Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bill’s Top 10 Beers

Lindsay’s Library of Beloved Brews

“Beer, beer, glorious beer! Fill yourself right up to here.”

– Eugene O’Neill, The Hairy Ape

I like to drink good beer. But I’m not quite a beer snob. And I haven’t ever purchased a slew of expensive equipment in pursuit of the wishful alchemy of home-brewing. No, as an unofficial beer connoisseur, I’d rather leave the brewing to the pros and focus on the joys of imbibing.

I certainly have my share of favorites – subject to change, of course. But I also like to mix them up so as not to get too dependent … ahh, accustomed to … any one brand. It’s important to have a varied line-up (and a pinch-hitter or two) on the beer team.

The favorites listed here are not seasonal specialties, but rather ones that you can get all year long (that is, if your local “packy” carries them at all). Hoppy beer hunting!

1. Ipswich Nut Brown Ale, Mercury Brewing Co., Ipswich, Mass. – All five of their varieties are well-crafted treats, but this slightly malty brown ale is definitely my favorite. In fact, this has been my single favorite beer for several years. It’s not too extreme in any regard, but it has a great overall, full-bodied taste that never seems to get old. [5.5% alcohol by volume (ABV)]

2. Guinness Stout, Guinness Brewing Co., Dublin, Ireland – Predictable? Perhaps, but you can’t beat this old standby. “Guinness is good for you,” indeed! The draught stout is king, though I sheepishly admit to still liking the old-style bottled Foreign Extra Stout, too – even though it’s an entirely different brew to the draught (much higher octane too at 7.5% ABV). I guess it’s a nostalgic thing for me. As for the draught, it is one of life’s true pleasures watching that famed Guinness cascade, anticipating the imminent rich creamy stout satisfaction. An added bonus: if you’re short on food, Guinness is essentially a meal. “Guinness for strength” has always worked for me. [4% ABV]

3. Sawtooth Ale, Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, Colo. – This is one of my more recent discoveries and it has quickly cut to near the top of the list. Left Hand Brewing makes a number of other good beers (Jackman’s Pale Ale, Milk Stout and a surprisingly good JuJu Ginger Beer), but the Sawtooth is my favorite. It’s one of the least hoppy of the hoppy ales on this list. It has a smooth taste with only the subtlest hint of bitterness. Somewhat comparable to Harpoon and Sam Adams’ Boston Ale, but better than both. [4.48% ABV]

4. Hoptical Illusion India Pale Ale, Blue Point Brewing Co., Long Island (Patchogue, N.Y.) – A fairly hoppy I.P.A., though not as much so as Dogfish or Hop Devil. It’s smoother and less bitter than many of the other hoppy beers, yet it is well-carbonated and has a fairly bold full-bodied taste with the slightest hint of citrus. [6.8% ABV]

5. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra I.P.A., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif. – I’ve liked the regular Sierra Nevada Pale Ale well enough for many years, but this new addition to the hip, hoppy-I.P.A. ranks is remarkable. Hints of the familiar Sierra taste are complemented by the addition of a notable hoppy flavor and dryness (not to mention hints of citrus and pine, according to the company’s website). It’s a tasty shot of hops that is less bitter and potent (hop-wise) than some of the other members of the currently trendy hop fest. It’s also worth noting that Sierra Nevada Stout is quite good, too. [7.3% ABV]

6. Dogfish Head 60 Minute I.P.A., Dogfish Head Brewing Co., Milton, Del. – A step more hoppy than Sierra’s Torpedo, this is a full-bodied, strongly hop-flavored brew with just a hint of citrus. The strong flavor can get a little overwhelming after a while, but the first few go down smoothly and are very tasty. [6.0% ABV]

7. Hop Devil, Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, Pa. – The hoppiest of them all? Surely not, but it is among the hoppiest of the favorites here on my list. It has a little more pronounced malt-flavor along with the strong hop component, as well as a surprisingly sweet (relatively speaking, at least) after taste. As the label says, “this devil makes a great companion.” [6.7% ABV]

8. Long Trail Ale, Bridgewater Corners, Vt. – I’ve enjoyed Long Trail since discovering it while in Vermont 15-plus years ago. The signature ale is a smooth, refreshing and tasty German altbier style brew. The brewery’s stronger, year-round Double Bag Ale and the seasonal Harvest (brown ale) and Hibernator (Scottish ale) are also very tasty choices. [4.6% ABV]

9. Harpoon I.P.A., Harpoon Brewery, Boston, Mass. – A little overly heady at times, the company’s flagship I.P.A. is one of the most carbonated brews on this list. But it’s still a fine, fresh-tasting choice and, to my buds at least, much better than the ales of crosstown rival Sam Adams. Another plus is the fact that it’s one of the most widely available beers on this list. Harpoon also makes an excellent – though very hard-to-find – (alcohol-free) root beer. The seasonal Oktoberfest is quite good, too. [5.9% ABV]

10. Bass Pale Ale, Bass Brewers Ltd., England – This is an old classic, long-time favorite that I still enjoy on occasion. Admittedly, it’s on here primarily out of nostalgia, as it was my top beer of choice throughout much of the 1980s and early 1990s. Sadly, it’s not the beer that it was when it was brewed in Burton-Upon-Trent (it’s now owned by the international mega- corporation InBev), but it is one of the smoothest beers on this list. It retains a unique taste, even if not a particularly strong one or one as good as it once was. An old English-style ale with a malty, caramel flavor, the taste is a bit more watery than most and much less heady and with less bite than the other I.P.A.s here. Nevertheless, I do still enjoy a six pack every few months. [5% ABV]

A Few Honorable Mentions

Here are a few I throw into the regular mix every once in a while: Stone Brewing Co.’s Ruination I.P.A. and also their Arrogant Bastard Ale are tasty, very hop-heavy (not to mention unbeatably named) brews; New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Fat Tire Amber Ale is another good brew out of Colorado; and Abita Restoration Pale Ale, though harder to find in these parts, always brings back pleasant memories of fun times in New Orleans. And, while I’m not a huge fan of wheat beer, I do enjoy a Blue Moon Belgian White or a Julius Echter Hef-Weissbier on occasion in the warm weather. Speaking of those hot summer days when a full-bodied, hoppy beer is not necessarily what the palate desires, I’ll always take a Corona Extra or a Red Stripe Lager (my “lite” beers).

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