In the early fall - actually on September 28th 2006 just after noon - I jumped into my first LCBO private order, two cases from Hair of the Dog brewery in Portland Oregon being organized by the excellent gents, those Bar Towellers out of Toronto. I faxed through my deposit of $51.60 CND on a total order of $197.96 CND. I ordered one each of Doggie Claws and Fred, two 10% or so barley wines from one of North America's top boutique brewers. I had a Fred when I was at Volo earlier this year. And then I waited. And waited.
Around the first of December, the order came into Toronto, I paid the balance and waited for it to make its way 220 km or so east to Kingston. Then there were rumours of issues with the capping. Excellent, I thought - bottle variation. The curse of decent wine. Jon Walker, a Bar Toweller, noted:
This thread worries me. As a result I went in to check on my stash of HOTD and indeed many of the caps are not fully crimped onto the bottles. Most flair at their base and do not fully grip the lip of the bottle. I was actually able to press up on one with my thumb and get the gas to release in the "PPST" common to uncapping. What do I do know? I don't have a capper to close the caps properly (if they actually CAN be sealed, perhaps they are the wrong size???). I've got just shy of 70 bottles left and I'm loathe to believe I might lose some to oxidation due to loose caps.
The cases showed today, 21 December 2006, about 12 weeks after they were ordered which is really not that bad seeing as I think the beer was still in the tanks when the order was originally placed. But there was an obvious problem from one look at the case of Fred that seemed to echo Jon's words above.
When I got home I decided to have a look inside and what I found was not pretty. The inside of the box was soaked. Ten bottles were seriously uncapped with significant beer loss with mostly empty necks like above at the right. In addition, twelve were showing little beer loss and two showed some promise. All were irregularly capped in the same way. Some caps show some rubbing and wear like there was a mechanical issue when they were put on.
It looked as though it was shipped upside down as there is plenty of yeast in the necks and a fair amount of beery sneakery out from underneath the caps. No violence to the box, just seeping. This may actually be a short term saving grace. The smell is also rich and clean, not sour like a bar on Sunday morning. I will have to have one. I am a little depressed, a little pissed off and a little curious. I have not even looked at the box of Doggie Claws.
Much to my surprise, the beer, picked from the worst group of ten, opens with a loud Pfffft!! The yeast had created a seal inside as you can see below to the right and it pours with a huge head. It is huge and lovely and lively. Hallelujah! Christmas is saved. Christmas is saved. And the Doggie Claws show no sign of leakage at all with the same location of the irregular capping as the Fred but with a lot less severity.
So it will likely be a crap shoot one a bottle by bottle basis but if that yeast cakes up it may last throughout the holidays at least. "Pour slowly to allow sediment to remain in the bottle" it says on the back. What can you do? That yeast is my best friend right about now, the life in the ale securing what the dim-witted capped and shippers could not. I would hope the legal saying "buyer beware" is popping into readers' minds right about now.