The word “legendary” is thrown around quite a bit these days. Barney Stinson from "How I Met Your Mother" is the biggest offender, spawning an entire generation of people who assign legendary status to mundane occurrences. It’s really a shame, because truly legendary things do happen from time to time, and frankly the word has been watered down.
For 364¼ days every year Churchill’s, Ivan Derezin’s San Marcos gastropub, is a must-visit for anyone who considers themselves a craft beer fan. On one day every March however, the hotspot elevates to a destination that should be on the pilgrimage map of every cerevisaphile (beer lover), and the result is legen…wait for it…dary.
When most bars get a keg of rare beer, they put it on for the instant gratification of their regulars. Derezin spends the whole year collecting kegs of rare beer like a squirrel getting ready for winter. The hoarding culminates when Derezin throws open the gates of his craft beer heaven for his annual Renaissance party.
Churchill’s first hosted Renaissance in 2010 to celebrate the installation of their new 50-handle tap system. The party gets bigger every year, and the fourth Renaissance on Saturday (which was also the restaurant's 10th anniversary) didn’t disappoint. The tap list boasted some of the heaviest hitters of the seasonal release calendar, and the throngs of devotees stood in line for hours to get first crack at the rare brews.
While many of the people in line are there for a glass of Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, the real star of the show is Churchill’s Finest Hour, a special beer brewed every year for this party by the good people at Port Brewing/Lost Abbey.
The beer, a barrel aged blend of Older Viscosity and Serpent’s Stout, is usually available for on-premises consumption, but Renaissance gives the first 180 people in line a chance to buy bottles to-go.
The first people in line arrived at 3 a.m. with tailgate chairs and a tent. The line slowly increased until Churchill’s sent out the following tweet at 6 a.m.: “Ok folks…don’t bother coming in line for bottles…first 180 will get tickets and we hit it around 5:30 am …you people are devoted!”
By the time Churchill’s opened at 11 a.m., the line snaked around the block…400 people strong.
So what were all of the crazies waiting in line for? Here are some highlights:
Churchill’s Finest Hour 2013 – You can’t come to Churchill’s and not get this beer. It pours black with a chocolate and bourbon aroma. It’s very sweet with strong chocolate, vanilla, and oak flavors. The beer has a subtle, but pleasant bourbon flavor and burn on the aftertaste. This beer was the first one to run out, and rightfully so. A 22-ounce bottle can be bought at the restaurant as long as supplies last for $30.
The Butcher (Batch one) – Churchill’s snagged a keg of the first-ever batch of The Butcher by Societe Brewing Company. There’s a big chocolate and coffee aroma, but it doesn’t taste as sweet as it smells, but still a great beer.
Firestone XVI – Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s 16th anniversary blend of eight different dark ales is one of the more complex beers that you can drink. It’s hard to describe because there’s so much going on, but it definitely works.
Imperial Biscotti Break – Denmark’s Evil Twin Brewing came up with a stout that tastes just like chocolate-almond biscotti. It’s pretty sweet, and there’s a strong aftertaste of Hershey’s syrup on the exhale, but it’s good.
Mélange No. 3 – This strong ale (15.5% alcohol!) by The Bruery in Orange County has a very strong raisin flavor to it. It’s definitely sweet, so if sweet beers aren’t your thing you should stay away.
Enjoy By 4.01.13 IPA – Stone Brewing really hit it out of the park with this series of fresh IPA. This beer has an excellent hoppy aroma, and the flavor lives up to it. This is such a fresh-tasting IPA. If you see it, get it.
Renaissance is truly an epic party that every craft beer drinker should have circled on their calendar. The party gets bigger every year, so if you want to be able to buy a bottle next year, the line will probably start forming at 2 a.m.
There is one silver lining to the line. You’re in line with 400 people who share your love of great beer. Make a friend, swap beer stories, and the wait goes by in no time. Legendary events are worth a wait, and this party lives up to that word.