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First Draughts


Robert Alan Wendeborn

‘Whales’: Where beer, scarcity and nerdom meet

Ar 170429770
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO
Ar 170429770
Alexi Grojean/Special to DGO

If you’re up on your beer social media, you know about “beer haul” shots. Pictures of bottles and cans arranged nicely, usually from someone’s vacay to the Northeast, or from some super-rare release, or just a trip to the local bottle shop that turned up an overlooked beer. They’re mostly a way for beer nerds to show how cool they are, like, women showing off their legs poolside, or moms showing off their cute babies or cat people showing how crazy they are. The beers in these pictures run the gambit from mainline regional craft brews to annual releases of some hyper-local brewery’s barrel-aged whatever-the-hell. For the most part, I’m pretty immune to this type of rabid consumerism (maybe it’s because, as a child, I knew I was never going to get the hot new toy, but, rather, last year’s model, or a cheap knock-off), but for those who are, as you scroll through streams of these photos, you will go through some phases similar to grief.

Denial:No way, did he get that many bottles of Hunahpu!

Anger:What does he need that many bottles of Hunahpu for?!

Bargaining:Maybe if I invite him to my next bottle share, he’ll bring one of those Hunahpus ...

Depression:OMG, I may die before even tasting a sip of a Hunahpu :(.

Acceptance:It’s OK. There’s always next year, and I DO have tickets to Dark Lord Day this year.

Right now, if you’re not a hardcore beer nerd, you might be saying, “WTF is a Hunahpu? What is a Dark Lord Day?” To answer your question though, Hunahpu is an Imperial Stout with chocolate, peppers, and spices, brewed by Cigar City in Tampa Bay, Florida. Dark Lord is a Russian Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, vanilla, and Indian sugar. But it doesn’t matter what they are. I could have made them up, but I didn’t. The point is, people lose their shit for them. In this secret world of beer nerdom, these types of beer are called “whales” – coveted beers because of their rarity or their high demand from beer traders in other regions of the country.

And people will wait in line for hours for these beers. They’ll hire “mules” to wait in line for them. They’ll spend thousands of dollars for one bottle. Is that crazy? Maybe.

For a lot of people, spending tons of money on beer is just plain stupid. But I’d say the same for someone that spends a lot of money on a car, or their hair, or whatever. In my mind, this is great for beer. It shows that beer has a high end. When beer has a high end, you don’t have to rely on quantity, but quality, to make your money as a producer. It also shows the sophistication of the consumer: They can tell the difference between a mass-produced craft beer and a hand-crafted one-of-a-kind drinking experience.

I will say that you won’t often find me in line for a rare beer. You won’t find me lurking the internet, looking for expensive beers. But, the other day at the grocery store, when I was looking for a chicken biscuit from the deli, I saw a four-pack of Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout and I bought it on impulse. When I recently showed up late to a bottle share and was offered a taste of Bourbon County Stout, I told them to pour it directly into my mouth. I don’t really seek out whales, they usually find me, except in D.C. last week for the Craft Brewers Conference. I asked every bar for a Natty Boh. It took me three days, but I found a bar that had it.

Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.