There are certain brewers who carry a competitive edge, where they can fully appreciate the beers made by others while thinking about improving their own. It’s through the attention to detail—not just on flavor but process—that beer gets better. Phil Wymore of Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis, Missouri, spent time on the brew decks and in the cellars of Goose Island Beer Company and Half Acre Beer Company before opening his own place. The beers he made during those times, as well as those encountered during extensive beer travels, informed his picks for this column.
One beer that he wanted to include (but couldn’t because Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® retired the selection from this column a few years ago due to its extreme popularity), Orval, is a beer that he tried to mimic in Matilda during his Goose Island days and would later encourage his own brewers to take a shot at when they were brewing. “It’s what I drink if it’s available,” he says. In fact, at a dinner in Colorado a few years ago at a place with an extensive bottle list and forty taps, Orval is the beer that every brewer at the table ordered. (That kind of reverence is why we officially retired the beer from this column.)
The beers on this list “are the ones that, if I see them on draft, I’m always going to drink because they are beers that I like to drink.”
And in many cases, the beers he picked have been around a relatively short time but are now considered classics. It’s a testament not only to the beers themselves but also to how quickly consumer preferences can change.
Half Acre Beer Company Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
“Even before I was a brewer at Goose Island, I loved their IPA. It was in the East Coast tradition and filtered, and I loved it. I left Goose Island to go to Half Acre almost right out of the gate when they opened, and I started brewing Daisy Cutter. I didn’t formulate it, but I was there for the earliest batches, and it was a revelation. This was 2010, and it was an amazing unfiltered West Coast IPA that made a big impact on me. To this day it’s unchanged. You get big Amarillo, Simcoe, and Centennial, and for so many beer drinkers who had it, this beer just opened their eyes to the style. I remember brewing it and seeing the dry-hopping schedule and just being wowed by that. Today it’s considered a classic. It might not stand out in the same way if the brewery were to open today, but back when it first came out, this was a beer with a supply-and-demand issue, and people were excited to get it.”
Trillium Brewing Congress Street IPA
“Trillium was a huge influence on us when we first wanted to brew a hazy IPA. In fact, JC Tetreault, Trillium’s cofounder, was here to help us out when we did ours the first time. When the hazy IPA came out, there was a huge shift in the dynamics of the style, and it’s been amazing to see. When I’m at our brewery, I’m either pulling a hazy IPA or a Pilsner off of the taps. I just really like drinking these, and this beer from Trillium is a classic example of how one is done well.
It’s hard to pinpoint these beers sometimes because so many are making them, then turning them or using different hops. But this beer is replicated well and is just so good in terms of branding, too.
I was out at Trillium’s festival last year and tasted through a lot of their stuff but kept coming back to Congress Street because I love Galaxy hops. In this beer, the hops evolve over time. It starts off green, then it has these diesel notes that might be off-putting to some, but I love it. And then in the package after a few weeks, it drops these passion-fruit notes, and that’s a lot of fun as well.”
Brasserie De la Senne Taras Boulba
“We were making a Belgian blonde. I had heard about Taras Boulba but never had it. Then once I did have it, I knew we had to change the way we made our Southside Blonde (see recipe, at left). We had to reformulate it because with Taras Boulba in the world, we needed to up our game. We set out to chase the dream that is this beer—we tried dry-hopping rates and changing the water profile.
Then I had this nice beer-geek moment when I was in Brussels and was traveling around with folks. We stopped by the brewery. Yvan de Baets (the owner and brewer) wasn’t able to meet with us right away but welcomed us into his taproom and urged us to help ourselves. So we started pouring Taras Boulba and doing ridiculously slow pours of it—one took like 10 minutes—and had this ridiculous head of foam. Then Yvan showed us his brewery, and the thing is that his fermentors are both fat and high, and this helps with his beer, he says. The key to getting the flavors in his beer is to be gentle with the yeast. With his fermentor ratios, he’s not putting the pressure on the yeast as more traditional vessels would. It makes all the difference.”
Allagash Brewing Company White
“Before I was a brewer, I was geeking out on styles. One night I did a tasting on white beers and went to a local liquor store and picked up all they had. Most were imports such as Hoegaarden, which is a great beer, and they had Allagash White. I remember drinking it and the vibrancy it had and still does. That’s the word I always use to describe this beer: vibrant. Whenever I see it on draft, it’s what I get because it’s just always so alive with the way the orange and coriander pop in the beer and how it’s got this creamy and effervescent body each time. It’s just a wonderfully drinkable beer with these pops of flavor. I can’t get enough of it.”
pFriem Family Brewers Pilsner
(Hood River, Oregon)
“We make a Pilsner here at Perennial that I guess is a hoppy German style, but pFriem’s Pilsner is one of those that when I have it, I just have to compare and contrast. It just stands out as an excellent example of what a Pilsner should be. I’ve never had it on draft, only in bottles, so when I have it here in the Midwest, I’m amazed at how much it stands up to the journey. It’s perfectly made and can stand up to travel—that’s no small feat. I’m going to guess that it starts with the water. This is a brewery that knows what it wants out of its brewing water, and it translates into everything else they do. They take care with this beer every step of the way, and it really shows that even small breweries, as long as they have the right technique, can create a world-class beer.”
WeldWerks Brewing Co. Medianoche
“In the minds of beer geeks, we’re a stout brewer. I’d like to think that we make other things because we do. And we make them as best as we can, but some people don’t care. They only care about our stouts, and that’s fine because we are proud of our stouts. In 2017 we took a silver at GABF in the wood/barrel-aged strong stout category. Medianoche from WeldWerks took gold, and I was psyched for these guys. I had met Owner and Brewer Neil Fisher at the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer, and we had tried each other’s beers. With his stout, I was just so impressed with the mouthfeel and how balanced it is.
It’s like bourbon. There are some young ones that you taste, and they’re great, but then the flavor just drops off on the finish. Then there’s the aged one where the finish just keeps going and going. Medianoche is like that. It has this super mouthfeel, and then it just lingers and that helps you enjoy each taste for a long time.”