We were among the lucky few at this year’s Toppling Goliath KBBS release, and man. It was worth the drive.
Five hours to Decorah, Iowa. For seven bottles of beer. Only three of which would be mine.
None of which I’d ever tried before and from a brewery I wouldn’t even be able to step foot in.
Five hours in the car, and then we turn around and do five hours back?!
When a friend was one of the 1,000 winners of Toppling Goliath’s online lottery for a bottle of Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout and two bottles of Assassin – stouts regarded as two of the world’s very best beers – as well as four bottles of the highly-regarded Double IPA, Sosus, I was happy for him. When he offered to split his haul if I’d do the driving, my alarm was set for 4 a.m. Friday. KBBS hasn’t been released in two years, while Assassin and Sosus have been seen just once in the last year. In fact, this local news story says
60,000 people tried to register, 15,000 people actually got through the registration process for just a thousand slots. (Edit: The 60k number referred to the recent Mornin’ Delight release and our reading comprehension is obviously low.)
At that hour, the stretch from Chicago to Rockford, even to Madison, was the easy part. I’d been warned by a friend of the two-lane stretches that awaited beyond that, but calling those final 150 final miles to Decorah “rural” isn’t doing it justice. It’s the rural side of rural. I learned that Casey’s, the string of gas stations popular in these parts, makes a mean taco pizza. But not much else.
As a veteran of rare beer release days, I came prepared: multiple layers of clothing for the long line and multiple bottles from home for an impromptu bottle share in that line. Turns out, neither was necessary.
That’s because Toppling Goliath couldn’t have handled the distribution any better. With winners divided into multiple windows (he had the 10-11:45 a.m. slot) there were no lines, no non-winners even allowed into the brewpub (which wasn’t open until 4:30pm that day) and no need to hurry for anything. Though a picture circulated of someone freezing outside, just to be “first” to get his beer in the first time slot, it was completely unnecessary. Kudos to the TG staff for a well-run release.
So what’s there to say? It’s the way this little town of 8,100 comes together on a day like this to support a local business and make visitors – from as far away as Brazil, Ireland and Belgium on this day – feel welcomed. And how that local business, in turn, does all it can to support them. No rivalries or animosity in Decorah – not visible, anyway. (That’s the small-town way, of course.)
“Toppling Goliath couldn’t have handled the distribution any better.”
It’s surely worth someone investing in an economic impact study on what a Toppling Goliath special release does for the local economy. The gallons of gas pumped, bags of munchies purchased, burgers and fries bought and hotel rooms booked has to be staggering compared to any other Friday. And no one in town seems to mind. Brewery staff mentioned they had circulated multiple kegs of Assassin to their neighbors and some places were opening at 9 a.m. just to satisfy the masses. We saw the downtown crowds at Mabe’s Pizza and were part of the crowd at T-Bock’s Sports Bar & Grill, where adding your name to their rolling list meant maybe – maybe – you’d get a 4oz pour of the good stuff.
Though we fell short of the sample, the staff at T-Bock’s did a great job of handling the massive wave of out-of-town beer geeks, hustling food and drinks to hundreds at a time. I felt a bit of sympathy for the local guy at the bar, sipping a Coke, slurping soup and looking around wondering what all the fuss was about. But otherwise, the late-morning crowd was there almost solely for the beer. We were able to get Toppling Goliath standards like Dorothy and PseudoSue – gas station beers in these parts – on draft, but most importantly, were introduced to Decorah’s other brewery, Pulpit Rock.
And what a great surprise it was.
Their brewpub, a short walk across the street from Toppling Goliath, was packed all day. A tent attached to their brewpub gave space for that bottle share I’d been expecting, where fast friends were made over sample pours. Pulpit Rock’s Saftig, a cloudy, grapefruit-forward IPA with a nice hop bite, was a quick favorite, topped only by Loopy Lynn, their Double IPA dry-hopped with citra and Eureka hops.
But the reason for coming? The KBBS and Assassin? Though some visitors stuck around all day to get pours at Toppling Goliath later that day, we left town after just a few hours. We left with bottles, but without ever actually tasting either one. And with beer traders offering a car – yes, an actual BMW being offered for three bottles of beer – it’s still unclear just what will happen with all of our bottles.
Waste of a day? Hardly. There was a detour to Hop Cat in Madison for crack fries and a stop at Badger Spirits in Beloit for New Glarus bottles and Toppling Goliath cans for home. Of course, that final stretch from Rockford to Chicago, 15 hours later, was a little tougher than the morning run had been. In fact, I’d probably make a point of sticking around a little longer next time and enjoying myself a little more. And with two breweries and multiple bars whose tap lists show they know what they’re doing, Decorah is worth an overnight trip. I mean, we never even saw the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, nor caught a glimpse of Luther College.
At least I know I’ll find no shortage of quality beer and will certainly feel welcomed by the folks in Decorah.