I knew from the beginning it would not be a inexpensive undertaking to attend the 2010 Hunahpu’s Release Party but after using a bit of cleverness to pool hotel points and frequent flyer miles I was able to put a dent in my projected expenses. By the time March 8th arrived (the day Joey released the list of beers tapping at the event) I was like an animal clawing at my rusty cage, dying to get further south. This rabid monster can only be sated with beer of the Ybor City variety.
The only flight I was able to get out of Chicago O’Hare would get me to the brewery at 3:30pm at best. I walked through the familiar doors of the brew house with my head on a swivel, taking in the surroundings and the event setup. Most of all I was searching for my own Willy Wonka-esque Golden Ticket. To prevent the chaos known at some other release parties nationwide, CCB derived a plan to start handing out tickets at 11am. The tickets were free, they merely guaranteed you a place in line to purchase (up to 6 bottles) starting at 7pm. With 3000 bottles known to have been produced, 500 others would have to be ticketed before me, and all would have to max out at 6 bottles a piece that evening to preclude me from my own spoils of war. Unlikely no doubt, but it did little to quell the butterflies raging in my stomach as I demanded my cab driver ‘step on it!’ as we coasted down Spruce Street.
With ticket in hand, the arc of my smile increase dramatically and my stress level reacted conversely. I decided to seek out a quick pint before walking to my nearby hotel to dump off a portion of my small load of luggage. I walked up to the register in the brew house just as brewer Doug hammered home the tap into a cask of Maduro Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. One of two firkin offerings reported on the 8th, I knew I’d be all over this one. I’ve long been a proponent of brown ales on cask. Subtle sweetness of lightly roasted malt becomes complexly bitter without the CO2 to lift it from the palate. The addition of oats in the base beer (which I sampled via growler last summer) could only drive this into the stratosphere. Wayne arrived with a bucket to catch the copious suds pouring out of the angry cask and I caught the first pint of the day from the vessel. Sitting at a nearby barrel, I experienced dubbel-like fig and prune aromatics. This led to a sweet oatmeal cookie end that was not nearly as apparent in the base beer, and certainly can be likened to the famous American treat. I pulled my battered growler from my luggage and passed it on with a request that it be filled with another variation of the Maduro, vanilla aged. This rarity would be saved for the stumble back to the hotel later that night.
I stopped into the new tap room next door to assess that layout (and ease of navigation in the certainly predictable onslaught of beer drinkers a few hours later). Despite having only been operating for a short period of time it was decorated smartly and set up quite functionally. My favorite is the large chalkboard directly behind the bar which clearly lists the current offerings. Simple – seems like a no brainer – but much time and stupid questions are averted in time of crisis by this archaic grade school institution. The lack of such signage in the brew house tapping area made this point clear a few hours later.
Using a crudely drawn map which I had scrawled in my notebook , I navigated towards Dale Mabry on Spruce and swerved into the Home Depot parking lot. I soon came upon my first destination, Total Wine. I was on the hunt for a single beer that could go with my late night sampling of Vanilla Maduro. I came to terms with Blue Point Rastafara Rye. Not distributed in Chicago, I’ve long been told of Blue Point by a friend on the Island. After making small talk with the cashier (sparked by my Bell’s long sleeve) I made my way out in search of sustenance as I had not eaten since early that morning. My rough map led me to a nearby Whole Foods. I swerved through the parking lot using only my general sense of direction to make it back to Spruce. I found myself in a service area for Home Depot and as I munched on my chicken caprese sandwich I realized I had trapped myself in a dead end. I was not about to double back, as time was now of the essence. I rewrapped my sandwich and placed it securely in my bag. I tossed my bag high up on top of a nearly 10 foot brick wall. With CCB just out of reach, I jumped onto the adjacent chain link fence and it nearly toppled down. With that plan foiled, my eyes darted towards nearby rickety scaffolding. Once upon it, it too began to rend beneath massive rust; I threw one leg on top of the wall and leaped down the other side. Casually grabbing my bag (and hoping many girls – and no police – had seen me), I removed my sandwich from my duffel and continued on to my lodging.
Checking in, I dug through the bubble wrap, towels and electrical tape (more on that later) and dug out my messenger bag, notebook and mp3 player. The day’s events were brought to me courtesy CNN (and the giant LG flat screen in my room, far superior to my ancient set at home) during a 20 minute respite. I left the second Whole foods sandwich (roast beef on ciabatta), the growler and the Blue Point bomber in the fridge and made my way out. I stopped at the front desk to purchase a palate cleanser for the night’s activities ($2 bottle of water, wholesale robbery) and jaunted back again to CCB with ‘Dreams’ by the Allman Brothers blasting in my ears.
In the less than two hours since I sampled the cask ale previously, the place was swamped with customers. I sized up the situation quickly and moved swiftly to the brew house tap line. I slowly made my way to the counter and tried to figure out what might blow soon. I opted for the Jolly Guava (Guava Grove saison treated with Brettnomyces and aged in a Jolly Pumpkin barrel). The barrel aging led me to deduce that there must be a very limited quantity of it on hand (not to mention the huge demand for a soured saison) so I figured it was the smart pick. The CCB employee told me I could have it for free if I announced to the snaking line behind me that while credit cards would be accepted, cash would generally be preferred as it required no processing. I thought he was kidding but he handed me the beer. As I immediately walked back to the end of the line for another pint, I bellowed ‘CASH ONLY! NO CREDIT CARDS PLEASE!’ or something of the sort. Despite some odd looks, my loud pipes did the trick and I got the high sign from the generous worker on the other side of the rail.
I found a tiny area to bust out my notebook and scribble down the essentials on the Jolly Guava. I had a 750ml of the base beer over the summer; saisons are possibly my favorite style but I found the addition of fruit to be sacrilegious in a sense, more so because the high carb and candy sweetness of the guava transformed it into something quite Jarritos-like. Nothing like intense sourness to balance that sweetness! This beer was made to be bugged: the skeleton dry end tempered the guava down to a subtle hint of its former self and as I returned to the ever growing line my left eye continued to slam shut under duress of the sourness.
For the third go-round, I was really hoping for a taste of two unique IPA revisions: Orange Cream-sick-le or Tropic-ale. I had inquired during my original visit in the early afternoon and was told the Cream-sick-le was mistakenly tapped (and subsequently blew) earlier in the day. The latter would not be brought out until 5:30. That time had arrived, but the answer I received was again disheartening: growler fills only. No big deal, it isn’t as if I had planned what I was going to drink ahead of time, or had gone so far as I write down a numbered list in the back of a small, gold notebook full of beer ratings. Actually, I did. A pint of the Jai Alai worked as well as any pharmaceutical antidepressant to settle me. I had previously tried the cedar aged version of this beer (the initial release in their Humidor Series) but never the base. I am not often fond of wood in my IPAs so I was eager to see what the original was made of. Some of the old timers reading this might remember a juice drink circa 1985 that came in a tall, waxy carton called ‘Five-Alive’. A blend of five citrus juices, I often think back of that carton’s contents and make reference to it in my IPA rates. Many IPAs contain some kind of fruit ester in the aroma and/or flavor whether it be orange, lemon or grapefruit. It is rarer however that one can strike checkmarks for such numerous acidic citrus elements as found here.
Possibly the most straightforward and least experimental beer in CCBs roster which I have tried, this straightforward syringe of hop solution does well to control the shakes associated with a lack of bitterness in my diet. Wondrous stuff.
Another pint, another rate amongst 100s of people like ants fighting for my single square foot of space to take notes in, and another return to the anaconda-like queue. I was deep in thought as I ventured forward during this cycle as I was running out of options. I had elected early on to avoid the many wood aged beers available. I will no doubt receive untold amounts of criticism for this decision but I did so for a few reasons. The biggest priority was palate exhaustion. Little will provide the killing blow to the taste buds then an imperial stout…a brandy or bourbon barrel aged version no doubt will be murder.
The interesting thing for myself is that I’ve noticed when I do take the plunge during a rating marathon is that I do feel rejuvenated after numerous deliveries of H2O. However time and experience has shown me that this is indeed an illusion. I salute those who do have the venerable constitution to continue rating after a dose of wood on this level. I further commend those that chose to leave the nerdbook/notebook at home and drink to their hearts content, that choice is indeed attractive but one I chose not to take. I arrived at the head of the line relegating myself to another pint of Jai Alai when I saw a small note stapled to the board before me: Peg’s Berliner Weiss. Assistant brewer at CCB, head brewer at Peg’s -- Doug Dozark was responsible for this ballsy style choice. At that moment the announcement was made that the Jolly Guava had just kicked and I had a private smile for having the forethought to order it during its only hours long lifespan on this night.
I carried my Berliner Weiss over to the Hunahpu’s sales table. Now abandoned, it would later become the focal point for fistfuls of dollars and arm loads of 750s. In its current state it proved to be a perfect HQ to evaluate the sample at hand. Devoid of carb or head, this already sour monster could kick a lesser man to the ground. My left eye again closed as I tolerated the striking lemon juice-like element. No respite in sight as it moved to near vinegar like astringency. The wheat provided a striking dull hazy blonde appearance and just a hint of mouthfeel to reveal the grain bill. I leaned back and enjoyed the sounds of the Cigar City DJs, monitoring the Serato digital vinyl the DJ used and relishing his musical choices that ranged from James Brown to Primus. “Bob’s Party Time Lounge” was just the familiar jam I needed to drive me forward as the 7pm witching hour approached.
I chose to leave the brew house queue behind and get the next pints from the taproom itself. It was quite busy but unlike in the single file queue in the brew house, physical stature, eye contact and voice volume all can work to your favor in the bar room environment. My 6’4” height and experience on similar battlegrounds quickly garnered me a pint of Maduro Cubano Espresso. I carried it back to the Hunahpu’s table and set down for my last rate of the evening (before returning to my hotel). You already know I am a fan of brown ales: variations on that theme often delight me even more. Surly Bender has long been one of my favorite session beers and it was on New Years Eve that I was able to enjoy the Coffee Bender. Like that great beer, the Cubano Espresso is in many ways a one trick pony. There is little balance here and not much remains of the base. It is senseless to point out that if you do not enjoy coffee, you will likely reject a sample of this stuff because it is the focused essence of coffee and even the earth it grew in. Like a child with a bag of candy bars, this is purely addictive. So much so, I returned soon after for a refill.
As I sipped my second Cubano Espresso, the DJs music grew to a crescendo as did my personal spirits. The MC behind me began to announce the numbers in quantities of twenty and I then viewed the greatest transaction of $20 bills I have ever seen. On par with cash flow seen in drug cartels, the register never had time to open or close, nor were any transactions typed into it. The ticker tape attached via a small plastic reel never moved. Just $20 bills, handfuls of them. Four or more CCB workers constantly brought more and more Hunahpu’s to the forefront but it was futile: they could not withstand the onslaught of incoming money that volleyed in its wake. With jaw agape (useful for induction of the Cubano Espresso in my hand) I witnessed this great sight and before long by own number – 232 – was included in the current range and I paid for my modest pair of bottles. With them raised aloft towards the heavens – where they rightfully belong – I made my exit with a shit-eating grin of massive proportions stenciled onto my mug.
I was back in my hotel room in only a few moments. Moments later I had stripped my clothes to the ground save for my drawers and with the air conditioner cranked to a frigid 68 I opened my 32oz growler of Vanilla Maduro. Glass after glass the candy like vanilla sweetness worked well this late in the session, especially as one which would be repeated for a full quart. This beer taught me further lessons about how chocolate and vanilla not only complement each other and can work together, but how they are actually intrinsically related by ways of individual elements of their flavor profiles. Of the numerous variations of Maduro, I wonder if this is indeed the best.
Last but not least I opened my Blue Point bomber. I was feeling quite fuzzy and sedated at this point and washed my palate with glass after glass of water at the sink before I sat down to tackle the specialty grain beer. Forgettable even in a much lesser state of intoxication, real rye spiciness should have cut through the layers of CCB remnants left on my palate but alas I believe none existed. Still an excellent and quite big beer with huge toffee notes, its flaws did not faze me for soon a giant roast beef sandwich was in my paws…then it was gone. I remember walking to the bedroom and lying down but nothing after that. I woke 9 hours later after a truly comatose state of sleep and jogged downstairs for breakfast before the area filled with shrieking children. A cornucopia of scrambled eggs and similar fare filled my gullet and I decided to pull the rare move of foregoing any java as I again jogged back to the 5th floor (via elevator, though I did jog 10’ or so in the hallway). I bounded with a WWF/WWE style top rope leap back into my bed – while removing my clothes midair in a manner that would impress both Morpheus and Neo – and slept again until shortly before my noon checkout. I awoke and spent the remaining time I had wrapping my 750s in alternating layers of bubble wrap and hand towels with tight swaths of electrical tape. I secured them in my messenger bag – then in my duffle bag and packed the remaining area with bundles of newsprint. It seemed inappropriate to behoove whatever gods might exist with a prayer to beg for safe passage of my bottles. In their stead I said a private word to Hunahpu and his twin. Would they see fit to answer me?