If you’ve ever wanted to test your beer geekiness, set your alarm for 3 AM so you can get up, drive to a different state, and wait in the rain for hours for a beer.
If you actually get up and do it, you’re as big a beer geek as me (but possibly not as tough as these guys).
Monday, March 1st was Kate the Great Day at the Portsmouth Brewery, the latest uber-hyped beer release in the craft beer world. In December of 2007, Beer Advocate magazine named Portsmouth’s Russian Imperial Stout Kate the Great the best beer in America – and the second best in the world. The stout also clocks in as part of the 100th percentile club here on RateBeer, and reviews around the web give the beer really high marks. The love of the well-brewed beer, along with it’s rarity (the brewery only has the capacity to brew about 10 barrels a batch) makes Kate one of the “gotta catch ‘em all” white whales of the craft beer community.
Portsmouth had an elegantly simple setup for the release, based around some capacity problems created by the huge number of people buying the beer in bottles and on draft last year. While the 2009 release saw the bottles and tapping of the kegs happen at the same time, in 2010 the releases were staggered. Around 4:30 in the morning, a Portsmouth employee started to give out pages from a page-a-day calendar to the line at the door of the brewery. Each page promised 2 bottles of Kate the Great, with bottle sales starting at 9 AM. The restaurant and bar were then opening at 11, and the kegs of Kate were tapped at 11:30. The aim was to allow people only getting bottles to get in and out quickly, and to prevent the restaurant from filling to capacity before everyone could get in and try there beer.
My crew (myself, my pal Ryan, Luke from BlogAboutBeer.com and our significant others) made it to Portsmouth around 4:50 and received December calendar pages – which means over 350 people had already been through. If you’re wondering how much the hype has grown for this beer in the last year, in 2009 I arrived after 9 and only got a page a few days later in the calendar. By a bit after 5, all the bottles were spoken for. At this point, the line for a table in the brewery – and Kate the Great on tap – was already stretching around the blog.
With calendar pages in hand, our group retreated to a local cafe to warm up, get out of the rain, and caffeinate. By the time we meandered back to the brewery around 8, the line for the brewery opening stretched around the block. There was a bit of confusion in the crowd about exactly who got bottles, what the line was for, and some other specifics of the event. Of course, there were also a few grouchy folks that didn’t get their pages and weren’t happy about a wait of at least 3 hours until the pub opening. In general the line was cheerful and upbeat despite the weather.
Last year, I wrote about the long wait to get in and buy my bottles – a few hours out in the February cold. This year, things were much, much smoother as soon as bottle sales started. The group of page-holders huddled around the brewery entrance, and by 9:30 or so our December group was already through the door. A trip down the stairs to Portsmouth’s downstairs bar, and minutes later we were each 20 bucks lighter and 2 bottles of Kate the Great richer.
During out pre-dawn drive, we all discussed staying in Portsmouth to give Kate a shot on tap – but our tune changed when we saw the rain-soaked line wrapping around the block before 10 AM. Talking amongst ourselves about discretion, valor, and so on, we decided instead to hit the tours of Smuttynose and Redhook for some more great local beer before heading back to Maine. It sounds like we might have been a bit premature – most everyone in line at that point got into the restaurant before one in the afternoon, and you could pretty much walk right into the bar and try the brew on tap during the late afternoon.
By 5:30, the 2010 batch of Kate was all gone.
Kudos to the staff at Portsmouth and (most of) the crowd of beer lovers for making Kate the Great day such a fun, successful release. I’m sure I wasn’t the only RateBeerian at the event – what did everyone else think of the Portsmouth Brewery’s most notorious release?
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