St. Bernardus Abt 12
Abt 12 is the definition of complexity and richness in a beer, while still being drinkable. I love it when beers are interesting alone but can also complement food really well. Some of my favorite foods are richer and fattier, like short ribs and mashed potatoes. What’s going to hold up to that? Abt 12.
If it weren’t for the alcohol, flavor-wise or drinkability-wise, you could have a bunch of Abt 12. It’s not like similar strong beers where you have one of them and you’re done. For me, I could keep having them.
There’s a nice balance of esters and phenols—neither jumps out more than the other—and it’s not very strong on either of those. It really lets the malt and alcohol talk. It’s far from neutral, but it complements flavor. When you’re designing a Belgian recipe, it’s the yeast that was meant to go with those big, rich, bold flavors. That yeast can also be used for 4 percent beer, and it’s beautiful and wonderful—like our beer The Harlot, which is 5.7 percent ABV, but it matches its harmony. It provides just a really nice, gentle, soft, yeast flavor. Abt 12 and other quads probably defined the direction of what I like to drink more than anything else. This beer can be big, bold, robust, and alcohol can taste good. And I don’t mean alcoholic beverages in general, but the nose, aroma, and flavor of alcohol can be nice and not something to be scared of. There are just layers and layers of complexity while still being balanced. I love it, and I love that it’s accessible everywhere—that’s the reason this beer is on my list and Westvleteren 12 isn’t.
If I ever have the ability to drink a beer in bed at 9 a.m., it’s a Duvel. It’s perfectly named for what it is—devil. It has the most beautiful head of any beer in the entire world. It is so light and crisp—so flavorful—and the alcohol is hidden so well. It’s so drinkable. I love the high carbonation on it. I love that it’s such a simple beer from a recipe standpoint, but one of the hardest codes to crack. Nobody can do it.
A homebrewer in San Diego who has passed away spent 20 years trying to replicate it. That’s so cool; it’s so magical. Like when Russian River contract-brewed at Firestone Walker while they were installing their new brewhouse and everyone freaked out. I’m like, ‘Guys, these are the two best brewers in the world; you’re not going to notice a difference.’ But I don’t know if those two guys could replicate Duvel. I’m sure working with Duvel they could, but I just love that.
More than that, it’s so unique and so style-defining, why would you want to replicate it? Even if you were to pull off a successful replication, a clone, what would be the point? You already have Duvel. Make your own.
I think it’s a really inspiring beer. And from an education standpoint, I think it’s great for beginner consumers to see that light beer can be strong.
Russian River Redemption
(Windsor and Santa Rosa, California)
Redemption is one of the best beers in the entire world and probably the biggest inspiration behind my favorite beer of ours, The Harlot. It’s the same yeast, too—White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale.
Redemption is like the crème brûlée of beers, where you’ve got this incredibly light, delicate thing that also is really complex and has so much more going on. If you were to drink it out of a Solo cup, it would taste good. But if you put it in a really nice glass and had a white-tablecloth dinner, it would pair well with all the food. It’s so unassuming, which makes me love it, because while it is unassuming and can seem to the layman just another 5 percent blonde Belgian singel, it’s got so much going on for how little it is. And that is so incredibly difficult to achieve. It’s easy to get incredible complexity out of big beers. But to do that with nuance in a beer around 5 percent ABV—what an achievement.
To use a film analogy, most people just want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing shit up. The pastry style is the liquid equivalent of blowing things up on the big screen. But Redemption is like The Godfather, or Citizen Kane—it’s not necessarily action-packed, but it’s a beautiful film. You don’t even have to love the story to enjoy watching it. It’s just this incredibly beautiful beer that should not be overlooked just because it’s quiet.
Stone Imperial Russian Stout
Stone IRS is probably the second most important beer in my life when it comes to inspiring me in what kind of beers I want to make. It was a revelation that showed me beer can be big, bold, and aggressive, but it doesn’t have to be over the top.
I think it used to come in at 10.5 percent, and it has flavors that got me into the beer, which is chocolate. I love chocolate. When I found out—through Rogue Chocolate Stout—that beer could taste like chocolate, that’s when I knew. I was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do the rest of my life.’ And I was like, ‘Wait a minute, beer can have flavor more than just light beers? This is absolutely crazy.’ And I started going down that path.
After ping-ponging around between chile beer and Pyramid Apricot Ale and stuff like that, it seemed like a little too much. But then I tasted Stone IRS and got the chocolate, coffee, nuttiness—and it’s hoppy, too. All these different things, while using only four ingredients? It blew my mind. Again, it’s incredibly drinkable. It’s not something where you have a glass of it, and you’re like, ‘All right, I’m good.’ It could be a gulping beer, not a sipping beer. And I think that’s difficult to achieve at 10.5 percent. Stone IRS drinks like it’s an 8 percent stout.
I love when it’s fresh and hoppy. (I prefer all beers fresh—I don’t like aging them.) Every year I used to buy three cases—one case for drinking immediately, one to get me through the year (cracking one a month), and another one that I would age. I now have a pallet full of cases because all the Stone employees in San Diego know what I think about it and they all have their own collection, so always on my birthday or a Societe anniversary, I get a bunch of gifts.
They aren’t currently making it, and I still crack them and enjoy them, but I really miss it fresh.
3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze
Oude Gueuze is why we don’t call our sour beer ‘sours.’ We call them ‘feral’ because to call a beer like that sour is doing it serious injustice. There’s so much more going on than sourness—the layer of funk and the type of funk, to me it’s like the stinky cheese of the beer world. With stinky cheese, you have aromas like sweaty socks and all these things that on the surface seem disgusting—why would you put that in your mouth? But it tastes so good.
With 3 Fonteinen, if my dad asked, ‘What do you like about that beer?’ I’d be like, ‘Well, it tastes like barnyard and goat.’ And he’d reply “What the fuck? Why are you drinking a beer that tastes like that? That’s disgusting.’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, taste it.’
It’s just perfection and something that cannot be replicated because it’s only made by 3 Fonteinen. It’s the ideal way to explain Belgian terroir when it comes to that style of making beer. I love that it’s ancient. I love all those guys that stay true to what they do and that it is such an art. And God, talk about chuggable—if I could get it in $5 pints, I’d be drinking it all day.
Pizza Port Swami’s IPA
We started Societe in San Diego because of our love of hoppy beers. IPAs are all the rage everywhere, now, but before they were the rage everywhere—when it was just a beer that brewers drank—every beer drinker in San Diego drank IPAs. That’s just what you did—you drank IPAs. If you ordered macro light beer, people were like, ‘Oh, this person’s from out of town.’
Swami’s, among many other beers, helped make San Diego IPA what it is. If there were a Mount Rushmore for West Coast IPAs, it would be on it. It’s hoppy, and when you make an IPA, it’s not just throwing a bunch of hops in—it’s layering in those flavors. The fact that it’s in 16-ounce cans is just the most beautiful thing ever. It’s always fresh and incredibly consistent. And I think it’s a lot of nostalgia for me, too. Pizza Port was my first real job in the industry, so it’s near and dear to my heart. Tomme Arthur and Jeff Bagby are two of my role models. Thankfully, I’m honored to call them friends, also. And Pizza Port today is something I’m really proud of. When we look at the breweries in San Diego, I’m so proud that we can call Pizza Port one of our own for many different reasons.
I think it’s cool that it started out as a little pizza shop with a little homebrew setup and then grew to a couple of locations and now a production facility. It’s just so quintessential San Diego—all the kids who work at Pizza Port are a bunch of 17-year-old stoners—not the brewers of course, but it’s just so, so San Diego. It’s what I love about this city, which is just kind of like this no-frills IPA. It’s just an IPA; nobody thinks about it. With Swami’s, I drink a crap ton of it. The price point is great—I think they sell it at $10.99 for a six-pack of 16 oz cans. It doesn’t get better than that.
It’s so consistent. It’s not going to be something that you take to a bottle share, and I think that’s the greatest thing about it. You wouldn’t take Sierra Nevada Pale to a bottle share either. And I think that’s what makes it beautiful—widely accessible, inexpensive, yet incredibly delicious. It expresses the terroir of San Diego. Pair that with a burrito or some fish tacos, put on some sandals, and just close your eyes. You’ll be in San Diego.