The world of beer is just continuing to grow, and microbreweries are releasing exclusive cans and bottles almost weekly, but some are just so hard to get your hands on. If you come across any of the beers on this list, do not pass them by. Some of these beers were from brewery-only releases, others were simply exclusive distributions or from specialty venue taps. Either way, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be found again.
5. Other Half x Monkish x Trillium – Fully Loaded Baked Potato
This first beer was released July 8th at Other Half Brewing in New York. Lines wrapped around the block and then some, and people waited hours just to get their hands on this along with two other collaboration beers.
While Other Half always draws crowds on release day, this particular release was extra special. Fully Loaded Baked Potato, Twice Baked Potato, and Taters were three beers that were created by not only Other Half, but Monkish Brewing in Torrance, CA and Trillium Brewing in Canton, MA.
For those of you who are pretty versed in the current events of the craft beer world, those three names are HUGE. Monkish collaborated with OH on Taters and Twice Baked, while all three worked together on Fully Loaded. The three great minds at each brewery worked to create a beer that embodied different qualities sought after in the beers from each of their breweries.
The reception was fantastic, and the beers were as good as everybody hoped. As a craft beer fanatic myself, I was disappointed because there was no way I would be making a 10 am release in Brooklyn, NY from my perch in Los Angeles. I accepted my fate and moved on… until my most recent trade with a guy from – you guessed it – Brooklyn, NY. The trade involved a whale of a beer (that will also be on this list) and in exchange, I got a BUNCH of great East Coast beers, including Fully Loaded Baked Potato. Unfortunately, he no longer had the access to Twice Baked or Taters, but I won’t get greedy.
Fully Loaded Review
Look: Pours an opaque creamy gold. Small head of white foam and a good amount of lace retention on the glass.
Smell: A hop dominated aroma, but not without a strong tropical sweetness to go along with it. A clear sharpness from the hop presence, however, a really nice pineapple fruitiness follows right behind in a very balanced aroma. Citrus notes can clearly be found on the nose as well, with notes of lemon and grapefruit.
Taste: A full body of flavor that has a dominating citrus flavor initially. Tangerine and bitter grapefruit compliment the hoppiness that stings underneath the tongue (but I promise, this is in the best way possible). This is definitely a beast of a beer. It’s so smooth yet so hoppy and with a really pleasant creamy quality as well. But even with the very evident hop profile, you are never at any point overwhelmed by any pithy or piney qualities that can often uncomfortably overtake Imperial IPAs. This one uses a variety of citrus qualities to find a fantastic balance.
Feel: Incredibly smooth with a medium body and seltzery carbonation. Very subtle stickiness but a crisp feel to it. Medium lace retention, and a nice warmth down the hatch. If it weren’t for that, there’s no other evidence of this IPA hitting 10%.
Monkish, Trillium, and Other Half do things right. They master their craft and make their beer available for the people willing to take time and make the effort to try the fruits of their labor. This collaboration was something special, and if you can get a hold of it, don’t pass it up. Definitely, try it as fresh as you can.
4. Bottle Logic – Fundamental Observation
I think that this beer could easily be placed in the top 20 stouts in the world, and any stout release from Bottle Logic is a hot commodity for beer traders everywhere right now. FO burst onto the scene in July of 2015, just a year and a half after the opening of Bottle Logic Brewing in Anaheim in February 2014. Ever since that first batch, they have gotten better every summer when they are released. Fundamental Observation Batch 3 (also known as FOB3) was no different.
Just like all of Bottle Logic’s exclusive releases, they set a date on Eventbrite for purchase and then gave buyers two weeks to come by the brewery and pick up their bottles. This means that to get a bottle of this stuff yourself, you need to do these three things: 1) Have a very good internet connection for the release, because these things sell out QUICK. 2) Live in Southern California or get ready to book your ticket. 3) Have a really good friend in Southern California who is willing to go pick up the goods and ship them out to you.
Now I did exaggerate slightly. Bottle Logic doesn’t sell bottles of FO solely through their Eventbrite release. A certain percentage of their bottles hit local distribution, and some bottle shops and tap rooms will receive a very limited number of bottles for resale. This is the bottle that I traded to NY for a huge array of rare East coast cans and bottles. I got a hold of one from a secondary seller for about $15 more than the original selling price and decided to trade it because I’ve had multiple opportunities to try this amazing stout on draft (SoCal perks, hollah). Here are my thoughts on this year’s FO.
My first time trying this beer was on an unexpected trip to Anaheim that led to an unfortunate Red Sox loss, but an absolutely epic trip to Bottle Logic! I went with the 4oz so I was able to try Number Crunch and Iridium Flare as well, two of their other rare ‘Stasis Project’ releases.
Look: Pours almost black with a medium tan head of foam. Minimal dissipating lace.
Smell: VANILLA!! Huge notes of awesome vanilla, with tinges of bourbon and very subtle chocolate in the back. A fairly simple aroma profile, but so powerful. To get those rich vanilla tones through that potent but pleasant bourbon wave is amazing. The chocolate only helps with balancing this beer out and preparing for that first sip.
Taste: A powerful combination of vanilla and booze. The finishing notes include caramel and chocolate but are crucial to keeping this monster balanced and delicious. When researching this beer, you can constantly see “vanilla bomb” or “who needs dessert” and all these comments about the rich vanilla taste. They weren’t kidding. Each year, Bottle Logic has come closer and closer to perfecting that balance of Vanilla with the rich bourbon burn and notes of chocolate. Batch 3 has done it. I’m sure they’ll find even more ways to better this beer next year.
Feel: Fairly thick-bodied, with a nice stickiness and no carbonation. You get the expected boozy burn down the hatch, and it really just completes the beer.
A bucket list beer for sure! An amazing vanilla-dominant Stout that is not for the faint of heart. Powerful beast of a beer, and well worth the trip.
3. Goose Island – Bourbon County Brand Stout
Goose Island has been distributing this bad boy to craft beer fans everywhere since 2005. Bottles from everywhere in between float around the trading market and online marketplaces, and everyone has their opinions as to which is best. In addition to this, there are many variations of the Bourbon County Series.
If you go to BeerAdvocate.com and search Bourbon County, the list is 3 pages long and includes over 50 different Bourbon County variations from Goose Island. For this list, we are just discussing the ‘original’ Bourbon County Brand Stout.
Here you can find the 2017 Bourbon County Brand release listings, and while no official release dates have been announced, the beers are typically released nationwide the day after Thanksgiving (which falls on November 23rd this year).
2016 BCBS Review
Specs: 2016 Bottle. 1 Pint, 0.9oz. Bottled on September 20, 2016. 13.8% ABV.
Look: Jet black, thin head of tan foam, quickly dissipating.
Smell: On the sweeter side, but full of chocolate with a coffee finish. Hints of caramel and dried fruit. The combination of these components left the chocolate and caramel keeping a nice heavy sweetness to the aroma, while the dried fruits and coffee balanced with a nice subtle bitterness.
Taste: Thick and hearty, heavier on the chocolate with really no booze burn but with evident bourbon flavor on the back. A little malty, complementing the bitterness of the even coffee notes found in the beer. Still getting that subtle sweetness, with hints of dried cherries and plums.
Feel: Pretty heavy body. Sticky and awesome, with a very slight carbonation level.
After trying this beer, I truly feel that this was really the epitomy of the imperial stout style. It was so perfectly balanced with malt, chocolate, coffee, and even that inclusion of dark fruit. I’ve had some amazing Imperial Stouts, and very few that I can say I may have liked more, however, I think that the balance in this beer is unmatched.
2. Stone Brewing – 2013 Old Guardian Oak-Smoked Barleywine – Bourbon Barrel Aged
Now, this beer may be the hardest one on this list to get. While the Oak-Smoked Old Guardian was bottled and released in 2013, this BBA variation has only been a draft only release at special events (as far as I know).
The original Old Guardian Barleywine is still one of my favorite beers Stone has ever released, and the 2013 Oak-Smoked edition was the same recipe but with oak-smoked wheat malt added. The rich and malty combined with the smoky and wheaty made it a successful release. Sit that bad boy in Bourbon Barrels and I’m not sure anybody could have predicted the beauty that would pour out.
BBA Oak-Smoked Review
I personally was able to try this amazing beer at a Stone Tap Takeover in Alhambra, CA. The tap list was amazing, and this particular taster blew me away.
Look: Beautiful reddish rust colored body, very small head of dissipating foam.
Smell: Incredibly smooth, never could guess it was 11%. The dominating aromas for this were oak, bourbon, and dark dried fruit. You really get all the components of the original Oak-Smoked Old Guardian, but the bourbon barrels added in an amazing sweet booziness and really enhanced the smokiness with a strong woody quality.
Taste: This beer really started out with a great malty sweetness that balanced perfectly with the smokiness. An incredibly rich profile, one that works so well together with the other present components. While barrel-aging an oak-smoked beer already rich with malt may seem like too much, this became just the opposite. The bourbon barrels gave the beer this incredible sweetness, enhancing the pre-existing rich, malty characteristics with the booze and enhancing the oak-smoked wheat malt with the wood from the barrels. It’s pure bliss.
Feel: A medium-bodied beer with unmatched smoothness and a nice warm boozy burn in the finish.
This beer is second to none. Amazing balance, body, and smoothness. All around unbeatable in my opinion.
1. Rodenbach – Alexander
Now it’s time for this list to get funky. I do not think that Alexander will lose his throne anytime soon as my favorite sour.
Rodenbach is a Belgian brewery most famously known in the U.S. for their Grand Cru, which is another incredible beer that is much more accessible and highly recommended. Alexander was re-released last year as part of Rodenbach’s Limited Edition Sour Series. Prior to that, the last time that Alexander had been brewed was 2001. Since that time, sour fans everywhere had this beer on their bucket lists–and finally got their wish.
You can find this beer sporadically at quality bottle shops, however, it is more accessible when purchasing online. Before shipping, you’re looking at about $16 per bottle. And every cent is worth it.
Specs: Poured from a 2016 750mL, part of Rodenbach’s Limited Edition Sour Series.
Look: Pours a deep, translucent crimson; very minimal lacing; about an inch of slightly red-hued white foam.
Smell: Bitter, strong notes of cherry; mild, lingering oak notes. For some background, the word foeder in foederbier describes the large oak vat that ages wines. Many breweries now use it to age their sour beers. The strong bitter fruit notes and oak in this beer is not coincidentally similar to the profile of many wines.
Taste: Very balanced tartness initially. Various fruit notes dominated by sour cherry, with a fantastic almond nuttiness in the finish. What I love about this flavor profile is that not only do you get such evidence of the sour cherries here, but the cherry pits give such a crucial nuttiness to the beer that cuts through the tartness with such ease.
Feel: Seltzery carbonation, quickly dissipating and replaced with a wonderful tartness.
What else is there to say? A truly unique experience, and even for those who aren’t a fan of sour beer styles, this is truly a treat if you can get a hold of it. If you do your research, you’ll see just how special it is to get a hold of this incredibly rare Rodenbach release.
Honorable Mention Beers:
- Smuttynose Brewing – Kisses & Kittens (petite saison)
- AleSmith – Speedway Stout (imperial stout)
- Tree House – Alter Ego (east coast IPA)
- Bottle Logic – START (double IPA)