Standing in line for local beer

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June 11, 2011 at 2:13 am

Tom Keith

What is it about beer that makes otherwise relatively sane people want to wait in long lines?

I spent almost two hours in line to purchase four bottles of Dark Lord from Three Floyds (Munster, IN) about six weeks ago. Today wasn’t as bad – it was only about an hour in the line before I was able to purchase four bottles of  Small Animal Big Machine – the new collaboration between Chicago’s Half Acre and Pipeworks, and Belgium’s De Struise breweries.

Long lines for Small Animal Big Machine beer

Long lines for Small Animal Big Machine beer

(The guys from De Struise have been making the rounds with their collaborations lately, including Shark Pants, with Three Floyds, and, with New Albanian, [across the river from Louisville in New Albany, IN], Naughty Girl, described as a “willfully disobedient India Blonde Ale.”)

Based on the small samples Half Acre was handing out to those who had been in line 45 minutes or more (including yours truly), Small Animal Big Machine is a very fine fruit beer, with red currant flavor up front, and a slight sourness contrasting with the inherent sweetness of the fruit and malts.  I’ll pop open a bottle this weekend with friends, but the remaining three bottles (from my four bottle limit) are already down in the basement, next to my bottles of Dark Lord. Both should age well, and I’m confident both will become much more complex in the next year or two.

I have some of this. You probably don't. Now do you want to be my friend?

I have some of this. You probably don't. Now do you want to be my friend?

But what is it that makes people want to wait in long lines for a new beer release?

“Well, it’s a limited bottling, and you won’t be able to ever get it again,” said a new best friend who was two people behind me in line. I’m sure that’s part of it … but only a part. “Beer guys like to stand in lines … they enjoy the instant camaraderie” said another. I’m sure that’s part of the reason, too. But it doesn’t completely explain the phenomenon.

Certainly, people line up for the latest version of the iPhone and iPad, and people line up to be the first to see Hollywood’s latest drek, but those are all about being first. It gives you the right to tell friends “I’m really cool – I saw this (or I got this thing) before you did.” Those examples don’t have the added factor of the scarcity of the products that cause folks to wait in long lines. A month later you can still buy the same iPhone that people waited in line for.

Only about 1,200 22 oz. bottles of Small Animal Big Machine were made. It sold out by early evening, Friday. Almost certainly, everyone who bought a bottle spent at least an hour or so in line.

I should check with our Local Beet wine correspondent, Wendy, on whether or not new local wine releases generate lines around the block. I don’t think they do.

So, what is it about craft beers that generates such passion? Maybe some of our dear readers of the Local Beet can clue me in.

In the meantime, I’m opening a bottle of Small Animal Big Machine for myself Saturday night. I might let a friend or two have a sip. Or maybe not. None of them waited in line for it.

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One Comment

  1. [...] One of the hottest trends in beer these days is collaborations between brewers, and sometimes between brewers and chefs. We’ve already told you about an especially successful collaboration here [...]

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