There’s not a single rubric for brewers who build a six-pack for this column—all have the leeway to develop their own set of criteria, as well as the list itself. Ben Edmunds, brewmaster of Breakside Brewery in Portland, Oregon, chose to focus on six that broadened his vision of beer in the pre-Breakside era of 1999–2010, with one exception at the end. In his own words, “Definitely a nostalgia pack for me.”
Edmunds has helmed the brewing at Breakside since its launch in 2010. Over that time, they’ve earned the respect of peers, including two dozen medals earned at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup. Those medals have spanned a variety of profiles—from English and German styles to American sours and IPAs.
However, for Edmunds, the jumping-off point for his enthusiasm was big, malty, strong beers; interest in hop-forward ones was a later development.
Bell’s Expedition Stout
Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, Michigan)
“The first craft beers that really caught my attention as a consumer were some higher-octane, bigger, and richer beers. I remember loving Scotch ales and doppelbocks—interestingly, those are styles that I really don’t gravitate toward anymore—but it was the big, obvious, and sweet flavors of these beers that opened up this new world to me. I grew up in Michigan, so Founders and Bell’s were the breweries I had most access to, and Bell’s Expedition Stout stood out. I still remember the crazy layers of flavor—red currant, rum, dark chocolate, raisin, black pepper, smoke, vanilla—and remember being amazed that a single beer could hold so much.”
New Belgium Biere de Mars
New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, Colorado)
“I moved to Colorado in 2004 to teach high school in a small mountain town, and it was there that my interest in beer became obsessive. The beer scene in Colorado was amazing—I dove deep into homebrewing at the time. That was also where I developed a love and respect for the Great American Beer Festival—I went as a consumer for the first time in 2005, and I’ve only missed it twice since then.
“Colorado’s beers were really high quality, and no one was pushing boundaries—especially in terms of mixed-fermentation beer—the way New Belgium was. This slot just as easily could go to La Folie or Le Terroir, but to this day, I think it’s amazing, yet crazy, that New Belgium bottled a bière de garde with lemon peel and Brettanomyces and put it in 6-packs for wide distribution. When you talk about a brewery that is willing to push the conversation forward, releasing that beer was a bold move. The beer was absolutely beautiful, too, and I probably bought more of those 6-packs than anyone in central Colorado.”
Odell Brewing (Fort Collins, Colorado)
“Odell released their IPA in 2007, just before I left Colorado. I was not a huge IPA fan at the time—definitely more into sour beers, stouts, Belgian styles, and stronger ales—and I think part of that was that there weren’t a ton of great contemporary IPAs on the market in Colorado at the time (at least not ones that were widely available). I had had the Pizza Port and Russian River beers at GABF and when traveling to the West Coast, and when Odell IPA came on the market, it was a game changer. It was the first Colorado-brewed IPA to have the aromatic intensity and balanced bitterness that the best San Diego and NorCal versions had. It was the first IPA that I could drink regularly that really opened my mind to the potential of hops.”
Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Deschutes Brewery (Bend, Oregon)
“I moved to Portland in 2008 with the goal of making the leap into the beer industry. Shortly after I moved, hop harvest began, and in the Northwest that means that it is fresh-hop beer season. My only exposure to fresh-hop beers to that point had been Great Divide’s bottled Fresh Hop Pale, but that fall was my first real exposure to a wide range of fresh-hop beers. I remember visiting Deschutes’ (then new) Pearl District brewpub and having an imperial pint of fresh-hop Mirror Pond, made with Oregon-grown Cascades, and sensing that I had made a smart choice in moving to the Northwest.”
Augustiner Bräu (Munich, Germany)
“I did the diploma program at Siebel, which included studying in Munich and traveling to some of the great breweries of Germany, Belgium, and Austria. Even though Munich is a helles city, my friends and I would order Pils at the Augustiner stuben. Invariably, the server would suggest that we wanted helles, but after some cajoling, she or he would bring bottles of Pils over. Fresh Augustiner Pils is a revelation—floral, soft, hop-forward, lightly malty. I still think it is a beautiful iteration of pilsner that is much more focused on hop flavor than bitterness. This was the beer that really turned me on to great lager, and Breakside Pilsner is absolutely built in its shadow.”
Barley Brown’s Hand Truck Pale Ale
Barley Brown’s (Baker City, Oregon)
“Tyler Brown is the godfather of Northwest IPAs. Many of the brewers I know who love hop-forward West Coast beers point to Tyler, along with the folks who’ve brewed for him (Shawn Kelso, Marks Lanham, Eli Dickison, Add Collard) as a major inspiration. When Breakside was the new kid on the block and no one knew us, Shawn and Tyler were so kind and willing to share knowledge. I remember having some of their beers and being amazed at how smooth, rich, and full of hop and malt flavor they were. There’s a beautiful purity to their beers, and Hand Truck has always been a favorite of mine. When we were getting our sea legs under us as a brewery, that was the sort of beer that we held up as the gold standard for what we wanted to make one day.”