We’ve been technical these last few weeks so now it’s time to have some fun.The craft beer world is full of terms that when looking in from the outside can make little to no sense at all. Much of the craft speak is full of acronyms or borrowed phrases that can confuse most folks that happen upon them. For this reason, we’re going to take a look at one of the most common phrases: Whale.
The term “whale” itself is actually shortened from “White Whale” and is even sometimes plurally spelled as “Whalez.” If you spent your middle school or high school years in the American school system, you’re more than likely familiar with a certain Herman Melville novel by the name of Moby Dick. If you’re not familiar, at least get the CliffsNotes because it makes for a good reference from time to time.
If you happen to be in the minority that doesn’t know the reference, I’ll give the CliffsNotes version of the CliffsNotes version of the book: Captain Ahab will stop at nothing to find the white whale that took his leg. It has always eluded him and he will maintain his constant pursuit until he gets the satisfaction of finding it.
See where this is going yet?
In the beer world, simply put, a whale is a rare beer. A beer that is so elusive, you’d be constantly in search of it and potentially never be able to capture it. Believe it or not, there are literally hundreds of beers that are considered whales. These beers are elusive to most consumers usually because of one reason: limited quantity.
*** Yes, I used a real brewery as the example below. Yes, I could’ve picked a dozen or more breweries for this example so I have nothing against the brewery I mention. Yes, I’ll supply Toppling Goliath with my address if they feel inclined to send me a box of their whales ***
As an example, let’s look at a beer like Mornin’ Delight, an Imperial Stout with coffee and maple syrup from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah, Iowa. Toppling Goliath requires that you enter a drawing for a ticket to purchase it, of which there are only 500 available. If by a pony’s chance on Jupiter you get selected for that ticket, you must be willing to do the following:
- Show up to the brewery on a single specific day at a single specific time. No rain checks.
- Pay $100 for the following:
- Two 22 ounce bottles of the beer
- A commemorative box
- A Mornin’ Delight branded chalice
- A 10 ounce pour of Mornin’ Delight on draft
Not willing to do those things? No worries, there are literally hundreds of people that would jump at the chance to do so. Somewhere, there’s always someone who either wants it more or is flat out willing to pay more. That’s what makes these whales….whales.
It’s fun when you have a friend who has a friend whose buddy traded for one of these whales and you’re invited to the party where they crack it open. That’s part of the draw to craft beer: tasting world class brews. Unfortunately, these whales also produce a secondary market which we’ve touched on in previous posts and is part of the ugliness of the craft beer scene.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that it’s just beer. Just think: What if instead of 500 tickets, Toppling Goliath made enough beer to give out 5,000 tickets? What would the demand be then? Would it review as highly (#2 on Ratebeer and #3 on Beer Advocate) as it does now? Would it trade for the same beers? Unfortunately, it’s a complete guess either way. Breweries are limited by lots of things but the biggest is capacity so it’s easy to hypothesize but hard to ever really know. What I do know is that unlike Ahab, I’ve still got both of my legs and I’ve also never had Mornin’ Delight. I’m not sure what that means but if you’ve got a whale in your fridge, I’ll use those legs to come right over and help you drink it.
Do you have a beer term that you’d like to know more about? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below with something you’d like to see explained in a future Vocabrewlary Lesson.