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Craft Beer's Biggest Whale

Eno Sarris, September 13, 2016 -   

Don't call me Ishmael, because I haven't really been fascinated by the Whale. The Whale, in craft beer parlance, is the unattainable rare beer, that variant on a double stout that only came out once, before everyone knew it was such a big deal, and there were still 400 people in line that day. It's the beer that you'll trade a whole box of beer for. 

Maybe it's because I've preferred lighter beers that needed to be fresh, and it's hard to sit on an IPA until it's really a whale, but I doubt I've had a Whale. I say this before I check my math, though, and I'm now thinking of the fact that I have, indeed, had The Alchemist's Heady Topper, and Tree House's King Julius, and Jester King's Atrial Rubicite. Maybe I'm just saying that *I* don't drink Whales while I tip a cup of Moby Dick. 

So let's see what the numbers say. Beer Advocate has a cool trading service that records the "Wants" and "Gots" for every beer. For a first attempt at doing this statistically, let's just rank the beers that have the most 'wants' out there. It turns up a list of predictable results. 

Beer Brewery Style
Heady Topper The Alchemist American DIPA
Pliny The Elder Russian River Brewing Company American DIPA
Pliny The Younger Russian River Brewing Company American DIPA
Zombie Dust 3 Floyds Brewing Co. American Pale Ale (APA)
Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) Founders Brewing Company American Imperial Stout
Founders CBS Imperial Stout Founders Brewing Company American Imperial Stout
Marshmallow Handle (BBA Vanilla Dark Lord) 3 Floyds Brewing Co. Russian Imperial Stout
Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout Goose Island Beer Co. American Imperial Stout
Hunahpu's Imperial Stout Cigar City Brewing American Imperial Stout
Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII) Brouwerij Westvleteren Quadrupel (Quad)
Duck Duck Gooze The Lost Abbey Gueuze
Darkness Surly Brewing Company Russian Imperial Stout
Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout Toppling Goliath Brewing Company American Imperial Stout
Black Tuesday The Bruery American Imperial Stout
Double Sunshine IPA Lawson's Finest Liquids American DIPA

The first page of our leaderboards features many of these beers -- in fact, the top four on our boards and the top four here are the same four beers. These 16 beers are of course enjoyed by many, and they are often requested.

But a true Whale is one that many request and a tiny few receive. Not a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. That, you can get fairly easily if you put any feelers out there.

Let's look at the beers that the fewest people listed as 'having' -- these are beers in the top 25% by wants that the fewest people said they would be willing to part with. 

Beer Brewery Style
Blackbeerd Imperial Stout (09) - Jack Daniels BBA COAST Brewing Company Russian Imperial Stout
Vanilla Bean Assassin Toppling Goliath Brewing Company Russian Imperial Stout
Cantillon Soleil De Minuit Brasserie Cantillon Lambic - Fruit
Founders Black Biscuit Founders Brewing Company Old Ale
Hell's Black Intelligencer 3 Floyds Brewing Co. Oatmeal Stout
Veritas 005 The Lost Abbey American Wild Ale
Perseguidor (Batch 1) Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales American Wild Ale
Yellow Bus The Lost Abbey American Wild Ale
Zhukov's Final Push Cigar City Brewing Russian Imperial Stout
Alesmith Speedway Stout (Vanilla & Coconut) AleSmith Brewing Company American Imperial Stout
Mango Mama Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery American IPA
Cantillon Loerik Brasserie Cantillon Gueuze
Southampton Peconic County Reserve Ale Southampton Publick House Farmhouse Ale
Three Hour Tour Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Milk / Sweet Stout
Terrapin Midnight Project Depth Charge Espresso  Terrapin Beer Company Milk / Sweet Stout

We might be getting closer, but it's also worth pointing out that none of these beers was requested enough to sit in the top 300 most requested beers. Is that a Whale? A lesser known beer that nobody is willing to part with? There are many sours and Imp Stouts here that fit the bill, and certainly a rare variant on a popular stout like Speedway, and a never-seen stout from 3 Floyds, those are the kinds of beers that make for a Whale. 

But let's try one last way. By dividing the wants by the gots among the top 300 beers by wants, we can limit our possible Whales to beers that were both highly desired by many and highly coveted by those that have the beer in their cellars. 

Beer Brewery Style Got%
Kaggen! Stormaktsporter Naerke Kulturbryggeri AB Russian Imperial Stout 0.5%
Dirty Horse De Struise Brouwers Lambic - Unblended 1.1%
Wooden Hell Flossmoor Station  English Barleywine 1.4%
Stormaktsporter Naerke Kulturbryggeri AB Russian Imperial Stout 1.5%
Cable Car Kriek The Lost Abbey American Wild Ale 1.6%
Hunahpu's - Laird's Apple Brandy Barrel Cigar City Brewing American Imperial Stout 1.7%
Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout Toppling Goliath Brewing Company American Imperial Stout 1.8%
Mimosa Hill Farmstead Brewery American Wild Ale 2.6%
Ephraim Hill Farmstead Brewery American DIPA 2.6%
Hunahpu's - Bourbon Barrel Aged Cigar City Brewing American Imperial Stout 2.9%
Apple Brandy BA Mexican Cake Westbrook Brewing Co. American Imperial Stout 3.1%
Black Magick - Pappy Van Winkle Voodoo Brewing Company American Imperial Stout 3.4%
Cable Car The Lost Abbey American Wild Ale 3.5%
Mornin' Delight Toppling Goliath Brewing Company American Imperial Stout 3.8%
Citra Double IPA Kern River Brewing Company American DIPA 4.0%
Bad Boy Alpine Beer Company American DIPA 4.1%
Cantillon Blabaer Lambik Brasserie Cantillon Lambic - Fruit 4.2%
Crooked Stave Persica Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project American Wild Ale 4.3%
Ann Hill Farmstead Brewery Farmhouse Ale 4.4%
Deviation - Bottleworks 9th Anniversary Russian River Brewing Company American Wild Ale 4.7%

If you've never heard of the first beer, you're not alone. But maybe I just missed the hubub somehow, or am an American navel-gazer. Because the beer is number one on RateBeer's retired beers leaderboard, a fact that was revealed to me by this video, complete with an opening featuring an orchestra-accompanied slow-moving snow-laden montage of the Kaggen Stormaktsporter. 

It's not listed on our leaderboards despite having other offerings from the same brewery, probably because it's so rare. If we don't get enough checkins, we can't list it. But a smoked sweet stout would get my attention, if it were on the list at my local beer bar. 

Three beers actually manage to put two on this last leaderboard, so they are our Whales. There's the Naerke Stormaktsporter, Cigar City's Hunahpu (variants), and Lost Abbey's Cable Car and its variants. Given what I know about Cable Car day at Toronado's here in San Francisco, and also what thousands of fake tickets did to Hunahpu day in 2014, this list feels credible. 1% of the people wanting these beers have any hope of getting them in a trade. 

Maybe someday I'll have a Cable Car! It's really the only one on that last list that I have a chance of getting on my own without giving up everything in a trade.

I'm not sure it's going to be worth all the money and effort, though. Remember... the Whale wins in Moby Dick.

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