I think even the craft crazy had some trouble shelling out $25 for a bottle of Alesmith .394’s ‘roided-out brother, The Hall of Fame Imperial Pale Ale when it first came out in 2015. After making it’s debut on Brown Paper Tickets, it eventually found it’s way onto liquor store shelves, which is where I first ran into it.
I admittedly put myself into that category but as I worked my way through the vast selection of bombers Village Wine & Spirits in Encinitas was sporting at the time, I eventually had to try one through the simple process of elimination. My enduring desire to “try something different” eventually wore down my desire to keep money in my pocket. Alas, isn’t this always the way?
Instead of walking out with two or three assorted bottles that evening I went ahead and grabbed one of these 24-karat gold goodies (the labeling is reportedly real gold) and took it home. As tempting as it was to dive right in, I ended up throwing it in the refrigerator, having decided it should be saved for some kind of special occasion.
About a week later, a spontaneous tasting “event” broke out in the common driveway my condo shares with several other units. It started with just two of us but as I’m fortunate to have a really cool neighbors, it only takes a couple of us outside with open containers to get the ball rolling. Open beers around my way are pretty much the equivalent of human flypaper.
This was the perfect venue to crack my golden goose and as one would expect from most any Alesmith offering, it was a raging success. So much so I went back and picked up two more bottles the following week. Extravagant? Probably… But I really liked that beer 😀
Fast forward to about a week ago when I dropped into Royal Liquors on the 101 in North County to pick up a bottle of Speedway. I’ve only been there a couple times because I know I can usually pick up whatever I’m looking for closer to home but none of my usual haunts had Alesmith’s signature stout on hand (WTF?).
As I walked the aisle where the guy behind the counter told me I could find my black beauty, I picked up that familiar glint of gold foil from 20 feet away… Could it be? No… YES! Not just one but at least six bottles of the now infamous craft brew that I loved so much.
My first thought was, this stuff can’t be any good anymore. It’s going on two years old now and these things are sitting out on a shelf at room temperature. As I got closer, I could see that these beers were also now utterly transparent, which tells me they haven’t even moved in quite some time.
Fuck it, I’m buying one…
As I laid my find on the front seat of my car, I could see a wave of sediment breaking in the bottom of the bottle, not unlike the wave of uncertainty that had suddenly washed over me for spending $30 on something that might end up being terrible. What have I done?
I got home and into the ‘fridge went the golden image of the late Tony Gwynn, sediment and all. I decided to crack into him with my neighbor while we were watching The Packers go at it with The Cowboys this past Sunday. This neighbor, one of the original crew that had enjoyed the first iteration at our own private craft beer festival, was only too eager to have at it to see what it turned into.
I grabbed the hall of fame’r by the neck and gently turned it end over end a couple times to redistribute whatever it was that had settled at the bottom, peeled off the gold foil and cracked the top. As the carbonation released I could smell immediately that this was not going to be the same beer I had tried over a year ago. It wasn’t unpleasant, just completely different.
This first thing you get on the nose is like a boozy, almost butterscotch kinda smell. The whole hop-forward piney thing not even a memory. The coloring wasn’t quite the same either. The bright, hazy orange juice coloring had matured (oxidized?) into a deeper, almost browner version of it’s former self.
The taste? What was once a quintessential example of the classic west coast style IPA now struck me as more like a boozy, Belgian strong with prevalent notes of caramel and maltiness. Again, no evidence of the hop bomb or citrus and floral notes that once were but still drinkable and not at all unpleasant. I don’t know the history of the yeast strain in this beer but I got the distinct impression it continued to work in the bottle while these things were sitting around on the shelf. It didn’t finish as clean on the backend as it used to but again, not unpleasant.
While this thing has clearly evolved into something completely different, I could see someone brewing this intentionally under the guise of something in the Belgian style.
What I can’t see is paying $30 a bottle for it. At least, not a second time 😉