Deerfield Beach resident Bryan Turner was first in line for J. Wakefield Brewing's most recent bottle release this past weekend. He arrived at the Wynwood taproom just after 9 p.m. Friday, June 9, and set up chairs in front of the brewery bay doors about 13 hours before bottle sales began.
As a result, the June 10 bottle release was a record-setter for a South Florida brewery, one that saw a large number of craft beer fans showing up earlier than ever to snag their full allotment of J. Wakefield's four beers available for purchase at noon Saturday.
Last week, posts to an online forum with details about the release drew strings of comments about dozens of people coordinating arrival times, one even mentioning an out-of-state group that planned to fly to Miami just for the release and line up when the taproom doors closed at 1 a.m. As a result, locals who regularly show up as early as 4 a.m. to larger J. Wakefield releases such as DFPF followed suit.
"I was one of the people who said I was camping," Turner said. "Then all my friends just told people, and it escalated from there."
The release was for brewer/owner Jonathan Wakefield's popular Big Poppa, a coconut-, coffee-, and vanilla-infused imperial stout he and San Diego's Abnormal Beer Company head brewer Derek Gallanosa first brewed and bottled in 2016. Fewer than 300 bottles were available for sale, but that didn't stop Big Poppa from being one of the best-received releases.
In addition to Big Poppa, three other bottles were also released June 10, including 6ix Days in Dade (an imperial gose with guava and peach) and the collaboration stouts Boss Tycoon and Boutit Boutit. Brewery representatives report there were between 600 to 1,000 bottles of each of the four specialty releases. A two-bottle limit was set and awarded to the first 250 people in line.
According to J. Wakefield taproom manager Alex Gutierrez, the release was the brewery's largest turnout to date. "The biggest line and the earliest line warriors I've ever seen or heard of," Gutierrez said. "The brewery sold out of all three stouts by 4 p.m., and we were left with just a few cases of 6ix Days in Dade."
"That was easily the longest beer line I've waited anywhere, and I've been traveling for releases for over three years now," Broward County resident Josh Blum said. "Lots of people came in from out of town to line up, which is something we haven't really experienced down here yet."
For local craft beer enthusiast Raul Gonzalez, the man behind the artfully posed beer pics found at @Marty_McFly127 on Instagram, the midnight start was a surprise not only for him but also for most of the South Florida craft beer community.
"Never did I think I would wait in line that long for anything, let alone some beer," Gonzalez said. "But it turned into an overnight party filled with amazing beers and new friendships."
For J. Wakefield, the success of the line is a sign of the brewery's growing popularity not only locally but also nationally. Across the country, some of the longest-standing, largest, and most popular beer and bottle releases see similar turnouts with early lineup start times.
In February, Santa Rosa, California's Russian River Brewing Company released its triple IPA, Pliny the Younger. Hundreds of people waited up to ten hours for a single ten-ounce pour. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Foothills Brewing's yearly release of its imperial stout Sexual Chocolate begins at 2 a.m., when fans are allowed to line up after the brewpub closes its taproom doors.
The idea: be the first to snag these coveted bottles, available just once a year. For many who attended, being there early is incentive to grab enough bottles to resell illegally online — sometimes priced at $250 apiece — or trade for other limited-release brews.
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To combat the unruly lines and lengthy waits, many breweries have turned to online ticket sales for release events, including Indiana's 3 Floyd's Brewing for its Dark Lord Day and Missouri's Perennial Artisan Ales for its barrel-aged imperial stout Abraxas.
"I think the frenzy [was thanks] to the reputation J. Wakefield is gaining, not only in Miami but across the country in the craft community," Gonzalez added. "No other brewery in South Florida is doing what [he's] envisioning."
Was the midnight lineup truly necessary?
"The line had a really fun vibe, and spirits were high given the conditions," Blum said. "But in reality, it was kind of ridiculous and a little unnecessary, especially when online ticket sales seem to be a successful [way to sell bottles] for lots of other breweries around the country."