In 2020, breweries (along with many other hospitality industry businesses that rely on in-person experiences) had to figure out what to do with their product lines when beer lovers couldn't enjoy the taprooms because of Covid shutdowns and health risks. Lots of breweries pivoted to figuring out the logistical hurdles of shipping beer or simply packaging it for pick up to go.
But another solution that some breweries looked to was starting their own beer clubs.
While (deservedly) hyped breweries like The Bruery have operated a brewery membership for quite a while, it's still a fairly uncommon offering. For a brewery like Firestone Walker, which distributes nationally and is arguably one of the most respected breweries in the country, the Brewermaster's Collective was a natural move.
"Most important, the Brewmaster’s Collective allows us to personally connect with passionate craft beer enthusiasts and devoted Firestone Walker followers," Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Bryndilson says.
It's not just that though, as it's provided the long-touted brewery with the ability to experiment and offer up some truly rare beers.
Unboxing a Brewmaster's Collective Box
"The Brewmaster’s Collective has proven to be a platform for the rarest and most imaginative beers in the history of Firestone Walker," Bryndilson says.
I've had the extreme pleasure to be testing a Brewmaster's Collective membership for over a year, and it's been an absolute delight. The rarity of the beers I receive is truly impressive; I can honestly say I haven't found a dud beer yet. I've been able to share these with friends and family to sit and enjoy something you can't find anywhere else. And with 2023 membership sign-ups opening up to the public on November 8, this feels like a perfect time to dive into a review.
Expect Four Beer Deliveries a Year
When it comes to what a Brewmaster's Collective member receives, first and foremost, it's about the beer. In 2022 I received six deliveries, but this is changing slightly for 2023. Next year it will be four seasonal collection deliveries, the member welcome kit and four Propagator deliveries for a total of 25 beers across eight shipments. These are broken into the categories of vintage, Barrelworks exclusives, club exclusives and collaborations. A lot of the beers lean on the exclusivity and access to Firestone's impeccable barrel program (think bourbon barrel-aged stouts, wild fermentation beers and the like). You won't be getting IPAs in a box, but that's not the rare stuff that Firestone does.
You'll Get Exclusive, Collective-Only Beers
While beers like the legendary Anniversary Ale aren't exclusive to the club, there are Firestone Walker beers you won't be able to get anywhere other than by being a member. In the age of craft beer hype we're living in, that matters. Beers made exclusively for members is a huge perk and something many other beer clubs employ — many of the beers The Bruery members receive cannot be obtained any other way. For 2023 members, you'll get 16 member exclusives.
The Membership Isn't Cheap, But It Works Out to Be a Decent Value
For 2023, the overall membership price is being bumped down to $499 (from $575) but shipping is going to be a separate charge. If you live near Paso Robles, you're making out because it's free onsite pickup. The other two options are an annual shipping charge ($135 for CA residents, $175 for non-CA) or recurring shipping charges ($20 x 8 shipments for CA residents, $25 x 8 shipments for non-CA). That works out to a range of $499-$699 depending on the shipping option available to you. If we go with the annual charge for non-CA residents (ends up being $674 total), that comes out to just shy of $27 a beer. Factoring in the rarity of the beers and taking into account the average 4-pack price for a craft offering these days (keep in mind these beers aren't 4-pack beers but rather elevated bottle offerings), it's actually a value. You can't get access to over half of these beers anywhere else — and from one of the best breweries/brewers in the country no less.
As the Infomercials Say: But Wait, There's More
Not only do you get things like merchandise, discounts, a birthday gift, discounts and more, but you also get a chance to purchase Firestone Walker Invitational tickets. For context, these sold out in two minutes for 2022. And for California members, you get the ability to attend onsite collection tastings with the Firestone team as well as member happy hours where you can meet up with other members and enjoy good beer at Firestone Walker facilities.
Supplies Are Limited, and You Can't Get It Everywhere
Only 1,500 total memberships will be fulfilled for 2023. This will be a slight increase from 2022 and signup for these open slots is going to be available starting November 8 (the signup period runs until December 31). And also keep in mind that memberships are only available to be shipped to the following states and areas: California, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C. That means anyone in other states would not be able to receive the shipments at all (and are not eligible for the membership) — this is due to varying state laws regulating shipping alcohol across state lines.
Firestone Walker Brewer's Collective Beer Club: The Verdict
While it is a pricey gift, the value for what you're getting (rare beers from a top brewery) is undeniable. And when put into the context of what good non-IPA craft beer costs these days, it's about right. If bucket-list beers and white whales are your thing (or that of a giftee), then you can't go wrong with a Brewer's Collective membership.
*Firestone Walker provided a sample membership for testing purposes.