At 11 a.m. on July 20, 450 bottles of Velvet Speedway Stout became available for purchase on the website BrownPaperTickets.com at $35 apiece, with a two-bottle limit. According to multiple sources involved with the beer, the entire run sold out in five seconds. Perhaps more shocking, as many as 110,000 unique web users attempted to buy it, meaning at best any individual seeking to buy a single bottle of $35 beer had a 1 in 250 chance of succeeding. Given the two-bottle availability, the actual odds were probably much higher.
In beer geek circles, the term whale — or sometimes white whale — refers to a particularly sought-after and hard-to-come-by beer, usually small-batch special releases made by world-class breweries with a well-established following. AleSmith has been responsible for more than a few of these over the years — in particular with variations of its award-winning Speedway Stout. But by anyone's standards, this is a whale of epic proportions.
The Miramar brewery has sold a couple dozen special bottle releases via Brownpapertickets since 2012, and one-off Speedway releases have become increasingly popular. A January collaboration with Danish gypsy brewer Mikeller is said to have sold out within five minutes. Last November, a Barrel Aged Vietnamese Speedway Stout (made with Vietnamese coffee) sold out in three. This barrel aged Velvet Speedway — and this warrants repeating — was gone in five seconds!
A collaboration between AleSmith, Carmel Mountain roaster Mostra Coffee, and Rancho Bernardo restaurant Urge Gastropub, Velvet Speedway is said to be the brainchild of Urge owner Grant Tondro. He brought up the idea last year, around the time of Urge's 4th anniversary. Alesmith responded simply enough by aging some Speedway in 23-year-old Evan Williams Bourbon Barrels for a year.
Head roaster Mike Arquines says Mostra had sourced some high value Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee for an earlier Speedway collaboration released February 2014. When the project left him with a surplus of cold brew, he aged it in bourbon cooperage.
Meanwhile at Urge, Tondro added vanilla beans to bottles of rye for several months to create a "concoction" to add into the mix. The resulting 12 percent ABV blend was given the Velvet moniker and finally released on Friday, July 24, beginning with a one-sixth barrel keg tapped at 10:30 a.m. to kick off Urge's three-day fifth anniversary celebration. That keg was empty by 10:50 a.m., and a second tapped at 5 p.m. later that day didn't even last that long.
To get a taste of this whale, I returned to Urge Sunday July 26 at 9 a.m. to sample the imperial coffee stout, which features subdued notes of vanilla, boozy complexity, and both a marshmallowy aroma and finish. Urge manager Scott Fecteau says the gastropub and AleSmith each have a few bottles and kegs left in reserve for future occasions. Otherwise, bottle trade negotiations are active online, with one person reportedly offering to swap a $500 TaylorMade golf club for a single bottle.