Subscriptions have changed from the usual book, wine or chocolate clubs from a few years back. Gin, snacks, vegetables, geek- merch, socks (?!)…you can pretty much obtain anything on a weekly or monthly basis simply by signing upto one of the many subscription boxes out there, and the world of beer has not been left behind. Indeed, I can count five without trying, all offering the beer nerds among us the chance to score some incredible brews, straight to our doorstep, without really trying. This is a good thing. Through the beer box we can travel the UK beer scene, travel world brewing, explore new styles, get reacquainted with old styles, discover new breweries. It doesn’t matter if you’re a die hard craft beer nerd, a casual imbiber or completely new to beer, the subscription box has something for everyone; a key part of it’s success. It also fills the gap for those that don’t have access to a local specialist beer merchant or those among us that just like that surprise element of ‘what’s in the box?!’
I found myself silently asking that as I stood in front of a Beer52 branded parcel, just a couple of days after Ben Black from the company got in touch to see if I’d be up for reviewing a sample box. Beer52 promote themselves as the “UK’s No.1 Craft Beer Club” and never having used their service, I was intrigued by the whole thing, plus I wanted to take a look at Ferment magazine which comes in every box. So, obviously, I took up Ben’s offer.
Ferment magazine has recently gone through a makeover and is now available in all good newsagents (check WHSmiths) for a retail price of £4.99. Beer52 members will always get the latest copy included in their box though, and at £24 they’re not the cheapest box on the market but you do get that extra £4.99’s worth of substance (and a snack), so this added extra helps them to stand out among the crowd, but I wondered what else they’re up to to stay ahead of the curve, so I asked Ben, his reply: “Although a relatively new concept, subscription beer boxes are really popular – there are the obvious reasons to do with the access to great beer it gets you, the great value, the ease of delivery and the confidence that you’re always getting a ‘good’ beer. However, something that is maybe less obvious is that craft beer is a community and Beer52 is a club within that, its where over 15,000 members can come together, learn about, discuss and (of course) DRINK brilliant beer. And that’s very attractive for people who care about the industry and its wonderful product”, states Ben. He continues, “Within our market there are certainly a few options. Here at Beer52 recognise that and we know how important it is to give our members the best possible product again and again. To name a few of things we do differently – we are a discovery club so we look to bring those members lots of exclusive and different small batch beers only they can get. This helps members learn about craft beer possible, which is exactly what the game is about. We include our in house FERMENT magazine in every box for free, which is the UK’s foremost craft beer magazine and has the best beer writers in the UK as its contributors. We also have a great rewards scheme which includes glassware, bar blades and journals. As well as releasing interesting and informative content online and across social every single day. We also have our online bottle shop which opens up a whole new world of choice for our customers.”
I was impressed with the beers that had been sent, there was a decent range, taking into account that this was the Danish Box to accompany that month’s theme of Ferment. MikKeller and To Øl were represented alongside some breweries from closer to home and much, much further away. Some I’d not heard of at all, so excitement built at the notion of trying breweries new to my radar, breweries such as Rothammer from Chile.
Rothammer’s Nazca IPA (4.7%) was all about the citrus and honey and a gently perfumed quality throughout in a not quite green, not quite brown bottle. There’s a slight haze to the beer’s aesthetic, whilst it gives aromas of marmalade and honey, summery sweetness and pub gardens. Over the palate it presents a smooth tangerine upfront and a light honey hint. There’s a freshness and clarity throughout, never cloying with enough bitterness to balance. It’s not huge on the pine or tropical hits that have become synonymous with modern IPA’s, which is a refreshing departure.
Cap Brewery is another that wasn’t on my beer radar prior to this box, so was intrigued by Don’t Break The Oat (4.7%), a stout from Stockholm. I pulled the bottle from the box with sticky lines of beer dribble lingering down one side of the bottle label. On opening this beer was eager to escape, and escape it did, half the bottle’s contents gushed over the kitchen and down the sink. I’d like to state now that this bottle had rested upright for a long period of time before opening. One of the beers I was most excited to try turned out to be the most disappointing, the remaining contents were nothing special; a thin, very average stout. Maybe I needed the full 330ml to fully appreciate the profile though.
A highlight from closer to home came in the form of Stewart Brewing’s Hefe (5.5%) Another one with a lively pour, but this was far more well behaved than the Cap stout. Pepper, honey and banana flood the aroma with sweet cream, doughy bread, banana, spice, apricot and lemon sherbet washing over the palate. I wished I had another bottle stashed away, this was refreshing, complex and beautifully balanced, so one I shall be picking up when I next see it.
Irish brewing was also on show in the form of White Hag, with Red Doe Red IPA (5.6%). Caramel and stone fruits were aplenty with a touch of spice to a dry finish. A decently drinkable brew, although not one I’ll be actively seeking out again. It was good, just not particularly remarkable. I think a food pairing may have been needed to bring out the flavours a bit more. A mild, creamy cheese perhaps?
Mikkeller were represented by two beers to coincide with the Ferment articles; Vesterbro Pilsner and Vesterbro Wit. The pilsner sits 5.6%, so not one i’d personally consider sessionable, but it could easily entice you to want another and another with its crisp, freshness and fruity character. The Wit sits at a close 5%, and is a hoppy version of the style, full of lemon and spice yet very delicate in it’s mouthfeel. Another beautifully balanced brew.
To Øl complete the line-up, also represented by two beers; Baltic Frontier (6.5%) and My Pils (4%); to coincide with the Ferment features. The former was an unusual take on an IPA, featuring Sea Buckthorn and Juniper. A sharp bitter grapefruit hit presents upfront with a tartness from that buckthorn, but the profile soon becomes that f an all-out juicy IPA with huge citrus pith dryness, a pale malt base and that juniper playing throughout. A murky appearance, but a beauty of a beer with aromas of a typical big IPA, somewhat masking that complex profile. My Pils is slightly bitty with sediment scooting around the bottom of the bottle. Some careful pouring leaves me with a well carbonated beer, giving off aromas of summer fruits and citrus. Confident citrus melds with cracker like malts upfront giving way to a crisp, dry, herbal finish. Refreshing and demanding of the next sip. A great summer beer.
A quick search online of Beer52 brought me to some old reviews, some of which had to deal with a backlash from unhappy customers regarding the lack of ease around cancelling subscriptions. These were from years back, and something I put to Ben, asking him how these issues have been addressed and what he’d say to anyone that has potentially been put-off by these remarks, “We try and run as transparent a service as possible”, he states, adding “we take our customers advice and comments and work on them to build the club. These issues were taken on board and acted upon, people can cancel their subscription online at any time now. There is absolutely no tie in. We also realised that some people aren’t into the monthly idea, so we started one off and gift boxes. And we also took on board that some people didn’t want to do the monthly club and wanted to choose specifically what they were drinking – so we opened the online bottle shop which is stuffed with wonderful beers. I’d say to people that may have been put off that, we obviously want people who sign up to the Beer52 club to stay as long as possible but they can cancel anytime they want, also to explore the other options that are open to them if they aren’t wanting to be part of a monthly club and finally if they need help our customer services are there to help”.
Back to the beer, I wonder just how often the breweries are showcased, and if there are any countries that the company are hoping to present soon, especially as bringing beers from further afield seems to be another USP of the club, “We revisit breweries quite often, especially if they bring out a new beer or offer us an exclusive. It’s simple – if they are making great beer we want to work with them and bring that beer to our members. We try and theme our boxes (last month was Denmark, this month was London, next month is Scotland) so we’re always looking for new countries or areas of the world to explore. Personal I’d really like to explore the beer scene in Eastern Europe, its steeped in beery history and produces some cracking brews”, states Ben.
If all this has whet your appetite and you fancy trying the service for yourself, Beer52 are offering £10 off of Look at Brew reader’s first box by using the unique voucher code LAB10. Hit their website for more info and check out those boxes, www.beer52.com
Disclaimer: My Beer52 box was free to me as a sample for review. I do not believe that has affected my opinion of the beers, Ferment magazine or the service.
Many thanks to Ben Black for the box, voucher code and time answering my questions.