If your idea of beer shopping involves a trip to the supermarket to grab a six-pack, newsflash: You are not that into beer. But for self-proclaimed beer geeks, the art of procuring specialty, sought-after, hard-to-get brews is part of the fun. The Feast talked to Kevin Heald, owner of Malt & Mold, two specialty beer and cheese shops in New York City, about a few of the beers connoisseurs clamor for and what the fuss is all about. Here are five to seek out…if you can.
1. Westvleteren XII Trappist Ale
Brewed in: Westvleteren, Belgium
When It’s Released: Throughout the year
Where to Get It: At a Belgian monastery with two months’ notice
The Scoop: The backstory sounds like an embellished fable, but it’s true: Trappist monks brew beer at the Saint Sixtus Abbey in the Vleteren region of Belgium in order to support themselves and cover their living expenses since they’ve taken a vow of poverty. In order to buy the beer, you'll have to reserve a case and book an appointment to pick it up 60 days ahead, then make a pilgrimage to the abbey—located 95 miles outside of Brussels—to pick it up.
Why It’s So Sought After: While 10 Trappist monasteries produce beer, Westvleteren produces the smallest amount. Plus, its XII—a dark ale—was ranked the best beer in the world by RateBeer.com in 2005, adding to the frenzy. “Part of the magic is that you can’t get your hands on it,” says Heald, “but people who love it, love it and think it’s the best beer in the world.” And the monks clearly know it. When they needed to fund a renovation in 2012, they released 15,000 six-packs to the U.S. market that retailed for a whopping $85 each.
2. Grimm Artisanal Ales
Brewed in: Brooklyn
When It’s Released: Once or twice a month
Where to Get It: Bars and shops around New York City
The Scoop: After years of experimenting with the fermentation process, spouses Joe and Lauren Grimm became “nomadic brewers,” using space at friends’ breweries to brew single-batch releases from recipes they concoct in their Brooklyn apartment, often utilizing locally produced ingredients like fruits and honey along with specialty heirloom grains. After Paste Magazine did a blind tasting of 115 American Double IPAs in 2015, Grimm’s Tesseract (dubbed a “hop bomb”) was ranked fourth while its citrusy Lambo Door took top spot.
Why It’s So Sought-After: “The fact they sort of came out of nowhere and nobody ever heard of them put them right on the map,” Heald says. And since their double IPAs come in a can, you can send them without worrying about breakage (even though it’s not technically legal). “For beer geeks, it’s trade bait. If you’re in New York and can get a couple of cans, you can get one for yourself and trade with someone in another part of the country…for something you can’t get where you are,” he explains. The Grimms are in the process of building their own brewery, but in the meantime, their beers are only sold in the New York area and usually sell out the day they’re released. “People will leave work during their lunch hour and run around the city trying to collect as many as they can get their hands on,” Heald reveals.
3. Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout
Brewed in: Chicago
When It’s Released: Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving)
Where to Get It: Chicago and select markets
The Scoop: The beer—with flavors of charred oak, chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and smoke—is brewed in unrinsed five-to-seven-year bourbon barrels. Goose Island also does several variations on the stout each year, ranging from coffee to rye barrel-aged to vanilla, which are even more elusive. The brewery was bought by behemoth Anheuser-Busch in 2011, but so far, the recipes and characteristics of the beer have remained the same, says Heald.
Why It’s So Sought-After: Just like Black Friday for bargain hunters at big-box stores, beer lovers line up for the stuff. “The variants are in much more limited quantities so it’s harder to get, so there’s a certain frenzy to get them,” according to Heald. “That’s what everyone clamors for, and those will be gone within an hour or two.” The Bourbon County Rare, meanwhile, is even more coveted, as the stout is aged for more than two years in American white oak barrels that held bourbon for more than three decades. It’s not currently being produced, so can be a pricey one to track down.
4. Firestone Parabola
Brewed In: Paso Robles, CA
Where to Get It: Specialty shops around the country
When It’s Released: Every March
The Scoop: This is another barrel-aged brew, aged for a year in barrels from Kentucky-based Heaven Hill distilleries. The result is a black-hued Russian imperial oatmeal stout with flavors of roasted malt and vanilla (and a high alcohol content of 14.5%) that beer aficionados go gaga for.
Why It’s So Sought-After: “They take the batch and age it in different barrels and blend it back together, so it’s really neat. That’s a really interesting one. They come in cases of six bottles. I can’t even put it on my website. It’s gone before anyone can get here,” Heald says. Bottom line: It’s not so scarce that it’s impossible to find, it just may take some sleuthing.
5. Other Half Brewing Co.’s various craft beers
Brewed in: Brooklyn
Where to Get It: The brewery
When It’s Released: Every Saturday
The Scoop: This Brooklyn brewery constantly changes up its offerings with weekly releases of new styles (sometimes in conjunction with other small-batch, equally in-demand beer makers) at their brewery—which happens to be the only place you can find their beer on tap for those who want to sit down and have a pint. The brewery focuses mostly on IPAs with cheeky names like the DDH Double Mosaic Daydream, a double-dry hopped oat imperial IPA, or the On the Daly pale ale.
Why It’s So Sought-After: “They have become quite celebrated in New York for these Saturday releases. People start lining up at 6 a.m. for a noon release. Everyone brings a lawn chair and everyone’s sharing coffee. It’s a social event in itself,” says Heald. Other Half is also well-known for its whimsical can art, ranging from colorful Swedish fish to geometric “space diamonds. “The beer stands up to the packaging," he adds, “but the packaging alone just makes people want to take it home with them.”
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