Monday, September 10, 2007

Ten Beers I Go Back To Again and Again

This list does not exactly comprise my top ten favorites, although it's close. If it did then certain really spectacular beers, like Fuller's 1845, Chimay Grande Reserve, Old Rasputin's Russian Imperial Stout, or several of the fabulous beers from the Founder's Brewery in Grand Rapids, MI would be on here. But those are too expensive or (for me) too inaccessible to be regulars. Rather, this list is of the ten beers that I find myself going back to time and again. They're consistently good and readily available, at least at my locale.

There are some beers that could have been on this list—notably some of the offerings from the Samuel Smith brewery. But they come in clear bottles and the CBR is officially boycotting all beers that come in clear bottles. That is a rant for another posting.

So without further ado, here are ten of my old friends:

Guinness Extra Stout—A classic. This beer is black and very assertive with roasted grain, coffee, and molasses on the palate. It's rich, tangy, well balanced. Great. Like all ales, this should not be drunk too cold. This is the foreign export extra stout version, not the more watery draft version. I like the draft version with its nitrogen pour and creamy head, but it's just a totally different animal. To my tastes, this wins hands down.

Fuller's London Pride Pale Ale— An incredibly well balanced beer. I think that for me this represents the quintessential example of a British pale ale. Smooth, not overly hoppy or overpoweringly malty. Classic British flowerly hop presence. Perfectly balanced and every sip a pleasure. Incredibly good.

Fuller's London Porter—This beer blows me away; I can hardly believe how good this is. This very dark brown (not black) beer starts with slightly thick mouthfeel that leads to a creamy, slightly roasted, slightly bitter but perfectly balanced follow-through of porter perfection. Bittersweet chocolate, coffee, and I catch a touch of licorice. The first time I tried this, I had a Fuller's London Pride and the London Porter in the same evening (12 Aug 2002) and I have never tasted two such great beers together, ever.

Tyranena Bitter Woman IPA—You may not be able to get this fabulous beer where you are. It's brewed here in Wisconsin and I love it. A very complex malt palate (the brewery lists 2-row, Vienna, Carapils, Wheat, Caramel malts in the grain bill) is supported by a very assertive but absolutely clean bittering. Citrus and pine notes prevail on the nose and the palate. An outstanding American IPA (India Pale Ale). Get it if you can!

J.W. Dundee's Honey Brown Lager—Mildly sweet, distinctive honey finish, mildly malty, and fairly low hop bitterness. Nice rich brown color. Smooth and infinitely quaffable. I have drunk a lot of this and I keep coming back for more. It is reasonably priced to boot.

Sleeman Original Dark—To my taste this is a dead ringer for Newcastle. In fact, it more often tastes the way Newcastle should taste, since it seems nigh unto impossible to get a fresh bottle of Newcastle. Sleeman, on the other hand, is brewed on contract right here at the La Crosse City Brewery, so I have an easy time getting it fresh. It's a brown ale, slightly nutty with nice caramel and a hint of molasses. Great.

Young's Double Chocolate Stout—Made with cocoa and chocolate malt (hence the double chocolate in the title) this is a silky, smooth, dessert-style beer. Very low hop bittering. It should not be consumed too cold—if you start it on the cold side it will get much better as it warms up. This beer should not, repeat NOT, be drunk with a meal. It's totally ruined by food. Drink it by itself or with a rich dessert.

Samuel Adams Cream Stout—This is not as sweet as I would expect from a cream stout. The roasted and coffee notes are pronounced, the chocolate less so. Starts almost tart when very cool, but sweetens as it warms. Nice hefty mouthfeel and a perfect malt and hop bittering balance. This is widely available and, at least in my locale, can often be had on sale for a very good price.

Samuel Adams Boston Ale—Note this is the Boston Ale, not the Boston Lager. The Boston Lager is okay—the Boston Ale is really yummy! This ale stands in the British style; it is decidedly malty, with the hop presence perfectly balanced. This beer is slightly fruity, but only mildly estery so it is more tame than some British ales. A rich mahogany in the glass with a nice stable head. This is hard for me to find locally, but when I travel I try to grab a six pack. I come back to it again and again, which is why it's on this list.

Goose Island India Pale Ale—I have not generally been a fan of the Goose Island products. Neither the Honker's Ale nor the Hexnut Ale from this Chicago microbrewery do a thing for me. Some years ago I somewhat reluctantly bought a six-pack of the India Pale Ale because it was on sale and I had never tried it. Wow! This medium bodied beer has a slightly thick mouth feel. The first sip shouts, Hops! The strong grapefruit notes indicate that there are almost certainly Cascade hops here, but probably at least two other varieties as well bringing a pleasing complexity. The finish is markedly bitter, but with a nice balance of malt and a very slight sweetness. Great!

Please share some of your own favorites in the Comments. What beers do you go back to time and again?


Mk0101 said...

Have you made a clone of Guinness Stout yet? I am planning on brewing an Irish Stout in preparation fro St. Patrick's day. Still finalizing my recipe.

Matt said...

I'll add a few to the list:

Corsendonk Abbey Ale - A bit cheaper than the true trappists and quite tasty. Everybody loves it when you pop the cork as well.

Weihenstephaner Original Lager - An excellent malty lager, I much prefer this to the more widely available Lowenbrau when I can get it.

The rest of your list is yummy to me and includes most of my regulars. I'm still looking for a good, widely available Scottish Ale but I haven't hit the jackpot yet. Maybe I'll just have to brew my own!

By the way, great website and I look forward to reading more!

Keith said...

My three regular friends:
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Yes, it's expensive, but I find I only drink one or two at a time. I buy it by the case to save money. This is my carrot at the end of the work week. It's a bonus that this is one of the few beers my wife will drink with me.
Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout. I treat myself to this black, viscous goodness every once in a while. I prefer Stone's version of this style, but I can't get it here in KS. (I did have my bro bring me a case from DC once.)
Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout. A tad on the lighter side for imperial stouts, I think. Significantly sweeter, and a nice change every now and then.

My less regular friends:
Oskar Blues Old Chub. I can't even get it here in KS, but I have a buddy who makes frequent trips to CO. Another beer my wife will enjoy with me.
Oskar Blues Dale Pale Ale. I'm not really a pale ale guy; but, dang, this one's good.
Great Divide St. Brigid Porter. Just recently tried this for the first time and it immediately won my affection and loyalty.
Meantime London Porter. Way too expensive except for special occasions, but this has to be the best porter I've ever had in my life.

PalmHQ said...

Hey Mk0101,

I haven't made many "clone" recipes, but here's one that several of my friends thought was as good as Guinness (that was an exaggeration):

4 lbs. IronMaster Irish stout hopped extract
2 lbs. Munton and Fisons light dry malt extract
1/2 lb. roasted barley
1/2 cup chocolate malt

Steep speciality grains as usual. Fermented at 66 deg F with Nottingham dry yeast. At exactly two months after start of fermentation I served this at our annual Feast of the Assumption party at church (08/20/06) and it was SPECTACULAR!

Matt, I love the Weihenstephaner too. I'm going to do a posting on lagers very soon. As for Scottish ales, the Belhaven is wonderful, but the best I've had is the Dirty Bastard from Founder's Brewery. See the review coming soon.

Keith, thanks for the great reviews! Glad to find another Old Rasputin lover. What a hearty woman your wife must be to share that with you ;o). I'll be looking for your other picks.

Keith said...

Thanks, David. With your list as inspiration I headed to the liquor store tonight (I'm on vacation, so I'm doing some extracurricular beer drinking... :-) I could only find the Guinness Extra Stout and the Goose Island India Pale Ale. I had always blown of the Extra Stout because Guinness draught is a tad to dry for me, but I REALLY enjoyed the Extra Stout. It's not as dry; in fact, I found it comparable to Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout, which I was drinking in tandem with the Extra Stout. The latter is a tad drier, a bit punchier, and it has a more generous mouth-feel. I think Extra Stout has usurped SS Imperial Stout's position and I can now join you in your boycott of beer in clear bottles. (SS Imperial Stout was my only weakness in that regard.) Tomorrow I try the GI India Pale Ale...

chestertonian said...

Guinness sold in America -- or at least the Guinness sold where I live, in Springfield, Ill. -- is no longer brewed in Ireland. It is brewed in Canada.

I felt highly cheated when I read that (it's right on the can or bottle). I'm sorry, but if it's not brewed at St. James Gate, it's not Guinness.

Goose Island Pale Ale is available on hand pump at the Goose Island brewpub in Chicago. They always have eight to a dozen of their beers on tap at any given time.

Some of my faves?
Anything I brew myself, of course! I don't have much time for it, but I try to brew at least three or four times per year.

Anything brewed by Nathan Allen. He lives in the Twin Cities and does all the homebrewing for the annual Chesterton conference. Mmmmm-good.

Anything by Bell's. In Kalamazoo, Michigan. Best commercially available beers I have ever tasted. Owner Larry Bell uses all his old homebrew recipees, and to this day he does not filter his beer.

Summit Pale Ale. St. Paul, Minnesota. I got locked in their brewerey once. No I am not kidding. :-)

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Good any time, but especially good with bacon and eggs.

Ayinger Maibock. Hard to find, but worth if it you can find it. In heaven, the beer probably tastes like this.

Keith said...


I drank Sierra Nevada Pale Ale exclusively for years. I wouldn't know what it's like with bacon and eggs, but man is it good with popcorn!

Bells makes some hardcore beers! Have you had the Java Stout? I couldn't stomach it. Tasted like it was half beer, and half burnt coffee that had been left to sit in the sun for two weeks. Seriously, it was so bad, I wonder if I got a bad bottle. Bell's Third Coast Ale is a hardcore beer. I almost couldn't get over the licorice flavor, but by the time I had sipped my way to the end, it had won me over.

Jeff Miller said...

Since some of your selection match my own tastes I will have to check out your other suggestions.

Andrew M. Fanco said...

I see you left off both Stroh's and Blatz. I question your sanity and intelligence.

thomas tucker said...

Where are all the German beers?
What do you think of the Mexican beers?
What do you think of Fat Tire Amber Ale?

DJ said...

Finally, someone using the Internets in the service of mankind!

Pete Bogs said...

Youngs and Sam Smiths are good stouts... Rogue makes some good dark brews... Mackeson is good...

glad you put Guinness at #1... there's no finer! though the hard-to-find Beamish gives it a run for its money!


Skyminder said...

I just found your blog because of Mark Shea's blog. It was a happy discovery and I've now put a link to your blog on mine. Praise God for the gift of Ale.

Skyminder said...

I also really like an African Amber beer I found in Seattle called Mac 'N Jack's African Amber. It's very good but I'm not sure you can get it anywhere else. Also I like a good Blue Moon for a Hef.

Papa-Lu said...

Ah Guiness... the Breakfast of Champions as a friend calls it.

Thomas Tucker: I've had Fat Tire - I liked it OK, but Amber Ale is probably my favorite type of beer, so I'm biased. As for Mexican beers, I find they're good with food (especially, of course Mexican food), but not for drinking on their own. Dos Equis makes a darker beer that I always order at Mexican restaurants that have it (which is nearly all of them).

As for my faves:
Erdinger and Tucher makes great Weiss beers. I discovered these in college. Erdinger is my favorite, it's a litte lighter and citrusy, while Tucher is heavier and bubblier, but both are outstanding. Both brands make darker beers that I remember as being good, but I haven't had them as much as the lighter ones.

I'm not a fan of their regular stuff or their fruity junk (Berry weiss? ewww), but Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and Summer Wheat are both surprisingly good. We had Summer Wheat with chili this weekend and it was heavenly. I could have drank a six pack.

When on a budget, I like to go with Berghoff dark. It tastes way more expensive than the $5 per 6-pack I usually get it for.

JAMAWG said...

Arrogant Bastard Ale, by Stone Brewing Co.

First off, it's a truly great ale. (Beer Advocate rates it a 90, but it really does taste terrific.)

Second: Any ale that tells me right on the label - "It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth" gets my vote.

Third: my wife says it's named for me. I doubt that but...

I got to this site via Mark Shea also. I will be back!

chestertonian said...

Here is the link from Shea's blog:

Keith: bacon, eggs, cheese, and bread, washed down with beer, is known as the Four Men Feast, as it is featured in the novel by Hilaire Belloc, The Four Men. It is a huge ritual, as the four epynomous companions are about to part ways for ever. The bacon and eggs must be cooked together, "so as to form a commonality in the one dish," stuff like that.

There should also be a lot of smoking. And yeah, Sierra Nevada goes very, very well with it.

And with popcorn too!

Olivier said...

How Shocking !!!
First, great idea to post on this.
But, but... I'm sure you don't know the ones you've omitted.
Did you ever drink The Maredsous 10°, or still best maybe if possible the Rochefort 8° ? (both real trappist ones)
And more strong, very solid but very rare (one must go at the trappist monastery to get them) Westvleteren ! (between the 10° and the 12° I balance)

Ok for the Guinness Stout but I think all lagers fall before such wonderful, fully catholic beers !

(And, yes, I'm belgian. At least so far as that country exists. But anyway, try those beers ! (brewed by monks) - there are also very valuable abbey beers which are'nt trappist, such as Orval or more common : Leffe, without forgeting Grimbergen...)

Rob H said...

Bristol Brewing Companies Double Ipa (Colorado Springs). 11.4% alcohol content. Delicious!

eramlow said...

Hi - Does anyone know of a beer made without barley/hops?
I acquired a taste for beer at the same time I found out I was allergic to barley. I got emergency room sick from Hops Bar and Grill best Barley beer...
Is any other grain a good substitute for barley? Would it still be considered beer?

Don said...

These days I find myself drinking mostly Stone beers: Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone IPA, or Ruination IPA.

When I can get it I love Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye IPA.

Then there's the seasonal that I wait for every year: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

When I'm in the mood for something less hoppy (not often) I like Unibroue's La Fin du Monde.

That's enough writing, I need to go open another beer.

Eric said...

I think you guys have a heckuva niche here. I hope you develop it. Thanks for your efforts.

CrimsonCatholic said...

I have refused to touch a drop of Sam Adams beer since the "Sex for Sam" promotion, in which two contestants had a session of coitus interruptus (interruption courtesy of New York's Finest) in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

It was such a disgusting combination of pornography and sacrilege that I have since refused to give them another dime.

As my recommendations for replacements, I'll nominate Belhaven Scottish Ale (in honor of Matt) and Abita Purple Haze (in honor of my Cajun homeland).

CrimsonCatholic said...

Oh, and Pyramid Hefeweizen is good, if you like that sort of thing.

Will Cubbedge said...

I am with crimsoncatholic. I remember Samuel Adams making a good beer, but I haven't tasted it in six or seven years. Not only did they fund that crap, but they defended Opie and Anthony when it hit the fan.

About that time, I moved to D.C. and fell in love with the hopsey beers of my grandfathers' generation, in particular Ballantine Ale.

Due to my waistline, though, it's light beers mostly (I know, yuck, but it beats having no beer. And I like beer too much for there to be no beer.)


Shawn said...


Excellent blog theme!!! I do not write as much on beer, wine, and other spirits as I should and this blog has got me motivated to put together my "ready ten" if you will. I hope to post it sometime before the end of the month if I find the time and motivation to finish it.

As far as Sam Adams goes, it is not bad but my usual modus opperandi is to avoid all American and Japanese beer. I have my reasons for this and on occasion a microbrew will make it through to my "acceptable domestics" list (basically the loophole to my "no American beer" rule) but Sam Adams is on the list of "acceptable domestics" or at least it was until the incident Crimson spoke of.

I am no prude (not by any stretch whatsoever) but it struck me as both tacky and disrespectful on a natural level what they did (and an abomination on the spiritual one). I have not had a Sam Adams since but thanks to my normal drinking protocol, it is not as if I was missing anything I would seriously lament anyway.

PalmHQ said...

Wow! Lots of great comments here.

Sounds like Samuel Adams is in the doghouse--I'll check it out some more, but hey that's a perfectly valid use of CBR, if a particular brewery offends Catholic sensibilities then we'll whack 'em for it here. That'd be a shame, but as shawn says one can easily fill in that gap if necessary.

Mexican beers? Yup, we'll get there.

German beers? Absolutely! Heavenly.

And gluten-free beers? The mention piqued my curiosity (I've seen 'em on the shelf but never tried any.) Coming up in a post this week.......

David Hart said...

Very Good brews
South Shore Brewery's Nut Brown Ale
Bell's Porter
Great Northern Porter

Good cheap brew
Huber Bock - no it is not that great but it is still a heck of lot better than lager

papist said...

To read youse guys, one would think that there is NO beer west of the Missippi. Try any of the beers from Big Sky brewery, but especially the ipa, the barley wine, and Ivan the Terrible Russian Stout. (What? Can't get these at your local Piggley Wiggley? Well I can't get most of them locally either. It takes a pilgrimage to Missoula for most, but in a pinch I will settle for Moose Drool, the unofficial beer of Montana. But I digress.) I agree with the ban of ANY beer from Sam Adams. I would rather drink low-carb light beer for life rather than contribute to the cofiers of that Boston brewery.