The arrival of a semi-mysterious package is always a joy, particularly when it involves booze.
And while discerning drinkers are still able to get their fix at shops and supermarkets, these outlets simply can’t beat the reach of specialists who make it their business to search high and low for new and exciting beverages.
There are myriad online subscription services offering regular drop-offs to your door; and with them the chance to discover fantastic products, often from small, independent or far-flung producers which you may not have otherwise come across.
How we tested
We’ve worked our way through a wide range of beer and cider subscription services, weighing up the quality and variety of products in each; value for money; ability to customise; and uniqueness of offering. In our list you’ll find everything from no-frills boxes that do what they say on the tin to selections of the rare and luxurious, and everything in between.
Most work on a rolling basis with no strings attached – you can cancel your subscription up to a few days before payment – and many are P&P-free. Always check the small print before signing up so you’re aware of the level of commitment.
Sadly, there’s a dearth of subscription services that include both beer and cider – so currently you must pick one or the other. Suppliers, take note. With that said, all that’s left to ask is: “What’s in the box?”
The best beer and cider subscription boxes for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Fetch cider club: £39.99, Fetchthedrinks.com
- Best customisable box – Craft Metropolis craft beer club: £36, Craftmetropolis.co.uk
- Best for global brews – Honest brew beer subscription: £22.90, Honestbrew.co.uk
- Best for elevating your beer game – Beer Merchants premium club: £65, Beer-merchants-club.myshopify.com
- Best for craft beer connoisseurs – Beer52 craft beer discovery club: £24, Beer52.com
- Best for rich, high-alcohol brews – Imperial beer club: £12, Imperialbeerclub.com
- Best for alcohol-free beers – Dry Drinker six month mixed styles beer box: £19.99, Drydrinker.com
- Best craft cider box – Crafty Nectar discovery box: £28.50, Craftynectar.com
- Best for nibbles – Borough Box craft beer and snack gift subscription: £34.99, Fodabox.com
- Best for live tastastingtng sessions – BeerBods beer club: £24, Beerbods.co.uk
- Best box that gives back – Brewgooder beer club: £20, Brewgooder.com
Fetch cider club
During the grand unboxing of our package from Fetch The Drinks, we were delighted to discover not one or two but three Great Taste Award-stamped bottles among the 12 we received. Fetch deals predominantly with specialist, independent producers which use traditional methods; from household name Thistly Cross to Bristol’s Beard and Sabre (whose Dolores hopped cider we loved), UK cider royalty Tom Oliver and of course, plenty of Somerset and Devon cider makers.
The selection had a good range of fruity and medium to dry ciders and perries, plus a copy of Full Juice magazine with articles from top writers like Pete Brown and Gabe Cook. Becoming a member of Club Fetch also gets you a discount on its pick-your-own cases and 35 pint bag-in-box ciders – hard to come by for home delivery – as well as invitations to special events. Wassail!
Craft Metropolis craft beer club
Best: Customisable box
London’s calling…Craft Metropolis continues to focus on breweries in the capital – where it opened its first bar and shop in December – but since the last edition of this round-up it’s expanded and now offers beers from around the UK.
Its other USP is that you can choose the contents of your box if you so wish (the option for a hand-picked selection is still there for those who enjoy the element of surprise); premium brews are on offer here for a little extra, anything from 25p up to a few quid for the more adventurous items.
You can add mystery beers into your own selection, and you’ll get the chance to refresh your choice each time. We were treated to beers from city favourites such as The Kernel, Anspach and Hobday and Pressure Drop; and, from beyond the Big Smoke, the likes of Brew York. Excellent value and fully customisable, Craft Metropolis has got this down.
Honest brew beer subscription
Best: For global brews
Honest Brew’s subscriptions offer up value and flexibility, with a choice of six, nine or 12 beers per month, available in a mix of styles or, if you prefer to avoid the dark side, IPAs and Pales only; with the sun shining, we opted for the latter.
Expect craft brews from the UK and around the globe – our box included beers from London’s Gipsy Hill, Rascals in Dublin and Estonia’s Puhaste – pulled from Honest Brew’s ever-changing selection of fresh and seasonal hopped goodness. The company also has a membership scheme which offers a discount on its standalone bottle shop plus early access to new arrivals.
Beer Merchants premium club
Best: For elevating your beer game
Reaching up to the top shelf for the first (but not last) time in our round-up, the Premium Club is for those who are ready to elevate their beer game. Beer Merchants claims to have superior pulling power when it comes to bringing in exceptional brews, operating as it has been since 1979.
Here, we’re talking big flavours from spontaneous fermentation, reserve brews, time on wood; beers to be uncorked, shared and enjoyed with food and conversation – assuming that at some point guests will once again be a thing.
Highlights from our case included the funky Solbaer Farmers Reserve, the wonderfully tart Oude Gueuze Tilquin L’Ancienne and an imperial stout with coffee, wafer, vanilla and cocoa nibs (drool). The number of beers in the box varies depending on their size. It’s more expensive of course, but we all have our priorities.
Beer52 craft beer discovery club
Best: For craft-beer connoisseurs
Beer52 promises to take you on a voyage of discovery with its subscription service, with a different theme guiding its selection each month. Most of the time that’s a country or region, the latest, however, focuses on the “Best of 2020” and features beloved breweries that deliver time and again like Buxton, Siren, Tiny Rebel and Galway Bay.
These are accompanied by the excellent Ferment magazine, which is packed with in-depth coverage of the craft alcohol scene and follows the monthly theme, plus a snack.
A choice of mixed beers or light styles only is available, with the latter being vegan-friendly. Other recent editions have included Maine in New England, Hungary and Helsinki, so if you’re looking for a globetrotting experience this could be the service for you.
Imperial beer club
Best: For rich, high-alcohol brews
For the uninitiated, imperial, in the context of beer, refers to bold, high-alcohol brews; luxurious and rich in flavour, regardless of style. In its mission to explore the category, Imperial Beer Club has sidestepped the standard subscription format; instead you buy in for £12 a year, and this gives you presale access and 10 per cent off its boxes. This gives the club flexibility to really push it in terms of what it offers.
It has, within reason, a carte blanche on the price of each box, but there’s no obligation to buy: your membership gets you the chance to try boundary-pushing brews and whether you pay up to £100 for the experience is up to you.
The latest edition put the spotlight on Derbyshire’s adventurous Torrside Brewing, specifically its Monsters series, with imperial stouts, a smoked wheat wine and barley wines (our favourite – ideally with a blue cheese pairing) being just a few of the selection. And if you’re partial to a sour (guilty as charged), be sure to check out the team’s next project, the Sour Beer Club, coming soon.
Dry Drinker six month mixed styles beer box
Best: For alcohol-free beers
If for any reason you want to expand your knowledge of alcohol-free beers, this is, quite simply, the box. Dry Drinker is a great resource for anyone who is taking a break for however long; the website deals in everything from spirits to wines to beer and cider, and all… have we got to say it?
Your subscription gets you 12 hand-picked bottles per month for six months, and we loved the variety here: low and no-alcohol brews from big players like Mikkeller and Viru, through to specialist alcohol-free producers such as Klokk & Co in Norway and Jump/Ship in Scotland. Alcohol-free beer has for the past couple of years been shaking off long-held negative perceptions – it’s time to find out what the category has to offer.
Crafty Nectar discovery box
Best: Craft cider box
The UK’s original craft cider box, Crafty Nectar, brings together traditionally made ciders from small producers like Severn Cider and Dorset Nectar, and even makes its own ciders too. There are several subscription plans available: as well as the standard six-bottle box you can opt for a mini taster box of three ciders, or a fine cider box containing two exceptional bottles – rare, slow-fermented, wood-aged; the good stuff.
Many of its picks are award-winning and you can expect a range of styles in each box.
Borough Box craft beer and snack gift subscription
Best: For nibbles
Borough Box offers a cornucopia of fine food and drink from independent producers; with boxes, hampers and subscriptions covering all the bases. This box puts equal emphasis on the beers themselves and the nibbles to go with them, with six of each in the selection. In this case it’s less about going for wild, off-the-beaten-track beers and more about dependable craft brews to enjoy in the garden, or on movie night, as you munch away on snacks such as Italian oven-baked cheese and duck crackling.
Our box contained light and easy-going brews from Five Points, Fourpure and Yeastie Boys – two of each. Available as a one-off taster or for three, six or 12 months, it would, of course, make a lovely gift for a couple, but there’s nothing to stop you gifting yourself. It will soon be available to order with vegetarian-only snacks.
BeerBods beer club
Best: For live tasting sessions
BeerBods has been around since the early days of the subscription box as we know it; it’s been running a tasting club for years and is the most social service going. Members open one beer per week on a Thursday evening, after receiving the story of the week’s pick in an email, and tune in to their social channels for a live tasting.
Most recently that was Heavy Cross by the Borders Brewing Company; looking back you’ll find a fantastic range of breweries from the UK and beyond in the archive, complete with stories and tasting notes, on BeerBods’ website. It’s upped its game during these strange times, with regular virtual pub quizzes on top of its usual tastings and weekly newsletters. A great way to expand your knowledge and get into the finer details, whether social distancing or not.
Brewgooder beer club
Best: Box that gives back
Brewgooder’s is the subscription service with a conscience: since 2016 the company has been on a mission to bring clean water to a million people by donating 100 per cent of its profits to clean water charities operating in countries such as Malawi.
The service started out as an office beer club and later moved to home deliveries – as a result you can order anything from 12 to a whopping 288 beers to be delivered once a week, fortnight, month or two months.
Choose from bottles or cans of its crisp and zesty Clean Water lager, cans of the Chilloozy session IPA, brewed with oats for a full body, or Moyo Juice, Brewgooder’s take on a tropical pale ale, laced with mango and passionfruit.
The verdict: Beer and cider subscription boxes
We were impressed by the range of top-notch ciders, excellent value and added perks of the Fetch Cider Club; it gets our best buy. If you want a fully customisable service, Craft Metropolis is the way to go and the social aspect of BeerBods wins it kudos. For the true beer geeks (apologies for the cliche) we liked Imperial’s unapologetic and unique approach to the subscription box.
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We’ll cheers to this round-up of the best IPAs to suit every palate
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.