Last weekend, I drove more than 1000 miles, stayed in three motels (each with a varying degree of classiness), did my day job from the motel lobbies, drank from a dusty bottle of 1993 geuze, sampled a dozen versions of a coveted bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout and ate many chocolate covered pomegranate seeds from a well-stocked nosh table (I never did make it over to the savory side).
All this, the result of an epic beer road trip I embarked on last weekend-ish with a few ex coworkers to attend the FiftyFifty Brewing Company‘s Eclipse Release Party in Truckee, California.The event was one hell of a build up. Back in April, a friend I was working with at the bar asked me if I wanted to attend–she and her boyfriend had both by chance won the ticket lottery, with the opportunity to buy two tickets apiece. Even though I never would have gone out of my way to spend $100 on a ticket just to attend a release party for a beer, the chance presented itself to me and I couldn’t say no. Then, I quit the bar in July and started doing my full-time journo gig, meaning the commitment to attend a party in December became further and further away from my memory.
When she received the tickets in the mail last month and tagged me in a photo of them, it was like I discovered my fortune all over again! Plus, I really needed a vacation, even if it was just a 72-hour road trip.
We left on Wednesday afternoon with a truck full of bottle share-worthy beer and a fresh growler full of Beachwood’s INXS (all-Australian hopped IPA) and hustled all the way to a Motel 6 in Auburn that night. In the AM, I did a few hours of work and then we loaded up to go to Auburn Ale House. None of the food looked good, so we just drank for breakfast, me a Gold Digger IPA and my buddies a tasting flight with a little bit of everything except the Shanghai Stout.
Auburn’s lighter beers, though not my favorite styles, were well-crafted and I could see how their multiple GABF golds for Gold Country Pilsner were well-deserved (they even had reprinted their menus to note this year’s win!). Downtown Auburn is cute in that “untouched since the 1880s” way and we ended up eating omelets across the street at a little German-themed diner. Then, it was on to Truckee!
The party (*ahem* “gathering”) began at 5PM so we walked over with some bottles we had chilled and prepared ourselves for the best night of drinking one may ever have the chance to experience. In addition to 10 versions of this year’s Eclipse on draft (the most they’ve ever made!!) the brewpub was equipped with two jockey boxes in the back, serving the following four insanely rare and delicious beers: 2007 Old Fitzgerald Eclipse (first bottling ever of Eclipse!), 2008 Pappy Van Winkle (omg so carmel-y after all this time), 2010 B.A.R.T. (a beer that is exactly as its name implies, “barrel-aged and really tasty”), and an iced B.A.R.T. (made by freezing the beer then lobbing off the water to make it more concentrated).
Did I mention that there were also 10 different 2012 versions of Eclipse on draft? The last two years that I’ve known about this beer, I always felt like it was such dumb luck when I would stumble across one of the more common (meaning: still uncommon) bottles of the thing and here I was with ALL OF THEM (even the unbottled ones) AT MY DISPOSAL. I also had a glass which facilitated tastings of these beers very easily. Sometimes, I even tried a taste of the whiskey that the beer was aged in the barrels of (heightening the drunkery).
Below is a picture of the offerings board for that night (its off-center because the beers are 12%ABV and I was hungry when I started drinking). The only one I didn’t have was the Grand Cru because it tapped out a few hours into the evening. Only nine of these were actually bottled (the Gourmet Haus Blend was made for friends at a Redwood City German restaurant/pub) and the prices on all available beers went up a few bucks since last year.
But the Eclipse tastings are really only half of the fun of the night. In between sips of FiftyFifty’s hearty, boozy, vanilla-scented barrel-aged imperial stouts, fellow patrons went around with palette cleansers. And by palette cleansers, I mean rare beers from around the country, some of which were in unmarked bottles brought by brewery employees or (even better), numbered bottles, signifying their exclusiveness.
Sierra Nevada’s barrel-aged Bigfoot barleywine, Island Brewing Company’s bourbon-barrel-aged IPA, Anderson Valley Port Barrel Stout, Ithaca Excelsior Brute and some Bruery beers that my notes on are so scribbled that I couldn’t tell you what they were called. We also finished off the whole Beachwood growler (some guy checked into it on Untapped with a snobby “ugh, it’s not THAT good” review–are your taste buds dead, dude?!!?).
At one point, my buddies and I were swooped away into the brewery for a special pour out of a dusty bottle of Bellvue lambic from 1993 (thanks Brewmaster Todd!). The flavor was indescribable, the subtleties that happen to a sour beer with that much age are hard to transfer to the brain for phonetic processing, but it is akin to the cotton candy feeling, the refreshing water-like-sugar feeling, the feeling of discovering the one beer that all beer farts smell like in dreams.
Anyway, at the end of the whole night (where substantial food was scarce, but conversation and fellow Southern Californians abounded), I felt like a lavishly kept whale, both literally–because I was bloated from all the luxurious beer-drinking–and figuratively, because I had somehow amassed all of these beers that beer whales chase in my mouth all in one night.
Honored, humbled and drunk–the best way to feel as you stumble across the parking lot to the hotel after getting a last-minute cab ride to 711 from a guy named “Smokey.” It’s also not a bad way to wake up on a Friday morning when you stumble back across that parking lot and pay whatever luxury money you can muster to the beer gods for your own take-home versions of these limited bottles of nectar. I could only afford a case of assorted goodies (girl’s gotta pay rent) and here’s to hoping I can sell some of them back to buddies who were not as fortunate as I to attend one of the greatest, coldest, booze-filled barrel-aged imperial stout beer series release parties I’ve ever has the pleasure if experiencing.