We blame it on the jelly. The year following the gifting of the most maligned food-of-the-month club, jars of blueberry, grape, hot pepper, and apricot pile up in the cabinet, unappealing and useless for all but as a spread on your morning toast (supposedly for those rare days you skip the oatmeal or omelet – besides, who can eat that much jam in a month?). It doesn't have to be that way. From rare craft beers to out-of-this-world salumi, food subscriptions can introduce delectables that you won't find in even your most discerning grocery store. As cousin Eddie said of Clark's Jelly of the Month gift in 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,' "It's the gift that keeps on giving the whole year." Here's to making that statement actually true.
The Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club
With 2,000 new breweries in the United States and a 13 percent growth rate for craft beers in the past few years, an argument could be made that the venerable "beer of the month club" is fast becoming obsolete. After all, why pay high shipping rates and endure long waits for beer when even the gas station's aisles are now stocked with craft brew rock stars like Sierra Nevada, Saranac, Lagunitas, and Stone? But then we thought of one reason: The other 1,996 breweries peppered around the country – many that aren't available even in the most meticulously stocked bottle shop.
For the beer-curious novice or complete geek, one of the most versatile, well-rounded beer clubs around is the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club (MBMC). The focus here is on variety – of style, brewery, and region. Each month's delivery comes with a mix of porters, pale ales, stouts, and IPAs, along with a newsletter that gives background on the brewery, the style of beer, and, for those who want more guidance, tasting notes. The best two options are: the U.S. Microbrewed Beer Club, which includes 12 16-oz domestic beers in four styles for $39 a month; and the Rare Beer Club, where you get two 750-ml bottles for $47 a month.
Many of the rare bottles are brewed exclusively for the club, and, to be fair, some of the options can err a bit on the wild side. In October, for example, the club sent out Jester King's Gotlandsdricka (brewed with birchwood smoked malt, juniper, sweet gale, and rye) ahead of all releases but a few beer festivals. The Bruery's Five Golden Rings, likewise, was given limited release to the Bruery's Reserve society and Beer of the Month only. But for enthusiasts and those who covet one-of-a-kind bottles, or, in the case of the domestic club, aren't fussy about styles and are open to a wide variety of new brews, MBMC is our pick of the beer bottle monthlies. [$39/month for 12 domestic bottles or $47/month for 2 750-ml rare bottles; beermonthclub.com]