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The Beer Circle » Adroit Theory Brewing Company, Beer Release, Breweries, Cigar City Brewing Co., Reserve Society, The Bruery, Three Stars Brewing Co., Upland Brewing Co. » Reserve Society: Am I Getting My Money’s Worth?

Reserve Society: Am I Getting My Money’s Worth?

“Reserve Society” is the trending word in beer communities across the Unites States as we’ve entered 2014. From California to Washington D.C. and everywhere in between, breweries are charging an entrance fee for guaranteed access to their rarest beers, events, and even some swag. This approach circumvents the need to host beer releases at the brewery, which sometimes can get out of hand, and cuts down on the amount of people that travel to the brewery for a rare release and go home empty handed. It does, however, also cut out the amazing tastings that often are a precursor to rare beer releases, which we’ve been a part of once or twice.

Bruery Reserve Society

Bruery Reserve Society

As a member of a few of these societies, I found myself crunching the numbers and asking myself, “is this worth it?” After compiling a short list of societies (that is not comprehensive, it’s more representative of the Reserve Society landscape), I decided to find out which breweries offer the best deals, and which should be avoided.

The most common benefits of joining a reserve society are: free beers, access to special beers, members-only events, pre-public access to events and beers, swag, and other discounts at the brewery itself. Most of these discounts really benefit people living within driving distance of the brewery, but every reserve society allows a member to tag a “trustee” to pick up the beers and enjoy the events and discounts, if they so choose. All of the societies get you the rarest and, in some cases, the best beer that these breweries have to offer, but some do it a little better than others.

Here is the list: Bruery Reserve SocietyUpland Secret Barrel SocietyCigar City’s el Catador ClubAdroit Theory Black Heart Society3 Stars Illuminati.

Here is the comparison:

Bruery (CA) Upland (IN) Cigar City (FL) Adroit Theory (VA) 3 Stars (DC)
Fee (2014) $295 $250 $120 $100/$200/$300 $100
Beers Included (#) Yes (9) No Yes (5) Yes (4/8/12) Yes (5)
Society Exclusive Beers Yes No Maybe Yes Yes
Early Access to Releases Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Exclusive Events Yes Yes Yes Yes Pre-public sale
Swag Various Glassware T Shirt None/Corkscrew/+T Shirt None
Other Benefits 15% discount online/in-person None 10% discount at brewery 10%/20%/30% discount at brewery 10% discount at homebrew shop.
Membership Limit Yes (Unsure of amount) 500 1500 1000/500/250 200
Worth It? Yes No Yes Yes Yes

The chart above sheds some light on which reserve societies are comparatively a good deal. For example, 3 Stars’ Illuminati gives you five beers, all of which will be exclusive, and has the lowest cost of entry, whereas Upland’s Secret Barrel Society doesn’t give you free beer, or exclusive access to its beers. Adroit Theory’s Black Heart Society has approached the reserve society trend in a unique way by offering different levels of entry for those who don’t want to drop $300 up front for beer. I chose the $100 level, because I don’t see myself making the hour-long drive to Leesburg six times in 2014 and figured that was a way to support the new guys and get some of their rarer beers. The Bruery does offer other membership levels for its reserve society, called Preservation and Hoarders, but they operate a little differently. Preservation is a quarterly beer club that you can sign up for and leave after a few months and three or so free beers. The Hoarders club is the most expensive reserve society I have ever seen, offering the rarest of the rare for the up front cost of more than $600. The only way to get access to the club is by special invitation, according to the website, so it wasn’t included in the comparison.

3 Stars Illuminati Is the Best Deal

3 Stars Illuminati Is the Best Deal

When it comes down to it, the way you’re going to get the most out of your membership is by living close to the brewery. That way you maximize access to special events/discounts without traveling and don’t have to coordinate the logistics of shipping beer. If you like having easy access to rare beer and are willing to pay the price of membership, a Reserve Society is the perfect thing for you regardless of the other discounts offered. After reviewing the chart, and drawing from my experiences as a member of most, I would rate them in this order:

  1. 3 Stars Illuminati (lowest price per beer)
  2. Adroit Theory Black Hearts Society (third-lowest price per beer, different levels of access)
  3. Bruery Reserve Society (access to the most beer, discounts when buying extra beer)
  4. Cigar City el Catador Club (second-lowest price per beer)
  5. Upland Secret Barrel Society (no free beer, high cost of entry)

Are you a member of a reserve society that we haven’t covered? How does it stack up?

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Written by Russ Beck

Russ can trace his beginnings in craft beer to sitting in Zeno’s Pub in State College drinking various craft beer options from across Pennsylvania. Since then, he has never faltered in finding new brews, whether they’re rare, delicious, or hopefully both. Russ will be writing on a large variety of subjects, including but not limited to: reviews, homebrewing, and how to take labels off of beer bottles. He’ll drink just about anything, but prefers a nice Stout, IPA, or Weizenbock. Find Russ Beck on Google Plus

Filed under: Adroit Theory Brewing Company, Beer Release, Breweries, Cigar City Brewing Co., Reserve Society, The Bruery, Three Stars Brewing Co., Upland Brewing Co. · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

  • M

    “Preservation is a quarterly beer club that you can sign up for and leave after a few months and three or so free beers.” Does it also come with 8 CDs for a penny?

    Like you said, obviously not a comprehensive list of clubs, but there’s a few other dimensions to judge these clubs on that you didn’t mention. First, the beer/brewery itself. There’s a distinction between Bruery/Upland/CCB/Crooked Stave/etcs and Adroit/3 Stars/De Garde/etcs. Former group of established breweries, you have some confidence in knowing what you’re getting and latter group of newish breweries, are asking you to take a gamble/”invest” in them.

    Also, for better or worse, a key discriminator considered is the secondary market (selling, trading, hoarding, huffing, etc). In your example, there is no secondary market for 3 Stars and Adroit Theory yet and joining their clubs today is a matter of convenience and faith that they’ll continue to grow/improve.

    Considering those two additional dimensions, I slightly disagree with the basis of your conclusion. You say, reserve memberships are a good idea (paraphrasing) “If you like having easy access to rare beer and don’t have to coordinate the logistics of shipping beer. ” 3 Stars and Adroit are not “rare” beer yet like the other clubs mentioned are. Talking about beers like this, “rare” to me indicates some increased level of subjective desirability… not just a low bottle count. Also, there is no such thing as easy access to “rare” beer and if you don’t like coordinating shipping, well then maybe stop trying to catch them all :)

    I think of the local startup reserve memberships more like a mug club at your local brewpub. I.e. I wouldn’t trade or seek out the beer out of market, but I know over the course of the year I’m going to spend X dollars on them so I might as well pay it up front to get some perks. If the out of market established breweries are ones I’d trade for or buy on the secondary market, then I’ll consider joining since I’m going to deal with shipping, etc regardless. I’m just hoping the return works out better than stupid Columbia House CDs ever did.

    • http://russwbeck.com/blog/ Russ Beck

      As a former Columbia House DVD member, I sympathize with you.

      I see your point about established breweries versus the new guys, but I still think that the beer the new guys offer is inherently “rare.” Especially considering the general public will only get a base offering, but the reserve society members get the base and a barrel aged variant (which is the case for both Adroit Theory and 3 Stars). With the proliferation of Bruery’s Reserve Society and Upland offering lotteries to the general public of every release, I see the secondary market for those beers shrinking (with key exceptions like Sour Reserve, Black Tuesday, and Chocolate Rain). Who knows, maybe Adroit Theory will be this year’s Prairie or Perennial, making the society a steal.

      As long as the society gets a fan of the brewery access to delicious beer, it will be a success. If the new guys fail and release off or overdone beers to its society members, it will fail. It’s more of a gamble with the new guys, sure, but still worthwhile in my opinion.

  • Joe

    A few comments on Adroit:
    - while the price per beer may be the third lowest, they are giving you ~12 oz. bottles versus The Bruery having 750ml size bottles (at least everything I’ve seen suggests they are going to be 12ozs).
    - the upfront cost is $25 a beer. On their website right now they are selling 2 packs for $25. So the “society” beers work out to be twice as expensive. Don’t worry though cause they’re rare.
    - the discounts are actually pretty good, but you have to buy a boatload of beer to “get your money’s worth.” About 40 bottles a lot at 12.50 each.

    All this and they haven’t even commercially released a beer yet.

    I could rant about Three Stars overall (not just society) pricing scheme but at least they’ve proven they can make decent beers on a big system. I’ve assumed they are doing bombers. If they pull out 12.7 oz bottles I’ll be royally pissed.