CERTAIN BEER drinkers could sip the same bottle of suds every day for the rest of their natural-born lives, and that would be OK.
To them, there is nothing better than the familiar comfort of the Usual.
And then there are the Attention Deficit Drinkers.
These are the beer freaks who are always savoring the new, the exotic, the just plain weird. They case tap handles for oddities, drain a glass, then move on to something else. Their palates are like a TV remote control with 500 channels, continually zapping to the next, great taste.
With more than 5,000 readily available beers in America alone, you’d think ADDs would be more than satisfied. But increasingly, their fixation is being enabled with a whole other round of specialty flavors, courtesy of your friendly craft brewer.
These additional brews are known as “one-offs” – one-time-only, single-batch beers, often distributed with little advance notice and sold in only a handful of locations. A brewery may produce as few as 10 kegs of a specific beer, and when they’re kicked, it’s gone forever.
One-offs have been around for at least 10 years. But lately I’ve noticed brewers peppering the tap lines with even more quirky styles.
At Heavyweight Brewing in South Jersey, for example, brewer Tom Baker has been producing a series of beers called OneTimeOnePlace for the past year.
Many of them are a huge leap from the brewery’s typically malty flavors. Its Pegalina Pale was hopped-up ale; Black Ocean was a mild (4.4 percent alcohol), swartz-style lager made with the secondary wort runnings of its popular Perkuno’s Hammer porter.
Baker said one-offs are way to break the boredom of routine recipes.
“I really miss being a pub brewer and the flexibility to make what you want,” Baker said. “When you’re a package brewer . . . people expect your beer to taste the same every time. So we don’t get to try new things all that often.
“For me, the company has become more of a business, and the actual brewing is becoming less and less fun and more and more work. You get frustrated, you even want to throw it in, some days.
“So OTOP has been a way to gain some mental health. That’s been the fun thing for me.”
Some breweries are wary of one-offs, fearing they might dilute sales. At Yards in Kensington, president Tom Kehoe said, “Back in our little brewery [in Manayunk], we did a few one-offs when we weren’t as invested in a bigger production.
“But now we worry that they’ll just take away from one of our other, regular products.”
Indeed, in bars with limited tap handles, breweries often can count on just one. For Yards, adding a one-off could mean bumping its popular ESA from the regular rotation.
For the beer-drinker, there is another downside:
Sometimes one-offs are unintentional. Breweries with bad batches have been known to disguise the off taste with additional hops or other flavors. Rather than dumping the stuff down the drain, they label it as a “special” brew.
But mostly, one-offs are an unexpected treasure to be stumbled upon while hunting for that next great taste. You’re never sure where one will turn up, though your best bet is at a brewpub. Here’s a hint: Always ask your server if there are any beers on tap that aren’t listed on the menu. Often, one-offs are hidden on the pub’s beer engine, the hand pump used to pour cask-conditioned ales.
At Sly Fox Brewhouse and Eatery (Pikeland Village Square, Phoenixville), brewer Brian O’Reilly has been producing monthly varietal India Pale Ales this year. Each one contains a single hop variety. In December, he’ll tap all nine, including an Imperial IPA that undoubtedly will be hopped out the wazoo.
In Harrisburg, Troegs brews a new single-batch beer every six months or so.
Its current offering is Dreamweaver Wheat, a refreshing ale with four different wheat types.
As for Heavyweight, look for Boris, an imperial stout brewed with the help of BeerAdvocate.Com. (Its name is an acronym for BeerAdvocate Original Russian
Good luck finding it, though. Baker is sending only two kegs to Pennsylvania, and they’ll both be in the cooler at KClinger’s in Hanover.
“The beer is so exclusive and elusive, a lot of people will never get a chance to try any of them,” Baker conceded. “That’s why we usually save a keg for open houses.”
Even better, for the first time Baker expects to package one of his OTOP brews in 750ml bottles. When you’re down the shore this summer, head to the brewery (1701 Valley Road, Ocean Township, N.J.) and grab one for yourself.
Heavyweight will also feature one-offs on Sunday at the Garden State Beer Festival at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, N.J. Tix are $22. Info: 973-347-0900.
Six notable one-off beers
1. Yards Black & Tan. A blend of the brewery’s Love Stout and Pale Ale, served at a Friday the Firkinteenth fest at the Grey Lodge Pub (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair) last summer.
2. Avery’s The Reverend. Brewed as a one-time-only tribute to the sales manager’s grandfather, this Belgian-style quadruple was so popular, the Colorado brewery added it to its regular lineup.
3. Samuel Adams Millennium. Only 3,000 bottles of this high-alcohol beer were brewed in 2000, each signed and numbered, then sold for $200.
4. Dry-hopped Flying Fish XPA. Another specialty that made an appearance at the Grey Lodge, this one – flavored with fruity Simcoe hops – was served at the pub’s Groundhog Day breakfast last year.
5. Dogfish Head’s Mushroom Stout. The Delaware brewery may be the king of one-offs. This one, with portobello mushrooms, roasted chicory and coffee, was made for the 2003 Kennett Brewfest.
6. Bass Kings Ale. Made in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII. Every now and then, a filled bottle shows up at auctions.
What’s up with imperial stout in the middle of the summer? Brewers usually hold this high-octane fuel for the cold months, but several of them couldn’t wait. In addition to Heavyweight’s Boris, look for Heresy from Weyerbacher, aged in bourbon barrels. The always-over-the-top Stone Brewing of California is releasing a new imperial stout later this month. And Chris Leonard at General Lafayette Inn (6461 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill) is putting his big boy on tap this week . . .
Speaking of Easton’s Weyerbacher, its head-hammer Quad, was named best Belgian beer in this year’s U.S. Beer Tasting Championship. That’s the second time it’s won that honor . . .
Two new out-of-town labels are showing up around town: Two Brothers from Warrenville, Ill., near Chicago, is making a splash with its Domaine Dupage, a French farmhouse-style ale, and Bitter End, an American pale ale. Meanwhile, Michigan’s New Holland Brewing has sent us its Black Tulip, an overly hopped but drinkable Belgian tripel. Look also for Mad Hatter IPA and Sun Dog pale ale . . .
Also new on area shelves: Great Divide St. Brigid’s Porter and the very cherry Ech Kriekenbier from Belgium’s Verhaeghe brewery, known best for its tart Duchesses de Bourgogne.
“We don’t sell marshmallows or Popsicles. We’re in the beer business.” – Pete Coors, U.S. Senate candidate, to the Denver Post, on the hypocrisy of a supposedly conservative, family-values Republican using sexed-up, half-nekkid twins to sell beer.