Distribution in the craft beer world creates an interesting paradox: there’s an undeniable surge of excitement when you figure out a way to score an ultra-rare bottle from a famed brewery with a distribution radius of 100 miles, but we’d also welcome a world where East Coasters could easily snag a bottle of Pliny the Elder without having to fly to California or attend an all-too-rare tap takeover at their local brewpub. Thankfully, there are a few mail-order services that can help you hurtle some of the barriers of distribution—or let you discover beers you never knew existed in the first place. Here are a few of the best mail-order beer services.
Of the many membership clubs out there, this one reigns supreme. It doesn’t hurt that it was founded by Michael Jackson, the Godfather of craft beer. An intro-level, $50 membership gets you 750-ml bottles of two ultra-rare beers from boutique breweries from the United States and across the globe. The focus here aims at the unique and the varied, in both style and country of origin, and many of the selections are ready to cellar (should you have the patience). Each shipment is accompanied with a newsletter that includes an in-depth profile of each beer and brewery. Past selections include the Sly Fox Brewing Nihilist Imperial stout, the La Monesue from Brasserie de Blaugies, and the Tart Attack, a Berliner Weiss from NoDa Brewing Company. You can also up your membership to $69, which will get you two bottles of each beer selected, or pay $89 for three bottles of the two featured beers, which should make aging a few of the bottles a bit easier.
Unlike the monthly clubs, which expose you a handful of beers that you might’ve never purchased yourself, Let’s Pour is a more straightforward merchandizing site, offering a wide variety of beer options from throughout the United States and the rest of the world (as well as deals on wine and soda). An email address is required to access the site, which automatically subscribes you to their deals newsletter. When you register, you get $10 off the first order, and the site also has a robust referral-rewards program and a daily Spin the Bottle game to bolster additional discounts. Beer choices run the gamut, from 12-ounce and 750-ml bottles to fresh growlers (32 and 64 ounces). The brewery list is equally varied, though expect to see some bottles that you can also easily locate at your local bottle shop, where you can likely get ‘em cheaper. The sub-selection of hard-to-find beers, which is organized around where you live, helps you cut through the encyclopedic options to find the real gems. The prices here are relatively high, in part because of the beers’ rarity, but the high prices also incorporate some initial shipping costs. Each beer ships from a handful of different warehouses throughout the country, and your best strategy is to order multiple beers from the same city. Choose six from the same city of origin, and you get free shipping; choose 12 and you save $15. They also have great deals on glassware and miscellaneous merchandize and accessories.
Both of these sites operate like an Amazon for beer—save that that you’ll always pay for shipping. Beer Ship has a pretty extensive list of breweries, so it’s a good place to shop by beer-maker and hone in on the hard-to-find bottles. They ship in 12- and 24-pack boxes. The former can be used to house 750-ml bottles, while the 24 packs are limited to 22-ouncers. Twelve-ounce bottles and cans are typically sold in bulks of four, while the larger bottles are priced per beer. Naturally you get more bang for your buck when you fill an entire box. A pre-order feature also lets you queue up hard-to-find seasonal releases. Sadly, they can’t ship to every state in the country. The prices at John’s Grocery are a bit better ($12 for a 22-ounce Goose Island Sofie, for example), but the shipping costs are still unavoidably high (even if they vary based on where you live). They do a great job of breaking their inventory down by style, country of origin, and beer name—though inexplicably not by brewer. To get a price quote on your desired order with shipping costs, you have to call their Iowa office, and need to provide a fax of your ID to prove you’re of age.