Shortly before 11pm on a Friday night last month, Justin Saurer parked his car on a gritty Brooklyn, New York, street that was best known for its McDonald’s and proximity to the toxic Gowanus Canal until Other Half Brewing Co. opened in 2014.
Saurer craved a first crack at the special India pale ale (IPA) that Other Half had created to celebrate its third anniversary. But the cans wouldn’t go on sale until the brewery opened at 10am.
What was 11 hours, given his plum perch?
“When you’re the first one here, you don’t have to worry about parking,” Saurer, 38, said the next morning. A firefighter and a father of an infant daughter at home, he drove in from Amityville, on Long Island, New York, with a sleeping bag. “I have the best sleep in the car,” he said. “There are no kids screaming.”
The frigid daybreak had revealed a high-spirited line hundreds of beer lovers deep, snaking around several blocks. Among those waiting, many of them drinking cans from coolers, were Michael Roulhac and his wife, Kim Roulhac, who had left Richmond, Virginia, at 1am and driven straight to Brooklyn.
“We’re road warriors,” said Michael Roulhac, 40, who regularly makes the round trip to Other Half.
Scenes like this play out nearly every day across the country as supplicants (“kind of like a beer brotherhood,” Saurer said) queue up outside breweries for new releases of IPAs — in particular, a cloudy, unfiltered New England style that is loved for its flavors of citrus and tropical fruit.
“People are fanatical about it, to the point they don’t want to drink anything else,” said Sam Richardson, the brew master and a founder of Other Half. “Everyone has this expectation of getting hazy IPAs in a can directly from a brewery.”
The fan base for these special-edition ales has been growing since the early 2010s, creating excitement and a new revenue stream for the craft-beer business. But the waiting lines for each new release have become so unwieldy that many brewers are taking steps to contain or manage them.
Modern Times Beer in San Diego and Threes Brewing in Brooklyn presell cans online and provide pickup windows for the beer. Hoof Hearted Brewing in Marengo, Ohio, and Maine Beer Co. sell advance tickets to limit crowds.
“There were a couple times where we thought we’d have a riot,” said Trevor Williams, the brewer and an owner of Hoof Hearted.
Monkish Brewing Co. in Torrance, California, resisted the pale-ale madness for its first four years, specializing in Belgian-inspired beers and even posting a sign declaring, “No MSG, No IPA.” But last year it caved to popular demand and started canning fruity IPAs like its Sip the Juice.
The owner and brewer, Henry Nguyen, expected a line but not a crowd of more than 300 enthusiasts in his parking lot at 3am.
“People were camping out,” Nguyen said.
With each new release, fans would arrive earlier and earlier, when the brewery was still open.
“They would set up chairs, go inside and drink and come back out and spend the night in the parking lot,” he said. “It was about 15 hours of waiting, sometimes for only six cans.”
To curb that behavior, Monkish began last September to release ales at unpredictable times, announcing them on social media with only a few hours’ notice. All the same, he said, he spots cars of people lurking outside, waiting for word, every day.