Tips to Surviving Your Local Craft Brewery’s Bottle Release
This is my final bottle of the Plague. My plan with it is to get a variation of it each year they release it to hopefully get a nice vertical tasting set up.
You’re casually scrolling through your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and you see your favorite local brewery post about a super limited-edition collaboration beer they did with another one of your favorite craft breweries/restaurants/home brew clubs. They are only making about 500 bottles. It’s not even your favorite style, or a style you know that much about. But you want this beer. No: you NEED this beer. The real question is, how in the heck do you get it? The release isn’t going to be for another 3 months and they’ve already started advertising this on the website and every form of social media under the sun. Everyone knows it’s coming and everyone (and their mother) will probably be there to get their hands on this monster.
I ran into this situation about 4 months ago with Draai Laag Brewing Company here in Pittsburgh. Draai Laag is a master of crafting insane wild beers. They are really the pioneers of wild-fermentation here in the Burgh, making a wonderful spectrum of authentic sour beers and great Belgians. They teamed up with local Caliente Pizza, a small pizza and craft beer joint who is led by an ex-headbrewer of The Church Brew Works (another local Pittsburgh brewery). They set out to make a sour Belgian stout, The Plague. Now stouts are my one of my favorite styles of beers and I’ve come to really appreciate Belgian beers from my parents, who absolutely love them. To that point in time, I wasn’t very well versed in sours, but I wanted to try more of them. I was presented with an opportunity to get a limited release (I think only 600 bottles were available; some at the brewery and some at Caliente) sour Belgian stout, and I took it. Here’s a few tips from my personal experience to get you that bottle (or 8) of that rare, one-off beer that you simply gotta have.
- Preparation is imperative. Add the date of the release in the calendar on your phone and set a reminder a week or two before hand. As the release date approaches you’ll want to periodically check the brewery’s website and social media accounts to get all of the nitty-gritty details about the release. The last thing you want to do is show up right when the release starts and find out that you could have pre-ordered your bottles and been given a ticket voucher to simply walk up to the counter and pick them up and (partially) avoid the crowd. The Draai Laag release was like that, which brings me to my next point.
- Get there early, like really, really early. If the bottle release is at 7 and they open at 4, get there at 3:45. There’s a chance that you’ll be able to try this rare beer on draft to determine if this beer is really worth trying to fight the crowds to get a few bottles. Who knows, maybe when you get there you’ll be able to pre-order bottles and get that magical ticket voucher to pick up your bottles in the fast track lane (both of these happened when I got to the Draai Laag release, but they advertised all of it).
- Ask beer friends and family if they want any. Sometimes life simply gets in the way and you can’t make it to a big beer release. This was the case with my brother and a close friend of mine (both of whom are beer fanatics). Try to keep these people in mind, especially if you regularly go on beer-ventures with them. You never know when you’ll be too busy to get to a brewery for a big beer release and they’ll have your back.
- Bring a friend who likes beer but is willing to be an unselfish mule. This may be shameless, and I don’t doubt that I’ll catch some major backlash for it. However, I want to explain myself. One of my very close friends is a big fan of the craft beer scene, but she doesn’t know much about beer. She loves coming on brewery adventures with me, especially beer releases, but she usually doesn’t want to drop money on bottles. When I told her about the release she was adamant about coming with me. The bottle limit was 4 bottles per person, and since we got there early she got to try it on draft and she decided she didn’t want any bottles. That meant she could get me 4 more bottles. I realize that I abused the system to get more bottles and by doing so I took away someone’s opportunity to get some, but I at least wasn’t selfish about it. I only kept 2 bottles, got 2 for my brother, and 2 for my friend (both of whom couldn’t attend the event). I shared the other 2 bottles with close friends who are also very into craft beer and one of my bottles was shared with my brother and one of his bottles was shared with our parents. I guess my real message here is: don’t use a beer mule to hoard the beer for yourself. Beer is always better when shared, but if you want to use a mule to get more good beer to share with people, I see no problem with it (let the debate begin in the comments). The unselfish beer mule can be a true saint, and in my case is. She gave me the chance to share some astounding beer with a lot of people.
- Understand the schedule of the release. Yes, this is basically a reiteration of the first point, but I can’t stress the importance of preparedness nearly enough. We go to Draai Laag 15 minutes before they opened and were some of the first in line (we were basically beating down the doors). We got in, tried the Plague on draft, had a couple other beers on draft, and pre-ordered our bottles. We realized we had a couple of hours until we could actually pick up our bottles, so we walked about 2 blocks away to another great local brewery, Grist House Brewing. We had a couple of beers there and headed back to Draai Laagso we could get there about 20 minutes before the bottles were ready for pick up. We weren’t prepared for what was ahead of us. Caliente was on site giving out free pizza, there was a line out the door, out the gates of the biergarten, and starting to head to the side-walk. Even though we had pre-ordered our bottles, there was such a mass of people who the bartenders couldn’t even keep up and we waited in line for about an hour to pick up the bottles that we had already paid for. The point: stick around and get what you came for. Keep your eyes on the prize.
That big bottle release can be a daunting event. If you follow this guide, you can, and will survive, hopefully unscathed. Bring a friend, don’t be selfish with your spoils, and prepare, prepare, prepare. We all have stalker-ish tendencies when it comes to social media, and the quest for rare beer is the best usage of them. Make sure to be up to speed about the entire event so you can get in and out smoothly. Cheers to good beers, and may your next hunt be a successful one.
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