Top Three Breweries
Russian River (Santa Rosa, California) When we were in Oslo last year, we came across a brewery/bar that takes orders for bootlegged Russian River beers. Listening to the story, Vinnie Cilurzo said, “At least it means we are still relevant somewhere.” Indeed. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, but across the family of beers—from Blind Pig to Temptation with stops between—Cilurzo keeps finding just the right spot on my palate.
Halfway Crooks (Atlanta, Georgia) Honestly, this choice is a proxy for The New. We live in Atlanta now. I might have picked Rockwell Beer Company if we still lived in St. Louis, or Toltec Brewing if we hadn’t moved from Albuquerque. Who doesn’t love trying new breweries and isn’t disappointed by how many of them sort of suck? But there’s this other group, where you try something new and don’t have to wonder whether the beer will ever get better because what’s in your glass already tastes like the 100th iteration of the recipe.
Private Landbrauerei Schönram (Petting, Germany) I love Augustiner Helles and like the one from this brewery better. I was blown away by the quality and breadth of beers on offer at Brauerei Riegele when I could have them at the source in Augsburg, but I also knew I’d rather be drinking in Petting. That’s why Schönram is listed here. That and Surtaler Schankbier, a 3.5 percent beer that still has flavor after you drink an imperial stout.
Top Five Beers
Cerveja Avós and Difford’s Guide Barrel Aged Baltic Porter Negroni (Sao Paolo, Brazil) Junior Bottura at Avós is determined to prove to Brazilian drinkers that craft beer includes lagers. This product, made by aging a Baltic porter in a small American oak barrel that briefly held an Italian cocktail, is luscious; toffee and dark-fruit flavors balance with a hint of Negroni bitterness. A delightful antidote to pastry stouts.
Max Lager’s/Bold Monk Stained Rose (Atlanta, Georgia) I’m counting on this one becoming a regular at Max Lager’s newly opened sibling, The Bold Monk. This not-quite-tamed product of a mixed culture that has been developing at Max Lager’s for years is brightly fruity at the outset and more complex as the cherries and Nebbiolo grapes it is aged on assert themselves.
Brewery Ommegang Three Philosophers (Cooperstown, New York) The brewery released a version aged in red-wine barrels and packaged in cans. It was excellent but also reminded me to track down this old friend that was born when Don Feinberg and cohorts turned a homebrewer’s description of a “dream beer” into a showpiece for dark fruits accented with a pinch of tart cherries.
Spezial Rauchbier Lager (Bamberg, Germany) It was the perfect beer for a perfect moment with my wife and daughter at Spezial-Keller, looking across Bamberg from a hilltop, talking about which hill to explore next, watching other customers tip their glass mugs on the side, signaling it was time for another slightly grainy, subtly sweet, engagingly smoky half liter.
Live Oak Grodziskie (Austin, Texas) and Browar Grodzisk Piwo z Grodziska (Grodzisk Wielkopolski, Poland) Sticking to my promise to make this an annual choice, tasting each where they are brewed, I would suggest the Polish version is drier and the Texas version smokier and hoppier. But the Polish version is nonetheless hoppy and smoky, the Texas one dry and champagne-like.
Today’s Drinkers Ought to Pay More Attention to…
Nuance. Call it what you want because, you know, wine drinkers started using the word first. It is the aroma and/or flavor that comes after the aroma and/or flavor that comes after the aroma and/or flavor that smacks you up front. It is worth waiting for. It is worth looking for.
Today’s Brewers Ought to Pay More Attention to…
Foam. That’s it. Foam. Foam. Foam. And foam.
Top Beer Destination
Austin, Texas. See next answer.
Favorite Thing that Ought to Be a Trend
Helles. It’s what comes after Pilsner. We were waiting for Joe Stange to join us in Berlin when he sent a text daring me to order a Schönramer Helles and not order another. I was already on my second. By the way, Austin has already won this trend.
Favorite Beer Accessory, Gadget, or Glass
The side-pull faucet that has made its way from the Czech Republic to Atlanta, Georgia.
Questions I Wish I Were Asked More Often
Does decoction make a difference? Does open fermentation make a difference? Do lagering temperature and time make a difference? Does spunding make a difference? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.