“I don’t pick favorites, and it changes all the time,” says Sean Lawson. He’s a hard one to pin down for a 6-pack of favorite or inspirational beers, but the more we talk, the more I sense that it’s not indecisiveness as much as immediacy that drives him. Lawson is a fan of beer—all beer, just about every style—and can find the right time and place for anything from Cantillon to Miller High Life.
There’s something genuine about Lawson’s enthusiasm for such a range of beers. It’s not a calculated hipsterism or a carefully crafted narrative as much as it is a stream of consciousness download marked by an honest appreciation for the talent employed by his contemporaries. As the old saw goes, the best beer is the one in your hand right now, and for Lawson, the best beers are the ones burning brightest in his short-term memory. “[My favorites] very much depend on where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with. So each week, each month, each year, the 6-pack would look really different,” he says.
Our conversation took place in Nashville, Tennessee, at the annual Craft Brewers Conference, and the location, friends, and experiences were top of mind for Lawson as he built his mental checklist. While you’ll find something different in his fridge depending on the week or month, these are, in his words, “The first six beers that come to mind.”
Bearded Iris Homestyle IPA
“We’re here in Nashville, and went out to dinner the first night that we got here. The folks who arrived there first had already ordered for us, and I wasn’t sure what it was at the time—either an IPA or a double IPA—but they ordered a canned beer from Bearded Iris. We poured it out into a glass, and it just presented beautifully—it was nice; it was soft; it had this huge bouquet to it; it had a really juicy, tropical, fruity, hops-forward flavor to it and a wonderful balance. So that was a wonderful experience here in Nashville, and I’d want that beer in my 6-pack this week.”
Yazoo Brewing Company Daddy-O Pilsner
“I sat down at Martin’s Barbecue, just up the street here, and ordered up some ribs. It was a heavenly experience because we were starving and had been go-go-go all day. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and we hadn’t had lunch. It smells amazing in this place. We sit down at the bar, order up a round of beer and a platter of meat—ribs, pulled pork, brisket. The meat falls off the bone, and there was a beautiful dry-rub seasoning on the ribs. And there they are—our beers. I’d ordered the Daddy-O Pilsner from Yazoo. In that moment, paired with the barbecue, it was really fantastic.”
Brasserie Cantillon Fou’ Foune
“My wife and I went to Belgium a few years ago and did a nice Europe tour for our tenth wedding anniversary. We got to leave the kids with Grandma and traveled for fifteen days around Europe. We went to Germany, we went to Belgium, and my wife was very accommodating of my beer journeys in those two countries. I went to Cantillon, and I got to meet with the owners—Jean Van Roy and his father—and met with them at the end of the day, both hanging out and drinking beers with us. I tasted Fou’ Foune, which is such a memorable beer. In terms of “all-time” beers, for a really beautiful, soft, Senne River Valley spontaneous sour, I’ll never forget that beer.
“For me, beer is definitely all about the experience. That’s what we’re hoping to create with our new taproom, retail store, and production brewery. We’ve never really been able to create the Lawson’s Finest Experience for people at our own place because you can’t (currently) get to the brewery [due to its residential location], we don’t have tours or a retail shop, taproom, or tastings. The only way for us to create the experience has been to get out to events and festivals, but that’s such a limited window for people getting to interact with us. So we’re really excited about [our new brewery, retail store, and taproom in Waitsfield, Vermont].”
Zero Gravity Craft Brewery Green State Lager
“I’m good friends with Paul Sayler and the guys up at Zero Gravity Craft Brewery and American Flatbread in Burlington, Vermont. I love their Green State Lager. We get out on the golf course with Matt, one of the head guys there, and Green State Lager is our beer of choice. Whether it’s on the golf course or after a day of skiing up at Mad River Glen, because they usually have it on tap as well, that’s a beer I’d put in my 6-pack right now.”
The Alchemist Focal Banger
(Stowe, Vermont) “Focal Banger is a beer that I’ll always order when I’m out, or if I’m going through Stowe, I’ll definitely swing by the brewery and pick up some of that beer. It’s definitely one of my favorite beers coming out of Vermont, or anywhere. “I love the way the whole beer comes together—it’s balanced, it’s hops-forward while balanced at the same time, it has a big bouquet on it, and it’s 7 percent alcohol, but it’s totally crushable. It just drinks really nicely.
“John Kimmich of the Alchemist, in the early days when they just had a brewpub, would evaluate beers with this test—when you drink a whole pint, do you want to order another pint? Focal Banger is a beer where absolutely if you drink a full pint, you want another pint. It’s delicious.”
Harpoon Brewery Boston Irish Stout (Nitro)
“The other beer that I’ve been drinking at home a lot lately that’s been hitting the spot is Harpoon Boston Irish Stout on nitro. I really want something like that in our portfolio. It’s less than 5 percent ABV; it’s what I’d call ‘table-strength beer’—you can drink a few without getting too buzzed. It’s got a really soft, creamy mouthfeel. So much about how a beer comes together is whether it’s balanced and whether it has the right flavor components, and that beer hits the mark.
“Balance means different things to different people because taste and flavor and sensory is so subjective. For me, balance means it has the right amount of body and alcohol for the style; it has the right ratio of sweetness to bitterness to umami. And for me, balance means you take a sip and want to take another sip. There’s definitely something intangible about it.”
Miller High Life
“We were out late last night at the honky-tonk bars and ordered up a Miller High Life. It was beautiful. It hit the spot. There’s a time and a place for just about every beer.”