There are many good reasons to get people together to open a bunch of beers. In fact, does there need to be a reason? For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say yes.
One of those good reasons is to be able to try a larger number of different beers than would be prudent or easily rationalized on one’s own. Weird beers, expensive beers, and most especially, big beers. Beers where the ABV seems like it might be a prank, it’s so high. Who put this “1” in front of the actual percentage? You mean this beer is eighteen percent?
So when beer dorks like yours truly put together a bottle share, or a tasting, or whatever you want to call it, it’s usually a lineup of high-test barrel-aged vanilla bean rocket fuel in large-format bottles. A lot of mitigation is required to make sure you don’t end the evening completely drunk. That’s even more important for our friends, who have to get themselves home safely.
My wife and I had a couple friends (and their adorable dogs) over last month to watch Big Little Lies, which had just won four of its six nominations at the Golden Globes. We’d seen it already, they hadn’t, and a binge-watch was in order. And hey, I off-handedly suggested, if we’re going to be sitting around for a few hours…*glances casually at beer fridge.*
Necessity being the mother of invention, it was at this time of need that truly inspired genius struck me — if I may be so humble. What if I put together a lineup of big-bottle low-ABV beers, punctuated with high-ABV beers in little bottles? Et voila, Big Little Beers was born.
Over the course of two Sundays, we opened a bunch of fruited Funk Factory Meerts variants and a nice little table saison called Four-legged Funk from Wiley Roots Brewing out in Greeley, Colorado — all under 5 percent.
For the heavy-hitter portion of the menu, it was easy to rely on another Colorado brewery that distributes regularly to Madison: Avery. You may have seen the gold foil-topped bottles available for sale as singles at shops around town and wondered if it was worth paying a buck an ounce for any beer, like, ever. Well, for the most part, when it comes to Avery’s barrel program, it’s worth it. Especially if you’re sharing.
Callipygian: a stout with coffee, chocolate, vanilla, bourbon barrel-aged, 17.4 percent. Xolotl: another stout, with chocolate, vanilla, chiles, cinnamon, bourbon barrel-aged, 13.7 percent. Black Eye: yet another stout, aged in rum barrels: 18.82 percent. 5 Monks: a truly massive Belgian quad, bourbon barrel-aged, a staggering 19.39 percent. These maniacs aren’t messing around. I mean, ABV to the hundredth decimal place? Who are these people?
I threw in some additional boozy bottles from Bell’s and Dogfish Head, and a really exceptional (and 16 percent) bourbon barrel gingerbread stout from Moody Tongue, but those Avery creations are built for a Big Little Beers kind of tasting. Still requires just a little mitigation to keep everyone from feeling the effects, even with the frankly brilliant modulation between boozy and sessionable.
And that, my friends, is where the nacho bar came in. Nachos, their own opportunity to consume more cheese, beef, olives and sour cream than would be prudent or easily rationalized — but that’s a different column.