Captain's log, beer date, oh-four oh-five oh-three. Approximately 1 PM.
What a day.
You may not realize the significance. The date doesn't carry the same weight as Cinco de Mayo in terms of historical importance, but Cinco de April-o certainly carried its weight in beer. It was amazing. Allow me, your friendly neighborhood beer-slinger, to take you on a short tour of the 2003 Boston Beer Summit, a gathering of about 50 breweries, most carrying roughly 4 beers, almost all on tap. It was an incredible sight to behold, and to save you, friend reader, from having to go through all the trouble of drinking those many beers yourself, I've decided to guide you through what I thought were the top five beers of the Summit for your future drinking enjoyment. Please allow me to present...
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Milton, DE
Strong and complex. This has the distinction of being the first beer I drank at the Beer Summit. On the strength of their Chicory Stout (which they did not present, or I would probably be talking about it) I walked from the entrance, directly to their booth and tried it out. Wow. What a beer. It's a malty ale with a nice hint of hops playing lightly over the top of the flavor. A beautiful dark amber Belgian that clocks in about 8% alcohol. You'd never know it. It's so smooth and flavorful that putting a pint (or four) down would be no problem at all. Dogfish says in their literature that the Raison D'Etre is "as complex as a fine red wine," and it's true. You could drink this beer all day and still be finding new reasons to like it, while continuing to wonder where your legs had gone.
Availability: Dogfish Head is distributed in 29 states from Delaware to Oregon. A full list of distributors can be found on their website.
Allagash Brewing Company. Portland, ME
Speaking of wine, the Allagash Brewery's Reserve line is an amazing comparison. The Tripel Reserve, another Belgian beer, is beer that should be enjoyed from a goblet. With good bread and cheese. In small doses. While sitting down. It's not the kind of beer that you're going to chug. It's the kind of beer that you're going to sip, taste, and savour. I've had a bottle of their Dubbel Reserve (a dark version of the Tripel) for almost 2 years now, and I'm still saving it. In another 4 or 5 years it'll be a damn fine beer for a very special occasion. The Tripel Reserve is light in color. With its golden cloudiness, it resembles a hefeweizen in appearance. The first sip, however, should put all doubts away as to what this beer is. At about 9% alcohol, it's a sipper. It's malty and quite fruity -- a by-product of the Belgian-style yeast -- making it extremely enjoyable to taste but hard to put away quickly, not that you'd want to. Consider this the white wine to the red of Dogfish Head's Raison D'Etre. Buy two bottles of this stuff, one to drink now, and one to drink later on a special occasion. You'll thank yourself.
Availability: You can find Allagash beers in 21 states, primarily on the East Coast. It's also distributed in Oregon, Colorado, California and those "I" states in the middle of the country.
Stone Brewing Company. San Marcos, CA
If you like barbecue, get yourself some of this beer. I can hear you now: What?! Yeah. Barbecue. That's right. It's not called Smoked Porter for nothing. It's brewed with smoked malts, so there is a distinct smoky flavor to the beer. It blends very nicely with the traditional hoppiness of the Porter and, while it's something quite unlike anything you've ever had before, I guarantee you're going back for more. It'd go great with steak on the grill, and would probably work really well as a marinade for said steak, as well.
Availability: Distributed in 17 states, mostly on the Left Coast, just recently in Indiana, Idaho, and New York. Their website lists distributors, and people to call that will help you find a local package store that sells Stone beer.
Cabot Street Wheat
Paper City Brewery. Holyoke, MA
The lemonade of beers. No. It's not Smirnoff Ice or any of that malternative crap. It's a wheat beer, a weisse bier, gold and unfiltered, made with wheat malts in addition to barley malts. Wheat beer is light, a little lemony, and goes really wonderfully with hot sunny Saturday afternoons in the middle of summer. Never will you find a beer so refreshing as this, and Cabot Street Wheat is a beautiful example. It's light, it's citrusy, it's got great carbonation, and overall the flavor of the wheat malts really shine through. Find it, drink it. It will make you smile.
Availability: Massachusetts. That's it. I know. You're kicking me for this one, but seriously, it's worth tracking it down. You can find it in package stores around the western half of the state, as well as restaurants and pubs (find a list on their website) so if you're going through sometime, stop, buy some, and drink it.
St. Peter's Brewery. Bungay, Suffolk, England
I've rarely had a good English Bitter in the States. Most of the really good ones are from local breweries on the other side of The Pond. How this one made it here is beyond me, but I'm damn glad that it did. It's amber colored, and smooth on the tongue. Not very carbonated, with a really mild flavor, it's the kind of beer you expect to drink by the Imperial pint in some very wooden tavern, singing drinking songs until early in the morning. Amazing flavor, amazing color, amazing beer.
Availability: It's distributed by Eurobubblies, Inc. in Santa Monica, CA. I have some doubts as to how easy it's going to be to find it in the rest of the US -- right now -- but as good as this stuff is (as well as the other beers carried by Eurobubblies -- check out any of the Wychwood Ales) it wouldn't surprise me to see it at a good quality package store near you sometimes in the next year or so.
And now for some extras...
Edison Light. Hingham, MA
There's one reason that I'm putting this on the list and that's for this: If you like light beer, drink something else. There's one condition that makes this beer good: It has to be fresh and ICE cold. Okay, that's two. Under those conditions, which were present at the Beer Summit, it's not bad beer. I like it. But get yourself a bottle of it, or a full pint, and you run a risk. If you're the type of person that nurses your beer (then suck it up and drink, you sissy!), you'll invariably get to the point in the beer where it just tastes like ass. I've had this beer twice: Once at the Beer Summit in a 5 oz. glass where I enjoyed it, and once at a bar in a pint glass where it was warm before I made it halfway through. It was the only time I've ever asked a waitress to take a beer away from me. I just couldn't do it. So there. That's my warning. If you like light beer, drink Sam Adams Light.
Make your own!?
Deja Brew. Shrewsbury, MA
I have to mention this because I am a homebrewer. Deja Brew is awesome. It's homebrewing without the home. Without the sticky kitchen floor, or the 16-quart pot of goo boiling on your stovetop, or the bags of malt and grain and whatnot sitting on your kitchen counter for months on end. It's-- what can I say? It's really cool. Here's how these guys work: You go to their store. You either bring or choose a recipe. You stand around and boil the wort, you add your own ingredients, you add your own hops. When it's done? They filter it and store it in a nice climate controlled room for you for two weeks, then you come back, bottle it, and leave with 6 cases of beer that will be ready to drink in just a couple of weeks. 6 cases of your own beer, that you can call whatever the hell you want, and you know it's just the kind of beer that you like because you put all the ingredients in yourself. All this for around $100 and about 3 hours of work. Goddamn. Have you ever heard of a place that needed to expand into a franchise as badly as these guys do?
Be a Beer Goddess
Ale Street News. Maywood, NJ
If I were a woman, I'd own these people's entire line of clothing. It's HOT. Women, this is how to pick up men. Buy one of these shirts. Wear it to some place that has beer and beer-drinkers. I guarantee you have big, loud, drunk men all over you in no-time flat. Okay, maybe that doesn't sound so attractive, but all the same, it'll work. As an added bonus, if you do run into these guys at a show somewhere, and they take your picture wearing a Beer Goddess shirt you have the chance of being posted on their website and in the next Ale Street News as being a Beer Goddess -- how could you ask for more?
And there you have it, my friends: a selection of beer that will not leave you in want.
I know. I took a hit for the team.
But if that's what I, as Beer Guy, have to do to make sure that everybody is enjoying what they're tipping back from their pint glasses, I'll put my nose to the grindstone, and my mouth to the tap.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.21.03 @ 12:24a
Assuming that you didn't happen to stumble across the top five beers all within your first five sample glasses, just exactly which sequence did you find them in and how much had you drunk by the time you found the last one? I'm just trying to understand the trust % rating I should apply to each one...
And didn't I give your Dubbel away to someone? Or did I replace it with another?
4.21.03 @ 12:45a
I know whereof you speak with the smoked porter. The great local brewery here in St. Louis (and no, I don't mean A-B) came out with their Smoked Papal Porter a few years back when His Eminence came thru. All attempts to get the pontiff to stop in for a pint came to naught. Fortunately, they still make the smoked porter once a year. Good stuff.
As for the BIY place, we had one of those locally too, called "Custom Brew Haus." It tanked, which was a shame. It was a great place to get beer recipes, a good selection of malts and hops...and just to talk about beer. It came and went when I was still Broke Starving Guy, and needed to spend my beer money on immediate gratification.
4.21.03 @ 8:02a
Eloise, I found them in this order: Raison D'Etre, Tripel Reserve, Cabot Street Wheat, Smoked Porter, Best Bitter.
Give about 30-45 minutes in between each finding. Even given that, though, I remember finding each beer, and that's the important part, right?
Russ, pity you didn't get to drink with His Eminence. I keep a Pope churchkey on hand so that my beer is always opened with His Grace in mind.
Oh, and Eloise: You didn't give my Dubbel away. It was something else. A Biere de Garde from somewhere. The Dubbel is stashed safely away.
4.21.03 @ 8:26a
Give about 30-45 minutes in between each finding. Even given that, though, I remember finding each beer, and that's the important part, right?
Full disclosure: he had a notebook. I'd be interested as to whether the writing for the Best Bitter was as legible as that for the Raison d'Etre.
4.21.03 @ 9:22a
Feh. Handwriting is always the first thing to go. Besides, by that point I was carrying a jacket, a sweatshirt, a t-shirt, a stein, and a tasting glass.
Or did we stash the stein and the t-shirt?
4.21.03 @ 9:35a
I think we did... or did we? Oh hell, I can't remember.
4.21.03 @ 9:40a
Was this before or after you won the hibachi and Bad Religion tickets? (Speaking of which, did you ever get rid of those tickets?)
I'm guessing that you weren't in a completely sober state of mind by the time you got the Edison Light and started pushing it in our faces, saying "Drink this! It's the worst beer ever!"
4.21.03 @ 9:43a
Before. And no, we didn't get rid of the tickets.
I'm sad the pictures from the event didn't survive.
4.21.03 @ 9:45a
No. Never got rid of the Bad Religion tickets.
And I knew perfectly well what I was doing with the Edison Light -- I just think that people should have a range of experiences, that's all.
How can you tell what good beer is if you haven't had the bad?
4.21.03 @ 10:04a
There's a difference between "Say, you should try this as a baseline for comparison" and "No! Drink it! It's awful!" For what it's worth, I wouldn't call the E.L. the *worst* beer ever. It's not maliciously, proactively bad like some of the stuff I was exposed to in college (add Schaefer's link here, if it exists). E.L. was ... nothing. Like colored water. A palate cleanser. It's not the *worst* thing I ever had, because it's *nothing*.
4.21.03 @ 10:22a
Maybe that's because it was cold and fresh. When I had it on tap it was... it was awful. I mean.. the taste was undesirable and icky.
Pabst bought Schaefer, so you can be assured that the quality of the beer has gone up.
You're right, though. Now that I think about it, I think the worst beer I've ever had is Genny Cream Ale.
4.21.03 @ 11:16a
Hell's yeah on the Smoked Porter, Erik. I have had it out here in both LA and Phoenix. Fantastic with red meat. It has everything I have ever looked for in a dark beer. Although now I have to find some Raison d'Etre, I feel good knowing I have had something from your list. Excellent research! And as for worst experiences, I think Utica Club can hold its own to Genny Cream Ale.
4.21.03 @ 11:21a
Awesome, Patrick. It's great, great beer.
The Raison D'Etre is really kickass stuff, too. I'll be honest: I haven't had a beer by Dogfish Head that I didn't like. Their 120-Minute IPA will kick a hole in your chest it's so alcoholic, and it's so hoppy it's fruity. Thus far, everything I've had by them has been frickin' fantastic.
Same with Stone, actually. If you get a chance (folks on the West Coast have a better chance of this), check out their Arrogant Bastard ale. Very, very tasty.
4.21.03 @ 11:26a
I didn't officially, so I'll second the Raison d'Etre as one of the best beers I've ever had. At the Beer Summit, I made certain to go back and get some at the end of the session so that the taste would linger in my mouth.
The 120-Minute IPA is really off the scale as far as hoppiness goes (120 IBUs?!? Is that even possible?), but still good. It's a bit strong, though, and I might prefer the 60-Minute IPA or the 90-Minute IPA. I'd recommend those over the 120 for someone who didn't know what they were getting into.
4.21.03 @ 11:30a
Something as hoppy as the 120-Minute IPA might scare people off from some otherwise great beer, unless they knew what they were about to taste.
4.21.03 @ 11:46a
is this intrepid? or is it next weekend already? i'm confused...
4.21.03 @ 11:49a
Evidently Next Weekend has staked out its own little plot of Intrepid Territory.
4.21.03 @ 11:51a
i've tasted the arrogant bastard -- oh, and the ale, too!
very tasty stuff. but, ladies, be careful about hollering, "i'd like an arrogant bastard, please" lest you find yourself getting hit on by an over-confident jerk.
4.21.03 @ 11:53a
Kinda like yelling out "I'd like a Dead Guy" (meaning Rogue Dead Guy beer).
4.21.03 @ 12:04p
Or a Doggy Style.
Actually, one of the beers that I was going to put on my list (but the Bitter beat it out) was Flying Dog's Road Dog, their Scotch Porter.
That's a damn nice beer, but Flying Dog is a little more widely known than some of the ones I listed and I wanted to try to introduce people to beers that they might not have heard of before.
4.21.03 @ 1:07p
I'm shy. I don't even like asking for a Strawberry Blonde.
4.21.03 @ 1:27p
Beer and the Sapphic Subtext. Nice.
I've gotta find a good way to pay for a trip East so I can try one of those super-hopped beers. Most of the IPAs and Bitters I've had around here don't cut it. I'm with you, Erik -- the best stuff has to be had in its native environs.
A beer should be fun to order. Example: There's just not much joie de vivre in mumbling, "Another Bud Light, here." Compare that with "Gimme another bit of Ol' Nasty!" (Chocolate Porter, Richbrau, Richmond, VA) Good beer should make you blush twice; once when ordering, again upon imbibing.
4.21.03 @ 1:35p
Good beer should make you blush twice; once when ordering, again upon imbibing.
Russ, that's beautiful.
I agree.. it's gotta be fun. It's one of the reasons I like Gritty McDuff's. It's fun to say.
Most of Rogue's stuff is wonderfully named: Dead Guy, Yellow Snow, Old Crustacean.
McNeill's Slopbucket or Old Ringworm.
4.21.03 @ 3:20p
Skullsplitter is fun too.
I love creative beer names. Although I try not to buy beer based entirely on the name because the one time I did that (Fat Weasel. How could I turn it down?) it was awful.
4.21.03 @ 4:31p
I tried to buy Fort McHenry Ale once, but they were out of it.
4.21.03 @ 4:32p
It would be especially funny if they carded you and got your name before bringing the beer.
4.22.03 @ 12:21p
Russ, Erik, you crack me up with your hop passion.
4.22.03 @ 12:48p
Hops are important!
Did you know that hops make you dream more? You can make dream pillows stuffed with hops, and it gives you more vivid dreams.
Apparently some people don't like to use them, though, because it makes their dreams too vivid.
Oh, don't underestimate the magic of hops.
4.22.03 @ 12:57p
Hops also taste kinda, well, unpleasant.
4.22.03 @ 1:26p
Not if used effectively.
In fact, in most beer, what you're tasting is the blend of hops and malt. The reason that beers taste the way they do is primarily because of hops and the combination thereof.
Some beers, though, I agree, just don't have a very effective combination of hops and it makes the beer terribly bitter, and not very nice to taste.
But that's why we don't drink those.