclusive releases with trade in bottle options to the brewery. This gives you access to their most coveted beer Speedway Vietnamese Coffee Stout aged in bourbon barrels. This beer currently sits at number 31 on BeerAdvocate’s top 250.
Membership costs $376 plus tax. Shipping is not available and you must pickup within 90 days of release. Therefore, you’ll need a proxy or they offer the ability to cellar your beer at the brewery for a fee. Memberships are on sale now.
La Coterie is a little different kind of membership. Due to, there is no large sum to pre-pay for all of your bottles. La Coterie is a membership that gives members access to Side Project’s beer who have been supporting Side Project for years.
Members get to reserve and purchase Side Project beers so they do not have to wait in beer release lines. The membership renews each March and runs for a year. This is an invitation only club that is slowly expanding. To be considered you have to subscribe to their page. Much like Modern Times and Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, preference is given to loyal patrons. In short, establish relationships with the staff. Be seen often. Be memorable and engaging and be persistent. No questions are dumb questions. Once in you have priority to access their most hard to come by brews. Beer like Beer:Barrel:Time, Derivation, Fuzzy and Abricot du Fermier.
A look at BeerAdvocate’s top 250 shows Side Project beers peppered all throughout the list. For greater insight into these beers check out this article The Best Beers in St. Louis.
The membership runs $420 and includes 1 bottle of 14 different barrel-aged beers to be released over the course of the year. You also get some nice swag such as a Societe glass and access to pre-sales for beer packages, MWBBF tickets and additional member bottles before they go on sale to the public. Barrel-Aged Abraxas and Maman are highly sought after beers that are included in the membership.
Members are given 2 weeks for pickup and consequently must be picked up by the member or his proxy.
Members receive 4 sour blends. Each release will likely consist of either 2, 750ml bottles. Additionally, members get dibs on limited release bottles and ability to purchase most releases online. This gives you access to highly regarded beers like Home Sour Home and Ensorcelled.
Shipping is allowed within California, otherwise members will have to pickup at the brewer or assign a proxy. After 5 years of membership, you will receive an exclusive “Loyalty Blend.” The membership costs $200. This membership has an open enrollment process. You will need to subscribe to the website for alerts.
Additionally, there is an option subscription plan called “Blender’s Choice” that has 2 tiers: a 3 bottle tier and a 6 bottle tier. The brewers will select 3 or 6 bottles of sour beer for you that can be shipped to your door within California or you can pickup at the brewery (proxies allowed). There are roughly 5 allotments per year. The average cost for tier 3 is $80 per allotment and $126-$150 for a 6 bottle allotment. There is no upfront fee to join and will only be charged when the allotment is ready. If this sounds risky, you can rest in the comfort of knowing The Rare Barrel is one of the highest rated breweries for Wild Ales and Spontaneously fermented beer in the world.
De Garde is regarded as a premier brewery for wild ales and Berliner Weisse.
The Keepers membership affords members 4 bottles of beer exclusive to keepers members and 8 bottles total. Beers are released quarterly. Members can store their beer at the brewery for up to 3 months. Members will have the option to purchase a limited number of world renown bottles through the website ahead of the general public and purchased bottles can be stored at the tasting room until quarterly pickup. Keepers members may designate a proxy or trustee to pick up orders with 24 hours’ notice. You will have access to beers like De Garde’s highest rated beer Nectarine Premier.
An added bonus allows members a guided tasting of some of De Garde’s favorite vintage beers and a tour of the brewery. While enrollment is closed right now, they open up enrollment annually to a limited number so receiving updates by subscribing to the brewery is key.
Lost Abbey is inspired by Abbey Style beers with nods to the monastic style brewing of Belgium. Most noteworthy, the brewery has a library of over 1000 oak bourbon, brandy, sherry and wine barrels that comprise one of the most prestigious barrel-aging programs in the world. Patron Sinners and Saints is one of the longest running memberships, having launched in 2007.
Membership is currently open and available for purchase through their online store. Membership includes 13, 750ml bottles including 2 bottles of their highest rated beer and most limited beer Cable Car.
Above all, if the gods are smiling and it is the year that Lost Abbey releases Duck Duck Gooze, the highest rated American ‘Gueuze,’ you will have first crack at that little gem.
Duck Duck Gooze is a world class beer and coveted the world over. You can essentially name the beer you want in trade. Furthermore, members get dibs on additional bottles for each release ahead of the public. Membership includes a 10% discount in the tasting room. There is shipping allowed within California to member or proxy. Membership costs $400.
I love beer. Love storing unique beers. I love trading beers. Love visiting breweries. I am craft beer fan. Hear me roar. Certainly, membership has its privileges. So forgo any sort of beer of the month club or craft beer club and look into a brewery membership instead. Cheers.