It's not every day that we encounter a beer described as a "tobacco themed IPA aged in Bourbon barrels", so it's no wonder that from the few limited appearances at festivals and events in the past two years, the Gambler has gotten a ton of attention. The idea for the Gambler was conceived by Tony Hansen over 3 years ago. Back in the spring of 2009 a handful of the "old school" crew had traveled to Boston to attend the Craft Brewers Conference. During their trip, the guys found themselves at one point enjoying a trifecta of delights, as they sipped on Bourbon, smoked cigars, and chased it all down with big hoppy American IPAs. Noting the gratification and flavor compliments that came from partaking in all three items at the same time, Tony began to wonder if it was possible to capture this experience by recreating it into one glorious beverage. Upon returning home, the experimentation began. Starting off with a beer that was already undergoing the barrel aging process, Tony decided to simply add some tobacco to see how the initial flavor infusion would turn out. The beer was the Magician, the brand of tobacco was Gambler: The Choice of Today's Smart Smoker.* Fortunately, while the beer and tobacco were aging in the Bourbon barrels, Tony came across some research that indicated tobacco infusion of this magnitude, especially in a beverage such as beer, could lead to a nicotine overdose and potentially make someone very sick. Unfortunately, all of the beer from the initial experiment had to be dumped immediately. So began Tony's research on how to create the essence of tobacco in a beer, without using actual tobacco. He had heard of an Asian tea that supposedly had characteristics similar to tobacco and seeing as he was already in the process of outsourcing the "tobacco-like" flavor for this creation, he figured that he might as well up the anti, and see if he could recreate the sensation of actually smoking tobacco by infusing smokey flavors into the beer as well. His search lead him to two tea varieties that would apparently allow him to accomplish exactly what he was going for, Red Rooibus and Lapsang Souchong. This time Tony went straight for a big hoppy IPA to serve as his base beer for this second experiment and decided on using a Short's IPA that had little notoriety at the time, but plenty of bold American hop flavors and bitterness, Dan's Pink Skirt.** Filling up two entire Bourbon barrels, he added the Red Rooibus and Lapsang Souchong, and let the concoction sit for an entire year! Finally, in February of 2011, Tony opened up the Bourbon barrels and transferred the contents into 6 1/2 barrels, and one 1/6th barrel. It was this lone 1/6th barrel that would be used to unveil the Gambler for the first time later that month, appropriately enough at the Extreme Beer Festival in Boston, where this 2 year endeavor all began. Needless to say, it was a hit. As people walked up to the Short's booth in disbelief, they would walk away surprised at the balanced presentation for such an ambitious combination of flavors in one beer. The experiment was repeated as the remaining 6 1/2 barrels were broken up and rationed out to other festivals and events spanning the remainder of 2011 and into 2012. Possibly the biggest highlight of the Gambler's 2 year tasting tour was when it got poured at a well know craft beer bar in Washigton DC, called the Churchkey. We were in town attending our first ever SAVOR event, hosted by the Brewer's Association. To make the trip as worthwhile as possible, we arranged for a tap takeover on the Thursday night before SAVOR at the Churchkey and then went back on Saturday to participate in their beer brunch. After brunch, we hung around for a little bit to see how many beers were left from our takeover a few nights ago, and what kind of feedback they were receiving. As we scanned the crowd, Tony and Joe Short couldn't help but notice that Ray Daniels was sitting at a booth enjoying a sampler of Short's beer. Ray Daniels has had a huge impact on the craft beer industry as an author, the Director of the Craft Beer Marketing Program for the Brewers Association, and currently serving as the Director of the National Cicerone Certification Program at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. One of his first books titled "Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Designing Classic Beer Styles" was read by both Tony and Joe, and played a huge role in guiding them through their early brewing careers. When they approached him to see what he thought about his selection of Short's beers, Ray specifically told them that in his mind, The Gambler was worthy of a medal in the Smoked Beer Category at the Great American Beer Festival.*** Thrilled by such a flattering compliment the guys returned the praise by letting Ray know how influential his book was for both of them as young brewers. He smiled and replied "you guys are doing things that go above and beyond anything I was talking about in that book." It was a proud moment for Short's indeed! Whether you like Bourbon, cigars, or even IPAs the Gambler's most impressive characteristic is how three substantial palate impacting consumables can all share the same platform, but lend equal amounts of flavor, to recreate an experience of such perfect proportions. *Please note that Short's Brewing Company does not endorse cigarette smoking and in fact Gambler brand tobacco's tag line is actually an oxymoron. **Dan's Pink Skirt is an American IPA brewed with Summit and Simcoe hops that dates back to 2007. This beer has gained quite the reputation recently, as it's been revived in Bellaire, featured at the pub, and taken to a handful of fests and events.***We took Ray's advice and entered Gambler in the Smoked Beer category at GABF, but it didn't win. What do they know!?!