Being people who like to ramble about beer, we’ve all discussed (ad nauseum) what the best beers in the world are.* In any taproom in the world on any given night there are invariably drunk beer aficionados holding forth on why they think Jimmy John’s Hog Wallow Porter (or whatever) is the best goddamn beer ever brewed. This is generally the kind of argument that Aleheads delight in. Given that beer appreciation is a more or less subjective matter, we all get to be firmly convinced that we are right while at the same time tearing down our idiotic compatriots for their absurd opinions.
*See our many, varied and utterly arbitrary “Top Ten” lists.
Along those lines, this week’s Conundrum is going to be all about individual preference. Picking a “best beer” is entirely different than picking a favorite beer. And, for that matter, your favorite beer may well be different than your answer to this week’s Conundrum. Imagine you’ve washed up on a desert island which, for some reason or another, has a single tap sticking out of a palm tree. You know you’re going to be stuck on this island for the rest of your life, and you have the ability to decide what single beer will spring forth from this magical palm tree tap for the rest of time. What would your desert island beer be?
The rules are simple. Tell us what beer you’d choose, and tell us why.
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
As Beerford wisely notes, it’s not necessarily the “best” beer you’ve ever had. Maybe, like a lot of Aleheads, the Westy 12 is the finest ale you’ve ever sipped. But do you really want to only drink a massive Quad for the remainder of your days? Wouldn’t that malt bill and ABV content get a little cloying over time? Likewise, you might be a hop-head of the highest order, but I imagine after 6 months of only drinking Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, the thought of consuming another citric, hop-forward Double IPA would make you insane.
The beer has to be something complex enough to stay interesting, but accessible enough where the “bigger” flavors don’t overwhelm you after the 1,000th pint. I love the North Coast Brother Thelonius, but it’s too sweet. I love the Terrapin Big Hoppy Monster, but it’s too bitter. I love the AleSmith Speedway Stout, but it’s just too…umm…everything.
I’ve been hemming and hawing on this one since Beerford and I first discussed it a few weeks ago. Sam Smith’s Nut Brown? It’s sessionable and inoffensive, but it might get a little boring after awhile. Ditto other easy session brews like Sierra Nevada’s classic Pale Ale or Sam’s ubiquitous Boston Lager. The flavors of those brews wouldn’t overwhelm me…but I’d be highly disappointed if they were the only beers I could drink for all eternity.
And so, I defaulted to a beer that will surprise absolutely no one that knows me…Orval Trappist Ale. It may be my favorite beer ever (I can’t really say that I have one, but it’s always hovering around the top of my mental list), so clearly I love the brew. But more importantly, it’s got all the right characteristics for a desert island beer. It’s remarkably complex…a full-bodied Belgian pale ale that’s lagered after primary fermentation and incorporates wild Brettanomyces yeast which add an amazing depth of flavor. It’s also the only Trappist ale that’s dry-hopped which gives the brew a beautifully fragrant, floral aroma that balances the yeasty funk and horseblanket that defines the beer. Big carbonation keeps the brew light on the tongue and at 6.9% ABV it’s strong enough to serve its purpose without kicking your ass. There are no “huge” flavors to crush your palate. Just lots of different notes that work beautifully in concert. In my estimation, it’s a nearly perfect beer.
All that said, I certainly wouldn’t be thrilled if Orval was the only beer I could drink for the rest of my days. Variety is the spice of life, of course…and there really isn’t any single beer that would make me happy for eternity. But Orval is the beer that would make me the “least angry” if it was the only brew pouring out of Beerford’s fictional palm tree tap. And I suppose, in the end, that’s the goal of this Conundrum. So which beers would piss you off the least, my fellow Aleheads?
COMMANDER PINT O. CHUG
- Flavor: has to be delicious while being complex enough that it does not get boring
- Drinkability: obvious
- Alcohol content: anything under 4% would be a waste of time and anything over 9% would be hard to drink day in, day out
- Finally, as a dose of reality for this intrinsically unrealistic conundrum, the beer really needs to be able to keep for awhile. I’m not saying it has to keep forever, but let’s not forget I’d be the only one drinking from the keg.
I’ve basically replicated this challenge by recently purchasing what I’m pretty sure is the majority of Central Ohio’s supply of Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale. It is like NRA members at the first post-Obama election gun show–I’m that afraid it won’t be there next time I want some. At $4.95 per bomber (22.5 cents per ounce) it is a little expensive to have it on hand at all times at Aleheads Central Command. Hence I keep a steady supply of Bell’s Two Hearted, which weighs in at a more reasonable 15.3 cents per ounce. But I assume if I am marooned on a desert island, whichever one of my fellow Aleheads arranged for me to be dropped off there will be kind enough to pay my credit card bill.*
* No need to pay my student loans, as I plan to retain Paul Hupp as my attorney.
I love both of these beers. Little Sumpin’ Wild is an exquisite wild ale. Near as I can tell, it’s Lagunitas’ Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ (a wheaty pale ale) brewed in a used wine cask. The wine yeasts give it a slight Belgian touch. Actually, I don’t know what makes it taste this way, but it has a deep malty, yet floral aroma and taste. I acknowledge that it is a tad on the sweet side, but it is still just plain freaking delicious. It meets my four criteria: tasty, complex, drinkable, in the 4-9% ABV zone, and it keeps for awhile (at least, that’s the premise under which I bought a case of bombers of it).
As regular readers of these pages have by now determined, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is my go-to beer. It’s one of the truly great American IPAs. It is remarkably balanced considering how hoppy it is. I would have no problem having this beer on tap every day for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t want to be confined to a single beer, but if I had to be, Two Hearted would be at the top of my list. But is it a desert island beer? I say yes: it’s delicious, complex, drinkable, in the 4-9% ABV zone, and sturdy over time.
So after considering the four criteria… I’m deadlocked. Can’t I have both??
Two words break the tie for me in favor of Little Sumpin’ Wild: reduced flatulence. The hops in the Two Hearted do a number on my intestines. Little Sumpin’ Wild is not without its hoppiness, but Two Hearted is in a different league: sometimes after a night of particularly heavy consumption, I will wake up thinking I’ve been stabbed in the gut. In fact, the day after “Lord” Copperpot and I took down a mini keg of the Two Hearted last year, we were practically ejected from the kids’ science museum in Columbus. You know it is bad when two 30 year olds out-fart thousands of 8 year olds dressed up like Spiderman.
8 year olds, Dude.
DR. RIPPED VAN DRINKALE, III
Flatulence, I have to follow up flatulence? Awesome. To me, this is the Conundrum of all Conundra, the enigmatic inner quest that Aleheads have tried to wrap their minds around for centuries. My brain hurts every time I have to come up with an answer to this question and my answer is almost always different based on various reasons. I like variety, man how I like variety. Heading down the aisles of my favorite beer stores or raking my hands across the taps at my favorite watering hole (Note, that’s frowned upon), I’m always at my happiest when I know that I’ve got a couple of choices in front of me. It’s not that I need a thousand beers to choose from so I can pick the right one, it’s that I want a few of the best beers laid out in front of me so I can pick the one that is right for the occasion. I’ve had 1000’s of beers, probably 100 of which I’d try to cram into my top 50 and 20 that I’d try to cram into my top 10. I can usually narrow down a list and leave out worthy beers without a problem, but that’s only because I know that the end result will still be a bunch of great beer. I can even pick my top beer out of any style since I know that numbers 2 and 3 are always just a short “I changed my mind” away from consumption. One beer though? One beer forever? I feel sick just thinking about it.
As others have noted, I’m not trying to come up with my favorite beer or favorite style that will last for eternity. Can you even imagine the 10th day on the island, after you’ve had 10 pints of a 10%ABV Imperial IPA day after day after day? Granted, I’d be out of my misery in a short amount of time due to either alcohol poisoning or my face caving in from bitterness, but having my favorite thing in the world in an endless supply probably isn’t a good thing. Yes, I too need to back things off a couple notches in terms of booze and flavor profiles. Not too much though. As Brother Barley and I have discussed this topic with one another for years, it’s no surprise that two of my go-to answers for this have also been Sam Smith’s Nut Brown and Sierra’s Pale Ale. Great, great beers, but kind of boring if that’s all you have to drink for an extended period of time. The butteryness of the Nut Brown would kill me after a while and the lack of depth in the Pale Ale would get old pretty fast. Again, no knock on those beers. What I need is a beer that will provide me with enough booze to keep me in a constant hazy state, enough character to keep me intrigued, and something that can be consumed at any time of year regardless of the weather or amount of sun sores developing on my body. For my palm tree tap on my deserted island, I want none other than Duvel.
Clocking in at a respectable 8.5% ABV, Duvel gives you a highly effervescent Belgian Pale Ale that will quench your thirst and also provide enough liquid bread to get you through the day. It’s not the most complex beer, nor is it overly robust in any sense, but it’s a beer that I’ve never complained about and never been anything but excited for the ensuing first sip. I don’t know what else to say. I don’t feel like I have to defend my position and I don’t feel like I’ll be attacked for throwing a beer like this into the mix. It’s Duvel. Who doesn’t want to drink Duvel from here to eternity?
SIR MAGNUS SKULLSPLITTER
So, I understand the general concept of this Conundrum. I agree with my esteemed brethren that variety is the spice of life, and it would of course be extremely difficult to choose a single beer for my deserted island. However, if this were easy, it wouldn’t take experts such as ourselves.
For my money, I want a beer that’s refreshing and stylish. Something easy to drink, tasty enough that I’ll enjoy it, and refreshing on a hot summer day (why does no one ever get stranded on a deserted island off the coast of Alaska?) So, I’d like to request that ol’ Aleheads standby, Dale’s Pale Ale. And, of course, rather than a tap in a palm tree, I would like to have a bottomless cooler of cans, as that is the best way to truly appreciate the Dale’s, for my money. Is that agreed upon? Yes? OK, good.
Now that I have an unlimited supply of cans of Dale’s, I can enjoy the beer for years and years, carefully saving my cans. After a few years, I should have enough cans saved up to follow in the footsteps of a personal hero of mine, Kenichi Horie. He once sailed from Salinas, Ecuador to Tokyo on a solar-powered boat made of recycled aluminum. This way, I could build a boat from empty cans of Dale’s Pale Ale, then sail to the other Alehead islands. I could create a barter system where I bring Dale’s (and the beers from the other deserted islands) to my Alehead brethren in exchange for supplies of their various beers. I’m going to go ahead and assume that the islands are close enough that this would work. Thus shall I build the great Alehead economy of the South Pacific.
Like the rest of the Aleheads, I’ve truly fought and struggled with this one. Every time I think I’ve narrowed it down to just one, I have a moment of sheer mental panic thinking that I could never go through the rest of my life without some other beer that I know and love. I’m delighted that Sir Skullsplitter has plans to set up a barter economy among our various deserted islands. What a fantastic interpretation of this Conundrum’s rules. In any case, since I made the rules, I supposed I should follow them.* And so, my desert island beer will have to be Deschutes Mt. Bachelor ESB. At 5.3% ABV it’s one that isn’t going to kick my ass, but will certainly get the job done. It has a moderately forward, if not aggressive, nose, mostly citrus hops with a little biscuity malt to balance. The flavor is more of the same, moderate hops up front, bread-malt in the middle, and a nice mild bitter finish. Sessionable without being boring, and with enough complexity that I’m not going to tire of it terribly quickly.
*Why didn’t I think to make my special magical palm tree come with half a dozen taps? It was my goddamn Conundrum! I’m a freaking idiot.
I noticed that, true to form, the Commander chose to ignore the magical nature of the eternal palm tree tap and instead to worry about how well his beer choices would keep. I honestly sometimes wonder if he actually knows how to read, or if instead he just kind of intuits what a page of text says through some kind of psychic internet osmosis process.
Anyway, here’s hoping that you, faithful readers, never find yourself having to make this choice. Variety truly is the spice of life, and so before you end up trapped on your own island, I highly recommend that you go forth and sample as many of the myriad delicious brews that exist in such abundance these days as you can. Of course, there’s plenty of utter crap out there as well, so while you’re drinking I implore you to be careful to…