If football teaches us anything, it is that success is a delicate and often fleeting thing. Actually, if football teaches us anything, it’s that there is a town in Wisconsin called “Green Bay,” which many of us would not know otherwise. But if there are two things football teaches us, it’s geography AND the ephemeral nature of perfection.
Six years ago, I found what I consider the single finest beer I’ve ever tasted- Belhaven’s Wee Heavy. A Strong Scotch Ale, it was brewed in East Lothian. It was cold and it was sweet and it was smooth. It had a medium body and juuuuuussst enough hops-overtone to make it interesting without getting into the IBU-dick-measuring contest that seems to be the all the rage these days. A beautiful clear red-gold complexion. Subtle caramel overtones, legitimate layers of flavor instead of just main flavors and aftertaste.
It was delicious cooled to within an inch of its life during St. Louis’ famed 100 degree summers. It was wonderfully complex served near room-temperature when it was snowing outside. At 6.5% ABV, it had enough alcohol to serve as the only drink you had all night, but not so much that you couldn’t have a second without becoming Hunter S. Thompson on ether. It literally kept me from storming out of a deposition, because my partner offered to buy me one if I refrained from telling opposing counsel exactly where he could stuff his 10-minute-long speaking objections. My first homebrew experiment was to try and clone it.
AND THEN THEY FUCKING CHANGED IT.
First I couldn’t get it on draught for a few weeks at my favorite restaurant. Then the local store that carried it suddenly had one with a different label, “90 Shilling Wee Heavy”. Marketing, right? No big deal, right?
I wish I could tell you what changed. Well, I know one thing- the ABV went from 6.5% to 7.4%. And that may be the root cause of the problem. It’s thinner. That subtle-caramel deliciousness was muted almost out of existence, I presume because there is less (fewer?) residual sugars after the yeast gets done making the extra alcohol. Without that, the hopiness came to the fore, making bitterness the leading man instead of a strong ensemble player. It’s like when Alan Alda started writing M*A*S*H episodes. Or the Beatles let Ringo put a song on the album. Or Battlestar Galactica’s writers decided that the fans wanted to see Court TV In Space instead of space battles. NO ONE CARES, RONALD D. MOORE!!!! FRACK YOU IN YOUR FRACKING EARHOLE WITH A SHARPENED SCREWDRIVER!
Wait, what was I saying?
Nevermind. The point is that the resulting beer is still better than the vast majority of the beers you will find in any bar or grocery store. But knowing what it was—what it should be, but isn’t— gnaws away at me every time I think about getting it. I’m a Bills fan who lived through the four Super Bowls and the Immaculate Deception. I only have room in my psyche for one perpetually-disappointing might-have-been.
AMAZING POST-SCRIPT UPDATE: Apparently we can still get the original by ordering from Belhaven’s website!
As soon at it arrives, the St. Louis Kommentariat is invited over for BoozeTacular 2015.