It’s a bit tiring to hear about how “last year” was better when we’re referring to beers or beer events. Sometimes it feels like an active attempt to deflate the experience of craft beer newcomers. And other times, you just feel genuinely bad for people who didn’t experience “last year.”
But dammit, last year was better.
As a podcast trying to grow an audience and build a name, we were more than happy to raffle off our vacated RSVP extras for the event. But now I feel like we have to apologize for hyping up a largely underwhelming event. Here’s an excerpt from Craig’s post about the raffle*:
“For reference, last year’s South Loop BCBS event had BCBS 09, 10, 11, 12, Vanilla, Cherry Rye, Coffee 11, 12, Baudoinia, and Big John on tap, along with bottles of King Henry, Bramble, and Rare being poured. Two bottles each of King Henry, Bramble and Rare were raffled off as well. And South Loop Binny’s said they were going to top that.”
But here’s what actually happened this year, starting with the good. The tap list:
Yes, Proprietor’s is a bit better out of the bottle, but there’s no better beer that balances flavors of shaved coconut, rich chocolate and bourbon. The 2013 Coffee was giving off a touch of spice not present in the bottle but was still a highlight. Baudoinia still tasted like a walnut fudge brownie dipped in bourbon despite being thinner in body than I remembered. The BCBS vanilla bean Randall was more potent than the BCBS Vanilla variant, and the BCBBW coffee Randall tasted as good as it did at FOBAB and should be destined for bottles.
Another great thing was the tireless work of the bartenders, filling every taster to the rim and clearly confirming the variants they were handing over. Also kudos is in order to the Binny’s staff for staying attentive with spill clean-ups and empty glass collecting (much to the chagrin of those with figuratively sticky hands and large pockets). Water was well-stocked, and even some bread baskets were passed around.
The crowd was great: friendly and respectful. The line length opened up many opportunities to talk about last year (of course) and pose for awkwardly-staged photobombs. And to our amazement, we had several people compliment us on the podcast. And that’s the shit.
Now, let’s get into the bad.
The lines were easily a half-hour or more wait for the entirety of the night. Last year, the line was initially long but became manageable by the time I went back for my third set of pours. Last year I had 10 tasters; this year I had 6. Binny’s had this to say:
You had to call and RSVP, and the list was full within mere hours of the initial Twitter announcement about the event. So, how does it get to be “overwhelming” if it should’ve been calculated and expected? There was some talk at the event about people bringing more than their original RSVP request and being let in, or others just showing up and being allowed in. It’s only a rumor at this point, but the line itself seemed to serve as evidence.
And then there’s this:
We all paid our $5 and received nothing in return: no receipt or ticket to redeem for a pour. Employees and bartenders alike claimed to be unaware that there should be any kind of free pour. This deserves an explanation.
There was no mention of a raffle this year, but we can’t be blamed for expecting one. Last year, Brett Porter himself helped open bottles and share pours of BCBS Bramble, King Henry, and BCBS Rare for every one in attendance. Two bottles of each were raffled off. When those cases came out, the room came alive with anticipation, and it was even better than we thought. Every one tastes and some can even win? Hot damn.
But alas, no raffle this year: just one case of BCBS Vanilla that sat on the counter, almost mocking attendees, as nothing was ever seemingly done with it.
Also, the cheese counter was closed. The line had to hover in front of that thing for 5 minutes every time through, and I imagine a few people (like me) would’ve been happy to nosh on some Jarlsberg or snob it up on some Truffle Tremor. This is a minor gripe for most – but I am damn serious about cheese.
Did Goose Island toss off this event by just sending a bunch of kegs to Binny’s and letting them figure it out? Last year, the guy whose name is on the damn bottles showed up and toasted to everyone after sharing BCBS Rare with the room. This year, we got Goose PR guy (I assume?) Andrew announcing that 312 Urban Pale Ale would be out soon, a Fulton and Wood Rasselbock is coming, and that Goose bought a new barrel warehouse – which everyone in the room already knew. It was no surprise that he lost the room within the first two minutes of his sell.
In a time when Goose has to continue to balance its criticism for “selling out” with the continued production of some beloved beer, it struck me as almost cocky that they made such a big deal of this last year to only suck the life out of it this year. It makes last year feel like a send-off to the locals, saying, “Thanks for being loyal, but our shit is going GLOBAL next year!” And Proprietor’s was their attempt at makeup sex (which we totally took and enjoyed).
It seems evident when you check the Goose Island Twitter feed that they disowned this event. You’ll find mention of the $30-dollar VIP session for the One Wild Night sour event at SmallBar, but no mention of the South Loops Binny’s event. At all.
And more than 24 hours after the event, there’s no ownership or acknowledgment from Goose or Binny’s that a large part of their loyal fanbase feels shortchanged.
So, what about next year? Well, it’s Bourbon County Brand mother-effing Stout. It’s still the best bourbon barrel stout in production. But with plenty of other bars and even Whirlyball locations putting together nights dedicated to the chocolatey-bourbon beauty and its many forms, it leaves me wondering if it’s even worth it next year with the steep decline indicating the worst is still to come. But if Goose Island wants to step in and care about this event again, this time next year I’ll be waiting in line, double-fisting BCBS tasters, staring at cheese, and talking about “last year.”
* Thankfully, our winners were very gracious and genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.