What do you do when you are a small brewery making tiny amounts of experimental beer? How do you distribute this beer fairly and to your biggest fans? For many breweries you start a club. For a year I was a member of The Bruery’s Reserve Society. I paid up front for a year’s worth of rare beers. I also got first dibs on anything else they released, discounts on merch, access to parties at the brewery and much more. Eventually the cost of not living near The Bruery caught up to me as I was adding, tax, delivery, and tips in the form of shipping Chicago beer to my proxy for each bottle. It was fun, but in the end I had spent too much of my beer budget on one brewery's beers. This week we asked our supporters what brewery societies they’ve been members of, what the experience was like, and what factors in to their consideration to join or leave.
Zack Rothman: “I'm a member of the Night Shift Barrel Society. You get exclusive bottles of barrel-aged beers, special shirt, unique glassware, a members-only draft line (which is open to one member guest) with the barrel-aged brews on tap, and a party for the members at the end of the year. It's a great reserve society and has pretty much everything I could want in one: exclusivity, membership representation (through merch), unique beer, and special events.”
Nycbeerrunner: “Absolutely a fan of reserve memberships, I used to be part of [The Rare Barrel’s] Ambassadors of Sour. I left because it just got too expensive and I ended up having to ship the beer to a friend's parent's house in San Francisco, which wasn't sustainable. And I applied for [Hill Farmstead’s] Collected Works but didn't get in. I think it's a great way to ensure revenue for the brewery—and allows loyal customers to feel like they are part of something special. Really no drawbacks in my opinion other than being potentially really expensive.
In terms of perks, access to limited beer releases, avoiding lines and waits at releases, and a taproom discount are the biggest three.”
Travis Wannlund: “The Bruery – Reserve Society - aka Money Sink. The process rolls out thusly. First, you join the preservation society at $60 a quarter. That gets you in line to join the Reserve society if a slot opens. Once a spot is cleared, you are in for $300 a year which includes five beers you want and five you don’t (usually). From there, it's $20-30 a bottle for all the exclusive Black Tuesday variants you originally joined to get. Awesome beers, exclusive pours at the taproom, discounts, cold storage for beers you buy online, but it's damn expensive to really do the membership justice. Also, there is a tier above it that gets even more exclusive beers which kind of puts a tarnish on the amount of money you are shelling out for your medium tier club access. Worth it if you’ve got the capital and the crew to help you drink your 20% abv brews.
Bottle Logic – Level Up – aka The Time Sink. I like how they do their club. They throw an anniversary party once a year called the Week of Logic. If you show up every day for seven days, you are in it for the year. Benefits are you get access to a private sale of their hard-to-get stasis project beers. The pros are stress-free buying of beers and it's limited to the very local. The con is if you have anything going on that week and you miss a day, you’re out. That said, I think they are making some of the best beer in SoCal right now so I’d say it’s worth it.
Refuge Brewery – Brewer’s Reserve - aka The Dice Roll. I love this little Temecula brewery and have been supporting them from the start. This year they pre-sold a club membership where you pay $35 every two months and you get two special release bottles. What will the beer be? Who knows! It’s all faith up front. These guys are small so I give them a pass. They don’t have the reputation so there isn’t a run on any of the bottles (unlike the two I listed above). It’s a bit pointless, to be honest, since they sell the bottles as well but I love them so I’ll keep supporting them even though I’m no longer local.”
Mike Sardina: “I’m a member of The Rare Barrel's club, that's a way for me to keep in touch with Jay and Alex and everyone over there in Berkeley. I get to check out their beers every now and then—beers I would never have the chance to enjoy otherwise.
I have a very personal connection with those guys, and being a member of the club is a no-brainer. I've been a member since day-one. All goes back to pulling nails with Jay and Doug (Constantiner of Societe Brewing) before The Rare Barrel had even opened. The least I can do to show my love and support.”
Caldwell Bishop: “I joined Superstition Meadery's (I know, not beer) Guild in 2016. Their mead is by far my favorite of any that I've had, so I thought it was worth exploring. It came with 5 limited release bottles of mead, a meadery t-shirt, some discounts and invites to a party at their meadery.
The mead itself was great. The two biggest issues for me (one of which I knew about going into it) were that I live in the DMV area and the meadery is in Arizona. So with the cost of flying, I was not going to be able to go to the tasting room for any events unless I had another reason to be out in northern AZ. The other thing was, there's a facebook group for the guild members, but there wasn't that much of a sense of community. Now this obviously could be due to me not putting in the effort, or simply not being closer to the meadery, but was still something I was hoping for when signing up. I did not renew my membership as I realized it wasn't really worth the cost for me (several hundred dollars) to do again. In the future I might consider joining one for a brewery that is not in my area, but I think it would really depend on the cost and, more than likely, have to be for more than access to limited release beers.”
Jaron Wright: “I've been a member of at three places so far, two I kept and one I dropped (but may pick up again in the future).
Fiftyfifty Brewing- I really like the beers i got out of this, but not being able to go to events and shipping adding up made me cancel it after a year. I may start it up again in the future, but I just didn't feel a big enough connection with them (which was 100% created by the distance, the person who ran the club was super accommodating and cool).
Rare Barrel- This one I absolutely love. It is a little pricey as many have mentioned, but I think you get a pretty good value for your money here. My two favorite things about the membership have been the ability to buy bottles before the public (and have them stored until march of the year after the membership ends) and the private events I have been able to be a part of (a private tasting with Jeffrey and Averie from Jester King and Jeffers Drops Acid) - I have probably mentioned the Jeffers event like five times on this Slack and I'll keep doing it because it's the best beer event I have ever been to. I tell them this every time they send out a survey.
Mad Fritz- This experience is awesome (you can feel the glowing pride as he talks about any one of his beers), and it's cool because you really feel like the subscription is helping achieve his goals in growing/controlling the whole process/ingredient sourcing of his beer. He really makes you feel a part of it.”
Michael Kiser: “I've joined a few (Transient and Une Annee locally) and I think they've done great. But in the end they don't work well for me because traveling to pick everything up, as fun as it is, never seems to fit my schedule and I'm not willing to ask someone to be a mule and stand in line or make pick-ups and ship things. When the laws change and they become more like wine clubs, where they're shipped to me directly, I'll be giving away all my money. I'm still trying to find time to drive out to Une Anee to get my allottment. I want thos ebeers so bad.”
Tait Forman: “I know a couple people have mentioned it, but I'm a member of The Bruery's Preservation society (first year), and unfortunately I'm not sure how long I'll stick around. I've enjoyed most of my allocations, and it's great to be able to easily get my hands on a couple bottles of Black Tuesday, Grey Monday, etc., but my biggest frustration is actually the 750ml packaging of these stouts. Not really a fair knock on their membership, and I know that format is important to the ethos of the company, but it's hard justifying buying a bottle of beer that I really struggle to drink by myself.”
Ed Brennan: “I've been a part of two beer clubs: Casa Agria (CA) and Plan Bee (NY). Neither of them are really local to me but Plan Bee was only a couple hours drive away so I was able to make it down a few times. Both had a variety of the normal perks like glassware and T-shirts. My personal favorite perk of any society is the access to beer before it becomes public.
I'm still a member of Casa Agria but I left the Plan Bee club because it was just too much beer. The year in which I was a member we would have access to 6 bottles a month with the ability to buy more and I just couldn't drink that much so I decided to leave that club.
I'm happy with Casa Agria club as they aren't pumping out tons of beer and I don't buy everything.”
While some members of the Fervent Few may not be in a reserve society they still had thoughts on what a brewery needs to do to be successful at running one.
Nate Wannlund: “Breweries have to have their service ethos dialed in as well as creative beer concepts to make these work. If someone is willing to shell out that kind of money to support your craft then there needs to be an equal or greater value coming back to the consumer. Their expectations will be far higher than the drinker who just rolled in for a pint.
I love the strategy of a reserve society from a business perspective. Build your community and reward them for becoming part of the tribe. Makes sense, builds loyalty.
For me as a consumer, I am far to ADHD to join one. I fall in and out of love all the time. So trading with reserve members is a great thing for me. I need those reserve members so I can source beers I love.
At the moment.”
Threefrenchs: “I can't see me joining another society where I paid up front for beers that I had no idea what they were going to be. On the other hand, never disappointed with pre-sales and futures (known). If breweries adopted the winery model, I think I might change my mind...might.”
Kristen Foster: “Most seem to be worth it for those local to the brewery (access to rare/new release beers, special tap at brewery, special events) which can be really fun. But if you're not local enough to take advantage regularly, I think there's an opportunity to develop a parallel program that still engages consumers with your brewery but has added value beyond the actual beer. Or allows it to be worth your while even if you can't take advantage regularly.”
Nick Naretto: “I live about 40 minutes outside of the city, work full time outside of the city, have 2 kids and a wonderful wife. That being said, I don't get out much and don't have much free time. If there was a program that let me pay money up front, early in the year, and get some great stuff from a brewery throughout the year I'd be interested. I consume 90% of my beers at home so something that allowed me to pick up or get shipped beer without having to travel somewhere and wait in a line would be great!”
We’ll close this week’s article out with Mike Sardina who runs the Collected Works for Hill Farmstead. Maybe what makes the best brewery society is when the passion comes from the fans and the brewery.
Mike Sardina: “Seeing the community flourish, the good folks who "get" what you are trying to do as a brewer or brewery is one of the most valuable aspects of managing a club. The members of the Collected Works genuinely are awesome beer people. Providing them with amazing beers, beers that they absolutely want to drink and share (and not sell and trade) is a privilege. I love being able to do it.
It's a sounding board, a platform for a celebration of beers that are truly special. It's a mechanism to get beers into the hands of the right people at the right time.
It's that magical moment, opening a spectacular bottle of beer at a perfect moment in time...all facilitated by the membership program.”