I began preparing for Blind Tiger’s VSK–their annual Very Special Keg event in which they roll out some of the oldest and rarest beer they have hiding in their cellar–a full week in advance in just four easy steps:
1. I began growing some bad facial, a prerequisite for admittance into any hardcore beer geek event. I considered a burly unkempt hockey play-off beard, perhaps some mutton chops, but ultimately settled on a patchy goatee.
2. Tried to find a friend to accompany me. With a 4:00 PM start time, a surefire paucity of women, and a most definite sweaty stinky crowd, no one agreed to join me. Obviously.
3. Began examining the VSK beer list to make a batting order. With so many sought-after beers to try, I needed a game plan.
I first eliminated the need to try certain beers for a variety of reasons.
Allagash Interlude ’07 (delicious, but have had numerous times)
Bear Republic Apex ’08
Blue Point 10th Anniversary IPA (readily available)
Brooklyn Backbreaker (cask)
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout ’04
Brouwerij De Regenboog Wostyntje ’08 (never heard of–too lazy to look up on BA)
Captain Lawrence Nor’Easter (delicious, but have had numerous times)
Chelsea Bourbon Aged Imperial Mild
Del Borgo/Dogfish Head My Antonia
Dogfish 120 ’08 (via Randall) (never had on Randall, but have 120 countless times)
Dogfish Pangea (never really enjoyed it)
Goose Island Demolition (had before)
JW Lees Harvest Ale aged in a Calvados Cask (Wooden Pin) (delicious, but had before)
Kuhnhenn All Hallows
Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
Lagunitas Barrel Aged Ruben and the Jets (didn’t really dig the non-barrel-aged)
North Coast Old Rasputin 10th Anniversary
Rockies Fresh Trak (ain’t never heard of it)
Rogue Chatoe Rogue Wet Hop
Sierra Nevada Limb and Life (can’t wait to try, but readily available)
Sixpoint Gorilla Porter
Smuttynose Big A IPA ’07 (readily available)
Stone Vertical Epic ’06
Next, I tried to make a batting order:
1. Southampton Saison
2. Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine (long on my Most Wanted List)
3. My Antonia
4. Old Rasputin X
5. Sixpoint Gorilla Porter
MAYBES, ASSUMING I WASN’T TOO WASTED
6. Brooklyn Backbreaker (intrigued, but thought I could roll the dice that other bars would eventually get this new release)
7. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2004 (have had delicious aged BCS countless times, but it never hurts to have again–still, not a priority)
8. Bear Republic Apex
I arrived early, but still not early enough to get a seat as many geeks appeared to have camped out there overnight. Wise to have grown my facial hair, my patchy goatee allowed to me to move with relative ease amongst these people, sliding like an eel in between beer guts aplenty, the geeks never the wiser about a non-nerd being on the premises. If an outsider had poked his head in the door, he would have thought a bad beard convention was having a weekly meeting. Of course, there was one, perhaps two, females in the house, save the bartenders, and luckily I was able to use my masculine wiles to seduce one for her barstool.
Savvily ordering half-pints, I was able to sample a ton more beers than I expected too. And, here are my rankings in order*:
1. Dogfish Head 120 Minute (via Randall)–I hadn’t even expected to order this one but, luckily, eventually a friend joined me and when he ordered one, I had to sneak a sip. Good lord! So glad I did as this was far and away the best beer of the night. I’d long considered 120 a masterpiece, but Randall makes it even better. Silky and boozy like a liqueur, about as packed with flavor as a beer can possibly get. After loving 90 Minute via Randall as well, I’m beginning to think that crazy Randall machine could even turn Bud Light Lime into a masterpiece. (A+)
2. Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine–This was the beer I most coveted and it didn’t disappoint. Absolutely delicious, packed with sweet caramel and hints of vanilla, nice and syrupy on the mouth, but, quite frankly a tad hot. Could use a little age to smooth it out. Whatever the case, Kuhnhenn has quickly become one of my favorite breweries, because they make beers the way I like them: boozy. (A)
3. Sixpoint Gorilla Warfare Porter–A local beer I’d unfortunately never gotten to try, it was delicious. Packed with rich coffee but not too roasted in taste, nice chocolate sweetness. (A)
4. Old Rasputin X–I’d, of course, long enjoyed the “regular” Old Rasputin. And, I’d had the fortune to try their 12th Anniversary Rasputin earlier this year, but this two-year old keg of X beat them both. Bourbon-barreled, and on nitro tap, this was quite creamy with sweet tastes of whiskey and vanilla, almost like a Jack and Coke. The smell was world-class, better than the taste, and I have to give a minor debit for being a little thin on the mouth. (A)
5. My Antonia**–I’d honestly never heard of this collaboration between Dogfish Head and the Italian brewery Birra del Borgo, and even though I don’t really dig pilsners, I was informed this one was exceedingly rare, so, you know..sign me up! A hoppy aroma but with a bready taste, this one went down quite nice and easily. (A-)
6. Brooklyn Backbreaker–I never miss a new Brooklyn release, and this cask offering mightily excited me. I’d heard nothing about it and, heck, there still isn’t even a BA entry for it! So I’m not quite sure what style it’s ‘posed to be, but I’d have to guess it’s a…an…English IPA maybe???? I don’t know, but it was quite nice. Smooth and hoppy, with a great little sweetness. Perfect for a cask offering. (A-)
7. Kuhnhenn All Hallows–Maybe our palates were all screwy by the time we had this one, but both my friend and I agreed that it tasted more like a slice of apple pie than the slice of pumpkin pie you’d expect from a pumpkin beer. Not a bad thing though. Cinnamony, but not overspiced like many pumpkin ales, the fruitiness of it was sweet with just a hint of sourness, again, more akin to a golden apple than a pumpkin. Alas. (A-)
8. Bear Republic Apex–By this portion of the evening I was well into my “maybes, assuming I wasn’t too wasted portion of the evening.” I was probably too wasted, but a Bear Republic IPA has NEVER steered me wrong. And this is another splendid one. Piney and bitter, fragrant as hell, but nicely-balanced, definitely deserves a place alongside Hop Rod Rye and Racer X. (A-)
9. Magic Hat Sour Notion–Probably the only beer I didn’t love during the evening, this fairly lame attempt at a wild ale, was still quite quaffable, just not particularly sour. (B)
Afterwards, wasted on some high-ABV shit, my friend and I ventured over to the Times Square Toys ‘r’ Us to freak out tourist youngsters, admire McFarlane sports action figures, and purchase “Modern Warfare 2.” I’m as shitty at shooter games drunk as I am sober.
*Unfortunately, Southampton Saison was not available.
**INT. BLIND TIGER — NIGHT
The bar is loud.
ME: I’ll have a My Antonia.
ME: MY ANTONIA!
ME: LIKE THE BOOK! MY! ANTONIA!!!!!
BARKEEP: There’s a book?
Stay in school, kiddos. Or, actually don’t. I wish I’d dropped out of school, didn’t know about Willa Cather, and was bartending at Blind Tiger.