PREVIOUSLY ON MY TOP TEN MOST WANTED LIST
No ABV listed but purpoted to be 6%
Throughout my entire childhood I was a collector extraordinaire. Baseball cards, comic books, Pez dispensers, action figures, celebrity autographs, movie paraphernalia, Wheaties boxes, vinyls, and things so much more nerdier that even I am ashamed to discuss them. Or, have repressed them from my memory as if they had sexually abused me (pogs
anyone?). I went to card and comic shows, flea markets, garage sales, auctions, and autograph signings to procure my minor treasures, usually accompanied by my father or a fellow nerdy collecting buddy. Eventually, I got bored with amassing shit as I moved into my teens and more interesting and loftier pursuits entered my frame of reference. And, I thought I’d pretty much given up collecting for good around age 15 or so when I virginally realized that I didn’t want to ever bring a girl back to a bedroom filled with displayed Starting Lineups
and Spawn comic books. I was wrong.
I am very much still a collector. I am very much still a nerd. I am a beer collecting nerd. I came to this eureka moment in a most startling and sudden manner this previous weekend.
The weekend saw the release of Captain Lawrence’s exceedingly rare (only 840 bottles released per annum) and highly acclaimed (a perfect score on Rate Beer
) Cuvee de Castleton. I could not find a single person to go with to the brewery, but that wouldn’t stop me, I knew I had to make the 38 minute train trek upstate by myself. My readers and my taste buds deserved it. Also, this beer could only be purchased on site. I’m always up for an adventure and this was going to be my first time entering the world of true beer freaks. I expected a scene, but I was totally blown away by what I was to witness.
The release was at high noon and based on the buzz on beer forums and messageboards (yes, these exist) I speculated if I got there between 10:30 and 11 AM I should be in fine shape. Stupidly, I went out and drank hard on Friday night, not being tucked into bed til 5 AM or so. Back up at 8:30 I threw on some dirty clothes and my hangover shades and hustled to Grand Central, catching a 9:30ish train off the isle. Of course, fucking Metro-North was delayed but I still pulled into Pleasantville, New York around 10:50. The Captain Lawrence website claims the brewery is only 8 city blocks from the station, but I got incredibly lost, proving that either I was still very drunk or am very much a retard. However, I opt for option C and will claim that the Pleasantville locals are retarded as every single person I passed gave me conflicting directions. People! One of the finest breweries in all of North America is in your tiny hamlet and you don’t know where it is?! Good lord, it is your town’s greatest treasure.
Any how, after probably walking on every single inch of sidewalk in Pleasantville and the surrounding towns, after considering hitchhiking and praying for the only cab for surely hundreds of miles around to pass by me, I finally stumbled upon the right path, sweating pure grain alcohol and fried bar foods from my pores as I sauntered into the Captain Lawrence parking lot at 11:59, just as brewmaster Scott Vaccaro arrived, the doors were opened, and the beer was released to the public. I was well in the back of the line and probably looked and smelled homeless–though I didn’t hear anyone clever enough to quip, “Hey buddy, this isn’t a special release party for Cuvee de Mad Dog 20/20, hehe.”–but I nevertheless tried to schmooze up the people around me.
Always anxious to learn things I don’t know, to pick the minds of strangers, I started talking to the guy right behind me in line. He looked normal–nice clothes, a smart haircut, claimed he had come up from Brooklyn–but he was an unbelievable dork. It was like trying to talk to a fucking MIT doctoral candidate. I’m not sure if he knew more about beer than me, but he was using all sorts of unnecessary esoteric terms, treating beer as if it wasn’t some pleasure to be consumed and enjoyed and used to stimulate female loins but rather some public policy initiative to filibuster about. He also kept mentioning his “girlfriend.” People that find a reason to constantly mention their “girlfriend” unprovoked and apropos of nothing–“Wow, the weather’s sure nice today, just like my girlfriend said it would be.”–usually haven’t had carnal knowledge of a female in years. And, in fact, out of the hundreds and hundreds of people camped outside the brewery, the only three members of the fairer sex I saw were one obese chick who had been dragged along (wheelbarrowed along?) by her boyfriend, and two cute little girls that had been brought with their no-doubt-deservedly divorced father. (I was quite curious whether those girls would be allowed to purchase any bottles as each person was only permitted to buy four maximum.)
I couldn’t even converse with this nerdy little twit behind me, as he was doing all the talking, pontificating, droning on about beer as if he was trying to hypnotize me. I finally reached my last straw when we were each handed a tiny sample of some other brew. You see, it was a convivial atmosphere in line, with people all across the northeast converging at Captain Lawrence, most folks bringing along a bottle or two of interesting and semi-rare beers from their neck of the woods in order to share with those unable to get the stuff in their own areas. My nerdy cohort and I were lucky enough to be handed a few plastic cupped ounces of Ithaca TEN, a rare brew I’d been wanting to try for a while. I cheersed the man who gave me the free tasting and quickly gulped it down. Indeed it was tasty. That whole process took me, oh, about 45 seconds, you know, like a normal human being. After dispatching of my drink I looked next to me to see that the nerd had been hovering with his nose above the beer–eyes sensuously closed and erotically fluttering, natch–for the entirety of the previous minute, looking as if on the verge of passing out from carbon monoxide poisoning. Then, with an unannounced but quite ceremonious fury, my man ferociously sniffed, nay snorted, the fumes of the strong beer as if he was trying to double-barrel some coke so viciously that it would instantly go up his nasal cavity and explode his brain to smithereens. As you can imagine, the additional processes he went through in order to finish and fully enjoy the ounce or so of beer took several more minutes. I cannot imagine going out drinking with this bloke and his “girlfriend.”
He was the paradigm of the kind of beers snobs I hate, and others like him were all around me. At this point, I decided to give up on talking to people, just hoping to quickly nab my rare beers and get some free samples in me as the previous night’s drunkenness was wearing off and the delirium tremens were sneaking up. The line was moving slowly, however, and I couldn’t help but observe the other anxious tipplers around me. The dorks around me. Fat, poorly dressed, hirsute, goofy, and annoying. Just like the populous of any sort of convention where a small coterie of like-minded collectors gather. Later, I would actually hear one man to say his friend as they first sipped the Cuvee, “Dude, we are livin’ la vida loca.” Swear to God.
I’m not sure if beer is enough of a social lubricant for these people. I suppose beer can lubricate one enough to give them the courage to speak, but never enough to make one say things interesting. Or normal. I looked at these people with disdain. How can we share the same interests I wondered?!
Then, I did what I always do when around a freak show alone, I texted a friend to share in my hilarious misery.
AARON: “people that go to special beer release parties are the biggest nerds in the world. seriously.”
FRIEND: “are they dressed in beer costumes? real nerds always wear costumes.”
She was just making a joke, but she didn’t realize how prescient she actually was. I smirked and then looked up to realize that, yes!, everyone was in costume. Every dork in line proudly wore a crusty old XXXXL t-shirt celebrating their favorite beer or brewery. Hats commemorating beer festivals they’d been too. And, each nerd had brought along a favorite beer drinking vessel in order to have their first tastes of the Cuvee de Castleton. Yeah, it wasn’t as bad as dressing like Hermione, or Geordi La Forge, or fucking Captain America, but it was still a goddamn costume.
It was then, as I was in my fifteenth minute or so of queueing*, that I realized waiting in line for a rare beer wasn’t that much different than waiting in line for Ozzie Smith to not look up at you as he quickly scribbles his 5th grade penmanship autograph on an official MLB baseball for $20. It hit me, my God!, I’m like the John Cusack character in “High Fidelity,” who may be kinda handsome and put together, who may attract sexy women and get laid, but who nevertheless is as much of a geek as the loner weirdos that shop at the record store he owns!:
“I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here–mostly young men–who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original, not rereleased–underlined–Frank Zappa albums. I’d feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn’t…well…kinda one of them.” (“High Fidelity” 2000)
It all made sense now.
I came to an upsetting realization: normal people must look at me with the same disdain as I was looking down on these nerds! To an outsider I was indistinguishable from these cretins!
Aw, fuck it, I wasn’t “one of them.” I was much cooler than all these people. I may not be George Clooney, but goddamn I was still a different species from these Trekker types.
By 12:45, and just a few minutes before the beer was sold-out completely, I had my maximum four bottles, I had a refilled growler of their double IPA, I had a free sample or two in my belly, and I had glanced at a train schedule to realize I had just 4 minutes to sprint back to the station and get the fuck out of Dodge. With fifty pounds of glass and beer clanging in bags draped over my chest, I flip-flop sprinted back as hard as could. I must have looked the part of the consummate Vice Blogger on my ride home as I hogged three seats across with several hundred ounces of beer on me, a cigar protruding from the front pocket of my Polo begging to be smoked, all as I cavalierly read from the latest issue of “Playboy.”
I’m not sure if I can handle going to one of these nerd beer conventions again. It really held a mirror up to myself that scared me, that made me question who I am as a man, that busted my self-confidence in two, that made me think I should grow a sloppy beard and talk about original gravities, wort, and diacetyl all day.
Oh, who am I kidding?! The second another limited release comes out I’ll be up at Captain Lawrence or some other regional brewery dorking out, no doubt scorned by the others after everyone has read this anti-beer-nerd missive.
But let’s get down to brass tacks. How does this magical beer taste? It is surely one of the most limited released beers in America, and certainly the rarest brew I’ve ever had (compare to the 12K bi-yearly release of Utopias).
Captain Lawrence compares it to a champagne and they aren’t lying. I popped the top and it nearly exploded, ejaculations of foamy whiteness coming from the bottle like I was celebrating New Year’s. It pours fizzier than any beer I’ve ever seen before. On the label it is described thusly as a “…combination of Belgian style ale which has been re-fermented with hand picked Muscat grapes & aged in wine barrels. As the beer ages in the oak it undergoes a secondary fermentation using the wild yeast known as Brettanomyces.”
Cuvee de Castleton smells very much like a champagne and tastes like it too. Upon my first small sip, I almost retracted my tongue, I was so surprised by the intense tartness as this is the first wild ale I’ve ever had before. Definitely the most non-beer-tasting beer I’ve ever had as well. Even more so than Utopias. This really has nothing that really grounds it to being a beer except for the slight Belgian Ale of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Very carbonated, some good bite. You smell and taste white grapes and some spice too. Lemons and green sour apples. You’d have a hard time convincing a lot of people that this is actually beer though.
The sourness nails you at first so don’t give up on this beer after the first sip. It takes a while to figure out this brew’s brilliance. Luckily I got 4 bottles**, two of which I am making my first attempts at cellaring, which should actually make the beer even more sour Captain Lawrence claims.
Due to the tartness you have to drink it slowly, but that’s a good thing as it helps you absorb it better. I don’t think any one besides me will say this, but ask yourself if you like Sour Patch Kids before having this one. (Oh he’s so irreverent say the beer snobs reading this!) The tartness is remarkable though, my mouth was puckered for at least an hour after having the bomber. Everyone around me must have thought I wanted to kiss them. Perhaps I did. The beer makes you giggly and high just like some champers. I don’t completely buy that it’s 6% either. I was kinda fucked up after one solo-consumed bomber.
Cuvee de Castleton becomes more beer-like the more you drink it and the warmer it gets. The oak flavor starts to really come through in this insanely complex brew. I was confused at first by this beer as it’s my first wild ale, but by the end I was loving this and glad I have so many more bottles.
I really don’t think this is a beer that impatient neophytes will like and it would be hard to convince them otherwise. They should probably avoid it as I could see them doling out knee jerk F grades. And, considering I’ve drank one bottle and thus there are at maximum 839 left in the world, good chance these folks will never get to try this masterpiece.
Finally, I have never struggled so much to score a beer. I danced back and forth between maybe something in the Bs upon my first shocking taste before settling down, understanding the beer, and sometimes thinking it an A, many other times thinking it an A+. Really though, I think an A+ beer should be a no doubt about it. Of my only three A+’s, I knew they were A+’s the second I tasted them and likewise in each and every subsequent sip from there on out until the glass was drained. Thus, after far too much in-head deliberation, much like “Twelve Angry Men” inside my cerebrum, I had to finally admit that Cuvee de Castleton deserves an…
My final sip was an A+ though and I can’t wait to try bottle number two.
*Nerd fact: Only word in the English language with five straight vowels.
**Beer traders interested in having a bottle, please check out my Top Ten Most Wanted list and make me an offer in trade!