Just Your Average Craft Beer Nerd
I share a lot of common interests with Pierce: a hardcore interest in U.Va. basketball, a deep appreciation for Mad Men, similar tastes in music. And like Pierce, I’m also very pretentious about beverages.
However, rather than start my day with one, I’m usually finishing it with one (actually a few, more likely than not). Among my friends, I’m known as the craft beer guy (okay, the craft beer snob). A lot contributes to this - I’ve had a part-time job in the craft beer industry since the summer of 2015, I have a second Instagram dedicated solely to beer, and I religiously log every new beer I drink on Untappd. While my friends are scoping Instagram pictures and online reviews for a bar, I’m checking out the beer list.
One of the concepts my non-beer-obsessed friends can’t seem to wrap their weak palates around is the bottle share. “Why sit around a table all night and just drink an [absurd] amount of different beers without going out," they say. "What do you talk about?” Well, guess what? The subject of the bottle share has been covered by the The Wall Street Journal. There are even guides out there for craft beer newbies on etiquette, hosting, and attending, which hilariously reminds me of someone Googling first date dos and don’ts on their way to the restaurant.
I rep the bottle share hard. I don’t think there’s a better experience in the craft beer community - which is shifting too quickly towards an unenjoyable experience for many.
But what is a bottle share?, you ask.
At its most basic, a share is a semi-organized collection of beer lovers who bring beers to share with each other. Shares can be as organized as host-prepared spreadsheets sorted by styles, or as disorganized as a couple of dudes bringing some beers to share at 7 a.m. while they're waiting in line for a brewery-exclusive release (believe me, it makes the time go by faster, and it can be a really enjoyable experience).
So why do it? What’s the appeal?
First, you have to realize that those of us who are planning bottle shares are already certifiably insane on some level. We have beer cellars, most of us are collectors or traders (a topic for another day), and we're practically obsessed with trying as much beer as we can. Basically, we enjoy drinking in an atypical way.
Sharing makes trying different (and rarer) beers easier. Someone in your group may have visited Portland or San Francisco recently and brought back a bottle or can you can only get there. Someone else has friends in Los Angeles who are interested in trying something from Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing and are willing to send a can of a double IPA from Monkish in return.
On top of that, some of these beers are absolute monsters. Take Surly’s Barrel-Aged Darkness, which I’ll highlight later - no one in their right mind should drink a 12% ABV, 750-mL Russian imperial stout alone. That beer was made for sharing with friends and drinking a reasonable 6-8 oz pour (about 1/4 or 1/3 of the bottle).
My favorite comparison for beer shares is a gathering to watch a sporting event. A bunch of friends hovering over a common space (though in this case, they're gathering around a large table instead of a television), drinking a bunch (hell, I’ve even had shares during large sporting events - who says they can’t mix?), and discussing the topic at hand (tasting notes or beer experiences, instead of what's happening during the game). Really, it’s just a great way to connect with people that share a common interest.
Plus it’s an opportunity to see your friend’s cute puppy:
Anyway, these things can get ridiculous. Whether you're celebrating a friend’s promotion at work, or a grad-school acceptance (in the case of my last share, both!), there’s always a reason to share beer. My share group and I decided to go all out (though admittedly, we feel like we say this every few weeks) and pop some bottles we’ve been saving.
Here are my rankings:
19. Monkish Brewing - Cozy and Huddle (unreleased can)
This was a sweet coffee milk stout without much going on. A friend got it as an ‘extra’ in a trade with a Monkish trade partner who supposedly got it from one of the Monkish head brewers. Monkish decided not to release this can after trying it, and I can see why Monkish was disappointed enough not to release to the public. Much respect to them for truly caring about the quality of the beer they release since they know practically anything they release will sell out.
18. Modern Times Beer - Black House Nitro Cans W/Coffee, Coconut & Cocoa
Modern Times has recently upped their production and canning game. Along with canning their nitro coffees and IPAs, they decided to can a nitro version of Black House, their house oatmeal coffee stout, and add coconut and cocoa. To be honest, I had this towards the end of the share and my memory is sort of fuzzy, but I remember it being quite creamy and solid. Not too much coconut.
17. Monkish Brewing - Deep Concentration
Another hyped Monkish can. Double-dry-hopped double IPA brewed with Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado, and Galaxy hops. Turns out it was semi-disappointing considering how much I’d heard about it. Fairly light - not much flavor if we’re being honest. Still a solid beer; I just expected better.
16. Fremont Brewing - Phantom Chair
Fremont is a brewery in Seattle, Washington that is known among locals as a nice spot to visit and among the beer community as the home of some fantastic barrel-aged dark ales (stouts, strong ales, etc.). Phantom Chair is their first “hazy” IPA release; PNW folks were impressed, and I was as well. Since our group got a few cans of these, I decided to end the share by shotgunning the can I brought., because why not?
There is a chance I was very drunk after nearly 6 hours of sharing.
15. The Veil Brewing / Monkish Brewing - Boizzz To Mennn
I was really wary of this 10% ABV triple IPA because the previous Veil/Monkish collaboration, Joooseee Boizzz, was astoundingly awful (11% triple IPA with raspberry puree). This was not too boozy and pretty good. I’ll still take Biggie, Biggie, Biggie over it, though.
14. Monkish Brewing / Cellarmaker Brewing - Juice Lee
Aside from the awful/great name, this was very good, but not as good as some of the other IPA cans we had. It tended more towards the Cellarmaker style than I expected.
13. Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (SARA) - Saison Bernice
Bernice is SARA’s famous mixed-fermentation saison that has been received with much acclaim. After trying Lady in Gray, SARA’s grisette, I was very excited to try one of their more well-known beers. Bernice was a very good, semi-dry, refreshing and delicate saison. I preferred Lady in Gray as it was a bit more tart and had some great wine barrel character, which I’m a sucker for, but I'd love to try this one again.
12. Funky Buddha Brewing - Last Buffalo in the Park
The latest from South Florida’s adjunct kings is an extremely hyped barrel-aged porter. This beer was released over the holidays and quickly became being the most sought after beer in the country. Last Buffalo, an imperial porter aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels with coconut and coffee, didn’t live up to the hype for me. Given the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of Last Snow - Funky Buddha’s non barrel-aged coconut/coffee porter - I may be the wrong person to ask about this beer. But if a beer is bourbon barrel-aged, I want to taste some barrel, rather than having my palate overloaded with sweet, syrupy flavors.
11. OEC Brewing - Artista Zynergia: Morpheus & Iris
Very good lambic-style blend that’s aged in wine barrels for a year. Not OEC’s best but very nice, vinous and tart, and balanced.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled ranking to admire Schramm’s...
Schramm’s Mead - A Smile of Fortune
I’ve done enough of these share rankings to know not to include Schramm’s in the actual ranking for two reasons:
- A special Schramm’s mead will consistently get the top spot on my rankings - that’s how good they are.
- Also, it’s mead/melomel, not beer, so it shouldn’t be included (though meads are on Untappd, so do with that what you will)
Anyway, what I’m saying is that Schramm’s is in a league of its own in terms of quality. We opened this bad boy up before our share started and let it breathe, like we were wine geeks who knew what we were doing. A Smile of Fortune is a melomel made with black currants, lutowka cherries, heritage red raspberries and Oregon boysenberries. This was a limited release from Schramm’s ($48 a bottle, sheesh) and was just balanced fruit jam. What's that? 14% ABV? Sure didn't taste like it
Back to the regularly scheduled top ten.
10. Monkish Brewing - Biggie, Biggie, Biggie
Certainly a “big” beer at 10% ABV, this lived up to the hype and was fantastic. As we chatted about this beer, we talked about how we were upset that Other’s Half’s rumored Third Anniversary beer was going to be 10%, and how we wished they’d go back to the softer/lighter 7% ABV IPAs of old. I’ll still take a banging 10% IPA like this every once in a while, though. This was without a doubt the best of the Monkish IPAs enjoyed that night.
9. Tree House Brewing - Double Shot (Costa Rica Montes De Oro)
This is a variant in Tree House’s Double Shot coffee stout series with Stumptown’s Costa Rican coffee. This beer had loads of coffee character; I’m sure a more experienced coffee drinker (ahem, Pierce) will be able to taste and appreciate the nuances. Not extraordinary, but a very enjoyable start to the share.
8. Tree House Brewing - Curiosity Twenty Nine
With a typically gorgeous @keever label, the 29th installment of Tree House’s Curiosity series is an “intensely hopped” Simcoe/Amarillo double IPA. This was surprisingly very, very good, mixing typical Tree House softness with pillowy tropical juiciness.
7. SARA - West Ashley (Batch 13)
West Ashley is a saison aged in French oak pinot noir barrels with apricots and SARA’s house microbes. This was shared blindly side-by-side with Casey Family Preserves Apricot Blend (more on that later). It was fairly disappointing compared to the Casey, and not as good as I remembered after trying it ~6 months prior. It’s definitely a different kind of stone fruit sour, more fruit and funk. While once the most hyped stone fruit sour in the country, West Ashley is starting to lose its luster in the beer community thanks to newcomers like Casey, Side Project and de Garde.
6. Surly Brewing - Barrel-Aged Darkness (2015)
The last beer of the night, Darkness is a huge Russian imperial stout from Minnesota’s Surly Brewing. This barrel-aged version, released annually, was aged over three months (a relatively short period) in rye whiskey barrels from High West. At 12% ABV, you definitely get a lot of the barrel, which I like. Some nice oak and spice aromatics and flavors along with the typical roast/chocolate and dark fruit characteristics present in your typical Russian imperial stout.
5. de Garde Brewing - Imperial Purple Raz Bu
De Garde is one of my favorite breweries in the country. Everything they release is delicious, and Imperial Purple Raz Bu was no exception. Being a ‘Bu,’ this was a Berliner Weisse-style ale, aged in oak barrels with black & red raspberries. With a deep purple color, it reminded me of tart raspberry jam. Lovely.
4. Cigar City Brewing - Double Barrel Hunahpu (2016)
Hunahpu is Cigar City’s yearly imperial stout release that brings a whole festival with it. It’s aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho and pasilla chilis, and cinnamon (it seems like every brewery makes a ‘Mexican’ stout like this nowadays). This version is a special member-only release aged on Peruvian cacao nibs, then the batch is split: Half is aged in brandy barrels, the other half in rum barrels. Cigar City then blends the barrels and releases the bottle once a year. This beer had a lot going on - lots of rum and competing flavors.
3. Kane Brewing - Sunday Brunch
My first Kane! Kane is a newer brewery out of New Jersey that is starting to get a lot of recognition for their stout/darker beer game. Sunday Brunch is an imperial (aka higher ABV) milk porter brewed with coffee, maple syrup and cinnamon. Lots of adjuncts, but it wasn’t too sweet. Lots of roasty depth, really smooth and pleasant.
2. Casey Brewing & Blending - Casey Family Preserves Apricot Blend (7/28/16)
As I mentioned above, we did a blind side-by-side with another apricot saison (SARA’s West Ashley), and this was the clear winner. Once the glasses were revealed to us, I immediately knew which was which: The Casey was much lighter in appearance (it was so yellow, you would almost think it was lemon juice), and I’d had the West Ashley before and recognized it’s orangey-funkness. This had a heavy tart apricot taste, just excellent flavor and apricot juice without being overly acetic. One of the best stone fruit sours I’ve ever had.
1. Casey Brewing & Blending / Side Project Brewing - Leaner (9/13/16)
This beer was undoubtedly the best of the night. It’s rare that all of us agree on one being on a tier above the rest, but that’s how good this was. Leaner is a collaboration beer made by two of the country’s most hyped breweries, Casey Brewing & Blending and Side Project Brewing (both exclusively brew fantastic barrel-fermented beers). Leaner is an oak-fermented saison that is aged with over three pounds of Flamecrest Colorado Peaches per gallon (that's quite a lot) and fermented with both Casey and Side Project’s yeast cultures. This beer had peaches for days.
By the time you're reading this, I might already be at my next share - got to end NYC Beer Week in style!