One of the Epicurean pleasures close to my heart is beer. I like wine, but I like beer more.
When I was younger, I kept a beer tasting notebook, and would enthusiastically search out any new beer I could find; just to add it to my repertoire. I used to read books on beer, participate in alt.food.drink.beer, and discuss beer carefully with other beer drinkers.
Now I just drink it and enjoy it.
I don’t like to get inebriated. I drink beer for the flavor, not the effect. I typically cut myself off after a couple, or as soon as I can feel it.
Beers can be generally divided into two categories: ales and lagers. Ale is beer made with yeast that floats: it’s sometimes called “top-fermenting beer”. Lager is made with yeast that sinks: it is sometimes called “bottom-fermenting”. Ales are fermented at a higher temperature than lagers, and the yeast tends to produce a fruitier drink, since the floating yeast tends to pick up wild strains in the air. Lagers ferment at lower temperatures, and produce “cleaner” flavors, and typically a cleaner-looking beer.
German and Czech breweries typically make lagers; beers like Warsteiner or Pilsener Urquel are lagers. British and Belgian brewers tend to create ales: stouts, porters, and bitter are all ales.
There’s no difference in strength between lager and ale: the strongest beers in the world are pretty evenly divided between lager and ale.
I prefer ale to lager, and I typically drink British or Belgian beers. The Belgians perfected the “Abbey Ale”, which is a strong (typically more than 8% ABV) or “high gravity” beer. They are typically bottled in larger bottles (typically 750 mL bottles) with live yeast and sugar, so they continue to ferment in the bottle. The British term for that is “Barleywine”, although they don’t use it very consistently. I use the term “British” to include all the British Isles: so I consider Guinness to be a British beer, although it is Irish.
So after that primer, let’s look at some of my favorites:
UnibroueTerrible. This is probably my all-time favorite beer. It’s dark. Not “dark” like Guinness, “dark” like “black”. It looks like soy sauce. And it’s strong: 10% ABV. Now, this stuff is too strong for every-day drinking; but Unibroue makes a “light” version (heh), called Chambly Noir. If I had to forsake all beers but one, it would be Terrible or maybe Chambly Noir This stuff makes Chimay look like a girlie beer.
Irish (dry) stout: Beamish, Murphy’s, Guinness. My “everyday beer” would have to be Irish stout. My favorites are these three, but I’m always willing to try something else. These three each have a subtly different flavor, but I like them all, and am occasionally found sitting in a pub with three pints: one each, in front of me. Sometimes people assume I like porter because I like stout, but I don’t. I have no rational explanation for it, but I don’t like porter at all. I’ve tried a lot of porters, and not one struck me as a good beer. Weird.
Smithwick’s. This is an Irish ale that is making an appearance all over my area. A couple years ago, this was only available in “Irish pubs”, now it’s in all the grocery stores. If you like Smithwick’s, another wonderful beer to try is Belhaven’s Scottish Ale. Wonderful, dark, peaty.
Chimay Grande Reserve. Chimay is the “original” Trappist brewery. Well, probably not, but it’s pretty close. This is the gold standard for an abbey ale, but it’s not my favorite. One thing to note about Chimay: it needs to sit a while before drinking. Grande Reserve is almost always too young to drink when you buy it. Experimentation has led me to believe it needs to sit at least four years before opening. Michael Jackson, one of the world’s foremost authorities on beer, claims the shelf life of this beer to be around 25 years, so you don’t need to worry about leaving it too long...
Samuel Adams Summer Ale. Samuel Adams beers are made by Boston Brewing Company in New England. They are all supposedly “craft beers”, but I think the operation is certainly too large for anyone to consider it a “micro-brew”. I’ve drunk a lot of Sam Adams beers, and I have to say I don’t like them for the most part. Having said that, I eagerly await their Summer Ale every year. It’s almost perfect as a warm-weather brew. It’s considerably lighter than I normally drink, but it has the perfect hint of wheat, a light hoppiness, and a mild spicy flavor. I keep this stuff on hand from April to September.
Unibroue Maudite Maudite is a drinkable Belgian. Well, it’s not really Belgian, but it’s a wanna-be Belgian, and it’s a good, solid beer. I try to keep some of this on hand. It’s not cheap, but it’s decent as Belgians go ($7 or $8 for 750 mL), and it’s a great bang-for-your-buck deal.
Delirium Tremens. Some people consider this the perfect beer. It’s a little too light for my taste (straw-colored), but the flavor is excellent, and it’s a great drink. It’s a little expensive in my neck of the woods (typically $9 for 750 mL), but I keep a bottle or two on hand for special occasions. The same brewery also makes Delirium Nocturnum and Delirium Noel. I think they’re both better than the Tremens, but Tremens appears to be their most popular line: it’s the easiest to find.
Corsendonk. Corsendonk makes several beers, none of them bad. I think I like their Christmas ale best of all, but their Abbey Brown is delightful.
This is not a complete list, but it hits some high points. And please be aware that my tastes change suddenly, without rhyme or reason. But I am generally considered an aficionado: I have never been accused of bad taste when it comes to beer.
As a special treat, I’ve included some photos of my own beer collection. This is not complete, in the sense that I have more beer in my “cellar” than I’ve shown here. But it is a few I’ve squirreled away, so to speak: