It feels weird to gush about the rarity of FiftyFifty Brewing Company's bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout Eclipse series when gift boxes of Westvletren 12 landed in the United States for the first time yesterday (and at most places, sold out within an hour).
Nonetheless, the annual bottle release from the tiny Truckee brewpub is one of the most sought after (and still kinda available) in the country and tonight it will have its first Los Angeles pours.
Eclipse starts off with Totality — FiftyFifty's award-winning honey-brewed imperial stout — which is left to sit for six months in oak barrels sourced from rare bourbon distilleries like Pappy Van Winkle and Elijah Craig.
Versions are differentiated according to the whiskey barrel they were aged in; about 2000 bottles of each are wax-tip color-coded accordingly and sold for between $23 and $33 (that's if you buy from the brewery — in the market, the price can be as much as $55 a bottle). Fans can put down money and buy “futures” in the bottles as early as April, but the nectar is not released until early December when 100 lucky fans — all of whom won the opportunity to buy a ticket to attend in a competitive lottery — descend on Fiftyfifty Brewing Company to attend an intimate tasting party where all of that year's Eclipses are in unheard-of kegs.
If you're not in Truckee that weekend and want a taste, you basically have to stumble across a bottle of the more common ones at a specialty shop in California or pay wine prices at a restaurant lucky enough to get a few cases. Kegs barely leave the brewery much less northern California.
Since initiating the series in 2007, the brewery has produced 28 different kinds of Eclipse from 2007's Pappy Van Winkle to 2011's Buffalo Trace. For the last two years, there has been a Grand Cru Blend — an intense flavor experiment that mixes all of that year's versions into one boozy masterpiece. The series has also produced one Iced Eclipse, created by freezing the beer and lobbing off the water to make a condensed, higher-alcohol version of an already 9.5% abv beer.
The main appeal of Eclipse (well, besides drowning your tongue in the lavish, dark flavors of a well-crafted imperial stout) is the ability for drinkers to taste the nuances imparted on a particular stout by different kinds of whiskey, an aspect of the series that will be front and center at its Los Angeles release event at Far Bar tonight.
Six of this year's ten Eclipse treatments will be available to taste from bottles (Elijah Craig 12 Year, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Rittenhouse Rye, Old Fitzgerald, Bernheim Wheat and American Mellow Corn Whiskey) as well as one yet-unannounced mystery keg that will be tapped alongside Totality, the base beer.
With its new, expanded liquor program in place, Far Bar (and attached restaurant/bar Chop Suey) is also offering corresponding whiskey pairings so you can taste each treatment alongside a shot of the whiskey of which the barrel was aged. It is possible then, for the only time in L.A. this year, to drink the base imperial stout, then try it next to multiple versions aged in rare whiskey barrels and then taste the whiskeys themselves–and let your palate and brain explode accordingly.
For those more into food than whiskey pairings, Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach will be hosting FiftyFifty staffers for a brunch this Sunday. The tap list so far includes the brewery's pale ale, IPA, imperial stout and an unnamed Eclipse keg.
FiftyFifty Eclipse 2012 Release Party: Thursday, Dec. 13, 8 p.m.; Far Bar, 347 E. 1st St., Los Angeles; Event information.
Fifty Fifty Brewing Company Brunch: Sunday, Dec. 16, 11 a.m.; Beachwood Seal Beach, 131 1/2 Main St., Seal Beach; Event information.