Even before the craft beer craze, there have been some who sought the world’s rarest beers. In much the same way as a collector of fine wine seeks rare vintages from the best producers, beer collectors seek beers made by brewers–both foreign and domestic–with very limited distribution and yet of the highest quality. Rare beers fall into three categories: whales, white whales and ghost whales.
Whales are big beers distributed in just a small geographic area, or had a wider area, but a relatively small number distributed. Beers like 3 Floyds Brewing Company’s Dark Lord, a massive Russian Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar, have cult status and are highly sought among beer traders. In the case of Dark Lord, the beer is released only one day a year, at a ticketed event thrown by the brewery. If you don’t go to the event, the only way to get a bottle is from someone who did or someone who traded with someone who did.
White Whales are beers even more rare than whales. They often come from small producers who sell only bottles from the brewery or have extremely limited distribution. It’s not unusual for a U.S. city to get only one or two six-bottle cases a year of this beer category. Belgium’s Cantillon, a producer of lambic beers in a somewhat run-down neighborhood of Brussels, produces several quaffs that make beer geeks squeal like a child getting his or her first puppy. Often, Cantillon’s beers can be purchased only at the brewery. Add to that difficulty the process it takes to create a lambic–often blended with beers of varying age and fruit additions–and you’ve got a rare libation recipe indeed. In the case of Cantillon’s Lou Pepe Gueuze, two-year-old lambic aged in barrels that once held wine is used to coax a mellow flavor. Bottles of pre-2002 Lou Pepe are particularly rare, pushing the limit of white whale. They could easily fall into the realm of ghost whale.
The rarest beers, those of which only a few bottles left the brewery, are called ghost whales. These beers could easily sell for thousands of dollars among collectors. Beers like Brew Dogs’ The End of History falls squarely into this category. Only 12 bottles were produced of this 55 percent ABV brew and those were famously–and, to some, horrifically–presented in packaging consisting of a taxidermed roadkill squirrel or stoat (aka the short-tailed weasel). Those original bottles, brewed in 2010, sold for $765 each; each included a signed certificate of authenticity. The brewery, however, recently announced a re-re-release of the controversial beer. It will sell for $20,000 and includes an ownership stake in Brew Dog.
For the run-of-the-mill beer hunter, snagging a whale brew like Cigar City Brewing Company’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout–released only one day each year at the brewery’s release day/beer festival–is reason to celebrate. To others, only something like the white whale Duck Duck Gooze–an American-brewed, Belgian-style gueuse–from The Lost Abbey. It’s extremely difficult to score one, yet it’s the only one that will do. Regardless of which whale you prefer, if you get your hands on one, the decisions have just begun. Do you drink it, cellar it, trade it? My advice: Do as you please … it’s yours. As for me? I’m apt to drink it!