by Eric Doksa
When Westbrook Brewing Company announced the release date for their first ever round of barrel-aged Mexican Cakes, they had no idea how big of a turn out it would be. "Initially, I expected a crowd of 100 or so," said Morgan Westbrook. Much to their surprise, over 300 people from over five states showed up for the event.
Westbrook went on to say, "I giggled a little when I pulled in to work at 8 a.m. and there were tents and people waiting outside the brewery." According to posts on the popular beer website Beer Advocate, a group of craft beer enthusiasts from Florida made the long haul to Charleston to claim the first spots in line not long after midnight. The crazy part? The release wasn't schedule to happen until 3 p.m.
That was only the beginning. Folks drove in from Atlanta, Richmond, D.C., and the list goes on.
Mexican Cake was first brewed back in 2011 to celebrate the first anniversary of the brewery. It's a big imperial stout aged on Ecuadorian and Ghanaian cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and fresh habanero peppers. The beer was such a big hit that they decided to brew it again in 2013. When bottles of Mexican Cake were released in May, they flew off the shelves in no time. Newbies and beer geeks around the country were making big time trades to get their hands on a bottle.
Around the same time, Westbrook announced they'd be releasing barrel-aged varieties of Mexican Cake some time around late June to early July, finally announcing a release date of July 12th just before the 4th of July holiday.
The three versions released were Apple-brandy barrel-aged, Jack Daniels barrel-aged, and Cabernet barrel aged. Each of the variants were made with the original December 2011 batch of Mexican Cake and they aged 18 months in each of the barrels. Because of the limited quantities (40 cases of apple-brandy and bourbon and 50 cases of cabernet), the bottles were only available at the brewery.
It was originally announced that the limit would be four of each variety per person, but that was changed to two bottles of each variety per person. After employees got their allotment, this left room for about 220 people get two full sets.
The social media network and forums started flooding with talk about the release. While some people were looking to trade for bottles of the three varietals, others were already putting in vacation requests and planning to be at the brewery on the 12th. The only mystery was how early one should show up to ensure bottles would still be available.
Those that showed up in the wee hours of the morning planned to sit in the rain all day. Luckily, Westbrook made it easy on everyone by starting to hand out numbered tickets at 10 a.m. This meant that once someone secured a ticket, they were free to leave the brewery, stay dry, and come back at 2:30 p.m.
When the time did arrive, the tasting room was packed. Morgan Westbrook stood up on the bar wearing a sombrero and explained how the purchasing would work. Everyone started lining up by the loading dock and patiently waited for their numbers to be called. With numbers 68 and 69, the wait was about 45 minutes until we got our share — not bad for a first big release. Those with higher numbers were able to order beers in the tasting room or at a tent that was setup outside. A lot of gems showed up on the menu like Mexican Coffee cake, Brett & No Mices, and Lil' B with Sea Salt.
Ted's Butcher Block had a truck parked at the end of the lot where they were serving up Wagyu beef paninis, Mexican pork tacos, and keilbasa.
And the best part: everyone was happy. Complaints were slim to none and everyone was having a great time. Even those that didn't make it to the brewery in time to secure some of the rare bottles stuck around to drink good beer, eat good food, and have a great time with the rest of the beer community. We even hard some people calling this "The Great Release," and we couldn't agree more. The Westbrook staff and volunteers executed a successful event, and those that attended are already looking forwards to the next major release. When we asked Westbrook if there's anything they think they'll do differently next time, she said, "There are a few things we might do differently, but we will save that for next year. Right now, we just want to enjoy the bliss of the great release!"