What is it about the hype behind a craft beer? The need to drive to Mari’s Six Pak N’ Mor as soon as they post on Facebook they have W00tstout or that moment you find out “a friend of a friend” just came back from Vermont with cases of Heady Topper… Is the hype justified?
Admittedly, I am one of those people who have waited in line beginning at crazy hours in the morning outside of a beer bar to get a taste of Russian River’s Pliny the Younger. This 10.5%, 100+ IBU, once-a-year release triple IPA gets the attention of craft beer drinkers.
This past year, less than 100 barrels, about 25,000 pints, of the Younger were produced. This year Blue Dog in Chalfont, PA sold 4 oz pours of Younger, and the keg was kicked in less than 45 minutes.
I was lucky enough to be the first one served, since we were first in line, and drank it side by side with Pliny the Elder. The beer was poured “first come, first served” alongside several other world class beers on tap.
Then there’s Cigar City’s Hunahpu. One day a year, Cigar City Brewing hosts Hunahpu Day where devoted craft beer fans wait in line for a chance to pick up a bottle of this delicious libation. This past year, 22-oz bottles were sold to the first 4,000 people with a limit of 3 bottles per person. A 2 bottle limit was in place for the following 1,000 people at $20 each. The first person in line camped overnight, getting there at 4:00 PM the evening before. By 8:30 AM, the line was a quarter mile long, and they were expecting 10,000 people. Apparently, some bottles sold on eBay for as much as $250.
Beyond the excitement of grabbing up a few bottles of this imperial stout aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho chilis, Pasilla chilis and cinnamon, an impressive selection of beers, including some “beyond extremely limited” beers, were poured at the event. Mark your calendar… Hunahpu Day 2014 will be March 8th. (Update: Unfortunately, due to rampant assholery, this will be the last Hanahpu Day. More info here.)
Then there’s the Bruery’s Black Tuesday Release Party. This bourbon barrel aged stout, usually around 18 or 19% ABV, is released on the last Tuesday of October. The beer can be purchased via the online store for $30 each, but must be picked up at the brewery.
Members of their Reserve Society are guaranteed a bottle of Black Tuesday. This year’s release will be on Tuesday, October 29th, but only Society members are invited due to the popularity of the event.
Finally, there’s the Alchemist’s Heady Topper. This amazingly delicious 8% double IPA in a can sells out within days, sometimes hours, in the 20-mile distribution radius around the brewery in Waterbury, VT. They brew 120 barrels of the brew each week in 15 barrel batches. The goal is to have the freshest, hoppiest IPA available.
So why not just make more? The brewery responded by saying,
We understand that the demand for Heady Topper far exceeds our current supply. We appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm and understand that our consumers want us to produce more. We will make more someday. However, we will not simply start pumping out more at the expense of quality. We will not skimp on hops. We will not break environmental regulations imposed by the state. We certainly will not dirty our streams, rivers and lakes. We simply can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
So is this all just hype? Perhaps a bit. But a world class beer is a world class beer, and I like the idea of waiting in line and attending release parties. Maybe the atmosphere and the anticipation do add something to the taste of the beer. Isn’t the adventure part of the fun?
The bottom line is, Heady Topper is definitely one of my favorite beers. Ever. And the yearly search for Pliny the Younger is exciting, and I will do it again next year. And secretly I dream of attending Hunahpu Day or being a member of the Bruery’s Reserve Society. Maybe it all seems a bit crazy, but I love the hype. And I really love the beers.