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How to Enjoy a Rare Beer

Tasting beers that are hard to come by requires some tough decisions. If you get multiple bottles of the beer do you set some aside to age? For how long? If you only get one or two bottles, do you share the beer with others or save it for yourself? With all the hype around the Westvleteren 12 release last winter I found myself considering these questions, so I thought I would review a few of the rare-beer situations that I have experienced.

Westvleteren XII

Last December Westvleteren 12 was released in very limited quantities in the U.S. and a few other countries. It was sold out immediately and will probably never be sold via retail again. What do you do with a beer that you will only be able to buy only once in your lifetime? I like this guy’s approach. He bought a six pack and enjoyed one immediately, saved one or two to try with some friends, and then set three aside so that he could taste the beer after it had aged one year, three years, and five years. That is patience!

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

This beer is released regularly and it is probably not difficult to find in some parts of the country, but this is a tough beer to get a hold of in the midwest. When I lived in Michigan there was a single store in the area that carried Dogfish Head, and when they got one or two six packs of the 120 Minute IPA they would put it on the shelf one bottle at a time so that more people would have a shot at getting it. It is not sold at all in Minnesota (or Wisconsin. or Iowa). I have only ever seen two bottles of this beer in my life. We bought that twelve ounce bottle for $10. This winter I paid a store clerk in Florida $15 to give me one bottle out of their aging cellar, and he only did so because I was from the other side of the country and I was buying a lot of other beer from him.

The 120 Minute IPA is extreme. This beer comes in at 15-20 percent alcohol by volume and hits the maximum of the bitterness scale. The brewery actually recommends sharing a 12 ounce bottle with a friend or two due to its potency, and that’s exactly how we enjoyed the single bottle that we bought – passing it around between four or five people one evening. We were still exploring the world of more extreme beers at the time so we found this beer too shocking to fully appreciate it. I still haven’t tried the second bottle, so I have to make a decision about whether I should try it soon or let it age for a while.

Surly Darkness

In the Twin Cities area the big craft brewer is Surly, and once every year they release a powerful Russian Imperial Stout called Darkness. This beer is released in a limited quantity and is sold in 750 mL bottles for $18-20 apiece. The release of the beer every October is called Darkness Day. Beer fans line up at the brewery starting the evening before the release just to get a chance to buy the beer, and it is quite a festival.

How do you enjoy a beer like this? One of my good friends scored a six pack of Darkness a couple of years ago. He enjoyed one or two right away, has been saving another bottle or two to for tasting when it has aged, and is holding back the rest for their trade value. If you look on Craigslist for this area you will see that there is a solid market for this beer (obviously this market is for the unopened collectible bottle, since re-selling the beer itself would be illegal). Older editions of this beer sell for a good return on investment. There is also a trade market for the beer – my friend has seen offers such as two bottles of the 2012 edition for one bottle of his 2011 edition. Not a bad deal.

Have you ever gotten hold of a rare or hard-to-find beer? How did you manage its enjoyment?

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