Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Beer and Hype

There are some beers out there that have such a following that it's almost unfair to judge the beer itself against the hype it generates. These are usually rarities of one stripe or another: brewery only releases, limited or single batches, local distribution only, or at the very least, the seasonal. Seasonal favorites generate some serious anticipation. Midwinter brings such celebrated ales as Troegs Nugget Nectar and Bell's HopSlam, but these are generally not hard to find as long as you're looking at the right time. On the other hand, Russian River's Pliny the Younger (available only in kegs on a very limited basis in the Philly area) creates such a mad rush that taverns build events around its tapping, resulting in lines at the door and one-per-customer limits. Beer fans drive or fly from all over the country to Three Floyds Brewery in Indiana to pick up the wax covered bottles of their one-day release, Dark Lord.
While a bit more ubiquitous than PtY or Dark Lord, perhaps no beer's seasonal release is as anticipated as Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS as it reads on the bottle). This bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout is one of the most coveted and praised beer in the craft community, and when a tweet or a Facebook post goes up informing the masses of a new batch hitting shelves in one bottle shop or another, it's often gone in a matter of hours.
I finally got my hands on a few bottles the other night at Capone's in East Norriton at $9 a pop for a 12 oz, and I was pretty excited about the score, to say the least. I still restrained or a couple evenings before cracking the first bottle with a few friends. This was a seriously complex elixir, with notes of smoke, bourbon, oak, licorice, coffee, chocolate, cream, and anise, a damn good stout. By the intimidating measuring stick created by all of the hype (and price point) for this beer, it fared rather well. This was something of a pleasant surprise to me, after being a bit disappointed by the coffee overkill of Founder's Breakfast Stout (not the Kentucky variety).
So while this kind of hype is easy to criticize as an overblown emotional reaction to viral and word-of-mouth marketing, I think it can add an element of fun to craft beer conoiseurship. There's something satisfying about hunting and killing the white whales of the craft beer ocean...even if the meat isn't always as tasty as one hoped. Dark Lord, Canadian Breakfast Stout, and Midnight Sun TREAT, I'm coming for you.

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