Moby Dick Night at the Bottle Shop

Last “Thirstday” at the Global Beer Exchange Bottle Shop was officially designated as “Lagunitas and Bear Republic Night”, but I chose to give it the nickname in the title above. No, we didn’t try any beers brewed with blubber or ambergris from a great white whale. What we did try, however, were some of the most elusive beers not just in the Philippines, but in the world. In the Beer Advocate forum, reviewers refer to these hard-to-find, Holy Grail brews as their “Moby Dicks”. I was one of the lucky few who reserved for a bottle each of Lagunitas and Bear Republic Racer 5 India Pale Ales — even luckier perhaps, because several no-shows meant more of these fantastic IPAs for the dedicated.

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Lagunitas IPA was the lighter of the two in terms of alcohol-by-volume, at 6.3% ABV, so I decided to taste that first. It was surprisingly light in terms of mouthfeel, bitterness and even color. While visually, it looked closer to a run of the mill lager, it packed much more flavor — albeit a bit less than the IPAs I usually enjoy. There are IPAs that can be tiring on the palate, and there are IPAs that can be downright ruinous. This one was an IPA that was bright and pleasant, if not slightly underwhelming for the enthusiastic hophead. It’s the perfect introductory IPA for people who are averse to bitterness but willing to expand their horizons, as well as an outstanding session IPA for the infuriating Philippine summer.

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Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA packed more heft, more flavor, more aroma. This wasn’t actually my first taste of this brewery’s products, as I was lucky enough to have previously tried the limited release big brother of Racer 5, Racer X Double IPA. The two can be compared to the similarly-named characters from the old-school anime, Speed Racer and Racer X. Racer 5 was Speed, the younger brother – solid, inquisitive with a finesse-based style. Racer X was bolder, more brusque, still well-balanced and good-intentioned, but with a stronger afterburn. I’ve often said that Racer X was probably the best Double IPA I’ve ever tasted. Racer 5 is an amazing beer, reminiscent of its elder bro, but if I had to choose, an old favorite like Sculpin from Ballast Point would take the cake.

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Now this was an IPA. Lagunitas “Sucks” (yes, that’s really what it’s called) is a bright, vibrant beer, which is probably why my flash reflected off the label so strongly. A gift from fellow UP Law alum Concon, who unfortunately couldn’t make it, the Lagunitas Sucks is a winter seasonal release that was originally brewed in lieu of the usual Brown Shugga because of some production problems. Call it an adjunct IPA if you will, because aside from barley, it has wheat, oats and rye. Notwithstanding all the different grains, though, the hops are still the star of the show. I don’t use the word bouquet to refer to the nose of a beer very often, because there are actually a handful of beers that possess such a distinct combination of fresh, floral, citrusy, piney aromas that deserve it more than others. The aforementioned Ballast Point Sculpin, along with Central City Red Racer, Russian River Blind Pig and BrewDog Punk are some IPAs with such a bouquet of scents. Lagunitas Sucks rounds out that list of the five most fragrant beers I’ve tried (in no particular order of course, although Sculpin is definitely tops). Flavorwise, I only had a few sips, but from what little I tasted, it was quite reflective of the aroma: another unobtrusive, even more pleasant IPA from Lagunitas. This is not only easy drinking, but pleasurable drinking at that. I hope to be able to get a whole bottle of this beer to myself one day.

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One surprise that evening was the number one rated beer in Beer Advocate, and probably the most difficult beer to get in the world in recent history, Westvleteren XII. Westvleteren is a Trappist abbey in western Belgium that doesn’t distribute beer to dealers. The only way to get it used to be to visit a cafe at the foot of the monastery, which is the only “official retailer”, or to drive up to the monastery itself, hope they have some beer available and bring back a maximum of one case per vehicle. It’s been available on the gray markets and in speakeasy-type bars as well. Luckily, sometime last year, they shipped a very limited supply to the United States for the first time. I got to try this once from my friend Mags, who resealed a previously opened bottle just to share the last few sips with his friends. Unfortunately, it was as flat as expected once we got to taste it, so I really didn’t think that counted. Luckily, Global Beer Exchange’s head beer mogul Jim’s friend Clem, a frequent visitor from the United States, gifted the former with this bottle. Again, just as luckily, I was offered a taster, which I gratefully accepted of course.

A lot of times, people say that the anticipation and the hunger (or in this case, the thirst) are more satisfying than the accomplishment. In this case, it was. My previous taste of “Westy” didn’t get my hopes and expectations up, so I didn’t really feel disappointed by it. It was a good quadrupel – with prominent complexity of dark fruits, sugars and bottle-conditioned yeasts – albeit a bit thin instead of syrupy. To be honest, I think I like Rochefort 10 more. I would say this would rank slightly behind Rochefort, ahead of St. Bernardus, and light years away from La Trappe (which should probably have its Trappist license revoked) in terms of the best quads (Chimay Grande Reserve, strictly speaking, isn’t  a quadrupel, but a Belgian strong dark/brown ale). Among the four, though, Rochefort is the most readily available anyway.

Nevertheless, I have harpooned my Moby Dick and unlocked the Trappist Breweries achievement by having sampled the flagship ales of each of the six official Trappist breweries. Hopefully, such devotion to the good work of the Lord’s men of the cloth will get me brownie points in the afterlife.

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Speaking of the afterlife, The Abyss 2011 Reserve was another gift from Jim’s friend Clem. Deschutes Brewery is probably the most highly reputed in Oregon. While my Concon and some home brewer friends were separately trying the brewery’s Hop Henge IPA, we got to try their aged imperial stout. This was mellow yet complex, thick and creamy with the requisite coffee and chocolate with only an underlying hoppiness, as can be expected of a two-year old stout. Perfect for chilly weather, but still exceptional on a summer night, and all in all another rare find that I was lucky enough to try. I think I’ve hunted enough whAles (get it?) for the meantime. I’ll probably take a break after the Dogfish Head event  next week, or at least until Mikkeller finally hits out shores.

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