Beer of the Month Clubs Gaining Popularity in San Francisco

Photo © Brian Stechschulte

Remember when your uncle bought you that beer of the month club membership for Christmas a few years back? You eagerly waited for the first delivery and tore into the box when it arrived, only to find a bunch of random dusty bottles from unknown breweries. Beer of the month clubs don’t exactly have a stellar reputation. The selection can be boring and the cost of shipping is a hefty sum over several months. Four bottle shops in San Francisco offer an alternative to this mail order dice roll. Healthy Spirits and Plumpjack Wines have long established clubs, while Ales Unlimited and the Jug Shop just announced their club opportunities this month.

Each shop takes a slightly different approach and the cost can vary depending on the style and scarcity of the beer you want. None of them have membership fees and you can simply pick the beer up when it’s available. Of course the devil is in the details, which are outlined below for comparison.

Beer of the month clubs aren’t for everyone, but they can be useful for acquiring hard to find beer, convenience, and if you tend to get overwhelmed by unlimited choice or are new to craft beer, then this might be a good option for you. Before signing up for any club, visit the store, check out the selection and ask questions.

The club details below were culled from each store’s website and are subject to change without notice. Please visit them for more specifics and contact information.

If any readers have experience with the following clubs, please comment about your experience below.

Healthy Spirits

Neighborhood: Castro
2299 15th Street
(415) 255-0610

  • 3 to 5 beers per month at a discount
  • In depth tasting notes
  • In store discount card
  • Special perks and access to limited releases
  • Cost of beer each month usually runs around $55


Plumpjack Wines

Neighborhood: Noe Valley
4011 24th Street
Club details and prior selections

  • Approximately $25 per month
  • Two different selection of beers each month (number of bottles vary)
  • Detailed notes on brewery history, description of the brewing process for each beer, tasting notes, serving suggestions and food pairings
  • 10% discount on all non-allocated beers


Ales Unlimited

Neighborhood: Pacific Heights
2398 Webster
(415) 346-6849
Club details

  • Varying choices and price levels
  • Cost covers the actual beer prices
  • Month to month options and discounted upfront options available
  • Club members receive 10% discount on any beers and wines purchased in store that aren’t already discounted.

Level 1: Limited Releases and Exclusive Beers

10 memberships currently available due to limitation of the ales provided.
This membership provides access to the rarest and most exclusive ales we get each month. Barrel aged beers, limited production, and rare releases ales. You love rare? This is a must for you.

Members of this level will receive 2-3 12.7oz, 22oz and/or 25oz bottles.

$50 per month
$275 six (6) months
$525 twelve (12) months

Level 2: Sour Beer, Farmhouse, Saison and Wild Ales

This is the choice for lovers of funky and sour beers. This membership will contain at least one hard to find barrel aged sour beer and one brettanomyces based ale.

Members of this level will receive 2-3 12.7oz, 22oz and/or 25oz bottles.

$50 per month
$275 six (6) months
$525 twelve (12) months

Level 3: New Domestic Craft Beer releases

This level includes only ales from local microbrews and consists of 3-5 12oz, 22oz or 25oz bottles. We will only include craft beer from brewers located throughout the United States. This level will focus on new releases and seasonal offerings.

$30 per month
$175 six (6) months
$325 twelve (12) months

Level 4: New Import Craft Beers releases

This level is similar to level 3 however we only include ales from craft brewers outside the USA. Example countries would be Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

$45 per month
$250 six (6) months
$450 twelve (12) months

Level 5: Multi Mix Pack

We thought long and hard about this level. This level is for the adventurer in you. Can’t decide? Bored to always drink the same ales over and over. This is the level for you. You will receive between 6-10 ales during the month. We will mix from each level, as they are available. During your selected club length you will never receive an ale twice (unless you request it via e-mail and it is available e.g. limited releases)

$75 per month
$425 six (6) months


Jug Shop

Neighborhood: Russian Hill
1590 Pacific Avenue
(415) 885-2922
Club details

  • Varying choices and price levels
  • Offer shipping

Tier 1: Exclusive Beers

6 memberships initially available.
Provides access to the rarest and most exclusive beers each month. This is the program for fans of barrel-aged beers and those looking for the rarest of the rare. As the program grows and members are added, a choice between different sets will be made available.
Shipments will include 2-3 750ml bottles or 22oz bottles.

$220/6 Months
$440/12 Months

Tier 2: Sour Beer and Wild Ales

6 memberships initially available.
If you love funky and sour beer as much as we do, this is the beer of the month club for you. Each shipment will contain at least one hard to find barrel aged sour beer and one Brettanomyces spiked Saison or other wild ale.
As the program grows and members are added, a choice between different sets will be made available.
Shipments will include 2-3 750ml bottles or 22oz bottles.
$220/6 Months
$440/12 Month

Tier 3: New Domestic Craft Beers

Shipments will consist of 3-5 22oz bottles of craft beer from brewers located throughout the United States. This tier will focus on new releases and seasonal offerings.

$140/6 Months
$275/12 Months

Tier 4: New Import Craft Beers

Shipments will consist of 2-4 bottles of beer from craft brewers from around the world. This tier will focus on the amazing brewers of Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, France, Italy, Japan, The Czech Republic and England.

$140/6 Months
$275/12 Months

Tier 5: American Craft Beer Case a Month

Shipments will consist of one 24 bottle mix case of American craft beer with at least 4 different selections and no repeats in the course of one year. This is a great option for people who would like to explore the world of craft beer and keep their beer fridge stocked at the same time.

$200/6 Months
$396/12 Months


Healthy Spirits Releasing Results of First Barrel Aging Partnership with Moylan’s Brewery


Last December a bourbon barrel arrived at the doorstep of Healthy Spirits in San Francisco. It wasn’t a newly purchased prop for the store. Owner Rami Barqawi, beer manager Dave Hauslein and bourbon buyer Nate Breed were about to launch the second part of their new project. The barrels contents had already been turned into an exclusive line of bourbon for the shop. They planned on filling it with beer and contacted Denise Jones at Moylan’s Brewery who topped it off with Ryan Sullivan’s Imperial Stout.

Eleven months later you can buy a bottle of the very limited results this Friday, December 16, at 6pm. How limited? Only twenty cases off 22oz bottles were produced. Customers will be limited to two per purchase.

I got a sneak peek of the beer last night and it’s wonderfully balanced. The nose is full of bourbon, but it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor, which contains hints of dark chocolate, toffee and maybe a bit of dark fruit.

This beer is just the beginning of a more extensive barrel aging program Healthy Spirits has embarked on with local breweries. Dave Hauslein provided a few more details about the beer and their plans for the project over email via Q&A.

– – – –

When did you decide to launch the program?

We began the process of starting a barrel program about 2 years ago. The selection of the first barrel happened in 2010. We selected our Eagle Rare barrel from over a dozen samples and the bourbon was exclusively bottled for sale at the store. The barrel was delivered freshly emptied and given to Moylan’s, who filled it with a fresh batch of Ryan Sullivan’s. It stayed in the barrel approximately 10 months.

Could you give me some insight into how you’re choosing barrels with the beer or partner breweries in mind?

Since we are taking the bourbon for sale in the store, quality is the primary consideration. The employees make scorecards that list various tasting criteria and we compare our scores. After tasting through all the samples multiple times, we decide on a barrel and it is bottled for us. Usually the distilleries sell the barrels themselves or find other uses for them, but we found out most will give you the barrel if you commit to buying the contents. Once we have the whisky, I contact breweries to see who is interested and what styles they could do. We decide which one to go with based on which beer/bourbon combination seems most harmonious.

Why did you choose Moylan’s to partner with first? 

We have known Arne Johnson at Marin Brewing Company for a long time and I’ve always enjoyed the beers of Marin and Moylan’s. They tend to be well made examples of classic styles that are accessible without dumbing it down. More than a few customers have told me that Marin and Moylan’s were their first introduction to craft beer. Also, they’re local and we had a relationship with them. As we go on with the program we’ll inevitably work with some non-local brewers, but for the most part I’m choosing small local producers.

How often do you plan on collaborating with other brewers? 

There are a few already in the works, two of which we’re planning to release during SF Beer Week. Every time we get a freshly emptied bourbon barrel, it will go to a brewer. This will assure that we always have something in the works and can hopefully have a couple of releases a year. At least that is my hope.

Which beer styles will you focus on?

Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, and other strong ales for the most part. We may have a sour ale lined up, but you won’t see that for a little while.


RateBeer’s Best of 2011 Awards, Bay Area Roundup

Awards season is upon us and the beer world is no exception. The folks at RateBeer in Santa Rosa have finished crunching data from nearly 3 million beer reviews on their website and a few Bay Area breweries, bars, restaurants and stores can stand a little taller today. According to RateBeer “130,000 beers from over 10,000 brewers worldwide were tallied and the emphasis was largely placed on tasting commercial samples — not special batches prepared for festivals.”

There are some very familiar names in each category but a few surprises will leave beer geeks disillusioned, particularly in the bar category. Here’s how the Bay Area faired:

The Best Beers in the World 2011

#3 Pliny the Younger, Russian River Brewing

#8 Pliny the Elder, Russian River Brewing

#20 Supplication, Russian River Brewing

#32 Consecration, Russian River Brewing

#81 Temptation, Russian River Brewing

#83 Blind Pig IPA, Russian River Brewing

The Best Brewers in the World 2011

#8 Russian River Brewing

#30 Bear Republic Brewing Company

#68 Marin Brewing Company

#85 Shmaltz Brewing Company

The Best Breweries to Visit 2011

#12 Anchor Brewing Company

#34 Speakeasy Ales & Lagers

The Best Beer Bars 2011

#17 The Trappist, Oakland, CA.

The Best Brewpubs 2011

#5 Russian River Brewing

The Best Beer Retailers 2011

#31 City Beer Store, San Francisco.

#36 Perry’s Liquors, Livermore.

#45 Healthy Spirits, San Francisco.

The Best Restaurants for Beer 2011

#17 La Trappe Café & Trappist Lounge, San Francisco.

So what does everyone think? You can see the full results on the RateBeer website.

Congratulations to all the winners. You truly help make the Bay Area one of the best craft beer drinking regions in the country.