Monday, February 27, 2017

The Best Beer Club Review

What are the best beer clubs? Here at ProductReportCard, we conducted in-depth reviews of some of the best monthly beer clubs to determine how they compared to one another. We joined all different types of beer clubs, evaluated their features, and, of course, taste tested countless beers from domestic and international breweries. We ranked each beer club based on its business background, the perks and flexibility of membership, its beer selections, gift memberships, shipping process and feedback from actual members. Our awards highlight the best overall beer club, the best international beer club, the best domestic beer club, the best value beer club and the one club that was an unexpected favorite of our team.

Review by: Mary Griffin Editor in Chief, ProductReportCard
Updated March 2014

Top Ranked Beer Clubs

Displaying 1 - 3 of 11
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Ranking
#1
#2
#3
Report Card Grade
Product Grade
Product Grade
Product Grade
Our Awards
Overall Score
62%
79%
77%
Date Reviewed
February 2013
January 2014
February 2013
Pros
Good variety of domestic microbrews; no minimum membership requirements; interesting/educational newsletter; archives some newsletters/beer selections on website; sends the 1st shipment right after order is placed; bonus gifts; can ship to AK and HI (but not for free)
100% satisfaction guarantee; access to amazing, rare craft beers (domestic & imported); rigorous selection process; club customization program; flexible membership; educational and fun newsletter; archives all beer selections; longstanding reputable business (BBB-accredited)
Variety of great domestic craft beers; rigorous selection process; flexible membership; no minimum commitment; reordering discount; fun and informative newsletter; club customization program
Cons
No satisfaction guarantee; no control over which craft beers you receive; no reordering discounts
No input into what craft beers you receive; doesn't ship to AK or HI; doesn't offer gift notification by traditional mail; no reordering discounts; gift shipments aren't sent out immediately
No input into what craft beers you receive; only some previous beer selections archived on website; doesn't ship to AK or HI; gift shipments aren't sent out immediately
Pricing
$37.75 or $71.73
$46.95 - $88.95
$38.95
Shipping Included
Shipping Included (with the exception of shipments to AK or HI)
Shipping Included
Shipping Included
Bottles per Shipment
Choice of 12 or 24 bottles (12oz)
Choice of 2, 4 or 6 bottles (750ml)
12 bottles (12oz)
Business - 20%
Beer - 25%
Membership - 25%
Gifts - 10%
Shipping - 10%
User Feedback - 10%
Business Founded
2010
1994
1994
BBB-Accredited
No
Yes
No
Newsletter
Yes, members will received The Micro Brew News, a monthly newsletter with tasting notes and background information on the selections.
Yes, members of the Rare Beer Club will receive the club's monthly newsletter, Brew Harvest Review: Malt of the Earth, in each shipment. The newsletter provides tasting notes and additional background on each of the featured beers.
Yes, all shipments contain "Beer Expeditions", a monthly newsletter with information on the beer selections and reordering discounts.
Reviewing Previously Featured Beers
Some of the past newsletters are archived on the public website.
All previously featured beers from the Rare Beer Club are publicly archived on www.beermonthclub.com.
Clubs of America only lists some of its previous beer selections on the public website.
Satisfaction Guarrantee
No
Yes
Yes
Domestic or International Beers
Domestic
Domestic
International
Domestic
Variety
Shipments include 4 styles of beer (3 bottles of each) from 2 different US microbreweries.
Shipments include 2 styles of beer from 2 different microbreweries (US or international)
Shipments include 4 styles of beer (3 bottles of each) from 2 different domestic microbreweries.
Selection Process
The club's tasting experts choose featured microbrews. Potential breweries are selected after careful consideration of their history, local reputation, variety of beer styles, specialty brews, any awards they have won and their distribution.
For each of its beer clubs, MonthlyClubs.com has a panel of beer experts conduct a blind taste test of over 500 beers a year. Less than 20% of beers they taste will be considered for use in the clubs.
A panel of beer experts conducts taste tests to select featured beers each month.
Reordering Your Favorite Beers
Yes
Yes
Yes (at a discount)
Membership Minimum
No minimum
2-shipment minimum
No minimum
Discount For Buying in Bulk
Yes
Yes
Yes
Bonus Gifts
Yes, new customers could receive up to 3 free gifts in their 1st shipment based on their membership commitment.
No
No
Customization
N/A
Yes, the "Design Your Own Club™" program allows members to combine any of the company's six monthly clubs that they want to try.
Yes, the "Mix Your Clubs" feature allows members to choose which of the 8 different clubs they want to try during each month of their membership.
Gift Notification Options
Email (instantly or on a scheduled day)
Printable Card
Traditional Mail ($2.99 charge)
Email (instantly or on a scheduled day)
Printable Card
Email (instantly or on a scheduled day) Printable Card Traditional Mail
Shipping Options
Monthly
Bimonthly
Quarterly
Monthly
Bimonthly
Quarterly
Monthly
Bimonthly
Quarterly
Shipping Schedule
Your 1st shipment will arrive within 7-10 days, and then monthly shipments will arrive during the last week of every month (depending on location).
Shipments are sent between the 15th and 25th of each month and arrive within 7-10 days.
Shipments should arrive during the 3rd or 4th week of the month.
Shipping Restrictions
UT
AK, HI, and UT
AK, HI, and UT
Approximate Cost Per Bottle
$2.99*
$14.83*
$3.07*

ProductReportCard Editor's In-Depth Review

Selecting the Best Beer Clubs

Monthly beer clubs are a great way to experience amazing new microbrews, and they also make an excellent gift for family, friends or business contacts. Over the last 30+ years, the craft beer industry in the US has been expanding rapidly. Between 1980 and 2013, the Brewers Association estimates that the number of domestic breweries has grown from less than 100 to more than 2500. Since most of these breweries have limited distribution networks and their beers aren't typically available in local stores, craft beer clubs have become a popular way for beer lovers to try out a wide variety of exceptional microbrews (domestic and/or imported). All of beer clubs included in our review are well-respected and legitimate clubs that offer members access to some of the best craft beer available.

Criteria For Evaluation

Here we assess the general business and background of the beer club (or its parent company where applicable). We look at how long it has been in business and its overall size and reach (i.e. domestic and imported selections, offers multiple 'of the month' clubs, etc.). We also like to see if the company has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau (even though few are). Lastly, and most importantly, we consider the ways in which the company stands behind its product offering. First, we check whether the club offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Some clubs will even take customer satisfaction to the next level and guarantee that members will enjoy all of the beer selections they receive or the club will replace/refund the bottles. Next, we look at the club's website to see if they have publicly archived their previous beer selections. Do they only have the names of a few beers from the last few months or do they offer a more complete list of previously featured beers and newsletters? We feel this is important because it demonstrates to us that the club has pride in the selections they've made and don't simply repeat the same few beers over and over again.

The beer clubs that we thought had the most impressive business background were the MonthlyClubs.com Microbrewed Beer of the Month Clubs. MonthlyClubs.com has been in business since 1994, BBB-accredited since 2004, and runs numerous other "of the month" clubs. They also publicly archive all of the beer selections they've made since the club was started and offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee that will even replace or refund you for bottles you don't like. Not surprisingly, the "youngest" beer club in the group performed the worst in this category. Craft Beer Connect has only been in business since 2012 and isn't accredited by the BBB. It is a smaller operation and doesn't offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee, but we have still been impressed with the club and think it will only continue to improve in this area over time.

Membership Flexibility and Perks

Here we evaluate the quality of the membership offering. We consider the flexibility of the membership in terms of length (i.e. ongoing vs. month-to-month), payment and quantity options. Additionally, we look at whether there are any minimum membership requirements or if you receive discounted rates (or bonus gifts) for committing to a longer membership agreement. Next, we check if the club offers other "of the month" clubs that can be combined with your beer club for a customized membership. Lastly, we assess the contents of the club's monthly newsletter. Most clubs include some kind of newsletter in each beer shipment, but we thought that having educational information about the featured beers added more value to the overall member experience. While some clubs (ex. Craft Beer Connect) have this type of information on their website, we deducted some points because it isn't as readily accessible when you are actually trying to enjoy your beers.

We found that the clubs with the best membership offerings were the Craft Beer Club, the Rare Beer Club from MonthlyClubs.com and the Clubs of America Beer of the Month Club. All three have a flexible membership, award discounts for buying in bulk and include educational newsletters in each shipment. The Craft Beer Club also offers bonus gifts to new members, and, like the Beer of the Month Club, doesn't require any minimum membership agreement. The Rare Beer Club and the Beer of the Month Club also allow members to customize their experience by mixing and matching any of the other 'of the month' clubs they offer. Craft Beer Connect's clubs scored the lowest in this area. While they don't require any minimum agreement, their membership was slightly less flexible, they don't offer discounts for buying in bulk and they don't include educational information about their beers in each shipment.

Clubs typically send some kind of newsletter with each shipment.
Clubs typically send some kind of newsletter with each shipment.
Credit: Mary Griffin

Beer Selections

Here is the fun part for our team! We get to gage the quality and variety of the beer. Together with the other beer lovers in our life, we tirelessly taste test the beers we receive. We evaluate the brews using criteria similar to what the clubs use: color, aroma, mouth feel, taste (from the first to the last sip) and authenticity to the variety. We also gathered less formal feedback by sharing leftover bottles with friends and family and with coworkers during our office happy hour. Needless to say, these beer club reviews have made us very popular! In addition to conducting our own assessment, we also considered each club's selection process. Does the club use a sophisticated process with a panel of beer experts or is it just one or two people making the selections each month? Since everyone's palate is different, we also appreciated when a club took input on beer selections (ex. prefer pale ale over dark ale). Lastly, we like when a club made it easy to reorder your favorite beers and gave bonus points if you could reorder favorites at a discounted rate.

We thought the beer club that offered the best beer in terms of quality and variety was the Specialties Beer Club from Craft Beer Connect and the Rare Beer Club from MonthlyClubs.com. With that said, all of the clubs did an amazing job of providing awesome beer at their price point and we really weren't disappointed with any of the selections.

This is set up we used for our blind taste test. Everyone had a detailed evaluation sheet and their own bottles, which were revealed after the test.
This is set up we used for our blind taste test. Everyone had a detailed evaluation sheet and their own bottles, which were revealed after the test.
Credit: Mary Griffin
Many clubs will send at least three or four different styles of beer to try.
Many clubs will send at least three or four different styles of beer to try.
Credit: Mary Griffin

Gift Memberships

Beer clubs make an excellent gift, and so we thought it was important to evaluate how the clubs handle gift memberships. First, we look at the different ways in which you can notify the recipient of your gift. All of the clubs offer instant email notification, but a few also offer free printable cards or notification by traditional mail. Then, we check when the club sends out gift shipments. Are they sent out immediately after your order is placed or does the club wait to send out your gift until their next shipping cycle? If it's the latter, your friend might not receive their gift for a few weeks depending on when you place your order. Lastly, we awarded bonus points to clubs that offered special gift-wrapping at least for the first shipment.

Clubs of America Beer of the Month Club offers the easiest gift membership. While none of the clubs we reviewed offered gift-wrapping, the Clubs of America Beer of the Month Club provides free and customized notification by email, printable card or traditional mail. They also send out gift shipments immediately. Craft Beer Connect was the least accommodating in terms of gift memberships. They only offer email notification and won't send out gift shipments until their next shipping cycle.

Shipping Process

We also take into consideration the shipping process. We appreciate it when a club includes shipping costs in the overall price or is transparent about the costs during registration. We also look at how securely the beers are packaged and what shipping options are offered. Typically, a club will give members the choice of having beers delivered on a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly basis. If you drink a lot of beer, you'll probably want a monthly schedule, but if you don't, it's nice to have the option of spreading shipments out, so you don't end up with a backlog of beer in your pantry. Lastly, we check to see where the beer club can ship. Beer clubs can't ship to dry counties, but many won't ship outside the continental US or to other random states.

With the exception of Craft Beer Connect, all of the beer clubs scored well in terms of shipping. The Amazing Beer Club by Amazing Clubs, the Craft Beer Club and the Clubs of America Beer of the Month Club gained a slight advantage over the MonthlyClubs.com Microbrewed Beer of the Month Clubs because they included shipping in their prices. Craft Beer Connect slipped again in this category because they don't share shipping costs with prospective members, only have a monthly shipping option and can't ship to Alaska, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota or Utah.

Shipments are carefully packed to prevent bottles from breaking.
Shipments are carefully packed to prevent bottles from breaking.
Credit: Mary Griffin

Member Feedback

Finally, we considered the reviews that each beer club has received from its members online. In general, we don't weigh member feedback as heavily in our overall scoring since it can be unreliable (i.e. uneven number of reviews, disgruntled members more likely to complain, etc.). However, all of the beer clubs received good ratings from members online. The clubs that scored the highest overall were the Rare Beer Club from MonthlyClubs.com, the Craft Beer Club, and the Specialties Beer Club from Craft Beer Connect.

Best Overall Beer Club: The Rare Beer Club from MonthlyClubs.com

The best overall beer club was the Rare Beer Club from MonthlyClubs.com. MonthlyClubs.com is a longstanding, BBB-accredited business that backs up their products with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. They offer educational and interesting monthly newsletters and keep a full record of all beer selections they've made since the club started in 1994. In addition to having a flexible membership program, they also offer a number of different "of the month" clubs that can be combined with your beer club for a more customized club membership. The quality and variety of the beer is exceptional, which isn't surprising considering the club's rigorous selection process. This is the perfect membership for a true beer aficionado.

Best International Beer Club

The best international beer club was the International Beer of the Month Club from MonthlyClubs.com. As mentioned, MonthlyClubs.com is BBB-accredited, has been in the business for nearly 20 years and backs up their products with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Each shipment of international microbrews has been carefully selected by a team of beer experts and is accompanied by an interesting, informative monthly newsletter. This club is a great option for beer aficionados who want the opportunity to try beers from around the world. Membership is flexible and the beer club can be combined with any of MonthlyClubs.com's other "of the month clubs" for a more customized experience.

Best Domestic Beer Club

We felt that the best domestic beer club was the Clubs of America Beer of the Month Club. It has been in business since 1994 and backs up its product with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Featured beers are hand selected by a panel of experts and each shipment contains an excellent newsletter with background information on each of the beers. It is an excellent beer club for anyone who wants to learn a little more about domestic microbrews.

Runner up: Original Monthly Beer Club from MonthlyClubs.com

Best Value Beer Club

We thought that the Amazing Beer Club by Amazing Clubs was the best inexpensive membership we tested. Amazing Clubs has been in business since 2003 and backs up their product with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Membership is flexible and there is no minimum commitment required. Amazing Clubs uses a panel of beer experts to select featured beers each month, includes an informative newsletter in each shipment and offers discounted rates on reorders. If you are a beer lover on a budget, this club is for you.

Runner up: Craft Beer Club

Unexpected Favorite Beer Club

Despite receiving a much lower score than other beer clubs, we have to say that the Specialties Beer Club from Craft Beer Connect is one of our favorite clubs. The beers are consistently amazing, and we have been very happy with our experience. Since Craft Beer Connect is one of the "youngest" clubs in this group, we think they will only continue to improve their product offering.