“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 whole enterprise inside, but don’t assume this is some rinky-dink outfit. The staffers are smart, the environment inviting and clean (even during Packers games). Fredricksen and his crew don’t make a bad beer. Pure skill helps, but keeping his operation small allows Fredricksen to keep a close eye on the process. If a batch even so much as takes a baby step south, he catches it and acts immediately.
Vanilla Rose Porter is brewed during August, and from there is aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels with vanilla beans. The first year Vanilla Rose Porter was released, in 2013, 70 bottles were released. They sold within minutes. Last year, 120 bottles were made and lasted maybe a half-hour. This year, there was said to have been 300.
Nevertheless, I wait outside for Bottle #1. I arrive 3-4 hours early on Saturday mornings and I wait.
The thought of this beer keeps me warm all morning out there (but so does the jacket and stuff). It’s what I envision when I read or hear the phrase “perfect beer.” I don’t hold it with my favorite imperial stouts. I hold it above them. That’s why my dog isn’t named Stout. That’s why I’ll let my face freeze off before I’ll let anyone else get the first bottle on Vanilla Rose Porter Day.
It’s my favorite style, aged in a barrel from my favorite bourbon-maker, with vanilla to sweeten it up just a little. When you put elements like these in the hands of somebody like Fredricksen, who seemingly doesn’t allow anything below “excellent” to pass through his tap lines, what do you think you’ll get? You’ll get a perfectly full-bodied, perfectly pitch-black beer with a gentle roastiness and a smooth finish. The whole thing is simply resplendent.
Get a bottle. Get two. Hide one away for yourself. Share the other with friends. To what little extent I can guarantee satisfaction, I guarantee it. You might even get an “Oh my gaaaaawd!”
RELATED: Read about Hudson’s other strip-mall miracle, the Cheddar Hudson Bagel.