Roundtable Discussion: Favorite Brewery
There are over 1500 breweries in the United States alone. Some of them people love and others unfortunately not so much. What qualities are needed to make someone pick their favorite with so many options available? Is it purely based on flavors? Is it due to experiences had while enjoying the beer? Is it from knowing and befriending employees of the brewery? Not surprisingly this varies from person to person as we see here at J Street Beer. One choice was absolutely shocking…wait no Shintern did indeed pick Shiner.
For me it has to be Bells because their beers are consistently great. The worst beer I’ve ever had from them I would call average for the style. Hopslam is my favorite beer in the world due to its out of this world hoppy flavor and great honey finish but that’s just the tip of the Bells awesomeness. I hate cherry flavor in beer but their Cherry Stout is great without having too much cherry kick. While I don’t love Two Hearted to death like a lot of people, it is an amazingly dependable IPA, a pleasing find at many bars with unimpressive options, and a reminder that having a heart can be so important that you might as well have two. They do a great job with all of their dark beers with the Kalamazoo Stout being my favorite and the Hell Hath No Fury, Expedition Stout, and Porter all being delicious as well. In addition to all of those great options they do lower ABV beers phenomenally. Nothing beats an Oberon on a hot summer day, a Best Brown anytime, and I’m pretty sure I drank more of their Amber than anything in college since it was $7.99 a six at the store around the corner.
No matter what my mood is or the weather I can always depend on Bells to have something that’ll fit superbly.
My favorite brewery is Flying Dog Brewery out of Frederick Maryland. I wasn’t always a fan of Flying Dog. The first time I had it, back in college when I was just getting into microbrews, I hated it. That all changed when I moved to DC and was able to try a wider variety of their brews. One particular beer won me over: The Raging Bitch. I had never tried a Belgian IPA before, but I loved it and the style ever since. This led me to try many of their other well-rounded beers many of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Another reason I chose this brewery as my favorite is that they are local-ish to me in DC which allows me to have access to many of their casks and limited releases. Their locality has also allowed me to meet some of the staff of Flying Dog who are very friendly and very knowledgeable. While I hated this brewery to start, I’ve grown to love their good people and good beer. As their motto says, “Good People Drink Good Beer”
One of my biggest regrets from my time living in DC is never making it to the Heavy Seas Beer & BBQ event in the early spring. Sadly I’m not going to make it to their upcoming Beer & Bacon Fest either. Beyond the fact that their event schedule clearly proves that they understand consumer tastes, I’ve found that Heavy Seas does an amazing job of producing beers that are excellent for their style but also have enough creativity to be interesting every time.
It felt great having my first Loose Cannon in a few months just last night at Bull Feeney’s in Portland, Maine. This is a classic example of starting with a strong, hoppy beer that would be a good IPA in and of itself, but then adding just enough flavor and complexity to set it apart without becoming gimmicky. Add their Peg Leg Imperial Stout into the mix and I have a tough time thinking that there are many other breweries that I’d trust as much when looking for a delicious, interesting beer.
I think Titan was my first introduction to a good hoppy IPA, and the Hercules double is another great effort in that vein. And really, what can I say about the Oak Aged Yeti that hasn’t been said yet. Some offerings can be uneven, but in a good year/batch, Fresh Hop will make my top 5.
Even if you’re looking for something lighter, the DPA is a classic an easy drinking Pale ale, that’s always a nice find on a tap list.
Overall a consistently solid brewery.
Stillwater Artisan Ales out of Baltimore. I’d say there is something in the water, but… it’s Baltimore and that whole Chesapeake Bay Wetlands Restoration Project hasn’t made all that much progress. So it’s probably the house yeast they use in their artisan ales. That said, Stillwater Artisan Ales does not really have a home. Brian Strumke of Stillwater Artisanal Ales is a self-proclaimed “gypsy brewer”, meaning he travels around to different craft breweries he likes and contracts out excess space from these breweries to make his own recipes for limited edition batches and a brand. The downside of this itinerant brewing business is that he has to trust other people with tending to his batches when he is not there, but the upside is that he does not have to pay back a multi-million dollar loan for a facility. This may have changed since I last checked out the brewery, but that is an interesting way to do business in 22 states here in the U.S. and 8 countries in Europe.”
What I like about the beer is the complexity of the Belgian inspired ales. They are familiar, but different enough to make any efforts to pigeon hole them futile. To describe the beer to someone you have to be descriptive and get into the ingredients to do it justice. To use his words: “I leave it to the imbiber to decide what style it is.”
I’ve loved Anderson Valley beers for a long time now. I really don’t see that changing. Anderson Valley makes a handful of above average beers and a few that stand out in a crowd. I’ve never been disappointed with one of their beers. Their Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout still remains the best I’ve had and the Solstice beers are nearly impossible to match.
Based out of middle-of-nowhere-northern-California (Boonville), the brewery sits on a huge plot of farmland with hops, horses, and (my personal favorite) a Frisbee golf course. I was lucky enough to visit the brewery while on my honeymoon. It was great to spend a day out in the warm sun, in a lightly wooded field, beer in one hand, Frisbee in the other, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and cool fresh air.
Their brewery is worth a visit and their beers are worth every drop.
Shiner was one of the few breweries to make it through the doldrums of the light beer craze and while I can’t profess my undying love for all their beers, I still believe that Shiner Bock is one of the best all-season beers available.
The brewery itself is located about an hour to hour and a half drive outside of Austin. When I toured the facility, the fortunate souls that staffed the tour, shop, and tasting room, explained that the brewery selects volunteers through a lottery system where only shiner residents are eligible.
Finally, Shiner hosts an annual century (100 mile) bicycle ride from Austin to the brewery in April, which just sounds awesome. You can bet your ass I’ll be there next year.