Different faces, different ideologies, different cultures, and different values are all present, but they don’t really matter at 101 Bottles Beers on the Wall in Kent, OH. It’s just a pub…a tap room and beer purveyor for people who are looking for something different, something off of the beaten path. Despite the diversity of the crowd, it’s a laid back hang. 101 Bottles is simply a mellow place to gather and enjoy a beer.
Insert Robert Frost and valuable words to live by:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I like beers that you don’t see on the shelves of your standard convenience stores, or in places where everyone goes. I like beers that you have to work for. I like beers that are unique, less traveled by, and maybe created with a little “artistic license” by old hippies, trappist monks, artists and chemical engineers who couldn’t cut it in the corporate world (I’ve spent some time with a few brewmasters who fit this description).
Because I live in a small town in Pennsylvania, a unique beer pretty much describes everything beyond AB, Miller, and Yuengling products; all fine beverages, but not a first choice when I’m seeking a beer adventure. In Pennsylvania we have to buy our beer by the case at a distributor; this makes one somewhat reluctant to experiment or explore an adventurous palate at home. A Young’s Double Chocolate Stout would be really cool to try…but purchasing a case is a risky investment for something you’re not sure if you’re going to like or not. If you try one and it’s just okay, you’re left with 23 & ½ beers that you have to get through, rather than enjoy. Life is way too short to waste time on a bad beer choice. Bad beer and bad company are numbers 17 & 18 on the Large Man List of Life’s No-Nos.
Now, insert 101 Bottles of Beer on the Wall…3 hours from my hometown…where the laws are different:
Located in Kent, OH … 101 Bottles is a retail outlet for specialty import, micro, and craft brewed beers. They also have wine, but beers are their thing. The number 101 is probably a misnomer by about 4 times. I would bet that there are at least 400 different flavors of beer in this shop. They are in a humble little roadside strip mall in the Kent University area; I have to say that this store is a top 5 all time favorite find in my Large Man travels.
Travis, a red headed & bearded tap technician, store minder, and first class beer sommelier, offers up a friendly wave as you walk in the door. Beth, a feisty, bohemian looking beauty stands at the register and greets you with a smile and immediately offers to “…help you find anything”. Justin, a tall, lanky, ball cap wearing dude is swarming around the store & tap room working on TV settings and the store appearance, and although he has a busy vibe, there is still time for a wave and a smile and a “How ya doin’?”.
I’ve been in a lot of specialty retail places for beer, wine, stereo equipment, musical instruments or clothing; “high end” places where you go for expert opinion and guidance on a particular product you’re looking for. Often times in these places I have felt intimidated or smaller than the experts whose help I was seeking. I like to call it “intellectual intimidation”, I don’t know what the real term for this behavior is, some people call it “snob” behavior, or “elitist”…I use “douche bag” a lot too. We all know what I’m talking about, and it’s probably fair to say that many of us have experienced it. You won’t get that kind of treatment here at 101 Bottles. These folks are as knowledgeable as anyone, but they like to share that knowledge. These folks are are not beer snobs, they are beer lovers…and they are happy to spread the love!
The limited release of Bell’s Hopslam Ale, a double IPA style brew, is what I was hunting during my most recent visit to 101 Bottles. Unfortunately there was no bottled inventory available, but they had a fresh keg of this nectar of the gods in their tap room; that was good enough. I once paid $15 for a 12 oz bottle of the stuff and I thought it was a good deal.
You can’t describe this beer appropriately in English because the words need to be spoken in a more poetic dialect – but I’ll try:
Bell’s Hopslam assaults your taste buds with layer upon layer of flavor and texture. A malty front with a grapefruit middle and then almost a pine finish are things I experience when I take a pull. I like to pour it very cold and let it warm up, to about 40 degrees. I think this process allows the beer to open up all its layers and lets you experience its full spectrum of flavor. Its color is a beautiful shade of copper; its aroma is as fragrant as a country fence rail covered in honeysuckle. Every sip tastes like what you imagined a first kiss would have been like with that girl who got away…that girl of your dreams. If Hopslam were a girl, she would have a fiery, robust mane of curly red hair, she would have a big round athletic butt, large pouting breasts, and she would play the cello with the violent passion of breeding ostriches (trust me). This woman would be comfortable in a burger joint with that Guy dude from the Food Network, yet she could still hold court with the entire room at a sophisticated private bistro in Upper Manhattan. She would be the kind of pretty that all the dudes loved, but the girls wouldn’t find threatening. Class & cool in the perfect combination…and then some.
That about covers it. But imagine all those things spoken in Portuguese – then you get the true understanding of this magic potion.
… I walk into the tap room and I ask Travis for a chalice of this brew, and he cautiously asks me if I’m going to “try anything else?” He doesn’t know me, so he doesn’t realize that this was a silly question; there are 24 taps within his reach – all of them limited releases and specialty potions, and I have $117.37 in my pocket; of course I’m going to “try anything else.” I’m not being critical of the Trav man, actually quite the opposite – he was just being a pro.
“But of course” is my reply.
“Well then…ahh… I wouldn’t go with the Hopslam first. It’s just gonna CRUSH your taste buds for anything else you might want to try. I have a fresh tap going on another IPA that is great.”
I agree with his suggestion with an enthusiastic, “Giddy-up!”
And so it goes…for the next 90 minutes I sample a small handful of beers from all over this great nation of ours. A glass is poured, we discuss it, and I walk around the store and look at what is available for purchase in 6 packs and 22s. How cool is that? Pour me a beer, and then let me walk around the store and figure out what I’m going to buy. It’s a groundbreaking retail model in my opinion.
While I shop, people are filtering in and out, there is a good looking couple who bring in dinner from the burrito place down the street, they have their dinner and they sample from the 24 taps and they join in on the discussion topics with the 12 or so other people who are perched on barstools in the room.
There is a fireman who asks my opinion on all the natural gas drilling that’s going on in PA and Ohio, there’s an attorney, Scott, who jokingly offers me his business card “just in case I enjoy too much Hopslam.” Travis has a buddy, Steve, parked at the end of the bar and they’re discussing Trav’s roommate situation. Beth has now brought her dinner in, and while taking a break she reads her book, eats her evening meal, and passionately discusses a subject with fireman dude in between bites. I don’t know Beth, and I’m willing to bet our ideologies are very different, but I like her. I hope we get a chance to talk, maybe debate points that we care about someday down the road. I enjoy the company of smart people…this is a smart place.
What I like most about this place is the comfort. I will, and often do, pay more for a product if I’m comfortable with the people I’m doing business with. I want the deal to be mutually beneficial, especially in the case of a beer purveyor, as I am most certainly going to be a repeat customer.
With Travis’ expert help – and patience with my questions, I harvested a generous and varied crop of new beer to try…and luckily, at a distributor in PA I was able to acquire a case of Hopslam too. I will return home to my family and my good friend and neighbor, Bob, as a conquering hero. The beer that is in my trunk could quite possibly be breaking several state and federal statutes (that’s lawyer talk, ask Scott)…but I don’t care, I like beers that you have to work for.
101 Bottles has a Facebook page, look them up and like them…tell them The Large Man sent you. Also, they are mentioned quite affectionately on Beer Advocate’s website, so trust me when I tell you that it’s not just me – the beer world loves these people too. If you like adventurous craft beers and friendly people, and if you respect people who love what they do, learn more about these folks. If you are ever in their neck of the woods, stop in. If you are a beer connoisseur, it doesn’t get any better.
Thanks for reading.
The Large Man