Cantillon, Crème Brulee Stout and the power of scarcity

It begins with whispers – a vague date, a brief but tantalising message – there’s a shipment of <insert highly desired and scarcely found craft beer here> coming to Australia. Excitement starts to build and craft beer geeks begin to save their pennies in anticipation.

Next thing you know – it’s here. A pic of a bottle is posted on Instagram, an emails sent out by your craft beer retailer. Soon word begins to spread like wildfire and craft beer geeks begin jumping over themselves to get their hands on a bottle and pre-orders roll in. If you go to a store, forget finding any on the shelves but ask what’s under the counter and you may get lucky.

This kind of craft beer hype was most recently on display with a shipment of Cantillon bottles that was gone almost as soon as it had come. 

It hasn’t always been customer bottle limits and Twitter stampedes for beers like that in Australia. It was only a couple of years ago, bottles of Cantillon sat on a bottlestore shelf for months before I decided I’d give one those fancy looking bottles of that sour beer a go. I went to the same bottlestore again recently looking for the latest Cantillon but it was already gone the day after it had arrived.

It’s another sign of the increasingly passionate and growing group of craft beer enthusiasts in Australia. But this kind of passion for craft beer is not something that’s unique to Australia either.

Take for instance the top two ranked beers in the world on RateBeer at present. One is Westeleveren 12 a beer only sold weekly from the cellar door of the abbey where its brewed in Belgium. The other is a barrel aged version of Three Floyds’ Dark Lord, which is infamously sold only one day a year at an event which has created such fervent interest that it is now ticketed.

As great as these beers may well be, part of their value is their scarcity. In a niche movement like craft beer that opposes the mainstream and is driven by the exploration of bold new different tastes, a beer that is readily available comes across as less valued, while rare beers tap into irrational behaviours like the fear of missing out and creates a herd mentality that drives drinkers to extreme lengths to secure beers.

Don’t get me wrong though I am as guilty of such behaviour as anyone else. 

You see, I’d never even heard of Southern Tier Crème Brulee Stout until it arrived in Australia the other week. And yet with every declaration of love from a craft beer drinker in the Twittosphere, and every email noting that it was sold out, I became more and more intrigued by this beer until one Wednesday afternoon word leaked that it was on tap at Déjà vu bar and I’d have a chance to taste it on the way home from work.

I checked my phone every hour, anxious that the beer may run out before the day was finished. When I departed work, the rain came pouring down, I jumped over puddles, my umbrella blew inside out,  but my determination to seek out the crème brulee stout could not be dampened.

I swung open the door of the bar, dripping wet, out of breath, and checked the board – yes it was there, Southern Tier Crème Brulee Stout. A beer geek’s wet dream and now I would finally have my chance to taste it.

Sniff… wow caramel and vanilla pow straight up the nostril. And the beer was…unique…unlike anything I’d ever had before… sweet, boy was it sweet but just enough bitterness to encourage another sip.  All the while never betraying that it was a beast in disguise at 9.2%abv. 

But after the initial rush of tasting the beer – a disappointment crept over me. I began to worry maybe it was too sweet… maybe it could never have met the sky-high expectations I had built up in its pursuit… and I wondered if the accomplishment of tracking the beer down was starting to taste bittersweet too.  

I took another sip…  nah what am I thinking, it was totally worth it.

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2 thoughts on “Cantillon, Crème Brulee Stout and the power of scarcity

  1. Creme Brulee is possibly the first example I’ve seen in Oz of hype for a beer approaching US-levels.

    Funnily enough, a mate and I shared a bottle a couple of years ago when it first came to Australia, and both declared it a sweet, boozy mess.

    Of course this merely proves it wasn’t to our taste, but seeing the hype this time round I’ve felt a special type of curiosity as to how it came about.

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