Brewery Special Releases and Anniversaries

12339414_10100582973778029_5829703369428039815_oThe line stood more than 100 people deep as it wrapped past the dumpster and around the corner. As the clock ticked toward the magical hour on a cool sunny mid-December day, a somewhat startled Josh Hamilton peeked his head out the door to the delight of those waiting outside.

No, Hamilton isn’t a famous celebrity or the Major League Baseball player with the same name, but to those who waited he was a rock star. His Hamilton Family Brewery was releasing its Big Night Oil bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. With fewer than 200 of the $19 bottles available to purchase, and only a small amount on tap at the Rancho Cucamonga brewery, you were left out if you didn’t plan ahead.12360408_10100582973877829_4040009132784299317_n

Such is the case with special craft beer releases. Many coincide with brewery anniversary celebrations, while others are timed with first-time or exclusive once-a-year seasonal offerings. Dale Bros. introduced a new beer for its Brews and Bros festival in January, and Claremont Craft Ales has tapped special brews at each of its three anniversary events. Such occasions are definitely cause for celebration – and a new highly anticipated beer.

Of course, the introduction of a new beverage could be cause enough for festivities. Rök House in Upland recently celebrated the draft release of its new Sledge Hammer quadruple IPA with the bottle release of its Hammer of Thor IPA.12650954_528264124019740_4805205808284948777_n

Most craft beer makers also limit the number of bottles of a special brew they’ll sell to each customer, in part to slow potential secondary market sales. Resale, trade and the collection of highly desirable craft beer is not unlike buying sporting event or concert tickets from a scalper – it will cost you.

The fall and winter months bring a lot of barrel-aged releases. Goose Island’s famed Bourbon County stouts are traditionally released on Black Friday after Thanksgiving. Hangar 24 in Redlands hosted its annual Barrel Roll series release in December, with bottles sold online in advance of an afternoon bottle “pick up” event in which new and past Barrel Roll brews were offered on tap. Not surprisingly, the bottles sold quickly and the kegs emptied rapidly.

12301746_10153777106032162_3002814223613011929_nThe Lost Abbey/Port Brewing in San Marcos released its “My Black Parade” in October, and despite its $41 per 750 ml bottle price tag, it sold out within minutes. I’ve since seen it listed by after-market sellers for upwards of $200.

Local beer aficionado Bob Grider made the long trek to Truckee, Calif., in December in the snow for this year’s release of the Eclipse Fifty-Fifty barrel-aged imperial stout series. He came home a happy man with new additions to his “Imbibery” collection.

Brewery anniversaries and festivals also are cause for anticipation. Online tickets to this summer’s Firestone-Walker International Beer Festival in Paso Robles began at 10 a.m. on sale Feb. 1 and were completely gone by 10:02.

A weekend away: Paso Robles

thumb_IMG_3086_1024Even craft beer lovers need to clean their palates, so today’s column takes us to California’s Central Coast for wine tasting.

Situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles is far enough away for a weekend getaway, yet just a four-hour drive from the Inland Empire. But give yourself time to arrive for Friday afternoon samplings before the tasting rooms close.

Lesser known than the bigger and more expensive wine regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County, Paso Robles boasts some 200 wineries that produce some of the state’s finest Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Zinfandels. Still, there are plenty of well-known wineries spread through the region, including Justin, J. Lohr and Eberle. The beauty of the vineyards changes from the tree-filled hillsides on the west side of Highway 101, to the rolling open spaces on the east.IMG_2380 (1)

I love Paso Robles because of its big, bold fruit-forward Zinfandels. There is a distinct flavor to the Paso Zins, and there are two wineries that produce my favorites. Opolo is tucked along the hillsides on the west, and Tobin James Cellars is the farthest winery east on Highway 46.

After our visits over two days to EOS, Sextant, Whalebone, Opolo and Pear Valley, along with a detour to the Firestone-Walker Brewery, we closed each day at Tobin James, which has the most fun tasting room in Paso. Even Tobin James himself hangs out there. Tobin James (the place not the person) may be the only tasting room in Paso that doesn’t charge a tasting fee. James Gang wine club members and visitors fill three separate bars in the large saloon. It’s no surprise that TJ boasts the largest wine club in the world, offering great deals, exceptional wines and the best place in town to end your day.