Slideshow: Ask a Cicerone: How Far Have You Gone For Beer?

Flattered Her Way to Free Westmalle Extra
Flattered Her Way to Free Westmalle Extra

"The most effort I made to try a beer was when I convinced Rod Tod (owner of Allagash) to ship me a bottle of Westmalle Extra. He was in Belgium and naturally I was scheming to find out what he was able to try. Rob told me about this beer, so I told him how awesome he was until he felt compelled to ship me a bottle all the way from the brewery! Powers of persuasion brought me a beer that is only brewed twice per year and is only for internal use—the monks and guests of the abbey drink this beer at lunch. Was it worth the effort? Um. Yes." — Sarah Huska (Eureka! Burger)

Sacrificed Sleep for Dark Lord Day
Sacrificed Sleep for Dark Lord Day

"I've never really been one to go do ridiculous things for any one particular beer. Mostly, I'm just generally excited to try anything new. I tend to hit specialty liquor and beer stores when I travel, and I don't have much difficulty leaving with a few hundred dollars worth of beer that I can't buy at home. To that effect, I worked on the bottling line at Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri, for about a year, and had a buddy who did the same (sort of, he worked on the canning line) at Surly in Brooklyn, Minnesota. We'd both get our share of low fills of rare bottlings, specialties, and one-off beers and mail them back and forth to each other, trying to out-beer each other. 

I guess you could say the most ridiculous thing I'd ever done for a beer would be at Dark Lord Day last year at Three Floyds in Indiana. I'd been living in Chicago for a short while and had heard about the beer release and festival from other beer geeks around, albeit in hushed, reverent tones. Of course I had wanted to make the pilgrimage down to Munster, but had resigned to waiting another year when the tickets sold out in 2 minutes. Lo and behold, three days before DLD, a buddy of mine shot me a text to see if I was up to anything that Saturday. He had a an extra ticket, and transportation. All he wanted in return was one of the four Dark Lords that I'd be buying. Hallowed beer release and festival, thousands of beer geeks bringing 'whales' from their personal cellars to share (myself included), and the chance to get in early before the whole thing got weird? It seemed perfect... almost perfect. The one caveat to this whole ordeal was that I was the closing manager of the bar on Friday, and then again that Saturday night. That 8 a.m. wake up call came quick and mean. Our glycol chiller had failed an hour before the end of service on Friday, and I had stayed really, really late fixing it. By the end of Saturday, I was exhausted, but I had my Dark Lord, plus a few bottles of Baller Stout (a blend of Dark Lord, Surly Darkness, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch, and De Struisse Black Albert). Was it worth it? For the beer, I hope so. I gave the Dark Lord and Baller Stout away as part of a promotion for Chicago Craft Beer Week, so I hope those that got them enjoyed them. But for the experience, absolutely. I'll sleep when I'm dead." — Elliott Beier (Owen & Engine)

Drove Six Hours for 3 Fonteinen Framboos
Drove Six Hours for 3 Fonteinen Framboos

"In 2004, I made a six hour drive from Toronto to Montreal to a friends place because he had a 1986 bottle of 3 Fonteinen Framboos. We probably sat around nosing our glasses for a good 20 minutes before even taking a sip. It was totally worth it and to this day it's one of the most complex and delicious things I've ever put in my mouth." — Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern & George Brown Chef School)

Traveled for One Beer, Got Two
Traveled for One Beer, Got Two

"Every time I plan a trip, I try to fit in a visit to a brewery that I have never been to before. Two months ago was the first time that my whole trip was to try a one brewery's beer. While studying for the Cicerone Exam I was reading about all of these beers that are not available in Nevada. So as a birthday present to myself I decided to fly to Colorado for a beer trip. My destination: Avery brewery Company in Boulder. Let me tell you, the beers didn’t disappoint. The best surprise of the whole trip was when I woke up the next morning to find that I was in the middle of a blizzard and decided to walk across the street to a beer bar that the guy at the front desk told me about. When I got there I found about 20 people outside. I was told that they were open so I asked one of them why everyone was outside? He told me that they are tapping Pliny The Younger today. Talk about dumb luck!" — Patrick Callahan (Bouchon Bistro)

Sacrificed His Days Off
Sacrificed His Days Off

"Thankfully, a lot of great stuff comes my way through my friends, work, and all the great beer lovers whom I serve. I haven’t flown around the world to try a Westvleteren XII (although I have enjoyed some) or camped out for Dark Lord Day (which I’ve also enjoyed). But I have gone to work on my days off just to try some special tapping. Most recently, I did that to try Deschutes Dissident on tap, and it was well worth it. I have done some complicated trading to get my hands on some bottles I wanted, sort of like the guy who traded a paperclip for something else, then traded that, and so on until he traded for a new house. I drove around for hours looking for specific Jester King bottles to trade for some Cantillon and Hill Farmstead—drinking them was well worth the day I spent not drinking to make it all happen." — Justin Bonard (The Meddlesome Moth)

Wired Money to a Stranger for Hunaphu
Wired Money to a Stranger for Hunaphu
"Although I’ve heard some pretty outrageous stories from friends and acquaintances about camping in lines overnight, or driving 12 hours to a brewery only release event to procure the rarest of rare bottles, I haven’t actually been compelled to go to such extremes. The impetus of my obsession has, however, led to wiring cash to a perfect stranger in order to secure an allocation of 'Hunaphu,' the limited release from Cigar City Brewing Company in Tampa, Florida. To me, that’s pretty crazy, especially now that I can get Perennial Abraxas from my buddies in St. Louis, which in my opinion, is as good or better than Hunaphu." — Eric Hobbs (Penrose Brewing)
Went to Colorado for Dale's Pale
Went to Colorado for Dale's Pale
"I wouldn’t say I’ll go to the ends of the earth for a specific beer, but I do travel constantly to visit places that make my favorite beers in order to drink them straight from the source. I just got back from Colorado three days ago. Some may think traveling across the country to get a fresh pint of Dale’s Pale is a little excessive, but to me, it’s totally worth it." — Anne Becerra (The Ginger Man)
He Was the Best Beer Wingman
He Was the Best Beer Wingman
"Although I was not the one to travel, I had a sneaky part in a REAL beer scheme. My beer friend, Dave, loves Alaskan Brewing Co. (ABC) in Juneau. He and his family were taking a cruise of the Pacific Northwest and were stopping in Juneau for the day and planned to tour the brewery. Dave's wife contacted all the guys in our club to find if we had any 'pull' with ABC since all of us go to the GABF every year. She wanted to arrange a surprise welcome for him when they visited the brewery. I had no 'pull' with ABC but my cousin, Andrew Halcro, actually ran against Sarah Palin for governor of Alaska! Soooo, I used my 'political pull' and wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to bring 'pressure' on ABC to man-up for my friend. The folks at ABC loved it and when Dave came to visit, they crowned him King! It was awesome! I even got to meet the sweetie who made it all happen at ABC when we all went to the GABF that year. It was really cool!" — Jim Brady (Bone Island Brewing)
Found a Cantillon Collaboration in Finland
Found a Cantillon Collaboration in Finland
"My fiancé and I traveled to Finland several years ago and hunted down a tiny bar that had several vintages of Cantillon. When we explained to the bartender that we worked for craft breweries in San Diego he brought us out a special bottle—it was a collaboration between this bar and Cantillon. The beer was brewed with handpicked arctic cloud berries that the bar owner drove to Cantillon’s brewery in Belgium. The beer was dry, tart, effervescent, with a hint of the exotic berries. We were traveling in the middle of winter and I can’t imagine a more ideal setting than enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime beer on the outskirts of Helsinki in an empty bar with the snow quietly falling outside." — Melody Daversa (Karl Strauss Brewing Company)
From the Bronx to Brooklyn for Unblended Lambic
From the Bronx to Brooklyn for Unblended Lambic
"I recently scoured New York City in search of the elusive Unblended Lambic, a spontaneously fermented beer from Belgium. It took me three days of searching, but I finally found a Cantillon 'Iris' in the middle of Park Slope, Brooklyn. I felt triumphant. My wife felt massive relief." — Peter Campagna (O&B Restaurant Company)
Straight to the Source for Westvleteren 12
Straight to the Source for Westvleteren 12
"People around these parts call me 'Belgian Boy,' because of my never-ending affinity for the classic Belgian ales. Of course, the Holy Grail of Belgian ales is the famous Westvleteren 12. Some folks call it the best Belgian beer on the planet, and some will go so far as to calling it the best beer in the world, period. I’m not sure about the latter, but it truly is a special ale. Some of the mystique lies in the fact that to get your hands on it, you have to go straight to the source in Belgium (or pay someone an absurd sum that previously made the trip). I lived in Holland for a little over a year finishing law school, so I travel back there every so often. This most recent Christmas I hopped over the pond to see some old friends, and took a week-long detour into West Flanders to hit up the St. Bernardus Brewery, and of course, make it out to the St. Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren. I was able to score a few six packs. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It very well may be that the easier to acquire St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Trappist Rochefort 10 may be every bit as good as the Westvleteren 12, but there is something to be said about getting it straight from the source. I’m not buying it from some shady character off the internet, I’m not getting it from some guy who got his from some guy, and I’m not getting it from a touristy beer shop in Brussels that charges people 15-20 dollars a 12 ounce bottle. The monks make the beer to support the Abbey, and use the left over money to give to local charities. In their own words, any of their beer purchased from outside of their walls is 'black market' beer and they won’t even consider it their product once it has been treated as such. I guess I just felt like what I was able to get was the 'real deal.' That, and it’s always good to have a great story whilst enjoying the beer itself." — Jonathan Whitaker (International Tap House)
Beer Swapped in Brussels
Beer Swapped in Brussels
"Last fall, a friend and I took a trip to Belgium and we made the pilgrimage to Cantillon. Just as we were about to take down some Fou Foune, we ran into a regular from Meridian Pint who had hauled a bunch of Hill Farmstead over to Brussels. So instead of drinking some of the best beer in Belgium, we drank some of the best American Saisons with Jean Roy and his crew. Unexpected, but well worth it." — Jack Van Paepeghem (Meridian Pint)
Let's Get Over Precious Beer
Let's Get Over Precious Beer

"My first job that dealt with craft beer was FOH manager at a place in Santa Cruz. We used to drive up and down the state to buy almost anything that was not typically available in our market. I can remember driving to Oregon to grey market kegs of 60 and 90 minute IPA in 2003. I was an idiot. The fact is most of these 'white whale' pilgrimages are not actually pilgrimages. They are internet trades or grey market purchases that more often than not conclude with an imperfect example of the coveted beer in the end-customer's glass. As US craft beer continues to cement its place as the world-wide standard I think it would be wise for us as an industry to remember that beer is not precious. Beer it is made in batches, not vintages. At its best beer is popular and abundant like bread—something everyone should be able to rely on having at arm's reach in high-quality and at an affordable price." — Sayre Piotrkowski (St. Vincent Tavern and Wine Merchant)

It's All About the Trip
It's All About the Trip

"I'm lucky enough to have drunk lots of rare beers in many odd places. I've visited breweries here and abroad.  Drank Cantillon from the source, told a bartender to surprise me at the Delirium Cafe. I've had all sorts of weird beers placed before me at The Sunset Grill And Tap, and I've driven a van full of beer back from Munster, IL after working Dark Lord Day. But any effort put in to all these moments wasn't for the beer. It was for the experience. And it was most certainly worth it." — Henry Joseph (The Pony Bar, Upper East Side)

Sought Out Craft Beer in Norway
Sought Out Craft Beer in Norway
"There are so many amazing beers out there now that I tend to not have to go crazy spending time and energy to track down the cult-level stuff. I try to pay more attention to the guys who aren't getting a whole lot of love even though they're cranking out an inspired product. I don't read beer reviews, ever, and I try my best to ignore trends and make my own decisions. I did travel from New York City to Toronto to find Trou Du Diable bottles, which was well worth it, and back before it was distributed here I went to Norway with a friend to search for the craft beer that they had started pumping out. I am 100% about experience and community, so it doesn't appeal to me to pay $100 for Westvleteren or wait in enormous lines at festivals. To me, the journey is the destination and no beer is going to make me ascend to heaven." — Chris Elford (Saison)
Traveled to Tokyo for Westvleteren 8 & 12
Traveled to Tokyo for Westvleteren 8 & 12
"I once traveled to a Belgian beer bar in Tokyo called Houblon. They have a phenomenal selection of Belgian beers and they do everything properly, the proper glassware and coasters with their designated beers. I got word that they had the Westvleteren 8 & 12. I knew they where going to be pricey but these two beers have proven themselves time and time again since 1838. When it was served, I had a general idea what I was in for knowing the style but when I anxiously took my first sip, it was like the Fourth of July in my mouth. This was the first time I've tasted Tootsie rolls in a beer and it took my right back to my childhood. This beer created a sense of nostalgia for me and thus moved in to my top 5 on the first sip." — Troy Zitzelsberger (Reilly's Taphouse & Brewing Co.)
Drove Across Belgium for Westvleteren 12
Drove Across Belgium for Westvleteren 12

"For several years, my friend Jenn and I had been planning a trip to Belgium, where she had distant family. The plan was to...well...drink our way through Belgium. A visit to Westvleteren Abbey, where the famed Westvleteren 12 is brewed by Trappist monks, was to be the apex of our travels.

The abbey is located in Northern Flanders and is so remote that nary a bus would take you there. So we rented a car, with a GPS—a machine we were so grateful for that fairly soon into the journey, we felt that it/she deserved a name. And so it was that Little Wilma and her British-inflected robotic voice guided us past the Flemish signposts, through village circles, and narrow dirt roads and finally to this small, unremarkable abbey. We were very proud of ourselves to have arrived unharmed and on time for lunch, and were slightly disappointed to see plenty of others had done the same, no big deal.

The herring sandwiches were delicious; and the beer, served in a large chalice, was even better—a stunning, deep brown Quad, glistening in the sun. Was the “12” the best of the Belgians? Or was it the journey that made it so? I can’t say; but I do know that it set us up for a great day and seemed to imbue me with powers beyond my imagination. After lunch we visited with my friend’s family. I sat with Great Aunt Hetliva, and we chatted for the better part of an hour. I spoke in English while she spoke in Flemish. Neither of us understood a word of the other’s language, but still we seemed to truly understand each other. It was a magical experience. I think I need to thank the monks for that one!" — Anne Conness (Simmzy's & Tin Roof Bistro)

To Belgium and Back for St. Martin Quad
To Belgium and Back for St. Martin Quad
"I traveled all the way to Belgium to taste and obtain a bottle of St. Martin Quad by Brasserie du Brunehaut. I had admired their beers for a while when I saw that they were brewing a special Quad for Brussels Beer Week. I contacted the brewery and asked them to save one for me since I would be in Belgium on a beer vacation. Once I got there, I took the train from Antwerp all way through Belgium to the Walloon city of Tournai. Marc-Antoine De Mees, the owner of Brunehaut, met me at the train station and drove me to the small village of Brunehaut where he showed me around his 2,500 hl brewery. We tasted through his wonderful beers and then, he gave me a bottle of the Quad I'd made a special day trip to acquire! The effort I put into getting that Quad was well worth it. Not only did I get a wonderful beer, I made a new friend." — Christopher Barnes (I Think About Beer & Columbia Distributing)
Would Rather Stumble Upon Great Beers
Would Rather Stumble Upon Great Beers
"I'm not one to go too far out of my way for any beer. I feel like there's always good beer near by if you look. Trophy hunting isn't my thing. Luckily a lot of great beers cross my path given my line of work and the company I keep, so I've had a chance to try lots of amazing beers. For me, it's all about visiting the local brewery or pub when you're traveling. If I'm by a brewery I'll show up late for that wedding or take an extra day off so I can check it out. Even if it's just a hole in the wall, it's usually worth the trip. I think my favorite stumble-upon was Cascade Barrel House in Portland. There are a lot of breweries in that town and it can be a bit over (and at times under) whelming. This one stood out for its barrel aged sours, some pouring right out of the oak barrel. Some of their beers were better than others, but they were all distinct, complex, and for the most part only served at that one location. I'll visit that place every time I'm in Portland." — Gabriel Boden (Revolution Brewing)
Braved Smokey Bavaria for Zoigl
Braved Smokey Bavaria for Zoigl
"The beer would have to be Zoigl, which is only found in a couple of very small towns in eastern Bavaria that they make communally and divide up to ferment, it is very limited and well off the tourist path so you need a car or have multiple bus transfers to get there. While the beer itself was good, the establishments serving it were filled with a ton of cigarette smoke which seriously detracted from the experience." — Ron Kloth (Papago Brewing Company)
Frequently Stumbles into Great Samples
Frequently Stumbles into Great Samples

"I don’t think I’ve really ever had to go about 'chasing whales' That being said, I have often quickly gotten on board for amazing beers that find their way into the bar/party/bottle share that I’m attending.

Best example of my very good luck: A couple years back (early February to be exact) when I was still fairly new to California, Drake’s owner John Martin brought me along to the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento to help him do a private tasting of CA craft beer with a gaggle of State senators. We walk into a room where I was introduced to Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Co. The tasting commences, and Vinnie pours a beer out of a growler for one of the Senators. 'This is called Pliny the Younger,' Vinnie explains to the man who sips the beer and responds with something like, “WOW, that’s a lot of hops.” Needless to say, I quickly put my glass out for a sample myself..." — Kelsey Williams (Drake's Brewing Co. & Triple Rock Brewing)

Looking All Around Town
Looking All Around Town
"There's a local brewery, (512) which does an annual release of their Whiskey Barrel Double Pecan Porter, and a very limited amount is released in bottles in various places around town.  Every place I went to, people were only allowed to buy one bottle. It took over 3 hours to get the three bottles I needed, after going to several places which were already sold out. I will say, that all the effort was worth it, because 2 of the bottles were for friends who live far away, and they ended up sending me amazing beer which I can't get in Austin." — Matt Eggers (Dog & Duck Pub)
Detoured a Trip Through Southwest China
Detoured a Trip Through Southwest China
"I incorporate some sort of beer-related motivation into virtually every trip I take. Once I took my traveling companions on an extended diversion in Southwest China because I was told by one of the locals that there were monks brewing 'black beer' nearby. Unfortunately, the anticipation outweighed the ensuing result." — James Tai (Pinch, upcoming in Yonkers)