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Here we discuss everything that is Craft Beer: from exciting tastings and style guides, to homebrewing and close looks at different ingredients. Tune in weekly for articles dripping with beer geekery as my colleagues James Otey, Carl Crafts, and I explore the fascinating world of Craft Beer.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kate the Great Day 2010

After months of anticipation, Mr. Blauvelt, Mr. Otey, and I recently embarked on an epic quest for Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout. The journey began on a beautiful early spring afternoon in picturesque Clinton, New York, where Mr. Otey and I both attend college. Due to my academic obligations, we started our six-to-seven hour drive at around four in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had been prepared for this day. The car was laden not only with overnight gear, but also with a couple gems of the beer world to share with Mr. Blauvelt as a precursor to the big day upon our arrival at his apartment. After stopping for gas, subs, and Red Bull, we hit the highway eager to arrive at the New Hampshire coast.

Making great time, Mr. Otey and I arrived at Mr. Blauvelt’s apartment in Durham, NH a bit before ten o’clock at night. We were warmly welcomed by Mr. Blauvelt and his girlfriend, and mere minutes after getting settled in we had snifters in place and the first beer of the pre-Kate-the-Great-day tasting uncorked. The lineup was an impressive one: de Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva, Hair of the Dog Michael, de Struise Pannepeut (Danish version), a hand bottled Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout, Firestone Walker 13, and Bells Bourbon Barrel Aged Cherry Stout. I will not go into details on the wonders of these beers; one needs only to look at our ratings on Ratebeer to see our opinions. It was a grand evening, and we headed to bed shortly after 1 AM, knowing full well we would be getting up a mere three hours later.

Mr. Otey and I, having barely slept, awoke at 4 AM and proceeded to eat macaroni and cheese and chug a Red Bull for breakfast. Mr. Blauvelt and his girlfriend and brother, both of whom had been so kind as to wake up with us so we could procure extra bottles of the precious Kate the Great, stirred shortly thereafter. Mr. Otey and I bundled up, fired up the Jetta, and ventured out into a dismally cold and rainy early New Hampshire morning. As we pulled into a parking garage that was unusually full for 4:40 AM on a Monday morning, we noticed several people walking back to their cars from the direction of the Portsmouth Brewery. As we passed we noticed they already had their calendar pages, and upon our inquiry they told us “get there soon, they’re almost out!”

This event deserves some detailed description. Only 900 bottles of Kate the Great were produced for 2010, with an equal volume available on tap at the brewery that same day. In order to organize the chaotic rush for those 900 bottles, the brewery devised a system based on tear-out calendar pages. The first 450 people in the queue that morning would receive a page and two guaranteed bottles of Kate the Great, as they correctly presumed anyone lucky enough to get a page would purchase the per person maximum of two bottles. The brewery had planned to start issuing pages to the people in line at 7 AM, start giving out bottles to those who received pages at 9 AM, and open the doors for the tapped Kate the Great at 11:37 AM.

As Mr. Otey and I walked up to the front door of the brewery, we saw a small line already receiving pages! We hurried to the back, made our way quickly to the front, and received our pages. We were already in the spring of the second year, meaning that pages 1-365 of the 450 had already been handed out! We immediately called Mr. Blauvelt, who said they were almost there, and the three of them arrived just in time to get three of the last available calendar pages. Apparently, people had been waiting in line since as early as midnight, so Portsmouth brewery had decided to start giving out pages early so people could get out of the cold until bottles were administered at 9 AM. As we huddled in the car to wait for that hour, we remarked on how lucky we were to get five pages. As we sat trying to stay warm, cars from as far as Rhode Island and Illinois pulled in, and one by one we saw incredibly disappointed Kate the Great seekers walking back to those cars distraught and empty-handed. Nearly everyone had underestimated the hype and anticipation that enveloped Kate the Great Day 2010.

After staying warm in the car watching TV shows on Mr. Otey’s laptop and being treated to a home-brewed scotch ale by the guys in the car next to us, the 9 AM hour for distributing bottles finally arrived. Because we were late in the calendar pages, we had to wait for the earlier dates to get their bottles ahead of us. As we huddled together in the raw and damp Portsmouth weather, more and more people started arriving. Soon hundreds of people were on the sidewalk, even crowding the other side of the street. Beer geeks everywhere were discussing recent trades, hot new releases, and personal favorites as they waited in line.

Finally our dates were called, and we filed into the brewery’s basement area. In a remarkably swift exchange I forked over my ID, calendar page, and twenty dollars and was handed a beautiful bag with two bottles of Kate the Great. Soon after all five of us had emerged victorious with bottles, there was apparently an accident where the table holding the remainder of the bags tipped, breaking several bottles. We felt even luckier then to have the precious beers in hand. Some people stood by the entrance offering on-the-spot trades for bottles like Foothills Sexual Chocolate and Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, but we walked quickly by, knowing we wanted to bring home the bottles we had waited so long to get.

After briefly scoping out the line to get into the brewery for tapped Kate the Great that went around the block, we decided it would take all day for us to get in and that having the bottles was enough for us. After quick good-byes to Mr. Blauvelt, his brother, and his girlfriend, Mr. Otey and I hopped in the Jetta and began our sleep-deprived journey back to Clinton, NY. It is worth mentioning, however, that we stopped at Julio’s Liquors in Massachusetts on the way back; driving past on 495 and not taking advantage of their beer selection would be a crime. We made it back, completely exhausted and shocked that we hadn’t driven off the road, but ecstatic with the success of our quest.

In conclusion, Mr. Otey, Mr. Blauvelt, his girlfriend, and I tasted one of the bottles a few weekends later. It was, as we had suspected, utterly divine. Our ratings at www.ratebeer.com tell the full story. If you’re interested, our user names are craftycarl21, oteyj, and jblauvs. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout, by all means do so. It is worth the hype, and is truly a world-class beer.