is a member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His blog
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|You must as tired as I am of the clutter in your in-box from beverage magazines, beer websites, brewspapers, and
beer blogs that demand you clink on a link to read articles with titles like The Best Beers of the Week, Top Brews of
the Month, Best New Beers, Top 50 Beers of the Year, Best New Breweries north of the 38th parallel, Best Beers
Made in the Last Twenty Minutes, and Beers You Have To Drink To Avoid Being Called a Total Loser.
The sheer audacity of some cyber entity telling you what’s the best according to their Royal High Beerness’ semi-
infallible opinion is mind boggling. The fact is that even if their “expert opinion” was correct 95% of the beers they
listed are ones that 98% of the people getting the e-mails will never ever have access to. The articles might as well
be total fiction written in Mandarin. Beer reality demands that a ranking or review is only helpful if it’s tangible to the
reader. Truth is in the hand of the beer holder as long as the beer in the hand is the one being written about. So for
me the only useful “best of” list is one that cites beers I can actually buy. That doesn’t just mean products from
breweries with big distribution footprints but also anything a local store carries or I can find within an hour’s drive, give
or take a long walk or short (very short) jog.
You may not want to make a trek for a double fruit infused banana sour saison made with spider webs and rare
monkey droppings but if you can get if when you read about it then score one for the any article. I’m sure many
people like me can’t get Pliny the Younger, Westvleteren 12, or anything from Tree House or Trillium so putting them
on any list of greats while most appropriate is about as practical to us touting beers from Jupiter and Mars. Having
said that I’m taking a chance you may want to stop reading here because I’m going to tell you about a day spent
following my favorite beer which is only available (sometimes) in NY, NJ, PA, DE and the home of many a professional
wrestlers, Parts Unknown. If you’ve never heard of the beer you should nonetheless keep on reading since I
guarantee the rest of this tale will be enlightening and entertaining. Besides, if you get to end and find that it’s
neither of those just un-read it and all will be well.
Aficionados of the beer simply call it “Shape” though its real name is The Shape of Hops to Come from the
Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. in Croydon, PA. It’s an American Double IPA made with (according to the can) “two
row American barley jammed packed with as much Apollo, Newport, Simcoe, Topaz, and Citra hops we could get our
hands on”. While I have no reason to doubt that statement to be fair I must report that the can lists the ABV at 9.5%
while the Neshaminy website and hang tags on every keg of Shape says it’s 8.5%. I don’t really care about the
discrepancy. After all, what’s a lousy 1% between friends?
The beer used to be produced only a few times a year which caused a frenzied pursuit of it by Shape devotees. It
was rarely just put on the shelf. Usually a store’s proprietor required the double secret Shape handshake and
password. Most enlightened places however would look past that if you said the magic phrase “here’s an extra $10”.
Now the beer is allegedly made year round though cans of it are harder to find than it is for the average ape to
believe he has descended from man.
With such a hop centric beer freshness is really important but inexplicably Shape cans are not dated. In a
furtherance of the mystery around the beer only a small strip of paper with five digits is adhered to the top of every
four pack. I once tried interpreting the numbers using my official Neshaminy decoding ring but all it ever translated to
was “Buy More Shape”. Finally I figured it out thanks to a written invitation I received to a toga party from my old
fraternity Omega Theta Pi. The date of the party was given in five numbers too. From there the logic of it all was
easy. Who was the most famous person to wear a toga? It had to be either Julius Caesar or John Belushi. I went
with Great Caesar which in turn brought me to his calendar. Yes, iIt seems the folks at Neshaminy are students of
history. The five numbers indicated the day and year in sequential order. It’s a neat idea as long as you can count to
365. From that insightful moment on I took to carrying a copy of Julie’s calendar with me whenever I went shopping
for Shape. Ancient history, togas, and beer - perfect together.
Even with “year round” production finding Shape on tap is even harder than finding cans of it. However one of my
local bars carried it regularly. The place became a destination stop and beer shrine for dozens of “Shapies”. Then
the pub changed managers and Shape disappeared. The new boss refused to bring it back saying it was “too
expensive”. I offered to pay the extra $25 more than the average craft keg he claimed it cost. He refused without
giving a reason which was the reason I reasonably never returned.
Then, recently, when making my weekly pilgrimage to the Neshaminy website I saw it. There on the “Events” page
was a listing of not one but two pubs in my general area that were having “takeovers” that included Shape. One
place was starting at noon the other at 5 PM. I was at the first place at 11:25 AM hoping that the bar had put the
beers on early. They did. Their “takeover” consisted of six Neshaminy beers. Two were good, three were fair, one
was World Class. I don’t think I have to mention which one the one was.
As I settled in a chair at a small high top table next to the bar I knew I was at the right place when Brian “the beer poet”
Lynch and beer writer/ raconteur Glenn “Big G” DeLuca walked in. Only the power of Shape could bring out big
guns like this notwithstanding the fact that it was their regular Tuesday place for lunch. They chatted and drank beer.
I drank Shape and chatted. As the afternoon wore on the synergy of good friends, good conversation and
good beer made for a memorable time.
After an hour or so a person wearing an open Neshaminy Brewing Co. shirt over a t-shirt with his picture came over
to introduce himself. “My name is Johnny and I’m from Neshaminy.” It’s a line guaranteed to get anyone’s attention,
respect, and admiration. He told us about the beers available today and I told him how much I liked Shape. He told
us about the physical plant and I told him how much I liked Shape. He told us about the history of the brewery and I
told him how much I liked Shape.
I then asked Johnny if the beers on the other place would be the same as here. He said two would be different –
one a sour and one on a Randall. Not bad. “Ah, but will Shape also be there?” I asked.“Yes” he answered. "YES" I
replied using a combination of my award winning Marv Albert/Daniel Bryant impressions. I had done that publicly
only one other time. I was a character witness at a trial and was asked what was my impression of the defendant. I
said sorry, I only do impressions of Marv Albert and Daniel Bryant and provided a brief “YES” demonstration. The
judge was not amused.
Johnny was incredibly nice and informative. I asked if he was also going to the other bar about 40 minutes away. He
just chucked and said "I’m sending my assistant, it’s too far". With that he moved on to other tables but only after
telling me that if I made the trip to be sure to try the Randall since it was going to have Shape with mango and
Glenn and Brian recommended I follow Johnny’s example – stay put. I just couldn’t. As good as the company and
beer was I knew this was a day to make beer history – a double -double dose of double Shape. Off I went trusting my
car’s GPS system and St. Gambrinus to get me there. I could only hope that the Shape hadn't sold out, unlike many
a craft brewery bought by INBev.
I arrived at 5:01 PM. The bar was packed. I worried about getting more than one glass of Shape until the bartender
said it was the usual crazy crowd for “Taco Tuesday”. After sensing my indifference to the “four taco flight special”
he gave me the beer menu. “Not necessary” I said. “Just give me a glass of Shape and one of it from the Randall.”
He nodded approvingly. Clearly this was a fellow citizen of Beerland. The regular Shape was of course outstanding.
The beer from the Randall was very good but it was unrecognizable as any beer I knew. I then ordered small pours
of the other Neshaminy beers. The sour was excellent, the others good. I could safely have one more beer, a grand
finale to a grand day. I beckoned the bartender to come over. Instead he simply walked straight to the taps. When I
saw his hand on the Shape of Hops To Come handle I knew he understood. .
Now to be totally honest I’ve tried many a great beer and yes, some were better than Shape but that doesn’t mean
I’ve changed my affection for it. No matter what, I’ll never be a Shape shifter.
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