"Oh my gaaaaawd!" she said. "Reeeally?!"
"Yeah," I replied. "Last year, I beat the next person in line by only a few minutes."
It was 9 a.m. in Hudson, Wisc. The temperature lingered just below freezing, too cold for casual covers but too warm for the heavy gear; the ground was cold and hard, the greenery brown and bare; the clouds were thick, flat, and being absolute pricks about letting the sun through. Beautiful snow had fallen a few hours south, but not here. The view from this parking lot was ... er, not Hudson's best.
It was just this lady and I. Neither of us were here for the scenery.
She was middle-aged, with fuchsia lipstick and a perma-smile, awaiting a carpool. I was awaiting a bottle of beer. I didn't get a good look at my smile.
"If your friends want bottles of this," I said, "they've gotta be here by noon. Last year, they barely had any left when the line was done."
"Oh my gaaaaawd." She looked simply ecstatic to hear this. Her chariot pulled up and whisked her away. I believe it was a Ford Escape. She yelled out the window, "Watch my car for me, will ya honey?"
I smiled and returned to my Angry Birds. Vanilla Rose Porter was only three hours away.
Hidden among the "scenery," in a strip mall on Rodeo Dr. -- the only thing on Rodeo Dr. -- sits Pitchfork Brewing.
The path to Pitchfork's creation plays out like a movie: Head brewer Mike Fredricksen gets hired at Northern Brewer after helping out on a busy day; he starts brewing, which leads to teaching brewing classes, which leads to becoming a beer judge; his garage turns into a brewery; he starts a homebrew club, and further helps his fellow homebrewers by helping get legislation rewritten; a newspaper article connects him with old friends, who just happen to be interested in starting a brewery. Boom, Pitchfork.
Larger institutions like Surly or Summit probably have closets that could fit Pitchfork's entire operation inside, but don't assume this is some rinky-dink operation. The staffers are smart, and the environment is clean and inviting (even during Packers games). The quality of the beers ranges from "solid" to "frickin' immaculate," and beyond that to "so good we're naming our dog after it."
This is why I'm waiting outside for Bottle #1 of Vanilla Rose Porter, Porter's Porter.
The first year Vanilla Rose Porter came out, in 2013, 70 bottles were sold. Last year, 120. This year, there was said to have been 300.
At least, that's what I heard from the bar next door when I stopped in for a drink.
"There's no one else here yet," I said, sipping a Bloody Mary and staring out Paddy Ryan's front window. "Weird." It was 10:15 a.m. I was Paddy Ryan's first customer, too.
"It's the first weekend of rifle season over here," said the bartender, "and ... I think people aren't used to the cold yet."
"True." Last year, Vanilla Rose weekend was preceded by sub-zero temperatures. This year, it was in the high-20s four days after you could've worn shorts.
I emptied my drink, settled up and headed back out around 10:40. It wasn't until nearly 11 a.m. that I'd have company, and a line wouldn't begin to form until nearly 20-to-noon. By 12:01 p.m., the first bottle and the first pour were in my possession ... and WOW!
You know that phrase, "In a perfect world ..."? This is what just about every other porter would taste like in their perfect worlds. Go ahead if you think I'm crazy (and jump in a lake), but the line was still out the door when I left. Something's going right.
I hope 300 was enough. If not, Mike the Brewer might have to bottle 1,000 next year.
I might have to camp out.
STILL GOT TIME? Read about Hudson's other strip-mall miracle, the Cheddar Hudson Bagel.