There’s an attitude among beer nerds (snobs?) that big equals bad. If I can get your beer at the 7-11, it’s just toilet water with a pretty label. This is often true and that’s why beers from evil, giant multi-national beer conglomerates were not included in the 40 Beers 40 Nights list. That gets tougher as big companies dress up brands to fool you and InBev (Anheuser Busch) buys breweries like Goose Island and Elysian. However, it’s not always true. Some of the breweries that started the “craft beer movement” have become major independent corporations with huge distribution arms while still brewing delicious beverages.
I live in New York City and that makes it easy for me to find a wide variety of beers. I've learned that if there is something I want a store in some hipster neighborhood or some weirdo on the internet will have it. Not everyone is so lucky. In some places Sierra Nevada is as crafty as it gets and that’s just fine because Sierra Nevada still makes really good beer.
That’s what this week is about. It’s about the breweries a lot of people have written off for being too big when instead we should be thanking them for reminding us that not all beer has to be Coors. It’s about the breweries that are putting quality beers in stores across the country that everyone can buy. For each brewery, I tried to pick a beer that shows these breweries are still trying new things and still have something to offer beside the flagship style for those who like to be a little more adventurous.
Wednesday – Smoked Porter With Vanilla Bean – Stone Brewing Company (Porter 5.9%) – You can buy Stone’s Arrogant Bastard at a gas station on the interstate and if the situation presents itself you should seize the opportunity. This "limited edition" (whatever that means) winter porter was picked out for me by a friend and it’s been sitting in my cabinet since December. But with two days left in the season, now seemed like a good time to drink it. If I have learned one thing during this experiment, it’s that I like porters more than I thought.The smoke and vanilla tastes in this beer came through well and even though it was a 22 ounce, I had no problem finishing it all since it is relatively low ABV. I probably would have never picked this out on my own, so I’m glad I someone else did.
Thursday – Bigfoot Ale – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Barleywine 9.6%) – This is another “winter” beer and it definitely warms your core. Barleywine is always strong and intense so no surprise that one bottle of this beer left me asleep on the couch with Netflix cycling through episodes of “Parks and Recreation”. Bigfoot Ale starts off sweet and hoppy then hits you with a pretty boozy finish. I am just starting to get into this style. So far, I like it and am curious to try some other examples. I wish I had bought two bottles so I could age one for a couple of years.
Friday – Breakfast Stout – Founders Brewing Company (Stout 8.3%) – Perhaps Founders doesn'tbelong on this list. I can always find this beer and several other Founders styles in any store I walk into. Maybe that’s because I am actively looking for it. It didn't crack the top 25 on the American Brewers’ Association list of biggest craft breweries by volume. In retrospect, I wish I had given this spot to Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale which is also from Michigan and comes from a brewery that is 7th on that very same list. Not that I regret drinking the Breakfast Stout which is absolutely on my top 10 list of favorite beers. It is simply the best representation of the style I have ever had. The coffee and chocolate flavors come through so nicely that I can see myself actually drinking this with breakfast. Maybe I will.
Saturday – Palo Santo Marron – Dogfish Head Brewery (Brown Ale 12%) – Breweries like SamAdams and Seirra Nevada started the craft beer movement. Dogfish Head took it to the next level. 60 Minute IPA is the beer everyone has had. I went with one I had never even heard of. It wasn't until I got home that I realized this brown ale has a 12% ABV. Good thing it was a Saturday night. Aged in some sort of rare Paraguayan wood, Palo Santo Marron (Translation: Holy Tree Brown) pours very dark and thick. It has a smoky, sweet, almost caramel taste combined with the obvious alcohol taste. It’s hard to mask 12%. It tastes and feels much more like a strong stout than a brown ale. This is a sipping beer and I’m not really sure how I will finish my four-pack.
Monday – Brooklyn Blast! – Brooklyn Brewery (Double IPA 8.4%) – In New York City, parties with an open bar have Bud Light, Heinekin and then a Brooklyn selection for those who want something good or for those who want to hold something that says “Brooklyn” on it. Nothing from Brooklyn belongs in the same sentence as those other two beers, but their flagship selections aren't anything to go crazy over either. In fact, Brooklyn Brewery lags far behind it’s younger Brooklyn neighbor Six Point when it comes to the quality of its year-round offerings. Still, when Brooklyn is on, it’s on. Local 1, Local 2 and Cuvee’ Noir are spectacular. I had never tried Brooklyn Blast! This is in part due to the fact that its name contains an exclamation point. That aside, this is a surprisingly solid Double IPA. It’s a little bitter, but it belongs in the conversation with other widely-available top notch DIPAs.(!)
Tuesday – Rebel Rouser – Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) (Double IPA 8.4%) – Sam Adams epitomizes everything I said about breweries getting too big to be considered good. To be fair, it deserves a lot of the heat it takes. Boston Lager is like Starbucks coffee. It’s fine but you’ll find something better and more interesting across the street. But like Starbucks it was groundbreaking. Starbucks was mass-produced good coffee in a time of Folgers. Boston Lager was mass-produced good beer in a time where options were limited. Sam Adams was the first brewery I felt any loyalty toward. In the early 2000s, I’d always go back to college with a 12 pack of their seasonal lager. I still buy Summer Ale if only for nostalgia. As the industry boomed, Sam Adams stayed stagnant. Every once in a while, they put out a winner, but why mess with what’s working? Sam Adams is the top selling craft beer in the country by a mile. They don’t have to get creative to make money. But the Rebel series launched last year shows they still have a couple of tricks up their sleeve. The Rebel IPA is a solid every day IPA. The Rebel Rouser is a very solid second-tier Double IPA. It's crisp with a pleasantly bitter finish that lingers a bit. I have a list of beers that I’ll buy six packs of just to have when I’m looking for something satisfying and refreshing, but not overly fancy. I'm happy to discover this belongs on that list.
Lagunitas, my favorite of the “too big to be cool” breweries is not on this list only because I drank its Cappuccino Stout last week. It pained me not to include Goose Island, but now that it’s owned by InBev, I just can’t get excited about it.
Next Week: Is it too early for witbier?