Rare Beers and the Rise of Pugachev's Cobra

Photo courtesy Hangar 24 Brewery

In alcohol production, "rare bottles" abound. That is to say, there is nearly no end to the hoarding of particular wine vintages or once-a-decade distributions of selected mezcals. This is true in the growing craft beer world as well, as Stone Brewing's recent Vertical Epic finale will tell you. Just last year, the rare Westvleteren 12 was released to the general public in limited quantities for the first time ever, when the hawkish Belgian monks who brew the Trappist ale in small batches needed to raise funds for a new roof. And don't forget Pliny the Younger, a hopped up super-IPA released to draught accounts only by Russian River Brewing Co. in early February. Dedicated beer drinkers often line up for hours just to grab a pint of Younger.

With the growing popularity of barrel-aging craft beers, even local breweries are getting into the rarity game. The recently opened Chloe's space at Golden Road Brewing has allowed Tony Yanow and Meg Gill to expand their small batch operations beyond their local IPA series. You can even swing by to get a sip of cask beer flowing from funky añejo barrels. Down in Orange County, The Bruery prides themselves special collections, seasonal ales and limited draughts. Some, including their Papier old ale and the fruity Oude Tarte have pulled gold medals at the Great American Beer Fest, which has only made them harder to come by on the open market. If anything, brews like Papier may only again be found in someone's cellar, bottle aging its way north of 15% ABV.

Which brings us to Hangar 24, the Redlands-based brewery we profiled this past spring. Innovative head brewer Kevin Wright already has a strong background in special releases, including their annual Pro-Am Home Brew Competition beers, their Anniversary ales and the Local Fields series that pairs nearby ingredients with seasonal beer styles. Their most coveted collection of limited brews, however, belongs to their Barrel Roll series, an aviation-themed collection of vastly different genres aged in bourbon, whiskey and oak barrels.

Chief among the Barrel Roll series is Pugachev's Cobra, a 16% ABV Russian Imperial Stout. The thick, black beer pours with a creamy brown head and immediately delivers notes of chocolate, caramel and coffee. The rich malts and high alcohol content are certainly not for the faint of heart, and their release of less than 10,000 total bottles mean that the Cobra isn't for the stand-around-and-wait crowd, either.

However, Tony's Darts Away in Burbank, that dark bastion of finely curated brews and vegan sausages, is giving you the chance to tackle Pugachev's Cobra straight from the tap, while supplies last. On Tuesday, January 29th, beginning at 5pm, Tony's will open their doors to shell out snifters of the rare barrel beast, in addition to kegs of the more traditional Hangar 24 collections like their Winter Warmer, Orange Wheat and Helles Lager. Recently, a December event at Hangar 24 to celebrate the beer's early release produced staggering lines and plenty of good-natured shouldering for the opportunity to take home a few rare 750ml bottles. There are few greater motivators than rarity.

While you should definitely try to make your way to Tony's for a sip of Hangar 24's oil black stout, staying home probably won't mean the end of your world, or anyone else's. Probably. Then again, maybe it's best you do try to get your hands on some of these rare beers that seem to keep popping up. It certainly couldn't hurt.

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About the Author

Farley Elliott is a freelance food writer and comedian. He currently writes for KCET.org, SeriousEats.com, LAist.com, and L.A. Weekly. You can catch Farley doing comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Hollywood.
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