So, GQ eh? Well why the hell not? They are a bunch of dudes, dressing well, tossing around money – they have to do a beer thing. Its the new fad in looking cool, right? I mean that’s why you are all here. Of course, GQ is jumping on the bandwagon.
Luckily, for you I don’t believe anything I just wrote. Beer is freaking beer. Anyone can love it – as long as you are 21 (Message/Disclaimer!).
We do not discriminate against anyone throwing out their opinion on beer. We are regular people like you all. In total, we are a lawyer, a development administrator, and a learning assistant brewer at a small brewery. Just regular people. Just regular thoughts about beer.
But, when you put your opinion up on the web, its the rest of our jobs to police it to some extent, by listening, sparking dialogue and trying to build a community opinion. So, lets.
GQ published an article today on their website of the top 50 beers that everyone should try before they die. Important note: its not the Top 50 beers, just 50 beers you need to try. So we keep that in mind in discussion.
The list is teeming with small brewery american ales, epic belgian grog, and even a few mass produced “beers.”
Here is my reaction:
They had to add these 5, and we are damn glad they recognized!
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Orval Trappist Ale
Russian River Pliny the Elder
If you have not had the pleasure of drinking each of these 5 beers, you really need to take action ASAP. These are standards.
Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA rules the category of sweet IPAs and Pliny takes over the bitter category.
Orval is probably the first trappist beer you should try. They make only one beer for a reason – its damn good. Westvleteren 12 is a hard find, but necessary as the world’s most famous beer (thanks Michael Jackson).
Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout should be your first foray into adjunct filled stouts. Its so delicious and almost no one can turn it away. Try your mom, grandma, nephew, or dog – guarantee they like it.
I am so happy to see that they added these beers, and didn’t expect it…..
Alesmith Speedway Stout
Struisse Pannepot Fisherman’s Ale
Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier
If you can find Speedway Stout, buy it and drink it. It does not require aging, its perfect off the shelf. Problem : WA does not have Alesmith. Why? no clue, but I’m perplexed. Similarly, Espresso Yeti is incredible off the shelf. This is probably the best coffee stout out there, especially if you like a flavor explosion as opposed to subtlety.
Struisse’s Pannepot is just incredible. We sampled this beer before taking off for Belgium in March (2006 vintage) and then had some at the famous De Zon in Woesten, Belgium, which was the venue of an amazing bar visit. Its probably the best example of a huge mixing pot of Belgian flavors.
Cantillon’s Iris was one of 8 bottles we purchased at the Cantillon brewery in Brussels. I think its the best choice for this list because it personifies the lambic styling of Belgium.
If you like sausage or anything smoked for that matter – Aecht Schlenkerla is for you. This is the ultimate example of rauchbier. Lucky for us, we can get it almost everywhere in the US.
It kills me to know that GQ had these beers – because I have not and so badly want to…..
Leelanau White Ale
Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Route des epices
Sam Adams Utopias
Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Russian River Beatification
Where to start? This list of rouge ales is so impressive. Alvinne is just an all-around great brewery. Alvinne is at the cusp of progression in Belgian beer, taking a more globally influenced attitude about making beer. We visited the brewery in March and fell in love with everything they make – for some reason I still have not had a Melchio, but I do have 3 rare Oak Aged Podge’s in the cellar.
Dieu Du Ciel is the best of Canada (sorry Unibroue). All their beers are mind boggling, incorporating interesting adjuncts into the wort. This one has escaped me, and its made with peppercorns. Need to try.
Leelanau is a brewing label brewed by Ron Jefferies of Jolly Pumpkin. If you read Notes of a Beer Nerd ever, you know that we love all that he does, and this spiced white ale needs to be obtained.
Utopias is a huge 30%+ monster of “beer” that we would like to try, so that it can be compared to BrewDog’s Sink the Bismark and Nuclear Penguin, which we tried courtesy of Davey at Alvinne.
These last two are the highest on my list. Kentucky Breakfast Stout is supposedly bacon and eggs coated in bourbon – why not? Their selection of Beatification was puzzling and angering at the same time. This means they skipped over more obtainable sour ales from Russian River, such as Consecration, Temptation and Supplication – and went for the only one I cannot obtain in WA. Damn you – but thank you for reminding me to find this beer.
Two quick “wish they would have went another direction” but the brewery should be on the list…..
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
So, I love Great Lakes. Its a familial love too, and i am certainly an apologist. But Dortmunder is just not a great choice. Again, I understand that they are trying to pick “best of” styles, and so Dortmunder is a great lager. But, still….. I would have added Christmas Ale, another incredibly unique beer made by Great Lakes that has a cult following.
Smuttynose got selected as the barleywine on the list. Bad choice. Dogfish Head, Firestone Walker, Mikkeller – all better barleywines. They could keep Smuttynose on here though for their Wheatwine, which is by far and away the best wheatwine I have ever tried.
Any other thoughts on the beers listed on the 50 to try? Leave them below.
52 Weeks: De Zon, Woesten-Vleteren, Belgium
No other place in Belgium to find a fresher Antiek or Struise.
Week 9 of 52 (We are through Week 12 – this one is late)
057 42 20 62
Rank: #2 of 12 (uniqueness gets the boost)
Neighborhood Pub/Time Portal
BEERS ON TAP (at time of visit) —>
De Zon, in a surprisingly not all that uncommon European business practice, has zero beers on tap.
BOTTLE OPTIONS: I don’t know for certain, but experience tells me that neither Brouwerij Deca, nor Struise Brouwers keg their beers. This pub is one block from Deca, and is therefore the unofficial brewery pub. Struise is a brewery with no brewery. They make a large percentage of their brews at Deca. De Zon carries many of each brewery’s offerings in the bottle.
FOOD OPTIONS: Well this is quite humorous, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Read on.
Though visiting In De Vrede and sampling the beers of the legendary Wesvleteren Abbey was without a doubt a top highlight of West Flanders Day, Beer Botter’s experience at De Zon was quite possibly the most hilarious and notable destination of the entire trip. Our experience here will forever live on in infamy.
Woesten is, at most, 8 km from Westvleteren. Struise is, without a doubt, one of Beer Blotter’s favorite breweries of all time. You can do the math, we were REQUIRED to go to De Zon. We knew, however, that the chances it would be open at the time of our attempted visit were very small. In De Vrede, in a stunning display of oddity, opens at the early hour of 10am, and you better believe that we were there when the doors opened. This meant that our foray into West Flanders would, for the most part, be confined to the daylight hours. As we had already discovered earlier in the tip, this is bad news when you are in Belgium and trying to drink beer.
Generally, beer bar owners in Belgium open and close their establishments at will. One could easily go to a bar at 10pm one night, have a great time, attempt to go to the same bar the very next night at the very same time and find that they are closed, completely randomly. This was a subject of much frustration on our trip, but 10pm is a reasonable hour of imbibing, mid-day on a Thursday, not so much.
Our attempts to view both the Saint Bernardus brewery and the Van Eeche brewery in Watou had already failed due to timing, so we were prepared for disappointment when we pulled up to the unassuming bar front in the tiny town of Woesten. Before even trying the door, quite possibly in a move to circumvent potential rejection, we trotted down the street to take a gander at the brewery. It looked much more like a beer distributor than a brewery from the outside. Various unrecognizable beers were stacked up to extreme heights all about the outdoor lot. It was like nothing I’d seen before at a brewery.
We figured we should get a closer look, but simultaneously, as curiosity grew within us, so did bravery, and an attempt at the De Zon door was made. For the love of Black Albert, the door opened and a bright heavenly light led us into the promised-land (promised-land, maybe, but that light thing…I just made that up!)
A rare moment of humor was found in Tim Webb’s guide when he described De Zon as a “Seventies time warp”. Humorous as it is, its god damn true. The inside of this place is small, smoke stained, old as all hell, and full of dog…
Most likely, many dogs have come and gone since this place last had a makeover, but the latest little yapper to frolic amidst De Zon was the first to greet us, after quite a few awkward moments sitting at the bar completely alone. We felt as though we had “broke and entered” into someone’s home and an uncomfortable feeling of not belonging washed over us.
We soon came to realize that we actually were in someone’s home! De Zon, as you can see above, looks like a pub in every way from the outside, once you enter, suspicions arise, and then by the time you leave you wonder how you ever were fooled into any thought to the contrary.
We were finally greeted in Dutch by the pub owner/inhabitant/dog whisperer, a woman in her 70s (or so) that was very kind, but as we came to find out, spoke no English what so ever. Now those of you reading who have never been to Belgium may not think that odd, and believe me, I’m not making note of it because I have expectations that everyone should be able to speak my language, but we were a good handful of days into our trip at this point and this was our very first encounter with someone that spoke absolutely no English. It was weird. I had expected it from the beginning of the trip, but it was still weird.
We fumbled a bit through the ordering process (and actually learned how to accurately pronounce De Struise in Dutch in the process), but we were eventually served beer, and that was an accomplishment of great ecstasy. I really wish you could hear our conversation with this woman in your head like I can. The words “De Struise” were said aloud at least…oh I don’t know…like 10 times each by all parties present. That was about the extent of our communication. We understood “De Struise”, the end. Could be worse things to bond over.
We were kindly served a bowl of nuts to snack on, a bowl full of nuts and…dog hair. I present the food options of De Zon. Yum!
At least we drank well. Bottles enjoyed: Brouwerij Verstraete’s (of Diksmuide, one of our favorite town names, pronounced like male genitalia and wet dirt all smashed together) Papegaei, a Belgian strong pale ale brewed at Deca, Deca’s Vleteren Dark Old Strong Ale, Struise Tsjeeses, a Belgian strong pale ale, and Struise Black Damnation, a Russian imperial stout. All were amazing.
Amidst our beer drinking, two joyous events transpired. First, a trip to the bathroom.
There was one hallway that split off from the bar area that was clearly the only possible home for the bathrooms. After a few steps down the hall it became apparent that the men’s room was behind the door straight ahead. A bit of confusion struck me as I opened the door and found daylight…an outdoor courtyard of sorts was behind the door. Had I misinterpreted the foreign markings for men’s room? Not unlikely, but a quick second glance at the door supported my initial decision.
I allowed the door to close behind me, and it immediately was evident, I was in the “men’s room” after all. Two urinals were fastened to the wall that marked the right hand side border of the patio. Quite possibly the greatest bathroom ever!
Next up, a visit from the perma-smoking co-owner/co-inhabitor/co-whisperer. This was clear not only due to the fact that he was in just as many photos tacked to the walls of the bar as our female host (who was so rudely interrupted from her sit and magazine read at the table directly next to us [awkward!]), but also due to the fact that he was greeted much less jarringly from the shedding dog at our feet.
Soon after his arrival, both hosts slipped through the non-bathroom door in the hallway that let into the house portion of the building. Smoking was soon accompanied by a lover’s quarrel, quite visible and audible through the door that was left wide open for our pleasure. At this point, we tried our very best to make a quick exit, which wasn’t easy, but we escaped relatively unscathed.
Thanks De Zon, you were…a…ma…zing!
That closer look at the brewery that we were earlier distracted from came directly after our departure from De Zon, and after our loss of a single tear out of pure respect for De Zon’s epicness.
The Deca brewery visit was very much worth it. We ended up acquiring some very rare versions of Black Damnation; III (Black Mes) and IV (Coffee Club). These were successfully transported back to The States for future enjoyment. Woesten = Great Success!
Previous Belgian preparation nights have seen Beer Blotter sample Belgian Trappist beers from both Orval and Rochefort. We decided this day that we should sample the remaining three that are available in America: Chimay, Westmalle and Achel.
The Trappist beers are by no means the be-all and end-all examples of Belgian Brewing, but they are important pieces of the puzzle. They are excellent examples of the long, rich tradition of brewing in Europe.
For many, the thought of Belgian beer evokes visions of robe-clad monks using any time not dedicated to worship, to laboring by the brew kettle. The marriage of a holy lifestyle with the meticulous formulation of the most holy of intoxicants. This is a powerful image. All ingredients carefully selected by the hands of the chosen, combined in the fashion overseen by many a generation, for hundreds of years. Weighing out proportions, exacting recipes passed down through generations. Fermentation with yeast strains that have been ever so precisely perfected and kept secret by any means necessary. Continually creating flavors undoubtedly unique.
Even if the flavors experienced don’t make you weak in the knees, which they often do, the deeper, historical experience can move you. In the mid 1800s our ancestors were drinking the same delicious beers that we are tonight. We like the way this makes us feel. It’s a beer tradition unique to a very small part of the world that we feel very fortunate to be able to visit in just a few short weeks.
We started with Chimay, brewed in the Scourmont Abbey in Chimay, Belgium. Chimay seems to be the most widely recognized Trappist brewery here in America, which caused us some surprise when we discovered that it is second to Westmalle in production. Though numbers rarely lie, the flavors of this beer, in comparison to other Belgians we have tried, speak of mass production. Of course, though Beer Blotter may wish it so, not all beers need to be flavor bombs. Chimay’s brewing monks deserves no less respect, after all, it is the Trappist way to use all monetary gains from the production of their products to assist in the advancement of their community, based on Monastic values, and not toward financial profit.
Specifically, we sampled Chimay Premiere (Red Label), which is the lightest of Chimay’s offerings, coming in at 7%. The pour revealed a glowing amber hue with a rocky head that eventually mellowed and disappeared. Some floaty, yeasty bits were found swimming within. The scent out matched the flavor, with a lot of fruitiness to be found such as apricot and pear. Behind that, as it warmed, some metallic and soapy qualities could be detected. There is mild sweetness present on the pallet, and a graininess that is nearly lager like. This is most confusing. Belgian ales rarely have a flavor profile so subdued. Beer Blotter would probably never seek this beer out, but if Chimay Red were the most plebian of craft beers, we’d be living in a much better place.
Our second Trappist brew of the night was from the Trappist Monastery of Westmalle in Malle, Belgium. Their 9.5% Tripel is one of only three beers produced and is often referred to as the best example of a Belgian Tripel available. If we didn’t know that this one was bottle conditioned, we would have learned quickly. The moment the cap was cracked a geyser of foam spilled forth. A monk’s meticulous labor puddled on the table…a sad sight. What remained in the bottle made it to our glasses and shown a cloudy yellow-gold with, paradoxically, very little carbonation. The nose was dominated by banana bread and a little soap at first, but transformed into a very white wine like experience as it warmed. The yeast provided a slight bubble gum presence and the booze was evident. Words like “bright” and “sharp” and “grainy” could be used, which again could be used to describe a light beer with minimal complexity. Pleasant to smell and easy to drink, but the quantity produced seems to have had an effect on the quality. Never the less, you hand me a Westmalle Triple and I will thank you.
The third and final Trappist creation of the night possessed all the exciting complexity that we hope for in a Belgian beer. The Saint Benedictus Abbey of Achel in Hamont-Achel, Belgium makes 5 beers, of which two are only available at the abbey itself. We had the 8% Bruin. She poured a very cloudy brown, near dirty river water in complexion. A really nice, frothy head of foam rose high on the pour and offered remarkable lacing. The aroma was busy to say the least, and seemed to shoot deep into the nose. It was as if you could feel the sensory nerves dancing with delight. Cherries and strawberries were in play, with a distinct sour wood aged quality. A lot of sweetness could be detected before even tasting it. This quality of intense sweetness seems to be ubiquitous in well made Belgian beers. The flavor is sweet, yes, but also tart, nearly sour. The body is thick. The fluid’s legs on the inside of the glass are very telling of this. Dare I use the word cloying? Syrupy. This beer is like cherry or rhubarb pie filling aged in oak. It’s really freaking good.
Beer Blotter had one more very special beer this evening.
Pannepot – Old Fisherman’s Ale, 2006 vintage from De Struise Brouwers in Oostvleteren, Belgium (not Trappist). This was our showstopper. This ratebeer.com top 50 brew is quite hard to come by, but Beer Blotter is quite crafty, and we just had to have it. This 10% Belgian Strong Ale pours a dark, swampy brown color with a nice tan head and plenty of stickage. The foam slowly diminished to a wisp, but never fully departed. The scent was full of licorice and root beer barrel candies. Deep and complex caramelized sugars and butterscotch would be found in the flavor, which had a depth that nearly drowned us. Literally breath-taking. Booze was evident as we allowed this to warm. Thankfully, the fluid coated the mouth completely with its brilliance and left an aftertaste that lingered and lingered. We were reminded of a well-aged barleywine. At one point, we were firmly struck with a realization of…pretzels. The scent of pretzels was so clear and precise. Even the salt crystals resting on top could be tasted. Definitely one of the best beers we have ever tasted. For the love of God, seek this one out.
This concludes another wonderful Belgian night for Beer Blotter. The anticipation is really mounting. If you have any recommendations for our journey please speak up.