Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
This week I did something I had never done before over my near-20 years of beer geekery: I signed up for a membership in a brewery’s reserve society. The idea of these ‘societies’ or ‘clubs’ is becoming more popular every year, but they aren’t without their detractors. As always, only you can determine what is worth spending your consumer dollar on, but here’s a fairly short rundown of what these memberships have to offer, why some folks don’t like them, and why I decided to finally take the plunge with one.
The most famous brewery societies are those of The Bruery. The Bruery offers three ‘tiers’ of society memberships: Preservation Society members receive three special-release beers per quarter; Reserve Society members are also offered first rights to purchase small-batch production beers (along with discounts at The Bruery’s tasting room and on all Bruery merchandise); and the ‘you have been chosen’ Hoarder’s Society gives its members deeper discounts, more bottles of limited releases, and exclusive beers.
Locally, D.C.’s Three Stars Brewing Company has its Illuminati Reserve Society. Members are guaranteed bottles of the five limited release beers Three Stars plans on putting out over the course of 2015, along with a discount on purchases at the D.C. Homebrew Shop, special growler fills, and invites to special brewery events. Adroit Theory in Purcellville has the Black Heart Society, with each of its three tiers offering greater discounts at the brewery along with more of its special release beers.
For smaller, more experimentally-minded breweries with dedicated fanbases, clubs like these have multiple benefits. Bypassing overcrowded rare beer release events that inevitably leave more people angry than satisfied is an attractive prospect; establishing limited release for society members guarantees that a brewery’s most sought-after brews go to dedicated fans. Also, societies essentially give brewers a focus group to test new beers with; an especially enthusiastic response to a society-only beer can give breweries an idea of how a recipe might perform in a wider release. For beer geeks like me, societies not only give us a peek behind the curtain at the direction a brewery might be headed in, but they give us the chance to ensure we get access to some of our favorite beers. Also, there’s the “I got this and you didn’t because I’m a Society Member” factor.
For those concerned that beer is becoming “too much like wine”, Societies are a disturbing sign of the times. The concept of societies is adapted from the hundreds of winery Reserve Clubs out there, and their mere existence is an act of exclusion–anathema to the ethos of beer as a social beverage. Some believe the ultra-rare releases for society members encourage ‘Whalers’, who always seek out harder to find beers and look down on anything available at retail. The ‘focus group’ aspect of societies can alternately be looked at as ‘preaching to the choir’, or pandering to a small selection of palates that can’t possibly speak on behalf of a wider audience and are more inclined to demand different, not necessarily better beers.
Personally, I see societies as a necessity in today’s increasingly crowded beer environment. As more and more breweries establish themselves, those dedicated to pushing limits are going to have to specialize to survive, and if catering as much to a small group of dues-paying members as to the general public is what it takes to exists on their terms, I say live and let live. That said, I had never felt compared to join any of the societies out there (though I’ve threatened yearly to start up with The Bruery–and one of these years I’ll follow through with it). That is, like I said earlier, until this week when Three Brothers from Harrisonburg opened registration for its new Horizon Society. Members get guaranteed bottles of several special releases throughout the year, first crack at other special releases, discounts at the tasting room, and cool swag–I’m admittedly a sucker for cool swag. I’m a fan of Three Brothers and am curious to see the direction they’re going in with their Sour and Barrel-aging programs, so I said “what the hell?” and signed up. This time next year, I’ll decided if the experience is worth repeating, but in the meantime I’m excited to try some new beers.
It’s encouraging to see so many regional breweries offering them to customers; it means the interest is there and reflects the growth of beer in our part of the country. Are any of you members of any beers societies or clubs? Have you found them worthwhile, or did you feel you weren’t getting your money’s worth? Let’s hear about your experiences. Until next time.
Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money-saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
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