Good Beer Hunting

Critical Drinking

Spring Cleaning in the Beer Cellar

My buddy Doug has an impressive, overflowing beer cellar. But he buys and trades some of the most exclusive beers in the world. So maybe it’s because the Playstation network has been down, maybe we’ve been working too much, who knows. Either way, it was time to put a dent in the collection and make room for some new blood. The starting line-up was impressive (above).

Commence Saturday. 

We started out knowing that we were saving the Westvleteren 12 for last (the unmarked bottles at left). Arguably the highest rated beer and one of the most exclusive beers in the world (come on, even monks understand marketing these days), Westvleteren is an ultra-rare, premium priced bottle from the monks of the St. Sixtus order in Belgium. Doug has his ways.

What was unexpected however, was how insignificant a role the Westvleteren 12 would play that day. I know, right?! Here’s how that went down. 

We started with some warmups, Great Lakes Burning River and the like — all exceptional beers. And then we got serious. Our Virgil for the evening was Stillwater Artisinal’s Existent, a shockingly dark farmhouse ale from Baltimore, MD. The brewmaster, Brian Strumke, manages to infuse a rustic, transcendent quality into this crisis of a beer. Part French in origin (as a farmhouse ale), part earthy and fuck-all (mixing in a Thoreau-like hatred of farms) and what do you get? A pitch-black farmhouse ale with Nietzsche on the label. If you drink it with your eyes closed you’d swear it was blonde. Don’t we all.

And then we broke into the Bourbon Counties from Goose Island. We kicked off with a 2008, smooth as silk and toasty. It was delightful. Other barrel aged beers can claim the bottle balances things out over time, but until you’ve had a Bourbon County, it’s all talk. This beer is like D.H. Lawrence whispering in your ear. InBev can buy the brewery, but they can’t buy 2008. Cheers, Greg Hall. 

We promptly compared the 2008 to the Goose Island Rare. Part of the Bourbon County Stout line, this particular brew aged for two full years in 23-year-old Pappy van Winkle barrels back in 2008, and was packaged in 2010. The bourbon nose on this thing is unmistakable — full of crystal sugars, vanilla, roasted nuts and caramel. How did this compare to the 2008? They were remarkable similar. Some of us felt the 2008 was a touch smoother, others thought the Rare was a bit more effervescent. For me, the Rare just felt wiser. Where the 2008 was all “isn’t this the good life?” the Rare was all “what truly constitutes a good life?” These two together were the equivalent of an alcoholic existential crisis. 

That’s when we popped the Westvleteren 12. A bright, but weighty (low carbonation) Beligian with some dark fruit flavors (plums, figs), Westvleteren 12 is sweet without the sugar crystals. It has that over-ripe, fermented quality that has attracted humans since before we walked upright.

But nothing prepared us for the closer in this line-up. Doug may have intended to clear out his beer cellar, but he might have earned a net gain on the whole ordeal when someone brought a 2005 Dark Lord from Three Floyds in Indiana. Actively sought after, and currently going for hundreds of dollars a bottle on eBay, this gift put us over the edge. This was no longer a beer tasting. This was an out-and-out bacchanal. 

In its unmistakable red wax seal, the 2005 (only the second year this beer was released) is a year over prime according to many connoisseurs. But that doesn’t diminish its quality as much as it heightens its decadent appeal. This thing was like a roasted malt syrup from the gods. 

No, it wasn’t the last beer we drank, but the rest was extra innings at that point. On the way out we drank a Cuvee des Fluers from Southampton, which on any other day would have been a star. It’s floral, bitter quality was a great palate cleanser and a delightful shock to our otherwise toasty system. I haven’t had a Southampton since the boat trip in NYC, and this was a nice flashback. Did I never post about that? Shame on me. 

Michael Kiser