Craft drinkers are hunters. They’re constantly fishing and cataloging their classic favorites, but they’re also always on the lookout for something new and that always-triumphant rare find. To keep these explorers coming back, clever craft brands require a variety of revolving products — solid year-round staples, ever-changing seasonals and those exclusive, limited-release premium brands. Those latter, rarefied brews are often called trophy beers or “whales.”
These are heavily-sought-after, often-regionalized, really-frickin’-hard-to-find, sell-out-in-a few-hours-type beer brands — like The Alchemist’s Heady Topper or Goose Island’s Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout. Craft nerds take great pride in finding, harpooning and imbibing these exclusive titles. In fact, there’s even an internet TV show about it. Jason Ley, craft beer enthusiast from Grand Rapids, Mich., has been quietly creating an idea for a rare beer TV show for the last two years, titled Modern Ahabs. It explores the hunt for the world’s most elusive whales, a topic Ley has a lot of experience with.
“I dropped close to $500 to attend my first Dark Lord Day,” Ley said. “At that time, I had never had Dark Lord and made the rather modest trek, as compared to so many others, from Grand Rapids to Munster to chase a beer that had alluded me to that point. After happily enduring a day in torrential rain with close to 10,000 other people, and ending up actually losing my ticket to a variant bottle, I knew the overall experience about seeking out one’s own bucket list beers was a story worth telling.”
The pilot episode features Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) by Founders Brewing Co., which makes senses as its based in Grand Rapids. Ley created the show, wrote and produced this episode, but he also enlisted the help of director, Ben Wilke, and his video production company, Deep End Films, to film and edit Modern Ahabs. Modern Ahabs is a non-staged, reality-style episodic series, and filming took place in Grand Rapids in March during KBS’s citywide release festivities called KBS Week. It’s only the first chapter exploring the quest culture surrounding craft beer.
“Hundreds of beers later, I’m still fascinated by the natural human desire to want what we either can’t have or what proves to be worth just enough of our time to go out of our way to get,” said Ley, who then recounted his favorite beer pilgrimage.
“During a trip to Europe with my wife to celebrate our five-year anniversary, I hoped to be lucky enough to come across my first bottle of Cantillon, which I did end up getting to try in Rome,” he said. “But, when we were in Amsterdam, I stumbled upon a beer bar, called Gollem. When we walked in, I had to do a double-take when I saw Westvleteren 12 on their chalkboard bottle list. When I ordered it, the bartender smiled and gave me a look like he knew he was making an American’s day. He disappeared down a stone staircase into their cellar. He came back up with a dusty bottle covered in cobwebs, cracked it open, poured it and handed me the cap as proof of the conquest. I grabbed a seat on their mezzanine and quietly savored it, probably taking an hour to finish it. The whole experience, especially since it was an unexpected, is definitely one of my most memorable beer moments.”
What else about this show?
Well, considering the pilot episode: Locations featured in the first episode include HopCat, Derby Station, The Winchester, The Meanwhile and Founders Brewing Co. Ley will host the premiere of the pilot episode of Modern Ahabs on Thursday, July 21, at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids (1130 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506). Doors open at 7:00 p.m., with a surprise, episode-themed Founders draft tapped at that time to celebrate the occasion.
This free event is open to the public. General admission seating will be first-come, first-served. *Membership to Wealthy Theatre is not required to enjoy what will be on tap for this special event. Ley’s ultimate goal for Modern Ahabs is to partner with a major TV, cable or streaming network — to develop a series of multi-episode seasons, with each episode featuring a different national or international craft beer whale. The teaser definitely looks pretty good. Enjoy it above.