Rare Beer Roundup: Avery Brewing, Jackie O’s, Churchill’s + More
We wrapped up February and steamrolled right on into March with another hair-raising onslaught of great releases from around the country featuring a mix of familiar and fresh faces. Amidst the fun was yet another barrel-aged bottle from Avery, the opening of Night Shift’s 2014 Sour Futures program, the infamous Churchill’s Renaissance Day, March Meadness at Kuhnhenn and a few more surprises along the way.
Avery Brewing Company’s Barrel-Aged Series has exploded over the past couple years, reaching their 18th installment on Sunday, February 23 with Opuntia. The brewers went a little wild (pun intended, sorry) with this one, aging sour ale in first-use tequila barrels with prickly pears for 9 months. Tequila? Prickly pear? Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but beers like this seem to be the essence of experimental, sour and barrel-aging programs such as this one. With only 263 cases available, this falls toward the shallower end of the production pool within Avery’s Barrel-Aged Series. Not to worry though, Rufus Corvus (Barrel-Aged #19), a blend of orphan barrels from the cellar, as well as Obscuro & Nimbasus (Barrel-Aged #20), a rum barrel-aged wild ale with ginger and key lime, are on the docket next.
Did you hear that sigh of relief coming from the New England area last week? The polar vortex-like whoosh of joy was from Night Shift Brewing’s 2014 Sour Futures Program launch, which kicked off on February 26 and runs through April 1. Instead of waiting in lines, battling crowds or ducking out of work early to get to the taproom before anyone else, the brewery is allowing people to prepay and reserve bottles of their lauded Sour Weisse beers. Feel free to load up on as much as a case of EACH funky, sour or fruited ale – just make sure you or a buddy (proxies allowed!!) can pick up the bottles by March 31, 2015. Beers are expected to be released quarterly and include Ever Weisse (strawberries, kiwis, hibiscus), Somer Weisse (lemongrass, ginger root), Mainer Weisse (blueberries, cinnamon sticks), Cape Codder Weisse (cranberries, oranges) and a Mystery Weisse to be determined at a later date. They can’t make it any easier than this, guys.
Ohio’s Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery unloaded on the Midwest with another one of their 2-day-long bottle release parties last weekend, kicking off at 5pm on Friday, February 28 and running until whenever you finally collapse on Saturday, March 1. In typical Jackie O’s style, calendar pages denoting your spot in line were given out the evening before, as the staff welcomed everyone in to enjoy a ludicrous taplist (over 40 beers!) reminiscent of a festival lineup. Four bottled sour ales were ready to hit the street on Saturday morning, with Evelyn, Dynamo Hum, Cellar Cuvee 8 and Immizence all available on tap as well. The brewery also puts in a solid effort to avoid any shutouts, as they usually set bottle limits based on the turnout, allowing nearly everyone a crack at their latest releases.
The beer mecca known as Portland, Oregon saw another bottle unleashed from one of their prized breweries last weekend as well, featuring the latest vintage of The Commons Brotherly Love. Inspired by rustic farmhouse ales and their humble homebrewing roots, the brewery consistently produces distinct, memorable ales worth seeking out no matter where you reside. Brotherly Love is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale aged in second-use bourbon barrels with Northwest sour cherries and cocoa nibs sourced from Trinidad and Peru. Attendees of the release were also treated to flights of Little Brother, Brotherly Love 2013 and Brotherly Love 2014, allowing them to truly feel the PDX love.
As soon as you speak the words “Churchill’s Finest Hour,” the entire state of California starts to rumble. The annual insanity known as Churchill’s Renaissance Day descended upon San Marcos on Saturday, March 1, featuring an eye-popping taplist along with the celebrated, delicious and notoriously difficult-to-land Churchill’s Finest Hour (brewed by Port/Lost Abbey). The event has become notorious for overnight lines beginning 12+ hours early, line-cutting and nearly everything else the internet loves to complain about when it comes to beer releases (typically only about 400+ are sold for takeout). For 2014, the pub mercifully announced a twist to the rules including a double wristband system designed to prevent line jumpers and double dippers, as well as an online sale with the first 100 bottles priced at $50 and the following 100 going for $100 (proceeds donated to San Diego Humane Society). Still not interested? Three vintages of Churchill’s were also available on tap, along with 2014 bottles reserved for in-house consumption only.
Word association test. I say “Kuhnhenn,” you say…”Bourbon Barrel 4D?” Sorry, the answer we were looking for was “Mead!” Kuhnhenn March Meadness returned for 2014 beginning on March 1, featuring new, exciting and unheard of meads produced by one of Michigan’s favorite craft breweries. While last year’s event saw new bottles hit the brewery’s shelf every single day for a month, absurdly cold temperatures which slowed fermentation and equipment issues limited this year’s event to weekly releases only. Each Thursday, Kuhnhenn drops the info on their Facebook page, including available bottles, prices and limits. So far we’ve already seen sunflower mead with blueberry puree, wine barrel-aged wildflower mead infused with Earl Grey tea, blended mead with crème sherry and maple syrup and much more. Stay tuned to the brewery if you want to get in on the boozy, decadent, honey-fueled action.
Nick Alfonse is a writer living in the Philadelphia area. Follow him on Twitter @BeerServedRare.