I’m half German, but I’ve only been to the mother country once, and didn’t drink a drop of hooch. While there, I did attend the Hofbrau House, and heaved an enormous glass of Cola-mixed-with-lemonade heavenward every time the oompa band raised a toast. But that was years ago, and since I’ve been of drinking age for a while now, I’ve decided it’s high time I write about beer.
Part of my inspiration for writing about beer is my discovery of “The Opinionated Beer Page”(tobp.com), an extensive beer blog run by a few guys who love and know beer. If you’re unsure about how much experience these guys have with beer, I’ll just say this – they list beer reviews by country, and there’s over 30 countries listed, excluding the US. They boast around 1400 reviews total. While I don’t agree with all of their reviews, I’ve found the blog quite inspiring, and highly recommend it if you’re a lover of brew. Thus, without further ado, I present my 5 favorite beers alphabetically:
1. Anchor Steam Beer: Even if I wasn’t listing beers alphabetically, I’d probably still list this as number one. I love three things about this beer: One, though it’s strong from tip of the tongue to the back of the throat, it’s not thick or syrupy, and has plenty of carbonation. Too often a beer that’s quite strong like Anchor Steam will also feel a little like molasses, consistancy wise, which I find gross. Second, I love the bitterness of the aftertaste. It’s not a bitterness like that of a pale ale or IPA, but a bitterness more reminiscent of an English Bitter Ale. Further, the lack of floral hoppiness in the aftertaste allows the sweeter, malty taste at the front of the beer to linger… Finally, I love that this is a California brew (SF to be exact). The only complaint I have about this beer is that its strength relegates it to an after-dinner, or with-spicy-meat-dishes beer, so forget about drinking this with fettuccine alfredo unless you want to completely miss out on the buttery subtlety of your noodles.
2. Firestone Double Barrel Ale: This was the first beer of which I ever drank a pint. It was my 21st birthday, and my 3 best friends ordered a pitcher for me. I had no taste for beer, but I loved it. 6 years later, I have a better taste for beer, and I still love it, which is a little odd. It’s odd because I actually don’t care for pale ales, of which DBA is definitely one (English Pale Ale to be exact). I think the reason I like DBA is that the strong hoppy flavor is so well balanced by the caramel malts that I don’t mind the hops so much. This is a beer I’d drink with any dish, from alfredo to albacore to asada. It’s also the ultimate camping beer, and the beer I’ll drink the day my doctor tells me to give up alcohol.
3. Firestone Porter: I feel a little bad putting two Firestone beers on this list, given that the Firestone Brewery is in my home-town, and it makes me sound a little provincial. Still, it’s simply the best-tasting beverage I’ve ever drunk. It’s definitely a porter – dark, thick, sweet – a “potent potable” par excellence. I wish I had a pint beside me so I can do justice in my description of the taste, but alas. In my memory chocolate, creamy caramel, and espresso are foremost in the flavor. To drink this quickly would be a crime.
4. Old Thumper Ale: This beer was originally only available in England, but recently a state-side brewery started brewing it to original specifications and distributing it in the US, which I’m quite thrilled about. This beer is all about the smell. Once poured into the glass, the scent is of freshly sliced granny smith apples, or even sour pears. The ale’s taste is typically English – malty, a hint of creaminess, a stab of bitter at the back – , but what sets this apart from your run of the mill Boddington’s-type bitter is the fruit introduced in the nose and more intimately known on the tongue. It’s almost as if the beer’s maternal grandmother was an amber cider.
5. Sam Adams Octoberfest: To name this beer “octoberfest” is cheating, because it’s so clearly American in origin (the label has red, white, and blue as predominant colors). But every year when September rolls around, I pay full price for a 12 pack the moment I see it back on the cooler shelves; I come home, sit down, pop one open, and taste Fall itself – golden caramel, a hint of spice, the zest of bubbles, and two cheeksful of malt. Hops, you ask? Miles away. Those of stouter mouths and thicker throats may reach for an IPA come autumn, but this beer is king of my fridge till December, when it’s time for Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome.
So, there are my 5 favorite beers, all ales, all with dominant malt, only one with much hops to speak of. I suppose that classifies me as a welter-weight beer drinker. For those of you who prefer lighter lagers or stronger pale ales, I’ll list 4 more beers I enjoy:
1. Session Lager: This is an easy drinking lager with many touches of flavor: a little wheat here, a little hops there, just enough to make it a step beyond anything made by anheiser, miller, michelob, or coors.
2. Kronenberg Blanc: I really shouldn’t even put this on here, because I’ve never seen it anywhere but a confusingly bro-ish sports bar in Edinburgh, Scotland. I drank 2 pints while watching the NFL playoffs on a jumbo tron, surrounded by confused Scots. It’s one of the most dessert-like lagers I’ve tasted – more like candy, or creme soda than beer. If you like wheaty, creamy, and sweet, you’ll love it.
3. Firestone California Pale #31: Firestone again, and for good reason: this is a lighter Pale ale, but there are plenty of hops, and it’s so very drinkable, especially on a hot afternoon when you want strong flavor, but no heaviness in your pale ale. If you ever go wine tasting on the Central Coast of CA, stop off at the Firestone Brewery on the 101 and try some of this beer, the DBA, and the reserve porter. But stay away from the Union Jack Pale Ale. It’s not so good.
4. Stone Ruination IPA: I don’t like or really watch football (except in Scotland, apparently), but even I can tell when a play is executed perfectly. I feel the same way about this beer. The sweet, floral kick at the front of the tongue twists and splits into a flavor razor-wire by the middle, and becomes something like a raging forest fire of hops by the time it’s in your throat. My mouth was almost numb halfway through this beer from the sheer power of the hops. I probably will never choose to drink this again, but I can see that if you like aggressive, unapologetic IPAs, this is the one for you. Just don’t expect to be able to taste anything else for the rest of the night.