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In 2004 Calagione's small, Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery announced that it would produce 600 cases of a beer called Liquor de Malt, retailing at $6.99 per 40-ounce bottle. The catch: Liquor de Malt would actually aspire to taste good, as Calagione and his chemists were intent on producing it with restaurant-grade, boutique corns rather than the traditional cheap shit. In a wink at the niche's streetwise infamy, each Forty would be sold with its own hand-stamped (with the Dogfish logo) brown paper bag and quaffing instructions.
"We were underwhelmed with how mass-produced malt liquor tasted," explains Calagione, whose brewery's motto is "Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People." "It's usually an inner-city beer that's being sold on price and elevated alcohol. Big brewers just use more corn syrup to make it. What we did was find some high-end corns from the food industry -- Aztec corn and blue corn, for example. Even though malt liquor is a much-maligned style, we wanted to show that you could make a high-quality malt liquor, using high-end ingredients."
He says the response from his distributors (Dogfish Head can be found in 25 states, including Illinois) was overwhelming.
"We got orders for 800 cases, so it was totally sold out before we even started bottling it," reports Calagione. "We hand-label and -twist caps onto every bottle, so we had giant sores on our palms. We have an automated line for our twelve-ounce beers, so I think we may try to build a bottling line that will allow us to do Forties at a more serious volume next year."
The sophomore run of Liquor de Malt went out the factory door last week. Should Calagione follow through, Buettner believes the malt-liquor Forty might enjoy a tasty renaissance.
"This guy makes blow-your-socks-off beer," the Hall of Fame hypester says of the man whose brewery produces 40-proof Worldwide Stout, billed as the world's strongest dark beer. "So what does he do? He goes after malt liquor. All it takes is somebody like this to turn it around."
Rutgers grad Pete "Bruz" Brusyo is 26 years old, lives in Bridgewater, New Jersey, and earns his keep as a starch-collared mortgage broker. When quittin' time rolls around, Brusyo's decompression routine is even more predictable than fixed interest rates and what type of trouser to wear on Hump Day.
"I put on a suit and tie by day," says Brusyo. "Then I go home, take it all off and crack open a Forty."
Brusyo claims to have the world's largest collection of 40-ounce bottles: 380 and counting (including Liquor de Malt, which Brusyo considers to be an instant classic). Since Brusyo founded a Web site documenting the exploits of his interstate " 40-ounce Crew" (40ozMaltLiquor.com), no one has disputed his boast, so the title may well be legit.
"Nobody's ever stepped up and said otherwise," says Brusyo. "I found one guy who had, like, 90 bottles. Eventually I met that guy. We chilled and had some Forties.
"Now there are tons of people with over 100 bottles," he adds. "People do trades and stuff through my message boards."
The mortgage broker's obsession began by accident, during his junior year at Rutgers. He and his roommate shared an apartment whose kitchen had one prominent architectural feature.
"There was a big space between the cabinets and the ceiling, so I wanted to put some Forties up there," Brusyo recalls. "We got addicted to driving around looking for different brands, and it just escalated from there."
Shortly thereafter Brusyo debuted the Web site, which now boasts 1,200 registered members. This legion of inebriates commonly tips off Bruz to the location of obscure Forties, and without fail the sightings dictate the direction of the consummate collector's next vacation.
"I've never done a road trip just for a Forty," Brusyo says modestly. "But I've gone to Quebec City and picked up every Forty along the way."
As Brusyo's site grew in popularity -- particularly engrossing is the "Edward Fortyhands" photo gallery, a candid-camera chronicle of a campus craze in which revelers duct-tape a Forty to either hand and are permitted to do nothing until both bottles have been drained -- it seemed logical for regular contributors to arrange meet-ups. A recent outing saw a few dozen Crew members tear up Chicago with Forties in hand, an experience one reveler sculpted into a fifteen-minute malt-umentary set to a ghetto-fabulous soundtrack.
"Basically, we drink," Brusyo says of his Crew's social itinerary. "We don't get completely reckless or wasted. It's basically just two or three days and nights of partying."
The Crew being predominantly Caucasian, Brusyo openly admits that a healthy shot of ironic thug-life fetishizing is a key component of the big bottle's rugged allure.
"I think all the negative attention makes the Forty more appealing," he says. "If they were as commonplace as twelve-ouncers, I wouldn't be as interested. But because Forties have a ghetto theme, it makes it more amusing and fun."
He's isn't alone in extracting humor from the beleaguered brew. Thirty-three-year-old Josh Alt thinks low-class beer is so funny that he and two buddies recently opened the Tin Can Tavern & Grille, an establishment dedicated to cheap, retro cans of beer and malt liquor. While there are some hoity-toity brews on the joint's 50-beer list, the Tin Can's kitsch appeal lies in $1.50 cans of forgotten swill like Olympia, Pabst, Stag, Milwaukee's Best, Mickeys, Colt .45 and Camo malt liquor -- beverages that craft brewers such as Calagione might politely refer to as bottom-of-the-barrel crap.