Thus far in my drinking career, I haven’t been fortunate enough to be part of the fun and insanity of a bottle release party. (Or, depending on how you view such events, maybe I have been lucky.) I’ve missed out on plenty tramplings at Dark Lord Days, fist fights at KBS releases and straight-up murders at Hunaphu Day. And somehow I still consider myself a beer geek.
(Note: I just kind of assume these things are par for the course at bottle releases, but I could be wrong.)
That changed this past Saturday when a couple of friends and I made the drive up to Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse in Charlotte for the city’s release of The Event Horizon, the annually released oak bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout from Olde Hickory Brewery in Hickory, NC. I’d had the chance to try the beer before and was blown away, and the opportunity to grab some for myself while finally braving a bottle release seemed like a good way to spend a Saturday.
Each year’s batch is aged in different barrels, so every new vintage has little touches of its own. For 2012, the beer was aged in Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark, W.L. Weller and Pappy van Winkle barrels. With a once-a-year imperial stout that complex being released along with a bottle share and a beer breakfast, I expected an insane crowd and a cluster of a day. But that wasn’t the case, and the day turned out to be a great way to pop my bottle release cherry.
My friends and I arrived at the bar around 10:30 a.m. to an almost empty venue. With just a few people mingling about, we parked ourselves at the bar and waited until the event got started at 11. Breakfast was up first, including jalapeño bacon and pancakes slathered in syrup made from Founders‘ Backwoods Bastard. (My friend Dan opted for the Dark Horizon syrup, which was just as delicious.) And of course, we had to start the day with beer, so we went for a sampler of the 2011 Event Horizon cask, the 2012 and 2011 Event Horizon on draft and Seven Devils, Olde Hickory’s bourbon barrel-aged Scotch ale.
While we were eating, we were handed our tickets for the bottle release at noon. Had I been seated one spot to my right, I would have been lucky No. 1, but I had to settle for No. 2, ensuring me at least four bottles of stout goodness.
But between breakfast and the bottle release was the bottle share, my first major share outside of my immediate circle of friends. I’d participated in some great shares in the past and saw some pretty awesome bottles floating around, but this was a new thing for me. What if there was something I wanted to try? Was I stuck just ogling and being envious, or would it be best to just go for it.
The answer seemed easy enough, according to Dan: Just ask.
And ask I did. Over the next few hours, I had the chance to sample The Bruery‘s Chocolate Rain; a 2009 bottle of Dogfish Head World Wide Stout that Dan had brought along; a bit of Pliny the Elder, Batch 8 Consecration and Batch 6 Sanctification from Russian River; Cantillon Classic Gueuze; Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA, a “Pliny killer” that certainly lived up to that title; and plenty more on my to-drink list.
Around noon, the bottles went on sale. I snatched up my allotment – four bombers – plus a bomber of Olde Hickory’s phenomenal Lindley Park, an imperial stout brewed with honey and raspberries. There were no fist fights, no bloodshed, no pushing or yelling. The line was nothing like this Bourbon County release the day before. It was, in short, everything I thought it wouldn’t be.
Looking back on the release, a couple of things stand out to me. First, just how nice everyone was. I’ve been to festivals and shares and whatnot, but this was my first release/bottle share, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe it’s just the Southern charm, but everyone was more than happy to share their wares and I spent a good chunk of time talking with some of the locals and fellow beer Tweeters.
Secondly, the event was run incredibly well and went very smoothly. Tickets were handed out peacefully, people were called up one by one to buy their beer and no one was jockeying for a spot. It was calm, incident-free and, in a word, perfect. It was vastly difference from the hundreds of people who line up the night before other such releases, and from what I gathered from people who had been to that release before, it was the norm. To be fair, if there was a much larger crowd, it would probably be just as crazy, but I guess we’ve lucked out (for now).
I’m sure subsequent bottle releases won’t be as enjoyable, but you know what they say: You never forget your first time.