An early trailblazer in the realm of American barrel-aged, mixed-culture beers, Lauren Woods Limbach is master blender and director of the wood cellar at New Belgium in Fort Collins, Colorado. Besides being one of the industry’s most respected experts in blending, mixed fermentation, and sensory analysis, she’s overseen the development of many of New Belgium’s most beloved beers.
When we asked Limbach to name her own top six, what we got was a super-pack of beers that represent elaborate craft, high quality, and great character, each one connected to a fondly remembered occasion—whether they occur once in a lifetime, once a year, or every Saturday in the mountains.
Oud Beersel Bzart Kriekenlambiek
(Beersel, Flemish Brabant, Belgium)
“I’m just wild about the champenoise method applied to the oude kriek style. For me, that just brings something that’s already so amazing, and the Bzart came from a 2008 World Beer Cup winner [when Oud Beersel Oude Geuze won a silver medal]. Gert Christiaens has a friend who does the champenoise method. So, they uncorked all the bottles from that 2008 vintage, then they went through and added sugar and went back through the refermentation, and then degorged. That beer, to me, is like the icing on the cake. It couldn’t get any better. And it’s just that incredible champagne-like foam and fizz that you get on top. My favorite beer will always be either Oud Beersel’s or Frank Boon’s Oude Kriek, and this takes takes an already beautiful beer and makes it even more special. Gert is always pushing—you know, Gert is almost New Belgium in a funny way because he’s so old Belgium, so traditional—but whether or not he will admit it, he’s constantly pushing the boundary while being wildly and just passionately traditional.
“I don’t think he’s made a batch since that first one. The last time I had a Bzart was last New Year’s Eve. Instead of having champagne, we had a bottle and rang in the new year. It was extra special. It was snowing, and we were in a hot tub. We were pouring it in champagne glasses, and it was so carbonated that it continuously spilled over the rim of the glasses. We were laughing the entire time because it wouldn’t stop. So bizarre. It’s that lively. It is the life of the party.”
Dupont Avec Les Bons Vœux
(Tourpes, Hainaut, Belgium)
“My second from Belgium would be, especially during the holiday season, Dupont Avec Les Bons Vœux—the very best, best wishes from the brewery. The first time I ever tried Avec Les Bons Vœux was the first time I was in Belgium. I was sitting at Brugs Beertje [in Bruges]. I had ordered this bottle, and I was sitting there kind of in a corner by myself, just marveling at the fact that this is a saison with no herbs, nothing added to it. And it was so interesting the amount of citrus, and this amazing lavender and rosemary—all these crazy herbs—knowing that it’s just saison yeast. This was 1999. My mind was blown, right? Because I didn’t know what saison yeast was. Also, I think that [dry] hops are part of their thing—it has some [dry] hops added to it. And that kind of gives it that extra thing, that thing that you can’t describe.
“So, every year, I get really into the holiday spirit, and that is my favorite. It’s also a higher alcohol content [9.5 percent ABV]. It’s really great for the holiday times—extra holiday cheer in your cheeks. So, Avec Les Bons Vœux will always be forever imprinted on me. It’s phenomenal.”
Perennial Barrel-Aged Abraxas
“The next three are going to be stouts because that’s really where my heart is. And I think that’s kind of funny. A long time ago, I said that Barrel-Aged Abraxas is my favorite beer in the entire world, and I will stand by that every single time. I haven’t had it in years, but I wouldn’t ever leave it out of my six-pack. It will be in until the end of time. It’s all the things I like in the world. It’s just so heavily barreled. It’s so heavy-handed and all the things, and it just works for me. I’ve never finished an Abraxas and thought, ‘I wish I had had a different beer.’ I love the spice. I love the warmth of the cinnamon. I love the warmth of the ancho chiles. I really like the addition of the vanilla because it really goes with the heavy barrel. I just think that year after year, they just prove that they are that good. Barrel-aging is kind of their thing.”
Fremont 2018 Coconut B-Bomb
“But then, I’ll go ahead and say that of the other stouts [and] winter ales in the world, Fremont B-Bomb is going to always be in my six-pack because I just love it. It’s not a stout—it’s a winter ale. But my favorite is the 2018 Coconut B-Bomb—the one where the Yeti has a coconut bikini top and a grass skirt on. I am, admittedly, that person who likes the coconut. I have no shame in that. It is so good to me. If I’m going to go and drink something like that, if I’m in that mood, I’m going to go to 11. And that’s the B-Bomb to me.
“They have Cinnamon Coconut, and they do all the variants like the Dark Stars. But, for me, the B-Bomb has just got that sweet depth that I absolutely adore. It’s like you’re actually chewing a caramel. It is so good. And I just think that they do barrel-aging unbelievably well, and I’m always just astounded by how good they are at that. So those are my two barrel-aged stout/winter ales.”
Horse & Dragon Sad Panda Coffee Stout
(Fort Collins, Colorado)
“What do I buy? I live right across the street from Wilbur’s [a local liquor store]. Pete and I go camping every weekend, and I go across and get a six-pack of Sad Panda. So, we camp, and in the morning, we’re making bacon, eggs, and English muffins, and we are popping coffee stouts. Tim and Carol [Cochran, co-owners of Horse & Dragon] are forever going to be on my best-humans list.
“I try coffee stouts all the time. I always ask Jeff [Matson, beer buyer for Wilbur’s], ‘What’s the latest coffee stout?’ We’ll pull a bunch of them out. And I’ll do that, plus Sad Panda. He always finds me the good ones, and then I add Sad Panda. It’s light. It’s drinkable. It’s a cup of coffee—in a stout. We joke around and say it’s like you’re drinking a stout, drinking a cup of coffee, drinking a stout, drinking a cup of coffee. It has almost equal of both those flavors. It’s exactly the beer that you want. And you can drink more than one, which I can’t say of the other two that I just listed. So, Sad Panda—if there were a pie chart of my spending on beers, Sad Panda would be a really giant chunk of pie. Of the beers I actually purchase, I would say that Sad Panda is squarely 30 to 40 percent. I mean, no matter what I’m getting, it’s that and a six-pack of Sad Panda. And if I don’t come home with that, if we don’t have a coffee stout in the fridge, it doesn’t make sense. You know, when you’re making the eggs, you open the coffee stout. So, it’s acceptable. If you’re camping, you’re allowed to drink at eight in the morning.”
Hana Koa Window to Eraclea
“We were recently there [in Honolulu] for a beer release. We were doing a couple of events, and we met Josh Kopp [cofounder and head brewer at Hana Koa] and the other brewers and humans who were there. There are those kind of people who you meet, and you’re like, ‘Have we been best friends for forever?’ We were just having amazing, amazing times. We hung out with them for like three days solid. And then you leave and you’re like, ‘Am I ever going to see these people again?’
“We tried every single thing on the list. One beer that we were tasting was from one of their horizontals—Window to Eraclea. It’s a helles that uses Eraclea malt, the Italian malt. It was like this perfect helles. It was in their horizontal. It had been there for like five weeks. The brewery itself was just beautifully clean, absolutely made you want to be there. Every single tool was exactly where it was supposed to be every single time. You could eat off the floors. I was stunned at how wonderful this brewery just made me feel. People were so welcoming, and they’re just so passionate about everything.
“And then we tasted this beer off the pigtail, and it was perfect—technically perfect. And it was an experience.
That trip reinvigorated me a lot. One, because Hawaii still likes dark sour beers, God love ’em. I wept on several occasions from happiness. But it was a really fun time, after being away for so long and not doing a lot of trips. It was unexpected. You know, you find the perfect helles in Honolulu, in the Ward district of Honolulu.”