Back in March of 2010 I woke up at 2:30 in the morning. It was a miserable half winter half spring day, the kind of day that produces a drizzly slush that soaks the clothes and keeps you cold.
I put on all my warm clothes, including purple thermal underwear I borrowed from Amanda, and headed to Portsmouth, NH. The driving was equally as miserable as the slush had formed a slick, icy mess on the road—the only consolation was that at 2:30 in the morning hardly anyone else was driving I-95 North.
Where was I going? Well, I was going to stand in line for a beer. Not just any beer, mind you, but the most famous beer on the eastern seaboard: Portsmouth Brewing Company’s Kate the Great.
I managed my way to Portsmouth while it was still dark, parked my car in a lot I had scouted a few weeks prior and walked about a mile in that cold slush that w
as thankfully letting up.
With my large umbrella open and my hood fastened tightly I stood listening to the news on my iPhone about fifty feet back from the main entrance of the brewery. It was about 3:30am and the line was forming fast. My part of the line was already snaking around the corning and the end quickly disappeared around another.
As the sun started to come up and the slush starting to dissipate, the line began to move and in short order I was inside being handed a calendar page from a “Get Fuzzy” desk calendar, or something like that, and my hand was marked with a Sharpie to denote that I had already been in line. With this page I was guaranteed two 22-ounce bottles of Kate the Great at $10 a pop, what a deal!
I grabbed a quick bite to eat, drove my car around a bit and returned some time later when the bottles were being distributed. Once again I was called into the brewery where I handed over my $20 and received in return a paper bag with my allotment.
Since then, the Portsmouth Brewery has changed its policy about the Kate the Great release. No longer can the intrepid beer geek simply wake up at an ungodly hour and stand in the cold. The system now works by lottery scratch ticket, the bottles are smaller and the price has increased per bottle. It seems like the system works, but I guess I always liked the idea of keeping luck out of the equation and leaving it up to true grit and determination (that being sleep depravation and the possibility of frostbite and hypothermia).
So for all that work, here’s what I thought of the beer:
22 oz. Bottle into Portsmouth Balloon Tulip
Opaque. Just, opaque inky darkness. I poured this into two glasses to share with Reilly—the first glass had a bit more of a cascading head than the second but some swirling quickly brought around a smallish mocha cap.
Aroma is a combination of sweet fruitiness and roasted grain. Hints of molasses, bittersweet chocolate, and a biscuity nuttiness. Not crazy nutty, but almost a shortbread-like buttery nuttiness. Faint almond, perhaps. There's definitely a hint of the oak peaking through with a sort of gummy dried pluminess.
Flavor is similar to aroma--sweet molasses, a bit vinous with hints if bittersweet cocoa, raisins, dried plums. The roasted character is present but doesn't end too dry--fine and even.
A fantastic beer—while the mouthfeel may not be super thick like many Russian Imperial Stouts the flavor and especially the aroma make this beer something special. Drinkability is definitely up there for a beer of this stature—letting this one open up a bit reveals some nice oakiness. Fantastic.
So there you have it. Was it worth it? Sure! It was a fun experience and it ended up being a great beer. I’m not sure yet if I’ll give the lottery system a try, it’s been two years since they started that and I have yet to participate. And with the size of the bottle decreasing as the cost has increased, I’m not as determined as I once was. Plus, the world of beer is vast and there are many more beers out there to try—maybe I’ll stumble upon this beer again—time will tell.