Beer, brews online

Online beer clubs are thriving.

Wine clubs have been around longer than the Internet, but they blossomed there. Providing full-color catalogs via mail-order is slow and expensive and expanding your customer base is more difficult. The web made possible daily changes to product, potentially instant error correction and price changes and the possibility of reaching a worldwide audience cheaply.

Less well known is the fact that beer clubs have done the same.

Brews online

Specialty brews are more often tasted in restaurants, bars and pubs, occasionally from a purchase at a store. But to get the widest possible variety, at better than you would imagine prices, an on line beer club offers the best of all possible worlds.

Regular newsletters keep members up-to-date on the latest creations or long-overlooked gems. Product has been taste-tested by experts who are often judges at national or international contests. Specialty glassware and other collectibles often accompany the brew products offered.

Membership terms vary, with lots of price competition to keep costs down to levels you would find in the local store or better with much greater selection. Shipment choices range from monthly to quarterly and sometimes allow you to select the day.

Information on the brews goes well beyond subjective tasting notes from knowledgeable experts. Alcohol content, bitterness measures in IBU (International Bitterness Units), and a variety of other objective criteria help you decide which brews to sample.

You'll need all the guidance you can get. Only the most dedicated pub could offer anywhere near the number and type of brews available from an on line club, and you get the added benefit of an education with each one.

Whether your tastes run to pale lagers or dark stouts, pilsner to Belgian to Barley wine, you'll find something to suit you on line. On line clubs know no geographic boundaries either. Germany, Britain, Belgium, America, Canada, Mexico, Japan, China or Argentina and anywhere else beer is brewed are all covered.

There is a set fee per month plus shipping costs with anywhere from a few bottles to a dozen or more offered. Some require a minimum three month sign up period, but many are month to month.

If you find one you like but are also fond of cigars, wine, chocolate or other specialty items, many beer clubs have divisions that offer similar programs on those as well.

Beer America, for example, has been around on line for over 10 years and has served over half a million people. Located in Lake Forest, Illinois, near Chicago, the club has a monthly program that ships two six-packs per month to member's doors.

Another company located in another Lake Forest, this one in California, is the Microbrewed Beer of the Month Club. They offer several different programs including the brews for the U.S.-only and an International Beer club program. In either case, members receive two different styles of six-bottles each selected by the club's expert tasters.

But on line beer clubs are found all over the U.S., Belgium, Canada and many other countries. Since they're on line their headquarters location matters little, except for some slight variations in shipping costs and time.

Find one you like and tell your beer drinking friends. The world just got smaller and bigger at the same time. Vive la Internet!

Does a beer club educate its members about beer or it is just a social opportunity to share likes and dislikes?