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Mark Twain had a way with words on the most important topics—life, death, and bourbon.
“If I cannot drink bourbon and smoke cigars in Heaven then I shall not go," he pontificated.
While Twain defines bourbon as heavenly, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines it as made in the United States, with a corn mash bill of at least 51 percent, and being aged in new charred oak barrels. It must not exceed 80% alcohol by volume during production and must not exceed 62.5% alcohol during aging.
Those qualities often lead to a sweeter flavor profile than other whiskeys, along with notes of vanilla, caramel, and oak. They have also led myriad new craft distilleries to experiment with their own recipes, which makes it a worthy spirit to explore via subscription services. The best clubs out there balance surprising revelations with value and education. For bourbon lovers, that means a box of heaven, delivered in the here-and-now. Here’s a look at the best bourbon of the month clubs.
Why We Chose It: Mash&Grape focuses on providing its customers with top-quality products, including bourbons from lesser-known distilleries.
What We Like
Access to the in-house marketplace
Exclusive bottle offers
National retailer network
Relationships with brands
What We Don't Like
Does not ship to every state
A spin through the type of bourbons Mash&Grape assembles for its monthly subscriptions ($69 per month) reveals a lot of quality producers (think Old Scout, Kings County, and Kentucky Owl) and range (bottled-in-bond to peated).
The original idea with MashBox was straightforward: Take the curated experience of Mash&Grape’s spirits and wine market and put it on autopilot. Or, as founder and CEO Adi Pal puts it, ”Our customers like what they see and trust us to send them something awesome every month, and that feels great.”
Pal and his team hunt top products (rather than bargains) and approach the maker with the chance to appear before a desirable and engaged buyer. The search is aided by the fact that dozens of brands—many of them new—seek Mash&Grape’s e-commerce services (under Barcart), giving Mash a jump on scouting.
“We know we have good taste and we back it up—we’re betting on ourselves and our selection,” Pal says. “It’s premium bourbon and you get a deal.”
Members receive finds worth remembering, access to Mash’s retail marketplace, and discounts on extremely allocated spirits from partner distilleries that simply aren’t made in enough quantity to be found elsewhere. Barrell Bourbon, for example, is now an established ally after Mash&Grape discovered it—and before Barrell earned a windfall in awards. As of December 2020, club members were expected to receive a one-off bourbon collaboration between the partners in the near future.
“These days we’re seeing more bourbon brands, but more brands of better quality,” Pal says.
Why We Chose It: There’s a great vibe to the whole program and it checks all the boxes—including some many might not think of, such as a taster sampling and notes about each delivery.
What We Like
Four tastes a shipment
Members experience free shipping on qualified orders related to clubs
Live tasting events
What We Didn't Like
It can be hard to know which bottles to order
You have to wait three months for a box
The appeal with this quarterly club ($95 per quarter) is manifold. For one, shipments include a choice of desirable 750-milliliter bottles in addition to a “tasting box” with three dram-sized 50-milliliter samples grouped around a theme and paired with lively tasting notes, a coaster, and helpful tasting guides. A bonus came in 2020 with the debut of the first-ever print Flaviar Times magazine, which is both comely and content-rich. Monthly access to The Vault offers opportunities to acquire rarities like WhistlePig The Boss Hog VII. A strong roster of auxiliary elements—including tasting and blending events (live and online) and VIP distillery tours—are appealing factors too. Meanwhile, Flaviar’s online “Boozefeed” provides a worthy range of additional content, whether that’s a video exploring Winston Churchill’s favorite drinks or a rundown of bourbon and rye cocktail recipes.
Members select a bottle from a gallery of spirits (including a wealth of non-bourbons); while having control over the options is inviting, it can be hard to choose from the heretofore-unknown bottles. But the number of rich and revelatory options is undeniable—and something CEO and co-Founder Grisa Soba takes pride in.
“The fact is consumers tend to stick with their go-to drink if ordering through regular online retail channels, which tend to inevitably favor the big boys, and this is why platforms like Flaviar are so important to smaller producers,” he says. “Discovery and a diversity of flavor [are] a fundamental part of what we’re all about.”
Why We Chose It: Taster’s is a textbook example of what one would want in a club: interesting bourbons, one price ($84, including shipping), frequency variability, and thorough educational materials.
What We Like
Members' bottle shop
What We Didn't Like
Basic overall options
Taster’s Club takes pride in its atypical selections from Washington, D.C. (Buckshee Bourbon) to Iowa (Cedar Ridge) to the heart of Kentucky Bourbon Country (Bardstown Bourbon Company). “We like surprising our members with new, interesting bottles so you can try something new, expand your [palate], and maybe even discover a new favorite,” its website says. Members gain entry into the house Bottle Shop, and gift-givers are enthusiastic about how the club caters to them with personalized certificates and more.
Flavor profiles and tasting notes accompany each bottle, and the online resources are a real strength, with helpful, down-to-earth information on “how to properly taste and evaluate a bourbon,” “bourbon production techniques” and “distilleries around the U.S.” All told, it’s a simple, straightforward, no-frills club that focuses on gift-giving with options like the three-bottle gift pack.
Why We Chose It: The Pour More team prioritizes exploration and education with aplomb.
What We Like
Attentive customer service
Add-on options for gift-givers
What We Didn't Like
High-end “enthusiast” tier was discontinued
Pour More co-owner Scott Cohen was well familiar with the experience of seeking something interesting at the liquor store but not knowing what to get amidst the plethora of options. “What’s most fun for us is customer feedback telling us they’re loving the variety and the education, and liked it a lot more than the overwhelming feeling of looking at a whole wall of liquor,” he says.
Subscriptions fit into two tiers (Intro and Explorer, $49 and $79), with some rare bourbons once circulated with the high-end enthusiast category sprinkled in whiskey club shipments. Cohen and company work with small producers and their distribution partners to spotlight distillers like Cooperstown Bourbon and Rabbit Hole Dareringer. Bottles come monthly or bi-monthly with plans ranging from three to 12 months, accompanied by brand background and a recipe, with optional gifts (Whiskey balls and corksickle glasses) and one-off offerings from partner producers.
It’s hard to go wrong with any of these clubs. Each is savvy when it comes to the most important elements: convenience, intriguing selections, and education. That said, Mash&Grape and Flaviar go above and beyond in terms of vision, voice, and discoveries. Mash&Grape is doing nothing less than changing the monthly club game thanks to its myriad relationships with emerging brands, which translates to impressive new finds that come bundled with a lot of tasty intel. Flaviar, meanwhile, is flat-out fun: The packaging and presentation with its three-dram setup is a mini tasting party before you even get to the main event bottle.
By law, bourbon must be distilled in the United States, consist of at least 51 percent corn, and be aged in barrels made of new charred oak. The liquid needs to be distilled to no more than 160 proof and stored in the barrel at a maximum of 125 proof. While the mash must be more than half corn, other grains can also be used; a typical mash might consist of 80 percent corn, 10 of a flavoring grain, and 10 malted barley. Rye and wheat are popular flavoring grains.
The belief that bourbon must be made in Kentucky persists, and while Bardstown is the world’s Bourbon Capital and arguably makes the best on the planet, bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S. Mystery around its name also endures and has been tied to Bourbon County in Kentucky and Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but both of those were named for European royalty, The House of Bourbon.
What Does a Bourbon of the Month Club Include?
Typically, clubs include a bottle of bourbon mailed at regular intervals with tasting notes and background. Schedules and duration vary.
How Much Does a Bourbon of the Month Club Cost?
Clubs start at $69 a month and generally don’t exceed $90 a month.
How We Chose the Best Bourbon of the Month Clubs
We researched several clubs and spoke to industry experts about what they offer to select our favorites. We considered the diversity of offerings, curating philosophies, cost (and value), frequency, accompanying literature, and growth of membership. Education was also important and is a strength of each, including Pour More, which we chose for best newcomers because of its focus on teaching consumers about bourbon. Flaviar’s club definitely provides the most variety and has a smart thing going with its slick tasting bundle of three spirits, and given its overall verve, it could be called the most fun too. But in the end, the sheer amount of product research and revelations that Mash&Grape deliver won us over.