Observations While Standing In Line For Founders Tank Bender Release
Being into craft beer, maybe you collect special releases and are fully aware that some beers are extremely hard to get. Perhaps you have stood in line at Dark Lord Day, or know someone who has. Maybe you have lined up at 9 AM at a liquor store for Zombie Dust, or something else special like the Bourbon County Stout. This is an exciting phenomena that I too have taken part in.
I have traveled far and wide to get special beers like the Upland sours and Great Lakes Barrel Aged Blackout Stout. Special releases go on regularly all over the country, and on Saturday, October 14, I got to stand in line for the Tank Bender, the barrel aged Eisbock that was Founders 20th anniversary release. For this beer I had to travel to Grand Rapids, MI, the home of Founders Brewing.
Grand Rapids is by no stretch of the imagination close to central Indiana, but I decided this was an experience I wanted to do. I was seriously intrigued by the idea of a barrel-aged Eisbock, a rare beer style because of the loss of product in the manufacture. To produce an eisbock, a brewery brews a nice, malty bock beer, and then freezes it. When water forms into ice, it has to eliminate anything that isn’t water in order to form its crystalline structure. Therefore, when the chunks of ice are removed, the remaining beer is higher in alcohol and more intense – but there’s significantly less of it. Take that eisbock and age it in a barrel, losing a bit more of your product in the process, and now you have the Tank Bender.
This rare and expensive to produce beer would go on sale at 10 AM, and since home is over four hours away, I departed Indianapolis at a nauseating 5:30 AM. It was a peaceful ride north, and I made good time even though I hit a lot of rain. I arrived in Grand Rapids around 9:40 and parked just a little south of the Founders Brewery.
The 20th Anniversary party was to be held at 1 pm, and the whole street in front of the brewery was blocked off. Set up for the event was in full gear and parking was full for blocks around. I approached the brewery and was directed to a line that had already stretched halfway around the building. By 10 am, this line was well over 500 people strong, and slowly beginning to move.
Originally, the Founders website had said there was a two bottle/person limit, but that morning I heard that they had upped the allocation amount to three bottles/person. This was creating a lot of excitement for people who hadn’t heard this news, and as the folks who had been first in line passed by the spot I was standing, it was exciting to see they all were carrying three bottles each!
It was a very good crowd to be a part of, as are most craft beer crowds. Some of the people around me said they did this for every special release from Founders. It was also said that the people in the front of the line had waited all night for the privilege of being first to purchase the beer! I met another couple from Indianapolis right behind me in line, and we spent a good bit of time discussing our favorite Hoosier breweries.
As the line moved, I began talking with a couple right in front of me. They were from Holland, MI, and were here to get the beer for their sons who couldn’t attend. They were craft beer connoisseurs themselves, and we talked a lot about IPAs. They were big fans of 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust which I found out is even harder to get in Michigan than in Indiana. They were also big fans of sour beer, and we carried on quite the discussion.
It was about 11 am when I finally got to the tent where the beer was is being sold. Two women were cashing everyone out, as several men kept bringing the beer out from inside the brewery. There was a special box set available for $60 that included the beer, two glasses, and a commemorative book, but I opted for just the three bottles. I paid for my beer, and took in everything. It was finally in my hands! I then looked back at the very long line behind me, and I hoped there would be beer for everyone in line.
The taproom wasn’t opening until the party at 1 pm, but the Founders gift shop was open and doing brisk sales. I went there next and it was so crowded that one could barely move. I had been asked to get a Backwoods Bastard T-shirt for friend, but nearly all sizes were sold out already. There was nearly every specialty beer Founders produces available, as well as a matching T-shirt for each of them. It was very hectic, so I just decided that I would make my purchases the next time I’m in Michigan and it’s not the brewery’s anniversary!
I ran the beer back to my car, and walked passed a line still several hundred strong. More people were parking, and hopping in line, so I figured sales were going to continue for a while. I had looked into the brewery while I was purchasing my bottles, and the supply of Tank Bender did look large.
When I spoke to Francesca Jasinski in Founders’ PR department, she told me that sales continued until about 2 pm when torrential rain halted the process. Fortunately, the anniversary party was under a tent, so the celebration went on.
It was a neat experience, and one that I would do again. I had made friends and will catch up with some of them again the next time I’m in Holland. I have the Tank Bender, and look forward to cracking open one of the bottles soon. I like all of Founders barrel-aged products, and I assume this one will be phenomenal.
I have been into craft beer for nearly twenty years, but having never been to Dark Lord Day, this was wholly new to me. Apart from standing in line at a beer fest, I’ve never had an experience like I did at Founders. It was awesome to see so many people into craft beer. If anyone did stand out there all night to be first in line, that’s just awesome in a crazy way!
This was my third trip to Founders, and the first time I had been there for an event. They have grown a lot since I first got up to Grand Rapids. The enormity of the line, the crowd, and the set up for the party all seemed as big as life. Founders is something bigger than ever could’ve been imagined twenty years ago. They have worked hard and deserve their success, and I saw today just how successful the brewery has become. I wish this for any production brewery that wants to get there one day.