As the craft beer scene in the U.S. has continued to mature and on some level ossify, with bigger regional breweries digging into their trenches and defending their turf from thousands of tiny operations, the idea of a premiumized “beer club” has become almost an expectation for well-regarded regional breweries, especially those with big barrel-aging programs. They’re a good potential source of reliable lump revenue for such breweries, as pioneering programs like The Bruery’s Reserve Society demonstrated—charge a high price for access to exclusive beers, attach a bunch of perks to the program, and continue to build a relationship with your most devoted fans.
Given the common nature of these beer clubs these days, it’s little surprise to see another brewery jump on the train, but when that company is your #1 brewery of the 2010s, you sort of have to pay attention. Firestone Walker was indeed the U.S. brewery we chose as the greatest and most consistent of the last decade of American brewing, and as a result their new Brewmaster’s Reserve club announced today was bound to grab our attention.
The Brewmaster’s Reserve membership program is structured around eight distinct, curated “collections” that total up to 27 beers, to be delivered over the course of 2021. Each collection contains 3-7 bottles united by a common theme. For instance, the initial Parabola Collection includes bottles of the 2021 batches of Firestone Walker’s signature BBA imperial stout Parabola, along with variants Double Barrel Parabola and Amburana Parabola. A later “Anniversary Collection,” meanwhile, will include the always superlative Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale (25th anniversary in 2021), and then individual bottles of all the component parts of that blend—bottles of all the different barrel-aged beers that are blended together to create the finished Anniversary Ale. That way, fans can taste all of the individual components before they taste them synthesized in a final blend, which is a pretty awesome opportunity for the sensory/tasting geeks in the house. In addition, roughly half of the beers in any given collection will be deemed Brewmaster’s Reserve exclusive, available solely to members via the program.
“The most exciting thing for me is that we will be creating a series of exclusive beers that will only be available to club members,” said FW Brewmaster Matt Brynildson in the release statement. “This is where we can get decadent and have some fun. Basically, it’s our very best small-lot creations shared directly with the folks who will appreciate them the most!”
Naturally, by this point you’re wondering what such a program will actually cost, and you should likely prepare yourself for some significant sticker shock. Annual Brewmaster’s Reserve membership has been set at $599 for starters.
It must be said: That’s a hell of a lot, especially if you’re rationalizing it as ”$600 for 27 beers.” But there’s a staggering number of other perks, prizes and add-ins that come along with that membership, to the point that many may actually find this to be a good deal when all is said and done. Additional features of the Brewmaster’s Reserve membership are as follows:
— Each collection comes with glassware curated for that specific collection. That means all 8 collections come with some kind of unique glassware selected by Brynildson. Shipping is included.
— 14 of the 27 beers will be member-only exclusives.
— The welcome pack includes an exclusive beer, a stainless steel membership cards, coasters and branded playing cards.
— All 8 collections will be accompanied by online guided tasting sessions with Matt Brynildson.
— Members will also receive a flat discount of 15% off beer and merchandise purchased from all Firestone Walker locations, and 10% off dining or take-out at FW taproom restaurants.
— Members will also have exclusive access to purchase limited quantity “Library” beers when FW releases them, have early access to regular online beer releases, and will have opportunities to purchase additional Brewmaster’s Reserve exclusive beers as supplies dictate.
Which is all to say … when all is said and done, with so many other add-ons and discounts, the $600 price tag looks a bit less hard to swallow. It’s the sort of investment in a fandom that we would have a difficult time justifying for most breweries—but as our list of the best breweries of the 2010s would indicate, Firestone Walker obviously isn’t “most breweries.”
To close, another piece of potentially bad news: The Firestone Walker Brewmaster’s Reserve club is starting small in 2021, with only 1,000 available subscriptions. Likewise, it will be limited in 2021 to California residents, presumably allowing the company to work out kinks in the system before a wider implementation of the plan. Sign-ups will begin this week, on Friday, Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. PST, at the Firestone Walker website.