Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

December 16, 2008

Beer Diary:

Is This Year Over Yet?

Suicide at this time of year is trite, so let’s instead spend time with our insane families and peruse end-of-the-year lists.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Now that we’re getting closer to the end of the year, we’ve got all kinds of things to look forward to. You know, the winter solstice, the beginning of real winter, crap-sandwich pro football games, prolonged forced closed-quarters interaction with family members who are clearly infuckingsane … and end-of-the-year lists. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list, but I don’t quite understand why we have to wait until the end of the year to compile them. How about a list in, say, June. You know, a 5/12-of-the-year list.

One list that caught my attention was BeerAdvocate‘s “All-Time Top Beers on Planet Earth” list in the most recent issue of their magazine. When it comes to BeerAdvocate’s rankings, there’re a couple things you need to keep in mind. First, since all of their content is user-generated, we don’t exactly know who it is that is ranking and reviewing all this beer. They could be highly educated beer experts, people who think Coronoa is “exotic,” folks who use the site as a social network, marketing employees for Anheuser-Busch, or just plain crazies. It’s probably a rich tapestry of all of the above and then some, which means you’ve gotta take at least some of those rankings with a grain of salt.

Second, BeerAdvocate’s membership has become so huge now—it passed 100,000 users early in ’08—that the beers that enjoy the larger distribution areas are going to get more coverage—and more reviews—than brews with smaller target audiences. You’d think this would mean a handful of grade-A reviews for an otherwise obscure beer would propel it to the top of the list, but BeerAdvocate uses a statistical system that counter-weights rankings by number of reviews. So a brew with tons of above-average reviews will rank higher than a brew with only five—but all A-plus-plus—reviews. That means as the BeerAdvocate membership grows in a presumably uniform pattern geographically, the more widely available brands are going to creep past beers that are only available in, say, Hawaii. Hence the disappearance of Surly Brewing, last year’s top-ranked brewery, whose brews you can only get in the Minneapolis area and select bars in Chicago.

Like I said before, take this list with a grain of salt. But here it is, with what I think of each entry (in the off chance that anybody out there cares):

1. Trappistes Rochefort 10
Quadrupel, 11.3 percent ABV
Brasserie de Rochefort (Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémay, Belgium)
That took a goddamn long time to type. I’ve had this beer at least once, and I honestly cannot remember anything distinctive about it. Needless to say, I don’t agree with its numero uno ranking.

2. Stone Russian Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial Stout, 10.8 percent ABV
Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA)
Stone actually landed in the number one spot on the top breweries list, and I would say that they are worthy holders of the title. However, I’ve never had a chance to sample their imperial stout.

3. St. Bernardus Abt 12
Quadrupel, 10.5 percent ABV
Brouwerij St. Bernanardus NV (Watou, Belgium)
I’ve had this brew several times, and although it is a great beer, there are far better Belgians out there. So I’m a little perplexed as to why this brew scored so high, other than the fact that it’s pretty widely available.

4. Founders Breakfast Stout
American Double/Imperial Stout, 8.3 percent ABV
Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI)
Damn right this is in the top five. An unbelievable beer, as I’ve already noted. In fact … hang on while I go grab one from the fridge.

5. Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
Doppelbock, 6.7 percent ABV
Brauerei Aying, (Aying, Germany)
Meh. Spaten Optimator is better. Ayinger does come with a plastic goat ornament, though.

6. Dreadnaught IPA
American Double/Imperial IPA, 9.5 percent ABV
Three Floyds Brewing Company (Munster, IN)
Fearing the collapse of society, I recently went out and bought a 12-pack case of Dreadnaught bombers. (That put a dent in Ma and Slick's wallet.) It’s a miracle I haven’t drank all of it yet. I like to exercise what we big boys like to call “self control.”

7. Storm King Stout
Russian Imperial Stout, 9.1 percent ABV
Victory Brewing Company (Downington, PA)
Victory is an amazing, highly underrated brewery, and Storm King is an amazing beer. I’m glad it made the list.

8. Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Hefeweizen, 5.4 percent ABV
Brauerei Weihenstephan (Freising, Germany)
If any hefe could be ranked in the top 10, it’d have to be this one. The world’s oldest brewery still makes damn great beer.

9. Two Hearted Ale
American IPA, 7.0 percent ABV
Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI)
Despite my IPA rankings, I have no qualms seeing this ranked as the highest straight IPA in the list. It’s a damn good beer.

10. 90 Minute IPA
American Double/Imperial IPA, 9.0 percent ABV
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Milton, DE)
I don’t understand the fascination with this beer. It’s a solid double IPA, but I wouldn’t call it outstanding. It’s also probably the most widely distributed double out there …

11. Stone Ruination IPA
American Double/Imperial IPA, 9.0 percent ABV
Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA)
I must say I’m not the biggest fan of this one, although a lot of folks love it. Stone is a great brewery, but I’ve always finished my bombers of Ruination with a bad taste in my mouth. Personally I wouldn’t rank it in the upper echelons of doubles.

12. Hopslam Ale
American Double/Imperial IPA, 10.0 percent ABV
Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, MI)
This beer is frickin’ wild. All hop flavor—and tons of it, at that—with next to no hop bitterness. Larry Bell is an evil genius.

13. La Fin Du Monde
Tripel, 9.0 percent ABV
Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec)
I’ve always thought of Unibroue as a poor man’s Chimay, but that’d still be one rich poor man. This is a fantastic beer, but I wouldn’t say it’s even their best offering. Their Don De Dieu, a wheat triple, is even better, as hard as that is to believe.

14. Aventinus
Weizenbock, 8.0 percent ABV
Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH (Kelheim, Germany)
To me this is one of the most incredible beers in the world. Each sip is a revelation of the brewer’s art at its pinnacle. If there isn’t at least one Aventinus in the fridge at all times, I can’t sleep at night.

15. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Russian Imperial Stout, 9.0 percent ABV
North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg, CA)
I’ve had this once, and I wasn’t all that pleased with it. (Nigel wasn’t either). I’d need to try it a few more times to officially poo-poo it. Or … what’s the opposite of poo-poo? Pee-pee?

16. Duvel
Belgian Strong Pale Ale, 8.5 percent ABV
Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV (Breendonk-Puurs, Belgium)
Once again, it’s pronounced DOO-vl, and it’s easily one of the world’s great beers. I’ve got a four-pack in the fridge for Christmas dinner.

17. Stone IPA
American IPA, 6.9 percent ABV
Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA)
A great IPA that earns its right to be in the top 25.

18. Double Bastard Ale
American Strong Ale, 10.0 percent ABV
Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA)
See my comments below for Arrogant Bastard. Or read Nigel’s review.

19. Chocolate Stout
American Stout, 6.0 percent ABV
Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)
Rogue is another one of those awesome breweries that you don’t hear a lot about. Their chocolate is a great stout, but I don’t think it’s even their best beer in a huge lineup just dripping with quality.

20. Hop Rod Rye
American IPA, 8.0 percent ABV
Bear Republic Brewing Company (Healdsburg, CA)
I love my hoppy beers, and I love ’em even more with rye. This a great brew from one of the better California breweries.

21. Tröegs Nugget Nectar
American Amber/Red Ale, 7.5 percent ABV
Tröegs Brewing Company (Harrisburg, PA)
OK, I’m stumped. Never even seen this beer before. But I vow to try it if I ever come across it in the future.

22. Arrogant Bastard Ale
American Strong Ale, 7.2 percent ABV
Stone Brewing Company (Escondido, CA)
Let’s face it: no one actually likes this beer. You don’t lay in bed at night licking your lips, craving this brew, unless you look forward to running ultra marathons. Because that’s what this beer is about: finishing it. It even says right on the bottle: You aren’t going to like this beer. Because you’re not supposed to drink it, you’re supposed to wrestle it until you finish it or stumble away, thankful that your taste buds aren’t burned to a crisp (if, in fact, they aren’t). So, should it be in the top 25 beers in the world? You bet your ass it should.

23. Trappistes Rochefort 8
Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 9.2 percent ABV
Brasserie de Rochefort (Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémay, Belgium)
I’ve also had this one several times, and also have absolutely no memory of how it tasted. It just did not stand out to me. Maybe I’m missing something with this brewery …

24. Shakespeare Stout
American Stout, 6.0 percent ABV
Rogue Ales (Newport, OR)
Another great beer from Rogue, probably better than their chocolate version. I can’t blame anyone for putting this beer where it is in the list.

25. Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue)
Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 9.0 percent ABV
Bières de Chimay (Abbay Notre Dame de Scourmont, Belgium)
World class. If you haven’t had it, something is missing from your life.

And that's the list! Now that we’re done occupying ourselves, that means we have nothing else better to do than think about the impending holidays. And spending all that quality time with (gulp) family. But remember: there’s always beer. Wassail!

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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