IT WAS the Year of the Cult Beer.
Extremely limited production runs of pricey, boldly flavored brews had beer freaks standing in lines for a chance to grab a rare treasure.
At Victory Brewing in Downingtown, Pa., $120 cases of bourbon-barrel-aged Dark Intrigue Russian imperial stout sold out in under 45 minutes.
In California, The Bruery – fearing long lines and tears from fans who would go empty-handed – sold tickets for the opportunity to purchase bottles of its Black Tuesday barrel-aged stout.
On eBay, single bottles of Portsmouth Kate the Great traded for $130 each. Elsewhere, distributors took reservations for popular cases, and breweries tweeted hints on "secret locations" that held limited supplies of their rarities.
It's all in good fun, of course, and the excitement often builds interest in the breweries' other brands. But I can't help but feel that other, equally fine beers are getting short shrift.
Exhibit 1: Fegley's BrewWorks Hop'solutely, which is Joe Sixpack's 2010 Beer of the Year.
This "triple" India pale ale is utterly smooth with a powerfully hoppy presence and pleasing 11.5 percent content of alcohol by volume. Its Chinook and Amarillo hops are at once earthy and floral, and its full malt body provides a sweet, sticky finish that isn't so cloying that you wouldn't take a second sip. That next gulp soothes the palate with a softness you wouldn't expect from any IPA. You might even find honey and fruit notes that are sweet as melon.
While Hop'solutely is fairly well-regarded on the blogs and at beer-rating websites, it can't match the publicity surrounding that other "triple" IPA, Russian River Pliny the Younger. The California-made ale, frequently voted the world's greatest beer, is made in an exceedingly short supply and – during its release each February – spawns giant lines at bars that are lucky enough to tap a keg.
(Pliny the Younger was the brand that sparked last winter's infamous Pennsylvania State Police beer raids. A jealous bar owner, upset that he hadn't scored a keg, reportedly ratted out a competitor over missing paperwork, prompting the ridiculous armed raids and ugly national headlines.)
Is Hop'solutely as good as Pliny the Younger? In a word, yes.
Its brewer, Beau Baden, has created an outstanding ale that deserves broader recognition. (Or maybe we should just keep this our little secret; relatively low demand has kept its price under $15 for a 750ml bottle.) In any case, beer drinkers are lucky the Fegley brewpub chain, based in Allentown, has begun bottling Hop'solutely for wider distribution.
Of course, there were many, many other great beers of 2010. Here are my runners-up:
Abita Save Our Shore Pilsner. In the wake of the disastrous BP Gulf oil spill, Louisiana's Abita Brewing Co. – which had already experienced disaster during Hurricane Katrina – dedicated proceeds from the sale of this beer – more than $250,000 - to recovery efforts. And the beer itself – a strong, uniquely hoppy wheat-based pilsner - is pretty darn good.
Lancaster Kolsch. Small brewers have been making a big thing out of canning strong ales, like IPA, abbey ale, Scottish ale and stout. But when Lancaster came out with this floral, light-bodied beauty, it brought back the joy of slugging down a refreshing beer straight from an aluminum can – at under $25 a case.
Timothy Taylor's Landlord. The famed British bitter won its 23rd medal at the Great British Beer Festival in August. When is somebody going to import this to America?
Jubiläumswiesnbier. The malty, traditional lager was brewed as a one-time collaboration of Munich's six breweries for the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest.