With so many great breweries at the recent Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, there were bound to be some that I would miss while I was there. Thanks to e-mail, I caught up with Rob Wengler and Ron Johnson, the masterminds behind the web series Limited Release. It follows them cross-country as they hit all the rare bottle releases and try some truly amazing beer.
Sean Inman: How did the idea for Limited Release come about?
Rob: Several years ago I heard a story about a guy here in the Twin Cities that sold a show to the Travel Channel. His idea was to go around the world and play all the best golf courses and get someone else to pay for it. I thought to myself “that dumb, lucky bastard. First why didn’t I think of that, and next – they’ll put anything on TV these days”. Then a few months later, Ron and had been to Dark Lord day at Three Floyds, and were talking about attending some other events. We put two and two together and said, “We should do a travel show where we go around the country, and film these beer release events.” We figured that craft beer was hot right now, and so were travel shows. We toyed around with the idea for a few months, and decided to film Kate the Great Day for our first episode and see what happened. Plus we figured it was a good justification to our wives for us to go on weekend adventures to drink beer.
SI: How long does a typical episode take from start to finish?
Rob: Generally it takes Ron about 3 weeks to go over all the film footage, block the show out, make it look nice, add music etc. Then he spends about 4-5 weeks harassing me to get my work done, usually some 10 second animation. Then one more week of tweaks and revisions before we get signoff from the host brewery to make sure we didn’t do anything wrong. Then we can release it. Keep in mind, this is all done in our spare time. We’re not getting paid for this, we still have to go to our day jobs. It’s a lot of 2 hours here, 3 hours there. So after the footage is shot, it’s probably…40-60 hours of combined work to finish the episode.
SI: How was your experience at the Firestone Walker Invitational?
Rob: We had a great time, but not how I expected. I was expecting to show up and taste 50 or so really great beers. I was wondering how we were going to get back to the hotel at the end of the day. I mean, it was open bar to the best of the best breweries in the country, right? I think when we went back and looked at our records, we only tasted something like 10-12 beers each – though they were all awesome.
In actuality, we spent the whole day having extraordinary conversations with all the brewers themselves. We got to meet and talk with Jeremy from Lagunitas, Barnaby and Nick Floyd, Todd Haug from Surly, Mikkeller, Wayne from Cigar City, the CEO from Yoho beer in Japan etc… it was like rock and roll fantasy camp for beer geeks for a day.
SI: How did you get sucked into the craft beer culture?
Rob: Ron can chime in for himself. My gateway craft beer was Surly Bender. I mean, I was never one for any of the Big 3 Beers. I used to drink a lot of Leinenkugel’s up here in MN, or Boddingtons, or other random brews in the ’90s. Then someone told me about this cool new brewery in town called Surly, and their beer names were all kind of based on angry drunk people. Furious, Bender, Bitter Brewer, etc… Sounded fun, and I like supporting the local guy, so I gave them a try and I was hooked. Then I got sucked into Darkness Day where I started rubbing elbows with true beer geeks, and Ron talked me into driving down for Dark Lord day and we made more friends. Plus our friend Eric, the “expert taster” on our show, is a champion home brewer and he was filling my head with thoughts of rare and exotic beers. And so on… Now I find myself reading Zymurgy Magazine, and plowing through blogs learning about what other great stuff is out there around the country. And trolling through bottle shops late at night looking for something cool and new.
Ron: I used to drink Bass and other old world ales primarily, but then Rob showed up with this bottle of Darkness and talked about the craziness he had to go through to get it. I loved the complex flavor and the idea of being part of this small, devoted group of beer lovers became appealing.
SI: What are your go-to beers (or for lack of a better term, your UNLimited beers)?