It’s hard not to be awestruck when you meet Randy Mosher. He is one of the more prolific and thoughtful writers about beer, brewing, and homebrewing; his books are on countless shelves, worn, torn, and bent from frequent use. The articles and columns he writes, along with the lectures he gives around the world, serve as inspiration and insight to brewers who are able to up their own game after reading or listening. At the two Chicago breweries where he works, he’s brought new flavors and methods to all manner of recipes, guaranteeing that there will always be something interesting to taste, explore, and consider.
“I like jazz,” he says. “I know there are some people who like only Miles Davis or John Coltrane, but there are thousands of others out there who people should be listening to. I see this in the beer world as well. There are people who drink only the beers that pop! pop! pop! right now and don’t give a rat’s ass about anything else.” For his dream 6-pack, Mosher takes us on a journey of beer discovery, unearthing some familiar beers that still stand tall today.
“These are the beers that made me think about all the possibilities of what beer could be,” he says.
“I went to school in Cincinnati where the Bürger Brewery was one of four in the city at the time (it’s now closed). I had a roommate whose stepfather worked there. So one day we had to go drop something off, and he took us into the lager cellar where there was this enormous tank that we sampled right from. Fresh lager was a revelation and changed the way I thought about it. I never knew lager could be this good.
“Now, overall, it was a middling, mainstream American beer. The brewery eventually went under because it didn’t mean anything. But tasting Bürger Classic at the time got me thinking; it planted a seed in my head about fresh, local, and all of that. This was the beer that kicked me into paying more attention to beer.”
Anchor Steam Beer
(San Francisco, California)
“I really feel a lot of nostalgia for Anchor Steam. It was the first craft beer that I ever tasted. I used to do a lot of advertising work in California. There was a seafood restaurant on the beach, all the way at the end of Sunset Boulevard, where they had Anchor Steam on draft. A nice cold Anchor Steam went so well with seafood! At the time, I didn’t know beer could taste that good or be that great with seafood. That was the moment that I started thinking about pairings.
“This beer survived from the old days and was completely reinvented. I have great respect for the wheels Fritz Maytag set in motion that set the tone for the industry. It was honorable, and the beer was something to be respected. That was important at the time.
“I still like the beer: The balance is amazing, and the hops presence is great. I really like Northern Brewer hops.”
Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat Duvel
“Boy, what yeast can do! It’s just magic, taking simple ingredients and making something profound. I love the cleverness of it. Here was a beer that looked like Bud and tasted like nothing I had ever had before.
“My buddy and I discovered Duvel when we were homebrewing together in the early days. We had Michael Jackson’s book and just salivated over these beers that he mentioned that we couldn’t get. We tried brewing a saison and a wit, but we couldn’t get the yeast.
“When I finally had Duvel, I was struck by what a miracle it was. Basically, you took Bud wort and turn it into something magic through the yeast. In the 1980s, this beer was on everyone’s Top 10 list. I still taste it a few times a year when I teach classes at Siebel. It’s a Belgian golden strong ale, but I love that you can use sugars in such a smart way. It’s an 8.5 percent ABV beer, but it’s so drinkable, sprightly, and just so intelligent from start to finish.”
Celis Brewery Celis White
This choice is really about Pierre Celis. Pierre always had a twinkle in his eye when he talked about beer, and I think that one thing his witbier did was show the direct translation of a brewer’s personality into liquid form.
“There was a trickiness about that beer. He used spice in such a subtle and clever way. I remember he used to come to Chicago and share his secrets (such as the fact that there was chamomile in that beer) with homebrewers. That’s probably what got me. It was subtle, and that approach is what I strive for as a brewer now—a clever use of ingredients, combining them in a way that doesn’t hit someone over the head but that adds to and then changes the flavors that are already there. It creates a whole new flavor that only reveals itself layer by layer over time, but the first impression is a unified whole.
“That was the thing about Celis White. One sip you’d notice one thing, then in another something else. When it comes to a creating a beer that creates an experience, Celis stands out.”
Allagash Brewing Company Curieux
“What’s fun for me about Curieux is that it goes against the trends. Today, when it comes to pastry stouts, I think it’s one sip, check in, and move on. I rarely find them complex, let alone profound. Oh, I like goofy beer, and I’m happy people are playing around. But there’s so much crazy noise about them, and many are so over the top that it’s hard to take them too seriously.
“Curieux is a serious beer. It’s elegant. There’s still that pale beer there, but the oak layers on, and you get vanilla, coconut, honey notes, Belgian yeast character, and a dry finish. The oak cleans up so it’s not too overwhelming. All in all, it shows off the great qualities of a great tripel. Going deeper, there are even some vinous notes, like sherry, in an elegant way, not like old leather. I never get tired of this beer. “Curieux is so great with food. I love it at Thanksgiving. It pairs so well with foods such as mashed potatoes and gravy with turkey all the way through to the pie.
“It’s one of the few big, strong beers that I regularly buy because I need to have some now and again.”
Cape Brewing Company Mandarina Bavaria IPA
(Paarl, South Africa)
The brewer who heads up Cape Brewing is a German named Wolfgang Koedel, and he has basically mentored every brewer who is working in South Africa today. I learned a lot when I visited him a while back, and it was through this beer. It has an amazing head on it that comes through natural carbonation, nothing forced, but it is amazing and beautiful. In conversations, he shared with me thoughts on forced carbonation and what it can do to a beer, then demonstrated the results of natural. The same was true with how he uses just one hop in this IPA, the Mandarina Bavaria. His use throughout, from the boil to dry hopping, gives it this wonderful tangerine sweet-orange flavor and aroma. I never really thought that doing it this way would make things too much different, but it does.
“Brewing is always full of amazing surprises. Just when you think you know everything, you find something new. I found a lot at this brewery, and it was humbling in a useful way. Because this was unexpected, at this location—a German brewer making IPA in South Africa—and because he was so generous with the information he shared, this was a really memorable beer for me.”