Browse the shelves at your local liquor store, and you’ll likely find hundreds of bottles, including whisk(e)y sourced from as nearby as your home state and as far away as Scotland, Japan and India. But some of the best whiskeys aren’t available on shelves or even offered to the general public. They’re created in limited quantities for club members and subscribers, often featuring experimental mash bills and unique finishes.
Whiskey clubs and subscriptions can be tied to specific brands or curated by third parties, and they vary in operation. Some send monthly sample-size bottles, letting members try a handful of different expressions without committing to a full bottle, while others send one exclusive bottle each quarter that can only be found within the confines of the club. This keeps whiskey fans engaged and allows brands to interact with drinkers beyond their local distilleries and points of sale.
“Our club is one of our best ways to stay engaged with customers on a direct and personal level,” says Kelly Woodcock, Vice President of Guest Experience and Whiskey Club for Westward Whiskey. That includes local members in Oregon and also those who live outside the Northwest and can’t visit the distillery in person. Woodcock says that since the club launched, it’s helped to create a deeper connection between the brand and its customers. “These club members share our stories with their friends and neighbors because they feel personally tied to us and the brand,” she adds.
The Best New Whiskeys to Drink This FebruaryIncluding a 32-year-old Irish single malt and a British take on bourbon
Beyond sharing special whiskeys with interested drinkers, certain clubs — like the Ardbeg Committee — enlist brand aficionados’ input on what’s made and released.
“Part of the purpose of the Ardbeg Committee is to give fans an opportunity to have their say on the future of Ardbeg, and that includes its whiskies from time to time,” says Jackie Thomson, Chair of the Ardbeg Committee and Distillery Visitor Centre Manager. “To do this, we might invite a group of Committee members to take part in a blind tasting of several whiskies in the running to be a future release, or invite them to share their feedback on new liquids through online tastings and on social media.” That’s what took place with the recent Ardbeg 8 Years Old release, a big, bold, deliberately youthful and challenging dram meant to provoke discussion.
Joining a members-only outfit is one of the best ways to explore the whiskey category beyond what’s carried at the store or your favorite bar. And signing up your friend, partner, parent or another drinks-curious person in your life is also an easy win during gifting season. Here are seven of the best whiskey clubs available right now.
Islay whiskies are known to be potent, peaty and polarizing, and Ardbeg is no exception. But the brand’s fans are some of the most loyal whiskey heads in the world. The Ardbeg Committee is free to join and today counts more than 180,000 members among its ranks. “It’s truly a global tribe of ‘Ardbeggians’ — kindred spirits that share a passion for our smoky single malt and distillery on Islay,” Thomson says. “Those in the Committee have such an affinity for the brand and really become part of the fabric of Ardbeg.”
Members-only releases don’t follow a strict schedule, but Thomson says there is usually at least one Committee exclusive release per year. Ardbeg aims to offer something unique with each limited-edition expression, as seen with the recent Ardbeg Anamorphic. Thomson calls it “an utterly mind-blowing, shape-shifting dram that morphs between four facets of flavor (sweet, smoky, herbal and spicy), thanks to an unusual cask charring technique.”
The distillery also seeks opinions and feedback from Committee members and gives them unique experiences and opportunities to connect, so there’s more to membership than just good whisky.
Since coming onto the scene in 2014, New Riff has been putting out some of the best-rated and most highly-coveted bourbons and ryes on the market. Join the New Riff Whiskey Club, and you’ll get access twice per year to seasonal, limited releases before the general public. This past fall, that meant the dual release of two eight-year-old whiskeys — Bohemian Wheat Bourbon and 100% Malted Rye — the oldest releases by the distillery to date. Important to note: New Riff Whiskey Club doesn’t ship, so you’ll have to pre-purchase bottles online and then pick them up in person at the distillery. But that’s a great excuse to visit the mother ship in Kentucky.
Oregon-based Westward Whiskey launched its club in 2019. It was initially just available to in-state consumers but has since expanded to reach more than 35 states. Members can choose from two different tiers: Expedition Club and Founder’s Club. Both include quarterly special releases only available to members, but the former grants members one bottle per quarter while the latter grants three. In addition to exclusive bottlings, members also get access to special events, distillery tours and tastings, and the chance to purchase archived whiskey laid down in its vault from previous years.
Westward is constantly innovating and experimenting with grains, yeast strains and barrels to come up with its club releases, although sometimes those experiments fall into their lap. The latest club-exclusive bottle is Westward Whiskey Vienna Malt, which Woodcock says resulted when the maltster’s truck accidentally dropped off Vienna malt instead of pale malt. “We decided to run with it,” she says. Master Blender Miles Munroe and his team used it to create a well-rounded whiskey with notes of biscuit, honeyed malt and rich caramel.
Flaviar offers a choose-your-own-adventure model, with assorted tasting boxes covering all the major spirits categories, plus gift subscriptions that dial down into one particular spirit. The quarterly whiskey club sends recipients one full-size bottle and three sample-size vials, curated by the Flaviar team to include interesting and noteworthy whiskeys. Each shipment also comes with handy tasting notes and information about the producers. The gift works for whiskey veterans looking to try unique bottles, as well as novices who need a guiding hand to point them in the right direction.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society sources exceptional casks from across Scotland — and occasionally outside its borders — and gives its members access to private bottlings you won’t find elsewhere. Membership is $99 per year, and new bottles are released monthly, usually falling in the $100 to $200 range. Each bottle is selected by the society’s tasting panel, and releases vary between region and style, so you’re always assured an exciting new addition to your bar cart. Members can also visit the society’s private venues in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow to sample new releases and archived bottles alongside other members.
Craft Whisky Club is focused on providing its members with craft bottles that are hard to source outside the club. Featured bottles are pulled from all over the world, including from whiskey hotbeds like Scotland, Japan, Australia and, of course, the United States. Expressions range from bourbon and rye to cask-strength single malts with special cask finishes, plus exclusive releases that were barreled specifically for club members. Best of all, whiskeys are paired with foods to snack on as you sip. Shipments go out every two months, and members have the option to receive one or two bottles per shipment. Get a membership for yourself, or gift one to someone else and hope they invite you over to sample the goods.
Taster’s Club has a little something for everyone. Their Stock the Bar membership sends you curated full-size bottles across a range of categories to bolster your home bar, while spirit-specific clubs focus on bourbon, scotch, tequila, rum and more. If it’s American whiskey you’re after, the Whiskey Club sends members one bottle per month, plus digital tasting notes, suggested cocktail recipes and information about the featured producer. Recent bottles included Barrell Craft Spirits Seagrass Rye and Westland Sherry Cask Finish American Single Malt.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.