Kris Calef likes to say he moved from selling mainframes to microbrews. He left his marketing job with IBM in 1994 and founded the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club.
Now, 27 years later, Calef, who is based in Lake Forest, California, has expanded his business to include five other monthly clubs selling wine, cheese, chocolate, flowers and cigars. The beer club, though, remains his biggest passion.
“We’ve never felt like we’re just selling beer here but rather an experience,” he says. “We still feel the curation aspect of what we do is very important, because there are a lot of average beers and beers appealing to mainstream audiences that don’t make the cut.”
What may set his club apart from many others is the quality of the beers he offers to his customers. Some recent selections included Michigan-based Jolly Pumpkin’s Flor De Los Muertos, a grisette beer brewed with lime and dried marigold flower, and Practise What You Preach, a quadruple ale with Scottish heather honey and American hops that was brewed at Belgium’s La Trappe monastery in collaboration with BrewDog.
The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club asks customers to choose from five memberships: the U.S. Microbrewed Beer Club, the U.S. and International Variety Beer Club, the Hopheads Beer Club, the International Beer Club and the Rare Beer Club. Each offers different beers monthly.
Last year, nearly half the beers offered in the Rare Beer Club were made by breweries exclusively for club members.
“We’ve worked with Jolly Pumpkin, Elevation, The Bruery, Cigar City, Shmaltz, Sudwerk, Monkish and many other breweries over the years and are targeting having more than half of our selections being made exclusively for our members in 2022,” Calef says.
Another advantage is access to regional breweries’ beers.
“You won’t be able to try a Kentucky-bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout from a small Kentucky craft brewery without someone shipping it to you unless you live near the brewery,” Calef says.
The Rare Beer Club costs $37.95, plus $15 shipping, for two 750-milliliter bottles of beer each month; $58.95, plus $19 shipping, for four bottles, or $78.95, plus $24 shipping, for six bottles. Customers also receive a monthly newsletter with detailed tasting notes, beer profiles, brewery histories and suggested food pairings.
Prior to receiving their monthly shipments, customers receive an email detailing the upcoming beers and can customize what they receive. They can add more bottles of the upcoming beers or past favorites, replace the upcoming beers with past favorites or choose not to receive the upcoming beers.
“Our members will never get a beer they didn’t want,” Calef says.
His favorite IPA sent to customers was Mazel Hops from the New York-based Shmaltz Brewing Company. A malty imperial IPA with Amarillo, Simcoe, Citra, Crystal and Topaz hops, Mazel Hops is no longer brewed.
Tannenzäpfle, brewed by Germany’s Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG, is Calef’s favorite lager that was sent to club members. “It’s an all-around rock-solid pilsener that’s highly regarded in Germany and rightfully so,” he remarks.
Calef’s favorite stout sent to customers was Smokey And The Bois, created by California’s The Bruery to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of his beer club. “We tried to capture many of our six product categories in this bourbon-barrel-aged blend with vanilla beans and cacao nibs from Mindo Chocolate makers, one of our featured chocolatiers,” he says. “It’s still drinking really well, seven years later.”
Calef points to Dunham’s Pale Duck as the favorite saison he sent to club members. The beer from the Quebec-based brewery is no longer brewed. “Dunham makes exceptional saisons, and we’ve run several over the years,” he says. “Pale Duck was a Rare Beer Club exclusive brewed for our members. It was a really tasty multigrain saison made with oolong tea and dry-hopped with Idaho7 hops.”
The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club has developed strong relationships in the brewing community, Calef says. For example, U.S. beer importer Shelton Brothers, which has since ceased operations, “parted with 30 or 40 cases of Cantillon’s classic gueuze” a few years ago, he says, and the beer was distributed to club members.
“We’ve attended festivals, conferences and special events from the very beginning, and we have fostered strong relationships with the industry’s leaders,” Calef says. “It enables us to work with brewers to create new beers and with importers to help launch brands in the U.S. market. It also enables us to have access to a handful of cases of varied white whales (rare, hard-to-get beers) from time to time.”