Written by Rachel Forrest for seacoastonline.com
PORTSMOUTH — They came to taste one of the world’s best beers. The line to sip a glass of the Portsmouth Brewery’s 2012 release of Kate the Great Russian Imperial Stout snaked outside and around the corner from the restaurant on Market Street beginning at 2:55 a.m. By 10:50 a.m. when the doors opened, it was close to 500 strong, at least double last year’s number.
The first fans in line were on a mission.
“We’re doing a Web TV show about beer release days and this is our first one,” says Ron Johnson from San Francisco. He and Dave Hering from Boston launched 3guysandabeer.com to tap into beer fans’ interest in rare, single-release and highly rated beers like Kate the Great. “We had a 2010 bottle and it had a smooth creaminess — lovely creamy and smooth,” said Hering. “I just had to try it on tap.”
Brewmaster Tod Mott brewed 14 barrels of the Russian Imperial Stout. Half was bottled and half is available on draft for the 11:30 a.m. tapping in the 240 capacity brewpub. To get a chance to buy a bottle of the brew, beer fans had to buy a scratch ticket. Those 15,000 tickets went on sale on February 17 at $2 each and 2000 were winners. The tickets sold out within 36 hours.
First brewed in 2005, Kate was ranked No. 2 in the world and best beer in America by Beer Advocate Magazine in 2006. In past years, fans lined up to be among the first to receive a page from a calendar which would allow them entrance to buy a bottle of the brew. When the pages ran out so did the chance to buy.
For the past two years, fans could instead purchase the scratch tickets to win a bottle. The 11.16 ounce, $8 bottles of the brew can be picked up between March 5 and April 15. All $30,000 of the revenue generated by the sale of the scratch tickets will benefit nonprofits, including Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire and 3S ArtSpace.
“Out of 15 tickets I won 4 bottles. I already traded one with a friend of mine for some other beers I wanted but I’ll get my 3 today. I do like being here on the day of the draft release, though. It’s such a rush for me to raise a glass with the brewer and everyone who comes here,” says Wayne Smythe from Portsmouth.
“This is my first year coming here,” says Mike Consoli from Boston who was also one of the first in line. “It’s one of the best in the world by people who know beer and my friends kept talking about it.”
Others came for the social event.
“I get to be around a lot of people who love beer. There’s a comraderie, “ says Mark Letorrey from Hampton. “The whole week there’s been events and it’s been fun but this is the big kahuna.”
Last year, Gov. John Lynch, declared March 7 official Kate the Great Day, recognizing the impact of the stout and its role for the Portsmouth Brewery as a unique beer ambassador for the state.
Brewer Tod Mott says that while this year’s brew, started 5 months ago, was created in much the same way as in past years, its flavor profile is a bit different.
“It went through a full month of fermentation then a full month of conditioning… It’s got a boat load of hops and a boat load of malt.”
As in past years, the beer was brewed using American oak spindles floated in three bottles of port from Flag Hill Winery in Lee. The spindles were infused with the port for 21 days. The beer uses eight hops and 13 different malts.
“The beer is different from last year. Last year it had a chocolate character. We brewed it exactly the same way but somehow it’s different.
“It tastes like it did two years ago. It’s great. And it’s only five months old. Of all the beers we brew here this is the one to lay down. It’s going to be different in a year, in two years.”
Also different this year is the size of the bottle.
“We went from the 22 ounce bottle to the 11 ounce Steini bottle We wanted to pass out more love. It’s a big beer and the smaller bottles make it more approachable. I like the label this year too, it’s more formal.”
But while some were here to pick up the bottles they won from scratch tickets, this Kate the Great Day was all about the beer on draft.
Before the doors opened at 10:50 a.m., General Manager Brennan Rumble raised a small glass of Kate the Great with the staff and toasted Kate, customers, staff and community.
When the doors opened, seats quickly filled up.
“I like to get into a booth right away and park myself, but I know others are waiting so I only stay about an hour or so after it’s tapped,” said Frank Penuci of Hampton.
At 11:30 a.m., bartenders Donna Marcotte and Denise Groves began pouring bubble glasses of Kate, passing them to the waiting crowd. Portsmouth Brewery owner Peter Egelston raised his glass.
“Thank you all so much, “ he said. “I can’t tell you how blessed we all feel to have such great friends in the beer world… I just want to raise a glass to toast all of you. Thank you to our incredible staff starting with those you don’t see in the kitchen who’ll be cranking out food for you and Brennan Rumble and his staff and our head brewer, Tod Mott.”
The crowd cheered loudly, honoring Mott, as he raised his own glass.
“And with that,” said Egelston. “Cheers!”