In the beer world, there’s something that’s universally loved and loathed — specialty beer release events. Back in the day, before craft beer had grown as popular as it is today, a seasonal or experimental beer could be released by a brewery, and the company’s core group of fans would come to check it out. The atmosphere was manageable, the mood pretty much the same as any day at the brewhouse.
Nowadays, when a brewing company — especially a good one — puts out one of their limited releases, beerophiles tend to swarm, blanketing the facility like a horde of thirsty wasps. The atmosphere in a tasting room during one of these events can be, in the worst cases, like being in one of those insects’ nests — stuck in one spot, afraid or unable to move as you sip on your nectar amid a buzzing buzzed crowd.
And that’s if you can get in. Releases of some of the most coveted beers like AleSmith’s barrel-aged series or the infamous Black Tuesday and similar beers at Placentia’s The Bruery, have included American Idol-esque lines that start forming hours before the brewery doors open. This level of demand has led many brewing companies to enact rules and regulations to manage crowds. It’s no wonder numerous breweries keep from calling them release “parties” as used to be common place. With rabid crowds and policies in place to deal with them, unfortunately, many are anything but.
All of this can combine to scare people who are really interested in new and special release beers off, which is a shame. However, I was lucky enough to attend the release of a special beer this weekend that was just right—Goldilocks would have approved.
Throughout 2012, The Lost Abbey is releasing 12 limited edition beers; experimental barrel-aged beers named after rock songs with titles that include the words “Heaven” and “Hell.” It’s a first-time passion project from director of brewery operations Tomme Arthur and his crew to keep things new and exciting throughout the year for the brewery’s fans.
The third Saturday of every month, a beer is released and made available that day to anybody who comes to The Lost Abbey's tasting room (155 Mata Way, Suite 104). A bottle may be purchased, but must be consumed on premises. At the end of the year, all 12 of the beers will be available for sale as a “box set” that’s sure to be a highly coveted item.
When I first heard about this I thought: Wow, that’s going to be a place I’ll want to avoid every third Saturday. But several friends and associates have attended the release events and reported they’re actually pretty civil and enjoyable. So, this weekend, I headed out to get a taste of Track 6, “Highway to Hell,” a 14.3% ABV blend of The Lost Abbey’s brandy barrel-aged Serpent's Stout and bourbon barrel-aged The Angel's Share barleywine.
The beer came across as a bourbon-filled dark chocolate truffle. It was easily one of the softest, most exquisite booze-laced beer over 10 percent I’ve ever had. And it was enjoyed in one the most exquisite release event settings I’ve ever come across.
There were plenty of people there, but not so much anybody had to jockey for position. Plus, many of them understood how things should work and acted accordingly, getting up to the bar, ordering their beer, then moving to one of the many barrels serving as tables that were situated throughout the expansive tasting room, which kept things as open as possible. The fact the majority of the crowd is made up of craft beer veterans helps to keep the mood easy and built around appreciation of the box set's unique wild, sour, blended brews versus the MO driving less seasoned tasting room visitor: getting hammered.
There will be six more track releases throughout the year. Rumor has it, one of the future tracks may be a reissue of The Lost Abbey’s “Sangria” a fruity sour originally released under the name Veritas 006 in 2009. Three years later, it remains one of the best things I’ve had from this Belgian-inspired barrel depository. Given the quality of their award-winning family of beers, that’s saying a lot. My fingers are crossed this pre-release intel turns out to be truth versus hopeful conjecture.