Hunting for unicorns: Throughout the Vegas Valley, collectors are filling fridges with rare beers

What’s the most you’ve ever invested in a beer? Ten dollars at a Strip casino, $15 if you’re trapped inside a show place? How does $200 for a single bottle sound? Crazy? Not for a devoted band of collectors who search the Valley for quaffable unicorns.

“It’s a dynamic neighborhood,” says Scott Hanning, vice president of Lee’s Discount Alcohol. “People who have an interest in beers which are really fringe items.”

Niche beers have existed for many years, but such specialty choices have actually ended up being more available in Nevada, which has actually updated its microbrewery distribution network. And brand-new varieties are being released far more often. “Nowadays, it appears like there’s a new release practically each week– a new seasonal from someone or a new brewery coming to town,” Hannigan states. “It used to be that Sam Adams’ Utopias would be released at 21 percent ABV [alcohol-by-volume] every other year; now, every few weeks we’re getting a 13, 14, 17 percent beer coming out.”

Once, collectors gathered to beers that have ended up being relatively mainstream: Stone’s Old Guardian barleywine and Double Bastard American strong ale; Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot barleywine and Celebration Ale; and Samuel Smith’s Winter season Invite Ale. But times and patterns modification. The most desired brews today are normally high in ABV, they’re frequently barrel-aged, and many feature odd active ingredients or are less common designs of beer. Sometimes, it’s all of the above.

Amongst the rarest are the Utopias, of which just 15,000 bottles are brewed every other year. First launched in 2002, the high-ABV beer mixes a series of barrel-aged ales that differs with every release; the last vintage in 2015 weighed in at 28 percent and used beer that had actually been aged in Buffalo Trace whiskey barrels, together with beer aged in Madeira, Carcavelos, cognac and Armagnac barrels. Two Franklins– yes, it costs $200– gets you 24 ounces of an alcohol-forward and highly intricate yet exceptionally drinkable blend in a collectable copper-coated bottle.

Another much-coveted rarity is the Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner from Chicago brewery Moody Tongue. The earthiness of the Australian truffles– hand-shaven by chef-cum-brewer Jared Rouben himself– is surprisingly sedate, matching the mild pilsner without frustrating it. Price? Simply $120 a bottle.

On the more inexpensive end of the spectrum sit unique releases from California’s Firestone Walker, which, Hanning says, have drawn a crowd because their early days. Their popularity hasn’t waned. “Anything Firestone puts their name on, individuals simply go to,” says Dominic Gallegos, general supervisor of the Lee’s on Warm Springs. Gallegos himself has collected quite a collection of Firestone Walker beers, together with Goose Island Bourbon County stouts.

Unless you had your ear to the ground, you likely missed out on the single case of Firestone Walker’s Stickee Monkee each Lee’s area got a couple weeks back; the sweet, toeing-the-line-of-cloying-without-stepping-over-it, barrel-aged quad offered out everywhere in less than a day. At $10 for a 12-ounce bottle, it’s pricey, but not excessively so. The March release of Parabola, Firestone Walker’s Russian royal stout, likewise vanished on release day.

For Las Vegan Roland Szumada, an opportunity encounter with a Stone IPA– taken in during a Home of Blues show six years earlier– birthed a fixation, and he has because generated an outstanding collection of one-off and seasonal rarities, consisting of the previous 4 Utopias. “I take pleasure in consuming something that someone’s taken the time to make,” Szumuda says. “You can taste the love you don’t obtain from a Bud.”

Some of the most popular special releases come from the godfather of edgy brews, Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head. Most well-known is the comically hopped-up Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, which has actually hops continuously added to its boil for– you guessed it — 2 hours. At 15-20 percent ABV, the self-proclaimed “holy grail for hopheads” measures up to its billing with an assault of hoppy bitterness. If you’re not a hop fanatic, you may want to cellar it– the hops wane gradually to reveal something more like an exceptional barleywine. (I as soon as aged a bottle of my own for more than 7 years.)

Similar to wine, cellaring rarities is a crucial element for beer collectors, who might keep various vintages in a cool, dark location for some future event, and compare the ways beers age as time advances. (Szumuda shops more than 40 cases under his stairs.) Others are in it for the thrill of the hunt, looking for rarities, downing them and recording with an app like Untappd.

If it sounds attractive, you can discover kindred spirits in the Las Vegas Beer & & Breweries Facebook group, where members keep one another notified on beers’ schedule throughout the Valley (both in bottles and on tap). Bottoms up!

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