Personality-wise, brewers map a similar range as the general population, from beer shotgunning partiers to quiet introverts. de Garde Brewing Cofounder Trevor Rogers falls on the pensive side of that range, with the demeanor of a college professor shot through with Vulcan-style rationality. Intense and focused, Rogers has doggedly pursued his own brewhouse dream of producing spontaneously fermented and thoughtfully blended beers from the brewery he founded with his wife, Linsey, out on the Oregon coast. And his 6-pack of beers reflects a respect for brewers who share a common drive to play in the space between chaos and control.
Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze
“Oude Gueuze is continually one of the best examples of the style, and that style in particular is one that has been hugely influential on how we brew and what we make. The consistency and overall level of quality over the years, as well as the tenure of Armand [Debelder] himself to the industry, can’t be stated enough. “The overwhelming sense of Brettanomyces complexity and minerality to that beer make it distinctive. The artistry that they bring into their blending and the fact that they can have such consistently high quality at such a level is fantastic and amazing and something to strive for.
“Unfortunately, I haven’t made it over since their new facility opened, the lambik-O-droom (that will be rectified this spring), but we’ve been fortunate enough that Armand has shown us around and talked with us on multiple occasions. The level of knowledge he has—I don’t know if that will be matched again. He’s in his sixties and has been doing this since he was six-years-old and they made him a custom stool so he could pour beer for customers. He’s been been hands-on every day since. I have the utmost respect for his history in the industry and the level of knowledge he’s accumulated over that time, as well as his beer itself. He’s a genuine treat to talk to and just listen to.
“I wish I could find it more often and enjoy it, but I recognize that—just as we are—they’re a fairly small brewery. The fact that it makes it to the United States at all, and doesn’t require a trip over there to enjoy it, is fantastic and shows effort on their part.”
Gueuzerie Tilquin Gueuze L’Ancienne
“When well made, gueuze is certainly my favorite style of beer. Pierre [Tilquin] deserves the utmost credit as a younger, newer blender for putting out such amazing high-quality product across the board and having so quickly—‘mastered’ probably isn’t the right word because most Belgian lambic producers would tell you that you never master it—but so quickly made such great gueuze blends, which are the greatest reflection, perhaps, of the artistry and the talent for blenders.
“He deserves a ton of credit and definitely a place on my list for jumping into a mature industry as a young man and being able to, in very short order, make such an amazing product—one that I can’t get enough of to drink myself.
“Pierre is remarkably consistent in his gueuze blends, and on the whole they’re just right. Everything is in its right place. They’re complex, they’re nuanced, there are no rough edges—as a whole composition, you don’t have to think about it because it’s so well made that nothing stands out, but you certainly can because there are so many great elements to it.
“The best beers, the ones we enjoy the most, don’t beat you over the head even if they have some overall aggressive character. But because they are so delicately balanced, you can just enjoy them, or you can geek out and pick them apart on an intellectual level or a production level.”
Brasserie Fantôme Saison
“Fantôme Saison is on my list not only because it’s always a delicious adventure, it’s one of the rare cases where consistency isn’t necessary. The uniqueness of each batch and each bottle of saison is part of the intrinsic beauty of it. It’s always an adventure going into it, and you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, but it’s almost always amazing. Not only is it one of my favorite beers to consume, I think that the current American craft-beer industry and the plethora of slightly wild saison- or farmhouse-inspired beers and such wouldn’t be where it is today if it were not for what Dany [Prignon, Fantôme founder] has done with the style and set an example with. If you go through a list of producers of that style, the vast majority will express some admiration or inspiration from Fantôme and Dany.
“I’ve never had a bottle that I wasn’t just speechless with. There’s always the underlying strawberry characteristic and other fruit notes that are always there, with variable amounts of Brettanomyces character that is less distinguishably fruit-forward, along with varying amounts of acid. The variation in characteristics is insane, and it’s always fun to see how they evolve over time, given the opportunity. I’m not one to typically save or cellar a lot of beer, but his bottles are some of the very few that evolve in character and nuance to such a degree that they almost beg for tracking their evolution over time.
“One of the most nuanced, insanely delicious, and insane in general beers I’ve ever had was what I believe was an eighteen-year- old bottle of [Fantôme] Blanche when I was over in Brussels, Belgium, a few years back. The tropical and vibrant character to such an old beer was something I had never seen before, and it was so far from what I expected going into it.”
Live Oak Hefeweizen
“I, unfortunately, had to wait far too long to have the opportunity to enjoy this one. I’d been led to believe that it would be a delicately nuanced and delicious beer, but it so far exceeded what I‘d been led to believe that it would or could be. “My only regret is that I can only enjoy it on rare occasions, although that’s becoming a little more often now that it’s being canned and we have friends that head this way from down there with some regularity. But again, it’s just a phenomenally, delicately balanced beer that you can take to an intellectual level or just enjoy for being incredibly drinkable and refreshing and delicious.
“Visiting them and seeing the amount of time and care that they put into that beer tells you where that difference comes from. It’s an all-day beer for them to brew, and that’s not what you see from most people producing the style. They take all the appropriate steps to make it the best they can and to get those little nuances and details and yeast profiles just right.
“I was firmly convinced it could not possibly be better than Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier (that had not been aged forever or injured in transport or storage), but it did actually surpass it in my mind. And if it hadn’t, Weihenstephan would be on my list instead.
“It’s just a great beer—you get a sense that this is not just a commercial activity but a passion project. They could certainly sell a ton of Hefeweizen that took less time to brew and less care and effort to make, particularly given the climate in Texas. It would still be refreshing and delicious, I’m sure, but instead they do it right. I’ll always have a place for beers like that, even if they aren’t one of my favorite styles. You can taste when somebody cares about what they’re trying to do.”
Heater Allen Pils
“Heater Allen is another brewery devoted to lagers, and pretty much every brewer I know drinks a hell of a lot of Pils. These guys are incredibly dedicated to the craft and are continually experimenting both in ingredients and process to try to do better rather than resting on their laurels and saying, “We can sell the product; this is good enough.” That shows through. It’s just a phenomenal, clean, well-made Pilsner, and that’s probably the nicest thing you could say about a Pilsner. “There’s a professional respect and admiration for a brewery that can make a clean, delicate style that doesn’t have room to hide any flaws. If you can execute that, you deserve a ton of respect for your brewing acumen and skill. Beyond that, on a hot day when we’ve been working, I and most brewers want something clean, light, enjoyable, and aqueous. It fits that niche. It’s just a delicious, refreshing beer with no rough edges to it. It’s impeccably balanced.
“A well-made Pils defies reference to another one. Why is it good? Because it’s a well-made Pils. You can say what it’s not, but what it is is good and right. A well-made Pilsner is like petrichor—that smell you get with rain after a dry spell. That sensory overload you get isn’t relative to anything else; it’s its own thing. A well-made Pils is defined by what it’s not, in the same way.”
“I haven’t mentioned a fruit beer yet, and I do have an affinity for them, so I was thinking about Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek, which I find inspirational for their utilization of fruit and the purity of character they achieve in that as well as its ability to mature over time. But I also drink a hell of a lot of IPA, and I don’t have one of those on the list yet either. When I talked to my wife about this last night, she suggested I should say “wine,” which would be the most accurate. But I can’t close out my list without mentioning…
Hill Farmstead Arthur
(Greensboro Bend, Vermont)
“This is yet another beer that’s a great achievement in brewing, not just because of its quality—the sense of intention that it expresses—but also the inspiration it’s provided to a lot of other producers. It truly is a pleasure to drink, always, whether it’s fresh or it’s been aged for a short period of time. It’s always going to be a great experience.
“More than that, it’s a domestic-beer milestone or landmark of sorts, as well as being technically deserving of respect. I would be remiss not to mention a beer of Shaun [Hill]’s on any list because we have the utmost respect for the care and attention to detail in all his beers, the passion he brings to the industry, and the standard he sets for the rest of us.
“There’s a lot to be said for [the price they release it at], as well. Their ability to meet demand is just not there, so to continue pricing what—in my mind—is a damn-near perfect beer at $10 for a 750 ml bottle in the face of that demand is beyond commendable. He’s running the business how he wants to, and certainly that isn’t purely with a profit motive.
“The best compliment I could say about it is that it’s just strictly a joy to drink. It’s vibrant, it has complexity, there’s an elegant Brettanomyces nuance, and there’s the touch of acidity that brightens and enlivens the composition without making it a sour beer per se. It enhances the whole rather than being a defining factor, and that’s a very, very deft line to walk.”