The singularity holding the universe of craft beer together is personal preference. We wouldn’t have a craft beer industry without the fearless pioneers who stood up to the group-think of mass-produced American Beers and began to make their own beer that tasted the way they liked their beer to taste. It is important to know your own tastes so you can work to refine or expand them. These beers are my five favorite beers, my go-tos, beers that never disappoint.
These choices are my personal opinions, and I can’t guarantee that you’ll like them, but it is helpful in understanding what I like and where I am coming from when I write about beer. These beers are all time-tested favorites that I’ve had many times. They are not my favorite beers for a particular moment; they are my favorites for any moment. I know I’ll always be happy with my choice when I open a bottle of any of them. Let’s get into the list!
Pliny the Elder (link)
This double IPA from Russian River Brewing is probably the best-smelling beer I’ve ever had the joy of experiencing. It’s an obvious choice for this list; I will rarely pass over a chance at a pour or bottle of this sublime elixir. It has everything that I love in a big double IPA: a blend of fruity, citrusy, and resinous hops, a strong malt backbone, and a luxurious mouthfeel, and at 8%ABV it doesn’t have the wallop of some of the bigger double/imperial IPAs. In this case you can believe the hype, Pliny is really one of the elite American craft beers.
Sierra Nevada’s winter seasonal release is not full of the roasted malts or dosed with spices like so many other holiday brews are. Instead, the pioneers of the pale ale offer a fresh-hopped IPA that is slightly different each year. It is always redolent with the piney and citrusy hops that Sierra Nevada is known for with a lively carbonation and a subtle sweetness that provide a launching pad for the intense hop flavors and aromas. Sierra Nevada recommends drinking it within 180 days of it being bottled, and I like to hang onto bottles of this well past the wintery days and into spring.
Stone Brewing Co’s IPA turns 10 this year, and it has long been my favorite regularly available beer. The beer is over 100 IBUs, but it remains well under 8%ABV. It is surprisingly drinkable, almost refreshing, and the big hop punch keeps you coming back for more. You might balk at the $15+ price-tag for a six-pack, but this is the perfect beer to have when you’re only having one; it’s rich, satisfying, and it begs to be savored. If you ever have the opportunity to try the double dry hopped versions offer on tap then you are in for something really special.
Allagash White (link)
A beer doesn’t have to be a hop-bomb for me to love it, and this traditional Belgian-style Wit is my favorite wheat beer. Belgian white ales have become a very popular style, and they are great beers to offer someone new to craft beer. The Allagash version has a crisp and refreshing wheat character, and the coriander is more forward in the flavor than most other white ales while the orange peel lends a more subtle note to the background. It might cost more than Blue Moon, but you can obviously taste the difference (and the Allagash is real craft beer.)
Jack D’Or (link)
A new addition to my top-5, this “saison Americain” from the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project defies classification. It is dry, lively, and pale like a Belgian saison, but it is hopped like a bitter using a mix of European and American hops. It is light bodied and refreshing but also malty and complex. It is, in a word, delicious; I can’t seem to get enough of it. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of Pretty Thing’s unique brews and this one is my favorite of their regular production beers. However, Jack D’Or’s place on this list is already in jeopardy from the seasonal A Field Mouse’s Farewell which I love dearly but decided I needed a few more bottles under my belt before I could include it here. Call it an honorable mention.
That’s it for the first edition of The Fav-Five list, though it can and will change at any time as my palate changes or I discover new wonderful beers. What are your thoughts on my picks?