The Best Unpretentious Beers You Can Find Just About Anywhere
(Bloomberg) -- Discerning beer drinkers don’t always have the luxury of boutique craft shops or well-stocked grocery stores, particularly when traveling. What, then, are consistently worthwhile—while also generously manufactured and distributed—selections that might be found amid otherwise lackluster choices at a big, chain supermarket? (Or, if you’re lucky, at your local gas station?) We asked some of America’s top craft brewers to select a couple of their favorite brews that are produced in large enough quantities and distributed widely enough to be considered a quotidian imbibe in their areas. (For the various distribution details, follow the linked pages below.)
According to Tim Adams of Maine’s Oxbow Beer, “Firestone Walker Pivo Pils is not only one of the best pilsners in the USA but also one of the most widely distributed, making it a top pick for those looking to get a Euro-hop blast in a pinch.” A noteworthy endorsement, considering that Adams’s love of pilsners led him to throw a beer festival called Pils & Live via his brewery last year, hosting all the world’s best examples of the style. In Pivo, “[l]ook for pronounced grassy and floral hop notes supported by a crisp and refreshing pilsner malt base in this canned crusher.” As for his favorite widely distributed seasonal beer release, that’s easily Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. “Celebration is a dank and resinous, ruby-red, old school, West Coast hop-bomb that welcomes the holiday season with fresh American hops and rich specialty malts.”
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the perpetual choice for Matt Levy at Threes Brewing in Brooklyn, N.Y., seconding the love for the de facto godfathers of American craft. “I was recently traveling through the craft beer desert that is Utah and was reminded of the pure joy of drinking a 12-ounce bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale,” says Levy. According to him, this beer has served as inspiration to a generation of brewers to ensure that process is valued. “Still bottle-conditioned and hopped with selected whole-cone hops, these details show their commitment to doing things not the easy way but the right way.” While hazy juice-bombs are all the rage in contemporary, hyped craft brewing, Levy is quick to remind that the Belgian-inspired wheat-based Allagash White was one of America’s first unapologetically turbid examples. “A beer way ahead of its time,” says Levy. While he finds Allagash’s more experimental limited-edition sour beers inspiring, Levy says he “would happily give those up for a lifetime supply of cold bottles of White on the beach.”
What do craft brewers tend to drink to “tune out” and punctuate a long day of making their own beer? According to Colin Lenfesty of Seattle’s Holy Mountain Brewing Co., “The staff [here] drinks a lot of Rainier Beer. Call it throw-back or nostalgic, but the big red ‘R’ [on the can] will always be a part of Seattle's history.” Holy Mountain’s meticulous focus is generally in producing complex barrel-aged beers, but sometimes, something simpler is apt. With a hop presence more noticeable than in other macro-lagers and a slight corn and sweet-malty presence, “It’s a very social beer between everyone at the brewery. We drink these icy cold, so we usually don’t have time to even think about it.” If a barbeque is planned, Lenfesty will generally go a little more for flavor and pick up some Kona Big Wave Golden Ale: “Easy drinking, with a big burst of Galaxy and Citra hop additions at the end. Slightly sweet but not overpowering honey character.”
When Ed Marszewski of Marz Community Brewing, out of Chicago, finds himself picking up prescription drugs at CVS or Walgreens, he’ll usually “do some quick shopping as well and grab a four pack of Half Acre Daisy Cutter to wash down with a bag of Vitner’s Crunchy Kurls or regular Bugles.” This West Coast-style American Pale Ale from his brewing neighbors is “floral and grapefruit-y, balanced and crisp,” says Marszewski. “Daisy Cutter is what an American Pale Ale should taste like.” In the event that Marszewski finds himself at a gas station, he’ll still generally go for something produced locally. “The last time I stopped by to fill up for a camping trip in Michigan, I saw 19.2oz cans of Revolution Anti-Hero on the shelf.” It’s a fruitily aromatic IPA that boasts a blend of Citra, Crystal, Centennial, and Chinook hops.
“If I’m in a beer desert, the first thing I think about is the fact that [a bottle] may have been sitting on the shelf for months,” says Joe Grimm of Brooklyn-based Grimm Artisanal Ales. Though he’s perhaps best known for producing hop-forward beers best consumed as fresh as possible, he has a soft spot for the charmingly rustic, musty flavor found in older bottles of perennial Belgian classic Saison Dupont. “The flavor is resilient; if you can find one, go for a green bottle, instead of brown.” When Grimm is on the road, he looks for a beer that has been bottle-conditioned, meaning one packaged to re-ferment with additional live yeast for natural carbonation. “[This] helps the beer age gracefully; and I look for something that doesn’t have too much in the way of hop flavor, because there's nothing worse than oxidized hops.” Another bottle-conditioned Belgian gem that Grimm loves is Lindemans Cuvée René, the famed lambic brewery’s unsweetened gueuze (a traditional style of blended lambic beer aged in oak for one, two, and three years). “It’s tart, complex, and leathery. Just steer clear of their sweetened fruit beers,” warns Grimm.
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