When our product team, who is largely based outside of New York, visits our Manhattan office they have their priorities: Schedule UX meetings, get to know new team members, and drink beer. Really good beer.
This week, the team started planning several weeks in advance of their arrival with a "#beer" chat room in Slack, our company-wide messaging system. There, they documented the beers they were currently drinking, with automatic updates from their Untappd accounts.
Leading up to the visit—and highly-anticipated tasting—Mike Simons, our Lead iOS Developer, posed questions for the rest of the team to consider: "Alright. Need some votes. A couple years of Kentucky breakfast stout by Founders or Bourbon County Coffee Stout?" and "What else could I smuggle to NY? A Pliny?"
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"I try to be one of the beer snobs that helps people find a beer they love, even if it is Bud Light Lime," Mike explains.
On Monday evening, we gathered around the eight beers that made it into his suitcase and through T.S.A. Here are the beers that made the cut, which Mike graciously shared from his personal collection:
"I think the Dark Lord was one of the first beers in the Midwest that people started lining up for," Mike explained. Eventually, those lines got so long that 3 Floyds Brewing Co. started a festival around the launch, calling it "Dark Lord Day." In 2010, Mike scored tickets to the festival (which now features metal bands and food tents) and piled into the car with four friends to road trip down from Michigan to Munster, Indiana.
The beer he brought home from 3 Floyds was a very rich Russian imperial stout that, in Mike's words, "pours like a balsamic vinegar and has a very molasses-y finish." He waited over five years to open this beer, which he said starts out incredibly sweet with a very strong alcoholic taste that mellows out over time. (I asked him how he remembered what it tasted like in 2010. While he often takes notes, this one is unique and rare enough that he committed its flavor it memory.)
When Mike returned to Dark Lord Day in 2013 (the beer festival, not an underground cult meeting), he traded one of his beers for this coffee stout, a rare Goose Island variety. The coffee stout is popular because it's a very balanced and a lot more mellow than other barrel-aged bourbon stouts.
This beer, which when they opened it yesterday was over ten years old, wasn't drinkable until about five years ago, according to Mike. At first, it was very sharp and alcoholic-tasting, but that mellowed out over the years. Luckily Mike didn't have to wait too long on this beer—he found it at a beer shop in Northern Michigan (that's as specific as he would get) where the owner hides beers away in the back room for months, even years. "I managed to find this one two solid years after it was released," he told me.
"Hopslam is a yearly event in Michigan," Mike told me, "and [the beer] sells out the day a store gets their stock of it." This ale is a double IPA that's balanced in bitterness and sweetness since its brewed with honey—the end result is citrusy and floral.
Widely considered to be among the best IPAs, a bottle of Pliny the Elder had to be "smuggled" to the east coast by Mike, since it's not distributed beyond the west coast (with the exception of Philadelphia). Mike got it with the help of a beer pen pal, who he sends Midwest beer in exchange for brews from the Golden State (!).
The Kentucky Breakfast Stout, or KBS as it's lovingly called, often sells out the day it's released. Two of the three times Mike was able to get his hands on it were due to the fact that he worked next to a craft beer store that tweeted whenever their special beers came into stock. "I left in the middle of at least one meeting to go get it," he said. He brought all three into Food52 to do a vertical tasting to compare how the beer has aged over time.
How to find your own rare beers:
Finding rare beers—which Mike, as a beer collector, is an expert at—comes down to "knowing your butcher," as Mike puts it. "It's about building a relationship with the people you're buying beer from so you're able to pick their brain about distributors and when they can expect beers in. But sometimes, it's luck of the draw."
There are also several beer-finding apps, like BeerMenus that send you push notifications when a beer you "follow" has been released or is being carried at a store in your area.
The other option? Make friends with someone like Mike.
Have you tried any incredible beers lately? Have you gone to the lengths Mike has for beer? Would you? Tell us in the comments below!
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