Cambridge Brewing Company’s Will Meyers was recently awarded the Brewers Association’s Russell Schehrer award for innovation in brewing for his work in exploratory brewing techniques such as wild fermentation and barrel aging, but the beers he enjoys the most (and most often) reflect his love of flavorful low ABV beers that one can drink in quantity yet express with complexity.
Will Meyers is a brewers’ brewer. A guy who’s been taking risks for years with the beers he makes in this small brewery a stone’s throw from the campus of M.I.T. and who’s gained the respect and friendship of his brewing-industry peers at that same time. So what does he enjoy drinking when he’s off the clock? Here’s his 6-pack of drinkable, well-crafted, artful, and consistently low-ABV beers.
Brasserie De La Senne
“I was just over in Brussels with my friend Yvan de Baets of De La Senne, and I drank the snot out of Taras Boulba (as I normally do), and that reminded of the fact that—especially as I age—my palate has matured, and I want to be able to taste a number of beers without every one of them being 12 percent ABV monsters. Taras Boulba fits the “session beer” model, for lack of a better term, because I tend to think of them as “normal” beers rather than “session beers.” But as I thought of Taras Boulba, naturally my thoughts turned to a small brewer in Spain—Guineu—and they make a beer named Riner. It’s a 3 percent ABV super-dry super-hoppy crushable beer, and I buy a case of it from my distributor every year. My inside guy at the distributor says, “This just came in,” and I make sure to buy a case or two and then share it around with my brew staff. It’s a great beer to always keep in your fridge when it’s fresh. I love Jester King Le Petit Prince for the same reason—they’re all dry, drinkable beers that are easy to enjoy in quantity, and yet when you stop and think about them, they all express with magnificent complexity.”
“London Pride is just a glorious beer that I’ve probably enjoyed for 20 years (whenever I could get it in good shape), but now it’s tied to a memorable experience of having been over in the U.K. as guest brewer a few times for a cask-ale project. I vividly remember visiting with my friend, beer writer Melissa Cole, and arranging a tour/hang-out-with-the-brewer opportunity at Fullers where we were in their brewery, in the caverns below the brewery, and next door in their pub, the Mawson Arms. It was all I wanted to drink with occasional breaks to enjoy their porter. But London Pride is one of those beers, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as well, that embodies the idea of perfection in balance, drinkability, and flavor. You can drink one, and want another one, have a second one, and really want a third one, rather than just thinking, “Gosh, I enjoyed that, but maybe I want to try something different.” I find as a brewer that I want to try and taste everything available, but that drives bartenders mad when I ask for a taste of this and a taste of that. But London Pride is one of those beers where if it’s on and it’s fresh, I know that’s what I’m going to enjoy all week. There really aren’t that many other beers with that sort of appeal, where they’re just beautifully well-crafted beers that have more to say in their subtlety.”
Russian River Brewing
(Santa Rosa, California)
“I would be completely remiss if I didn’t include at least one of Vinnie’s beers because he’s been a huge inspiration for me on both the clean and the funky side. Blind Pig is still one of the best IPAs in the country, and when I’m on the West Coast, it’s what I want to reach for if I’m in the mood for some hops. But I have to mention Russian River’s Consecration—a dark sour aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels with black currants. I had a really cool experience with it at the 2009 Craft Brewers Conference in Boston—Vinnie and Natalie and I did a side event outside of the conference at the Boston Wine School, where we held a beer tasting for wine people with the idea to focus on the things that wine tasters enjoy in wine and things that might open up their minds to enjoy beer. One thing that really impressed me about Vinnie and Natalie is that, as wine-country folk themselves, they really understood that the experience the wine fan is looking for is a one-on-one with the master winemaker in their barrel cellar pulling samples for them to enjoy. The ultimate hands-on guided experience.
“Vinnie and Natalie recognized that and did something super cool—they shipped a bunch of bottles of Consecration (which they’d just begun to release) and also shipped bottles of Consecration that had not been carbonated—still bottles. And they also sent a little 5-gallon oak barrel, and that afternoon as we were setting up, they took all of the still Consecration from bottles and poured it into the oak barrel itself. Then at this tasting for thirty people, they proceeded to take a wine thief and thief out tasters for everybody. That put their heads in a spot where they were like ‘I thought this was supposed to be beer, but this guy is doing all of this wine stuff.’ From that perspective, he was able to engage them not only with a beer that had fruit character and acid character and oak character—all components of wine—but then went on to talk about the bottle refermentation process, how beer gets its carbonation, and how parallel that is to sparkling wine (without the méthode champenoise disgorgement). Then, side-by-side, they went through how the beer tastes right from the barrel, and what it tastes like carbonated. They explained how the carbonic acid and the bubbles wake up the palate, as compared to the beer when it’s still. The challenges of tasting the beer when still and at cellar temperature and being able to predict how it’s going to express later when it’s at cooler temperature and carbonated. They did a phenomenal job of engaging this entire group of people who were otherwise prepared to just show up and drink some fizzy yellow beer and get on with it.
“So between that presentation and the beer itself, it just blew my mind. Vinnie is someone who really understands flavors and composition, and from that experience on, Consecration has always been one of my favorite beers on the planet. Plus, at the end of the night they didn’t want to carry all of that stuff back to California, so they gave me that little 5-gallon barrel, which I still use in my barrel cellar at Cambridge Brewing Company for little projects and experimenting with things.”
“Orval, of course, was a life-changing beer for me. As a homebrewer in the very early 1990s, I discovered this beer that was kind of delicious no matter how old it was but was inherently designed to change over time. As a homebrewer, I was focused on figuring out how to keep my beer as fresh and clean as possible. And here were these brown-robed monks over in Belgium stirring vats at some monastery, saying ‘Hey, this stuff is great for six months or a year or two years.’
“I’d typically buy a case of Orval every year, and my wife would go down into the cellar and pick 2 or 3 bottles of Orval of different bottling dates and pour them for me to taste blind to see if I could guess how old they were. That was really cool in terms of wrapping your head around the ageability of beers like that. Orval young and fresh is nice and hoppy and grassy with that great European hops character. And then over time as the Brett starts to express, the hops start to regress from the palate, and eventually it becomes this crazy, Bretty barnyard bomb with some nice acid character. Still, to this day, I think it’s a remarkable beer in a world where you can’t be an American brewer without a barrel program and five different Brett and Lacto strains.
“I had the chance to travel to the brewery one week ago while I was in Belgium and was able to arrange the tour with Ann François, the brewmaster there. We traveled through the lab and brewery and cellar for several hours, culminating at the brewers taproom at the top of the brewhouse building, enjoying bottles of several different ages plus the fresh table beer. So even after 25 years in the brewing industry, you can still have these career highlight opportunities where you’re transported back to your skinny 22-year-old homebrewing self, nerding out over a beer. That was a serious fanboy moment for me, being in the Orval brewery, enjoying those beers with the brewmaster. It was incredible.”
De Cam Geuzestekerij
“I had a beer that I’d never had before in my life when I was in Brussels a few weeks ago. Yvan de Baets and I travelled out in the Pajottenland to a little village called Gooik and visited lambic brewer De Cam. The brewmaster, Karl, has a day job as a brewmaster for the Witkap brewery, but on nights and weekends his hobby is working as a lambic blender—which is obviously his true passion in life. Man, I’ve enjoyed a bunch of lambic and gueuze and fruited sour beers in my time, but I don’t know that I’ve ever had anything that was so precisely well-balanced and expressive for an oude gueuze. That beer was so remarkable that I immediately realized I had to buy so many bottles that my luggage was going to be overweight, and it was going to cost a zillion dollars to check extra bags home. But I did it because I didn’t know when I’d have the next opportunity to go to his brewery outside Brussels and enjoy it. The De Cam Oude Geuze was revelatory.
“Alongside that, I’d say Frank Boon’s Mariage Parfait has always been one of my favorite lambic beers available stateside. I enjoy it for the same reason—an understated elegance and it’s so well-thought-out. You can really taste the brewer and the blender’s precision in understanding the craft and components of the beer and how they marry together. I got to spend the day with Frank and Yvan and toured the brewery and tasted the beer from at least a dozen different foeders. It blew me away that this guy has a hundred different foeders and knows what’s going on (intimately well) in every one of them over the three years that the beer might be resident.
“I’ve developed more respect for what Frank Boon has been able to accomplish—he has an incredible engineering mind, and for many many years he did all of his own coopering and barrel repairs. He’s somebody who respects the tradition of lambic brewing, of spontaneous inoculation, of wood aging and blending, and he also believes that it doesn’t require some willful ignorance and belief in the magic of lambic beer. He wants to know how he can make his beers better. How he can track in a lab the different levels of yeast and bacteria as they progress in his beer. That’s not something you’d typically think you’d see in a lambic brewery. You’d think it’s just romantic cobwebs and barrels of magic, and yet here’s this guy who says, ‘I absolutely want to know what’s going on.’ ”
“I’ve been a fan for a few years now of this smaller, newer brewery. Along with my own brewery and a few others in the Northeast that I’m aware of, they were one of the first to espouse the brewers’ love for the small saison subcategory of grisette. This grain-forward, low-hop, low-alcohol saison was historically produced and served to miners. They do two beers—Loretta is a clean Saccharomyces ferment, and the other version is the mixed-culture fermentation La Griseta. Both of those—like Le Petit Prince from Jester King—embody that great combination of dryness and drinkability with massive complexity that succeeds because it doesn’t demand your attention like a massive barrel-aged quadruple would. It demands your attention because it’s really delicious and as you think about it, there are so many layers in the beer. There’s a great cereal grain flavor in the Oxbow Loretta—it’s super dry and super refreshing.
“We’re in this world with 5,300 breweries and everyone’s trying to be different by doing the same thing—fruited sours and hazy IPAs and crazy big beers—and a lot of them are really delicious and I really enjoy tasting them. But if we’re being honest, it’s just not what I gravitate toward to drink. If I’m going to have a few glasses of beer in a social setting, it’s good for me to enjoy something that accompanies the conversation rather than trying to control it.
“No matter how wacky and wild the world of craft beer gets, the beers that people always want to drink over the long run are the ones that are drinkable and elegant. The rest of the stuff is super fun, but as beer drinkers and their palates mature, everyone I’ve ever known has always come back to the idea of drinkability. And that’s what ultimately sustains us as an industry and craftspeople.”
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ILLUSTRATION: JAMIE BOGNER