There’s something about being part of a club that makes you feel like you really belong. Or, in the case of mug clubs, like you’re really, really good at drinking beer. At these Boston establishments, liquor clubs and mug clubs are a way to push your beer and spirit preferences out of your comfort zone, venturing into new territory while making your way through an exhaustive drinks list. And at the end of the journey? Victory — and, sometimes, a 25-ounce personalized mug.
The agave club at The Painted Burro and Burro Bar (Brookline)
Sister establishments The Painted Burro and Burro Bar have a distinct focus on agave spirits, which range from widely recognized liquors like tequila and mezcal to more niche agave derivatives like sotol and raicilla. The best way to get customers to try them all? The agave club, which is offered at both The Painted Burro and Burro Bar in Brookline (another Burro location in the South End does not offer the club).
The agave club is reward-based, meaning that each time a customer hits a certain milestone, a new prize is unlocked. To start, simply download each restaurant’s app, which allows both patrons and bartenders to keep track of which agave drink has been ordered (both cocktails and two-ounce sippers are counted as one drink). Choose from over 150 different agave spirits, including Ilegal mezcal or Por Siempre sotol, then have a staff member check it off on the app. After 25 agaves, you’ll receive a margarita kit; after 50, you’ll win a four-course meal for two with agave pairings. Keep at it until 100 agaves, when the prize is a round-trip plane ticket for one to Cancun.
(The Painted Burro: 219 Elm St., Somerville; Burro Bar: 1665 Beacon St., Brookline)
The gin club at Our Fathers
Launched in October 2018, the gin club at Our Fathers in Allston was intended to push gin drinkers — and gin-curious drinkers — beyond their usual order. Owners Phil Audino and Dave DuBois put 92 gins on the club list, which prospective members can work their way through however they please. Divided up by geographic regions (Europe, Asia, Mexico, South America, England, etc.), some imbibers tackle a country or continent first. Others take a more sporadic approach, jumping around the list.
“I just see it as a great opportunity to learn more about how people like to drink,” head bartender Sara Alvernaz previously told Boston.com. “It can be extremely overwhelming when people walk in and see the list. But [the club] is about learning all about the spirit and what you can do with it.”
There is no fee to join — you just have to sign your name and starting date on a gin card — and once all 92 gins have been sampled, you’ll become a member. That includes a custom-engraved, silver-banded martini glass that is kept at the bar for future visits, along with a personal gift from Our Fathers.
(197 North Harvard St., Boston)
The whiskey club at Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar
Before they created the gin club at Our Fathers, Audino and DuBois launched the whiskey club at Citizen Public House in the Fenway. Gaining membership is no easy feat: After requesting a time card from a bartender that indicates the start date of each person’s whiskey journey, prospective members must work their way through 129 whiskeys out of the more than 250 varieties behind the bar. Both familiar and obscure brands line the shelves: Auchentoschan, Elijah Craig, Hakashu, High West. The list goes on.
After completion, members receive a silver-banded, crystal whiskey glass with their name engraved on it, kept at the bar for every Citizen visit. Other perks include a personal gift from the bar team and a complimentary ice sphere with every glass of whiskey.
(1310 Boylston St., Boston)
The whiskey club at Rosebud Kitchen
Rosebud Kitchen, an American restaurant in Davis Square, is part of the Alpine Restaurant Group, which also operates The Painted Burro and Burro Bar. So it makes sense that its whiskey club follows the same format as the agave club. Download the Rosebud Kitchen app, which keeps track of the vast selection of whiskeys behind the stick. After 25 whiskeys, imbibers win an engraved Glencairn whiskey glass; after 50, a four-course dinner for two with whiskey pairings. But instead of heading to Mexico once you hit 100 whiskey drinks, dedicated drinkers will win a round-trip ticket to Louisville, Ky., where whiskey seems as common as water and where a bourbon trail is one of the city’s main attractions.
(381 Summer St., Somerville)
The mug club at Bukowski Tavern
It’s only fitting that a bar named after one of literature’s most debaucherous figures has a mug club for dedicated drinkers. Patrons can sign up for a card with roughly 150 beers on it, divided up by vintage bottles, cask beers, draught beers, bottles, and another section that includes 40-ounce bottles of PBR, Colt 45, and other easy-drinking brews. Participants have six months to complete the lineup, after which they’re in the mug club for life. The prize: a 25-ounce mug, which members can fill up with 16-ounce beer options for the same price, and 12-ounce options for $2 extra.
About that mug: Bukowski’s has dubbed its club the “Dead Authors Club,” and each member must choose a deceased author who’s not already taken by another member to commemorate with that writer’s name on their mug.
While Bukowski Tavern has two locations — one in the Back Bay, one in Cambridge — a mug club membership is only valid where the card was completed. There are other rules, too: Only the card holder can drink from their respective mug, all drinks must be paid for by the same card holder, and, of course, earning a mug is a privilege, not a right — and it can be taken away.
(1281 Cambridge St., Cambridge; 50 Dalton St., Boston)
The mug club at Elm Street Taproom
When Elm Street Taproom opened in Davis Square in January, it launched with 200 mugs hanging behind the bar. Those mugs are dedicated to members of the mug club, a crew that owner Dylan Welsh says is now 35 strong.
While entry into the mug club started with a list of 64 beers, it has since grown to 80 — 40 on draft and 40 in bottles or cans, a result of wanting to offer a wider selection of beer, Welsh said. Customers check into the bar and keep track of the beers they’ve ordered with the Elm Street Taproom app, which also allows them to take advantage of promotions. (Every Mug Club member qualifies for a free appetizer after 10 check-ins.) After drinking all 80 beers, new members receive a 22-ounce mug, which they can drink from for only $1 more than the price of a regular pour. After a year, members will need to renew their membership for $39.99, which comes with a T-shirt and an invitation to a private party.
(256 Elm St., Somerville)
The mug club at Parish Cafe
Open in the Back Bay since 1992, Parish Cafe is a love letter to sandwiches, and serves around 20 different gourmet varieties. But if you’re here for the beer, it has that covered, too. With a mug club modeled in a similar fashion as sister bar Bukowski Tavern’s, customers who complete the 125 beers on the list within six months become full-fledged members and the proud owners of a personalized (up to 20 characters) 25-ounce mug.
“At The Parish, they’ll crank up ‘The Final Countdown’ [when someone is about to become a member],” said Brian Poe, chef and partner of Parish Cafe and Bukowski Tavern. “It’s fun to watch. You’ll hear it from a mile away. You have that song playing and you’re in the crowd, and you walk by and say, Wow, that mug looks good on ya. It’s a good time.”
(361 Boylston St., Boston)