Dark Lord. Sexual Chocolate. Pliny the Younger. Certain beers have cachet among craft beer fans. And they are nearly impossible to find, unless you are willing to travel hundreds of miles and lineup overnight, no matter the weather, to plunk down some hard-earned cash for a few precious bombers. These are whales: Highly rated beers from breweries blessed by the craft beer inteligencia. If you’re attending a whale release, it pays to have a plan. Bring a folding chair, a blanket and a couple of brews for the bottle share —the lines form early. And while you’re there, check out these options for other prime pubs and breweries.
1. Sexual Chocolate (Late January)
Foothills Brewing, Winston- Salem, North Carolina
This cocoa-infused imperial stout was a pioneer in the southeast with its first bottle release in 2007. “When barrel-aged Sexual Chocolate was released earlier this year, there were three other bottle releases taking place on the same day in the region,” says Jamie Bartholomaus, Foothills founder. Come for the free-form bottle share that’s hosted inside the brewery on the night before the bottle release and stay for visits to Hoots Roller Bar & Beer Co. and Small Batch Beer. On your way out of town, check out Natty Greene’s Brewing to the east in Greensboro, or head to the west to visit Olde Hickory Brewery in Hickory or Fonta Flora Brewery in Morgantown.
2. Pliny the Younger (First Friday in February)
Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, California
This is a draft-only affair, no bottle or growler fills, and runs for two weeks. A limited number of kegs go to selected accounts after the release. “We sell a 10-ounce glass at our brewpub for $5 and each customer gets the opportunity to purchase three pours,” Cilurzo says. A recommended local stop is Plow Brewing, led by former Russian River brewer Kevin Robinson. Also, hit Bear Republic Brewing, about 15 miles north in Healdsburg.
3. Founders KBS (March)
Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, Michigan
The release of KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) is now a week-long celebration, with the Grand Rapids Convention and Visitors Bureau offering hotel packages and a “Brewsader Passport.” Collect stamps from any 8 of the 23 breweries in town and you earn a t-shirt. If you venture outside of Grand Rapids, head south to visit Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo or Dark Horse Brewing in Marshall, Michigan.
4. Hunahpu’s Day (Second Saturday in March)
Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, Tampa, Florida
If you are among the lucky 2,000 to snare a ticket—$200 or $300 a pop—plan to visit some of the 60 breweries in and around Tampa Bay, including easily accessible gems like 7venth Sun Brewery, Angry Chair Brewing, Coppertail Brewing, Green Bench Brewing and Hidden Springs Ale Works. Get a broader view of the beer scene—plus your fill of authentic German food and 55-plus drafts at Mr. Dunderbak’s Biergarten.
5. Dark Lord Day (April)
Three Floyd’s Brewing, Munster, Indiana
Dark Lord Day features an epic bottle share, and if one whale release is not enough for you, on the eve of Dark Lord Day visit 18th Street Brewery, to the north in Hammond, for Barrel Massacre, or Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery, to the west in Flossmoor, for Pre-Dark Lord Day. Because you’re less than 30 miles from Chicago, it’s a quick trip to Half Acre Beer, Metropolitan Brewing and Piece Brewery & Pizzeria, while squeezing in stops at beer-centric pubs like Hopleaf and The Map Room.
6. Atrial Rubicite Release (July)
Jester King Craft Brewery, Austin, Texas
Head to Texas hill country to get your hands on a single 500-mL bottle of this barrel-aged raspberry sour, then swing back through Austin to hit up Live Oak Brewing, Hops and Grain Brewing, NXNW Restaurant & Brewery and Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery. It’s hard to find a better one-two craft beer punch in a single block than along Rainey Street with Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden (30 house-made sausages and 100 taps) and Craft Pride, featuring a Texas-only draught list from three dozen breweries.
7. Barrel-Aged Mexican Cake Release (August/September)
Westbrook Brewing, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Barrel-aged Mexican Cake release details appear on Facebook just a few days in advance. “The way we do releases is specifically intended to reduce or eliminate as much as possible waiting in line and camping out,” says brewery founder Edward Westbrook. While in the Charleston area, you should visit Coast Brewing, Holy City Brewing, Edmund’s Oast and Revelry Brewing. The Craft Conundrum and Craftsmen Kitchen & Tap House get high marks as craft-centric bars.
8. Barrel-Aged Abraxes (November/December)
Perennial Artisan Ales, St. Louis, Missouri
The release of the 2015 edition of this imperial stout, made with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks is better than just snagging a bottle. “We put some thought into how we release it . . . We want it to be a fun experience, so we’ll put some special beers on draft,” says brewery co-founder Phil Wymore. Stay in St. Louis for can stops at Civil Life Brewing, 4 Hands Brewing, Urban Chestnut Brewing, Scholarly Taproom and Side Project Cellar.