First off, let it be said that I have little idea how the terms "whales", when used in reference to hard-to-hook, ultra-rare, limited-edition beers, morphed into "wales" not that long ago, and then recently into "walez". I don't ask, I just observe. Hash-tag #walez is actually a thing - check your Twitter or your Instragram. That's where I got this photo of a bunch of rare beers/big scores/walez from one Corbet Grittith, a 26-year-old from Ann Arbor who totally lovez his beerz. While I'd like to summarily dismiss this wallet-busting corner of the beer dorkisphere - the collecting, hoarding and trumpeting of the uber-rare and unique, just because - fact is, this sort of behavior is practically written into my DNA, and all too often, I too fall prey to the hunt. This post is about my relationship to the #walez underground.
Once I decided, several years ago, that it was OK to spend over $20 on a single beer - as long as it was the right beer - I too joined their swelling ranks. "They" are the folks, the men in 999 out of 1,000 cases, who wake up early to line up at Darklord Day, at Black Tuesday releases, and who make long round trips to Sante Adairius the second their Facebook page announces some new edition-of-300 barrel-aged beer (oh wait a minute, that last one is me). Weirdly, I continually suffer from a low-grade feeling that I'm missing out on some of the greatest beers on the planet, and if only I searched a little harder, traded a little more intensely, proactively stockpiled a cellar full of rarities for trading, I'd get to taste all the amazing beers that are being made right now, rather than feel like I'm barely skirting the edges of what's good.
Of course, that's ludicrous. Many of our finest beers are draft-only, and some (a la Pliny The Younger, which I don't even like) will remain so. If the wale in question is made in the San Francisco Bay Area, I can usually get it if I want it. I will never trade for a growler, though - that crosses the line into discomfortingly obsessive-slash-alcoholic. I can't, or won't, drink enough to try every rare limited beer boasting a 100 score of RateBeer, or that lights up the message boards on Beer Advocate. But man, I sure want to.
When a rare beer is in my sights - such as the time I scored a couple Bruery/City Beer Store "The Wanderer"s by waiting in a long line, or the time I was sent a Darklord by a kind trader, or even that recent Sante Adairius haul - my pulse quickens, my endorphins rush, and my primordial hunter-gatherer instincts switch on. I got it. Someone else didn't. What could I get for this in trade? How amazing is this beer going to be? (The sad truth is, often they're really no big deal). It's akin to my time spent intensely buying punk rock and underground indie 45s in the 80s and 90s. When I'd uncover some Urinals single, or a rare 1979 Fall 45, I'd get the same buzzed-out feeling. Now we have Twitter and Instagram to tell the world about it too, something I definitely didn't have in my record-collecting days.
What makes a wale? Usually they are imperial stouts, big-alchol sours, barrel-aged anything and ocassionally an IPA or a saison. I've yet to see a hefeweizen or even an imperial red among their ranks - although I'm happy to be corrected on that front. More often than not, it's their rarity that makes them special, along with a combination of hype, packaging, barrel-aging, ingredients and the legacy of the brewer in making intense beers. Cigar City can easily make a wale; Widmer Brothers cannot.
I remember when The Lost Abbey's "The Red Poppy" was a much sought-after sour ale. Everyone wanted this beer. People would drive down to San Diego to get it, trade a kidney and a crate of Russian River to try one, etc. (It's also one of the few walez that deserved every bit of its hype). I found one and bragged about it for days. What happened when Lost Abbey, astutely listening to their customers, decided to make a bunch more of it to fulfill demand, and distributed it widely - including in my local Whole Foods? Interest fell right off a cliff. Red Poppy? Who cares! I can get that anytime. Alas, I'm in that camp as well, and haven't bought it since it became so easy to find. I am well aware of the hypocrisy and inanity of this.
The king of online #walez porn has got to be the fella behind Don't Drink Beer blog. He appears to only drink beers he's procured through the mails, or on what I imagine are his many wale-hunting excursions. He drinks and "reviews" lots and lots of them. Usually these are photographed and captioned with a bunch of hip hop gibberish and drunken in-jokes I won't even pretend to understand, but sometimes he makes my head explode. He posted a photo of a Utah beer called "Squatter's Fifth Element" that sent me into a frenzy of online activity. GoddamnitIneedthisgoddamnbeer. I asked RateBeer members to trade me one. No dice. I promised my firstborn (who is already 10 years old, but never mind) plus some great waley NoCal beers. No dice. I'm still looking. Anyone have one for trade? Anyone?
I'm trying to keep my waling in check. It's certainly fun to go way out of my way and find them, and it's especially rewarding when they're stunning and unique and wonderful, as "The Wanderer" was, as Nebraska Brewing's "Hop God, Aged in French Oak Chardonnay" was. If I don't buy too many of them, I can usually afford the odd $25 beer every now and again. Why, just this month I received a Lawson's Finest Liquids' "Double Sunshine IPA" and a rare Hill Farmstead beer, among other things, in the mail from this guy. He'll be getting back some first-class #walez of the highest order for his troubles. And so it continues, and yes, it just feels so right.