Beer Trade: The BrueryMore and more upstarts are allowing individuals to pre-buy beers on a year-to-year basis. The Bruery out of Southern California wasn’t the first brewery to do this but their Reserve Society is very well known among beer geeks mostly because RS members get some of the most sough after Bruery beers like Chocolate Rain, Black Tuesday or Grey Monday either exclusively or before anyone else. If you’re an RS member, there are allocations allotted for you plus the opportunity to buy extras before the public and those that aren’t in the society have to frantically refresh the Bruery site to buy these beers hoping to get some.

The Bruery Reserve Society and new club, “Hoarder’s Society” are $295 and $695 respectively. Both membership tiers offer exclusive bottles that are not sold to anyone outside of the club. The price break down for these comes in at about $30 per bottle which is actually close to what the public pays for each beer anyway (some being less and others more). Other perks include discounts on bottles not included, some member extras, glassware and you are allowed to participate in events throughout the year for an additional ticket fee. Forgetting the fact that the majority of Bruery beers aren’t worth $30 (fruited vinegar), those that do like most of what they produce and want to get the special beers, the $300 club is worth it.

Nearly every beer club mimics what the Bruery is doing. Members rarely save much money over what the general public pays but member exclusive bottles are the largest appeal on top of being able to order special releases before the public which means not having to fight the thousands of non-members for a beer you really like.

What members are actually doing by pre-buying beers is giving these relatively new breweries a huge cash flow influx at the start of the calendar year. The majority of these clubs focus on the perks being beers that take more time and planning to produce. Higher ABV, wild yeast and fruit additions are all expensive things and now that a lot of breweries are using barrels (new, wine and bourbon) to mature beer, the up front cost to a brewery is great. For them to produce a spontaneously fermented beer that ages in oak with hundreds of pounds of cherries for example, that’s a lot of cost for a beer that takes 12-18 months to produce with no guarantee that every bottle made will be sold is an expensive proposition. By selling 50% or more of the bottles up front to fully fund the creation of this beer regardless if it’s good or bad, well, that’s great for the brewery. This is why a lot of breweries are doing this sort of program.

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For the first time ever, I joined two membership clubs.

  • Bruery Reserve Society ($295)
  • Crooked Stave Cellar Reserve ($300)

I debated joining the Nigh Shift Brewing club at $250 but I haven’t been impressed with enough of their beer to want 2 of each special release. I wish Hill Farmstead would do one in 2014 because, that is the only brewery that I’m buying every beer that’s released already. To pre-buy special releases would be really nice.

What’s the main reason I decided to drop $600 on beer that I won’t get for 6-12 months? It has nothing to do with exclusivity but I like budgeting this way. So, here goes the reasoning.

  • Pre-Purchasing Beer from one brewery for a full year allows me to get everything I’d like to try in one transaction.
  • I don’t have to track new releases, ask friends to go and pick up beer for me and pay the $15+ shipping every time a new beer comes out
  • All of my bottles are sent to me twice per year from a friend who has a 12-bottle holder which saves me shipping costs.
  • The primary beers I want to try from these breweries are member only beers. To try and trade for them is next to impossible and would cost more money and time and shipping costs
  • I have a relationship with the brewery with first choice to buy other special beers released so if I want more Black Tuesday, I’m not fighting thousands of beer geeks to get an extra bottle or two.

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Is it worth it? I think this is based on a few factors. For 2013, most of the yearly memberships are not available until late this year for 2014 so maybe the timing of this post is about 11 months too early. I compare these programs to music festivals or conferences like SXSW or, in the beer community, The Great American Beer Festival. A lot of guys are on the fence about buying tickets to a conference or festival and, when it inevitably sells out, a week before the event they try to find tickets, generally overpaying considerably.

This happens a lot to beer geeks with these breweries. You had a chance to spend $300 to get a lot of decent beer with 1-2 great beers and then end up spending nearly that in trading to get the 1-2 special bottles. To get chocolate rain from Bruery, you’re buying $50+ in beer, spending $20 in shipping just for one bottle. That’s not close to the $300 I spent on a society membership but if there’s a chance you’ll want a few beers, you can trade away the others that you don’t want to try for cool beers from other breweries and keep the 1-2 you did want. I think it’s easier to pre-pay $300, get some great beer then deal with the stress of trying to trade for things throughout the year. Just for the same reason it’s easier to call up a friend near a brewery to pick up a bottle of a special release for me than deal with trade forums.

My logic aside, the worth it question is if you like a brewery and generally enjoy their beer, want access to special beers without having to trade for them and happen to have a friend who is nice enough to pick up beer for you throughout the year, these memberships can be worth while. It also appeals to anyone who loves the simplicity of spending money up front and redeeming the services throughout the year. I’m the same way with Internet services. I almost always pay my web hosting and storage backups online for the full year. YOu save money and don’t have to worry about the $12-$15 a month deal.

It would be great if more breweries did these sort of programs, especially more Vermont breweries.