Investigating the uncommon, unusual, and rare within the craft beer community.

The Beers

Captain Lawrence Cuvee de Castleton

Released: December 2011

Style: American Wild Ale

ABV: 9%

Perhaps the most popular and well-known Captain Lawrence wild ale, Cuvee de Castelton is one of the numerous sours that put the New York brewery on the map with beer nerds throughout the Northeast and beyond. A Belgian golden ale fermented with Muscat grapes and aged in wine barrels with Brettanomyces, this vibrant beer delivers a wonderfully sour profile imparted with vinous character from grapes, spice and oak.

While the original batches were released in 750mL format, head brewer Scott Vaccaro made the switch to the 375mL bottles pictured here for later releases. The exact specs vary between batches, but the one featured was part of 1000 bottles originally released on 12/3/11 (limit 4 per person for $15 each), coinciding with Barrel Select Cherry and Barrel Select Raspberry (which were a mere 240 bottles each). Known for raucous early morning tasting parties at the lone picnic table outside the brewery, people flocked from across the Northeast to share beers and hopefully leave with their allotment of CdC.

This was also the final release to utilize the now infamous deli ticket counter system to determine line order for attendees, before the brewery packed up and moved from Pleasantville to Elmsford, where they’ve been opting for the “silent release” method.

At some point throughout the night, a Captain Lawrence employee would place a ticket counter right outside the front door, allowing people to pull a ticket which saved their place in line. Due to increased demand, line jumping, ticket trading and some choosing to pull more than their fair share of tickets, the batch 5 release saw dozens of people shut out, leaving empty handed after waiting upwards of 6 hours in freezing temperatures.

Typically an annual release, Cuvee de Castleton might be due to emerge from barrels stashed within the brewery, although Vaccaro and company usually stick to a “the beer will tell us when it’s ready” policy. There’s already been three more wild ales released since batch 5 (Barrel Select Black, Mother Barrel and Hops n’ Roses) – will CdC be next?


The Bruery: Black Tuesday

Released: October 2010

Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout

ABV:  18.2%

The one and only infamous Black Tuesday is headed into its third release, dropping like a bomb onto the craft beer scene on October 25, 2011. A popular topic and buzzworthy brew throughout internet forums and beer nerd chatter, this behemoth of an imperial stout created an absolute mob scene at The Bruery in 2009 during its initial release, prompting a complete restructuring of the beer’s distribution.

While the original 2009 vintage has turned into “whale” trading status, the great people at the Placentia, California brewery have upped production considerably over the past two years. Members of their special Reserve Society now receive first crack at their allotment and the opportunity to purchase tickets to the release party, which includes three bottles of the highly touted stout. The limit was raised to six bottles for 2011, indicating a jump of nearly double (somewhere around 5 or 6K total), making Black Tuesday slightly “easier” to obtain.

In 2010, people around the country were also given the chance to buy one bottle (of the estimated 3K produced) via online sale, and designate a proxy who could pick up the package and mail it off to the lucky recipient. Of course, this caused a crash of The Bruery’s webstore, prompting delays and rabble-rousing from the peanut gallery, as many hopeful customers were shut out. The process is in place again for 2011, although out-of-state buyers will be able to snag up to three bottles if they choose (also note the $30 price tag before tax and shipping, but that hasn’t stopped anyone yet).

It’s not every day that a beer has its own trailer, but Black Tuesday continues to remain somewhat of a phenomenon throughout craft culture. Sure, bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts are all the rage these days, but there are few others out there that generate a similar ruckus, outside of items such as Bourbon County Rare, Founders CBS, or Cigar City Barrel Aged Hunahpu’s. The near perfect ratings, extreme ABV, and rarity certainly help, but the near instantaneous success of the beer is incredibly scarce.

As for the Black Tuesday itself, the incredibly rich, malty imperial stout spends around 15 months aging in spent bourbon barrels, imparting a luscious smorgasbord of unique flavors. Because of the humongous malt bill on the beer, the burly stout tends to create an avalanche of tastes alongside a thick, syrupy feel on the tongue. Roasty dark malts, warming booze, vanilla, caramel, anise, and oak are just some of the flavors to expect.

There’s some out there who would shout from the rooftops about hype, unreasonable expectations, and high pricing…and they might be right. However, that won’t change the fact that in many people’s minds, this beer is 100% worth the effort, time, and money it takes to track one down.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company: Fourth Dementia

Released: 2007

Style: Old Ale

ABV: Varies depending on vintage

Now a fully fledged member of Kuhnhenn Brewing Company’s core lineup, Fourth Dementia originally debuted in 2003 as a draft only offering from the Warren, Michigan brewery. The mom and pop hardware store turned brewery is one of the most versatile operations in the country, producing not just high quality, innovative brew, but wine, mead, and root beer as well.

The bottle pictured is from the 2007 vintage, before the name change and packing overhaul to “4D” in 2010, although the brewery has tweaked the label art for most of the different releases. The alcohol level has also seen some variation over time, ranging from 9.4% to a whopping 13.5% in 2010. High gravity and extreme beers have become one of the family’s calling cards, including Raspberry Eisbock (13.5%), Bourbon Barrel Barleywine (14.5%), and Solar Eclipse (18%).

This isn’t just about the booze though, as Fourth Dementia earned its stellar reputation by becoming recognized as one of the best examples of the old ale style in the country. Aggressive and creative, the beer boasts a massive flavor profile including roasted malts, caramel, dark fruits, and molasses.

Kuhnhenn’s beers have been notoriously difficult to come by over the years, due to the size of their operation and extremely limited distribution within Michigan. Some kegs have occasionally popped up at a few well known craft watering holes throughout New York City such as Blind Tiger and Bierkraft, but the availability is still few and far between at best.

If that wasn’t quite enough, Kuhnhenn really whipped the beer nerds into a froth by producing a bourbon barrel aged treatment of Fourth Dementia, which takes the beer to a ridiculously new level. Of course, this is even tougher to come by, so start with more recent batches of 4D and work your way up from there.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales: Bambic

Released: January and April 2011

Style: American Wild Ale

ABV: 5.3%

Ah, yes – another limited funky, sour brew from our friends at Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter, Michigan. This one however, was slightly different than the Grand Reserve releases, as the brewers created Bambic specifically for The Winking Lizard, in celebration of the pub’s 25th anniversary. Well, what is it exactly, you ask?

Bambic is a blend of two already existing Jolly Pumpkin beers, beginning with their famous farmhouse ale, Bam Biere. It’s then blended with their practically extinct sour ale, Lambicus Dexterius, to create a one-of-a-kind brew. Fermented with 100% wild Dexter yeast, the latter part of this concoction was brewed in traditional Belgian fashion, consisting of 4 year, 3.5 year, and 2.5 year lambics. The first batch of Bambic consisted of approximately 85% Bam Biere, with the rest comprised of batch 2 and 4 Lambicus.

The first release dropped in January 2011 and was available at the 14 Winking Lizards throughout the Ohio area, as well as the brewery’s Ann Arbor and Traverse City pubs. There was a combination of both 330mL and 750mL bottles produced, with 1560 of the smaller variety and only 180 large format bottles.

The success and demand for Bambic prompted a second blend, which was released on April 25th, coinciding with the long awaited release of Biere de Mars Grand Reserve. Around 150 cases were bottled up this time for sale at Winking Lizard locations and both of the Jolly Pumpkin brewpubs, a small increase from the original batch.

It’s tough to say if we’ll see a third blend of the elusive Bambic brew, but with two releases within around four months, it’s certainly possible Jolly Pumpkin might fire another one through the Winking Lizard bar chain.

Pelican Pub and Brewery: Mother of All Storms

Released: November 2010

Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged English Barleywine

ABV: 13.5%

Available once per year at the Pelican Pub and Brewery in the coastal town of Pacific City, Oregon, Mother of All Storms is a bruising English style barleywine weighing in at 13.5% alcohol. Formerly known as The Perfect Storm, the third release in 2010 saw a name change due to copyright issues with the popular Warner Brothers film of the same name.

Utilizing the brewery’s Stormwatcher’s Winterfest (another special release available around the same time) as the base beer, this takes the style to new heights by aging the brew in Evan Williams bourbon barrels for a number of months. This imparts a boozy flavor filled with oak, vanilla, and sweetness on top of layers and layers of rich, dark malt.

While this was technically considered a brewery-only release, Pelican does sell some of their beers online, and leftovers were sold by the case after the party in November. However, there are 18 states they don’t ship to, and the whopping price of $240 per case plus shipping dramatically limited the amount of people outside the local area who got their hands on Mother of All Storms.

With only 2880 total bottles released, this quickly shot up the ranks on Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, finding a spot on many people’s beery wish list, and the respective near-perfect ratings sure didn’t hurt either. There’s hope though, as Pelican will be dropping this gem again in November 2011.