Monday, April 7, 2014

What lengths will you go to for beer?

Last week, the world renowned beer Founders KBS was released in a few stores in the Capital District. This is one of the most sought-after beers in the world, and for good reason – it’s absolutely fantastic! It’s nice that we are able to get this beer locally, even if the supply is extremely limited (most stores only got a case and limited sales to one bottle per customer).

Of course, whenever a must-have beer like Founders KBS goes on sale locally there’s always a small contingent who scoff at how crazy folks will go just to get a certain beer. After all, in order to get this beer, chances are pretty good you had to adjust your work schedule just to be able to get to a store on a weekday mid-morning because you know it’s going to sell out quickly. However, I would argue that simply going to a local bottle shop and paying the MSRP isn’t going all that crazy.

So what does constitute going to an extreme length for beer? I can think of some common actions that could be considered going to a lot of trouble for beer: trading for it; going on a road trip or beer vacation; and brewery-only bottle releases.

Beer Trades

Beer trades tend to be a popular method of obtaining rarities from out of town, across country, or around the world. I’ve traded with friends in Michigan, California, Quebec, Atlanta, Florida and even France. But trades can be risky for a few reasons:
  1. If you’re trading with a stranger you’re taking a major gamble that they will send you the beers you want; that they know how to properly pack a box; or that you’ll even get your beer at all.
  2. Mailing beer ain’t exactly legal (there’s supposedly legislation in the works to change that).
  3. Sending beer through a courier service is tricky since different companies have different rules, handling procedures and surcharges.
  4. Because beer is heavy, it’s expensive to ship no matter how you send it. You’re also going to have to invest in proper packing supplies.
  5. Bottles can break and cans could rupture during handling. Additionally, extreme heat in the summer can spoil the beer (winter trades are much less risky in this aspect).

I’ve traded many times over the years and I’d say almost all of them went smoothly. I’ve only had one incoming bottle break and have never had an outgoing bottle break, nor had a package go missing. By trading, I’ve been able to acquire many “white whales” such as Westvleteren 12, Three Floyds Dark Lord, Cigar City Hunahpu, Pliny The Elder (and many other Russian River brews), as well as The Bruery’s Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain. There aren’t too many beers left on my “bucket list” after all these trades. The only problem is they didn’t come cheaply. Between the price of the beers and shipping I usually spend around $50 per trade (though that’s usually for a box of 4-6 beers). So I’m in essence paying $12-$15 per bottle – would you consider that going to an extreme length for beer?

Road Trips

What’s nice about being a beer geek in Albany is that we’re within driving distance of a lot of great breweries. I know a few people in this area that seem to spend at least one weekend a month exploring the New England states as well as the outer reaches of New York to try beer that’s not available locally. It’s one thing if you’re bringing the family along, visiting friends, and seeing other tourist attractions to make it an efficient road trip. It’s quite another to drive four hours to buy bottles and growlers and turn around and come home. That’s essentially a 400-mile-long beer run. I think that definitely qualifies as going to an extreme length for beer.

To be fair, I have bought bottles off my friends when they go on these expeditions because the beer often tends to be really good. I’ll pay a premium to be able to stay at home while they burn a tank or two of gasoline and spend most of their Saturday driving.

Beer Vacations

I’m sure a lot of us fantasize about spending a week in San Diego or Belgium or the UK because of their beer scenes. Sure, there’s plenty of other sights to see and things to do besides drink beer and tour breweries, but the beer is what makes places like these so appealing. I’d imagine it could be difficult to sell the wife [and/or the family] on the idea of going somewhere far away because you want to drink their beer. However, of all the stories I’ve heard of couples and families who have gone on beer vacations, they’ve always said it was totally worth it and would do it again. Is this going to an extreme length for beer? Possibly, but the expense might be more extreme than the effort.

Brewery-Exclusive Events

Three Floyds’ Dark Lord, Cigar City’s Hunaphu Imperial Stout, Russian River’s Pliny the Younger and Portsmouth Brewing’s Kate The Great have become rather controversial beers in the last few years because of the way they are sold. These beers, among others, are only available one day a year at the brewery or are sold in limited quantities on draught only in the brewery’s locale. I know people who have gone on road trips of hundreds (if not thousands) of miles just to attend these events.
Critics complain that these types of events do more harm than good as they place hype, hipster credibility and the event itself above the actual beer. Personally, I have mixed thoughts on this. On one hand, no one’s forced to go to these events; everyone is there by choice. If the people who are attending these events genuinely enjoy the beer, can afford to travel and have a fun and memorable experience, then it definitely is worth it for them – so who’s harmed? On the other hand, exclusivity does indeed generate hype whether it’s warranted or not. It creates a speculator market which involves hoarding, sniping and price gouging. The beer becomes more of a trophy than a crafted beverage to be enjoyed.
  1. What’s the most extreme length you’ve gone for beer? Was it worth it?
  2. Is the craft beer community helped or harmed by the occasional fanaticism?
  3. Are the beers mentioned in this blog must-haves because of hype, or are they hyped up because they’re genuinely good?
  4. How far are you willing to travel for beer? Would you go (or have you gone) on a beer-centric vacation?
  5. Do you do beer trades?

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