BARLEY’S BEST BREWERIES

I thought it might be interesting to do a personalized “Top 10 Breweries” list to see if I could whittle all of the incredible ale factories in the world down to just a handful. These are my “apocalypse” breweries. If civilization collapses, and only 10 breweries remain, these are the ones I would select. Determining this list was extremely difficult. My choices definitely aren’t the 10 “best” breweries in the world…just the 10 that mean the most to me. I left off some brilliant ale factories simply because I haven’t sampled enough of their products or because I don’t have enough of a relationship with their brews at this point in my life. Geography plays a major role in that since I have very little access to some of the fine West Coast offerings. Such is life…we take what we can get.

Some caveats…this list is skewed almost entirely towards American breweries. That’s not to say America is the best brewing nation (though it is)…it’s just that, I’m an American. I enjoy brews from all over the world, but when push comes to shove, I prefer my local products. I’m a goddamn patriot is what I am.

The second caveat is that 10 is a really small number. I mean REALLY small. Trying to pare down all of my favorite breweries to a list that tiny was painful. Particularly since no one actually asked me to take on this task and it was a conundrum entirely of my own making. But I’m nothing if not persistently stupid, so I did my best. Just as an example of how hard this task was, take a look at this Top 10 list:

10. Great Divide
9. Victory
8. Ommegang
7. Bear Republic
6. Brooklyn
5. Troegs
4. Port/Lost Abbey
3. Three Floyds
2. AleSmith
1. Dogfish Head

Pretty awesome, right? That’s a murderer’s row of ale factories. You know how many of those are on my personal Top 10? None. That’s how hard it is to make a list of top breweries. So if you have a problem with my selections…just know that I do too. Hell, it will probably change tomorrow. But for now, here’s the list:

10. Samuel Smith: This is actually the brewery that got me thinking about this list. I overlook Sam Smith’s a lot, but after cracking open an Oatmeal Stout the other night (it had probably been a couple of years since my last one), I remembered that I really, really like everything they do. Their Taddy Porter, their ridiculously sessionable Nut Brown, their Imperial Stout, their Winter Welcome…they’re about as solid and consistent a brewery as exists on Earth. That consistency is probably why they’re overlooked. Plus they don’t really have flashy marketing, names, or funky, extreme brews. All they do is make some of the best beers in the world and they’ve been doing it for over 250 years. Can’t leave them off the list.

9. Orval: Probably a surprise, but not to folks who know me. Orval pretty much makes just one beer, but damn is it a good beer. Maybe you think Rochefort, Westvleteren, or Westmalle should be my Trappist entry. But in all honesty, if I’m only drinking one Trappist beer for the rest of my life, it’s Orval. Hell, if I’m only drinking one BEER for the rest of my life…it very well might be Orval.

8. Oskar Blues: They’ve got a small line-up and there are a couple of duds on there (I’m looking at you Gubna). But if my fridge was only filled with Dale’s Pale Ale, Ten FIDY, Old Chub, and the Gordon…I certainly wouldn’t complain. Plus, cans! I love drinking out of cans!

7. North Coast: I suspect the other Aleheads wouldn’t have them on the list, but North Coast is a personal favorite. The Old Rasputin is their “killer app”, but the Brother Thelonius, Pranqster, Old Stock, Old #38, Red Seal…even their sessionable ACME label brews are all supremely drinkable and well-crafted beers. I can’t think of a time when I haven’t had at least one of their offerings chilling in the McHops Monastery.

6. Avery: Avery’s one of those amazing ale factories that somehow seems to nail every style. They make killer stouts, amazing IPAs, delicious Belgians, and super-sessionable English-style ales. The worst beer they make is probably their Karma (a Belgian Pale Ale)…and you know what? It’s pretty good!

5. Deschutes: My favorite of the Oregon breweries. Deschutes is rightly championed for their stupendous Abyss, but they’re no slouches when it comes to other styles. The Black Butte Porter (and it’s XX variations), their Obsidian Stout, the Hop Henge, Hop Trip, even their basic Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Cinder Cone Red. Every one is a winner. No way they were getting left off the list.

4. Terrapin: I’ll definitely be the only Alehead to have them on the list (and even I was surprised at how high I had them). But since moving to the Southeast, the Terps have become my “go to” brewers. Their Big Hoppy Monster and Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout have become two of my absolute favorite brews and all of their one-offs, mash-ups, and oak-aged offerings are simply outstanding. They always go big and they ALWAYS make interesting beers.

3. Russian River: Ask a thousand Aleheads to name the best brewery in the U.S. and chances are Russian River will rise to the top of the list. They’re best known for their insanely delicious Pliny the Elder (and the Younger which is, as yet, undrank by me), but the brewery doesn’t stop at just Imperial IPAs. The Supplication, Temptation, Consecration, Beatification, Sanctification, Temptation…their basic Blind Pig IPA…each one is a gem. They do Belgians, porters, stouts, wild ales, brown ales. You name it, and Russian River doesn’t just make it…they master it. Find me another brewery that knocks it out of the park every time like they do.

2. Allagash: My boys. I’m a sucker for Belgian-style brews and NOBODY does Belgian-style brews with an American twist like Allagash. Four, Grand Cru, Curieaux, Confluence, Gargamel, Fluxus, Interlude, Odyssey. Beautiful names. Beautiful brews. My mouth waters just typing them. It was my favorite brewery for many years until recently. But King Allagash has been overthrown by…

1. Founders: I came to Founders late in life, but since sampling their suds, I haven’t looked back. Their Breakfast Stout (and the Kentucky and Canadian variations) is obviously what caught my attention first, but since then, I’ve learned that Founders can literally do no wrong. As Doc said, even their cherry beer (the Cerise) is ridiculously good. The Red Rye, Porter, Devil Dancer, Dirty Bastard, Imperial Stout, and Centennial are all special, special beers. They do barrel-aged brews better than almost anyone and they’re always pushing the envelope and experimenting. If someone told me I could only partake of brews from one ale factory for the remainder of my days, I wouldn’t hesitate to say “Founders”. Now if only they distributed to Alabama…

I challenge the rest of the staff to write up their own Top 10 lists and share them with our dear readers. What say you, Aleheads? Are you man enough?!

Advertisements

14 comments

  1. First, your ideas are stupid, but I like your moxie.
    Second, no, I am not man enough. That was your question, right?

    In no particular order, unless of course you consider reverse-numerical an order, here lies the list of Dr. Ripped Van Drinkale III

    10. Dogfish Head – I put them last, but they need to be on my list. If armageddon strikes tomorrow, I’m not so sure I could go on living if the world didn’t contain Raison D’Etra (The beer, not just the reason for being translation). I take the Dogfish to the end, faults and all.

    9. Ayinger – I’ll need to have a good Double Bock (Celebrator) and an authentic Oktoberfest on my list. Look no further than the boys from Aying. Unbelievable consistency, best in class German ale(lager)factory

    8. Samuel Smith – See Barley, Brother

    7. Duvel – Kind of my plain-Jane selection. When I look in my fridge and just want a little taste of perfection, I’ll look no further that a stubby bottle of Duvel

    6. Cantillon – Maybe I’m the only Alehead that will list this Belgian Lambic specialist. I’m going to need variety if there’s only 10 breweries left. Lambic lovers use Cantillon to compare every other brewery to, so they must be the best in the world at their craft

    5. Troegs – Possibly the best mixed 12-pack you’ll ever come across. Nugget Nectar rules my world and they also round out the package with some nice wheats, pilsners, and traditional German tasties.

    4. Avery – I went back and forth between Avery and Great Divide, but I think Avery offers more consistency and top tier variety. Never met an Avery beer I didn’t like

    3. De Dolle – Limited to just 4 seasonals and a couple extras if you can find them. This is probably my favorite brewery on the list and I’m happier when I drink one of their beers than anyone else. This is my special occasion selection.

    2. Victory – I drink more Victory than anything else, period. From smack you in the face hop-bombs to subtle witbiers, Victory just never misses.

    1. Founders – Sorry dude, I found them first. I’ve said it once (OK, 50 times) and I’ll say it again, Founders Centennial IPA is the best beer in the world. You can put any one of their beers up against any other brewery and more times than not I think Founders comes out on top.

    OK, so maybe my list focussed more on an “If there were only 10 breweries left in the world” list. Oh well, that’s what you get on a Friday afternoon.

  2. Let me take on your list…although this will be in a surprisingly friendly fashion since I think it’s a great list.

    10. As you can see from my “didn’t make the cut list” at the beginning of the post, Dogfish Head was my last brewery cut. The best analogue would be how some people argue that the winner of the NIT could probably make the Sweet 16 in the NCAAs. Dogfish Head didn’t make my list, but if they had been swapped out for Avery at #6, I don’t think my list would have suffered. It was the hardest brewery for me to leave out.

    9. I trust your judgment when it comes to the Deutschland, but you know I tend to stay away from German beers in general and lagers specifically. There’s something about drinking a brew that Hitler might have pounded at the Munich Putsch that makes me bristle. That being said, Ayinger is one of the best and if you have to include a German brewery, you could do a lot worse.

    8. Well played.

    7. Duvel is probably the Orval of your list. You picked them for one beer, but it’s a beer you simply can’t live without. No argument from me…

    6. Cantillon is the only brewery I question, but I completely understand your approach to this list. You picked breweries based on variety and when you want a lambic, why not have the masters of the style on your list? I guess I just decided I could live without lambics (or if I desperately needed one, I’d be willing to drink an inferior version from an American brewery).

    5. Also high up on my “cut list”. I love Troegs, but I think they’re the Oskar Blues of your list. Rather than selecting them for their killer line-up, you basically picked them for three or four ridiculously good beers (Nugget Nectar, Hopback Amber, Flying Mouflon, and Mad Elf). Nothing wrong with that, of course. You could die a happy man rotating between the top Troeg’s beers.

    4. Great Divide and Avery are both excellent breweries, but I picked Avery for the same reasons you did. While Great Divide has a few clunkers, Avery really doesn’t. Plus, if variety is your thing, they kind of do it all.

    3. Inexcusable omission on my part. I’m actually not sure who I would bump in favor of De Dolle, but it was the only one on your list that made me say, “D’oh!”

    2. Victory…she’s your Allagash, Max. An absolutely phenomenal brewery that is probably rated higher than it should be in the mind of the Good Doctor because of personal tastes. Since this list is entirely based on personal tastes, who am I to judge? And again, they were on my “cut list” so obviously I think VERY highly of them.

    1. I know you found them first. That’s why I love you, man. Fortunately, there’s plenty of Founders to go around for everyone!

    Regardless of our differences, that’s a rock-solid list. Looking forward to seeing what the other Aleheads come up with.

  3. Rocky Mountain High · · Reply

    You boys are sissy snobs. Learn to drink real American beer.

    Coors
    Budweiser
    Miller
    Busch
    Red Dog
    Labatts
    Olympia
    Old Milwaukee
    Pabst
    Bohemian

  4. Let’s see…

    Coors: Canadian-owned
    Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch): Belgian-owned
    Miller: South African/Canadian-owned
    Busch (Anheuser-Busch): Belgian-owned
    Red Dog (Miller): South African/Canadian-owned
    Labatt: Belgian-owned (and originally Canadian anyway…it was never an American brewery)

    The other four (Olympia, Old Milwaukee, Pabst, and Bohemian) are all brands in the Pabst Brewing Company portfolio. While Pabst is indeed an America-owned company, they no longer actually brew beer. They contract brew through MillerCoors which, as mentioned above, is owned by South African/Canadian interests.

    So of your Top 10 list, 6 are brands of companies not headquartered in the U.S. and the other 4 are technically owned by an American company, but are brewed by companies not headquartered in the U.S. In other words, none of your beers are actually “produced” by American-owned companies.

    Although, I suppose in a way you’re correct. After all, what could be more American than outsourcing to other countries?

    Also, not to get too nit-picky, but the original list in the post was the 10 Best Breweries. If you consider MillerCoors one company, all of the beers on your list are brewed by just two companies (InBev brews Bud, Busch, and Labatt…MolsonMillerCoors brews the rest). So you’ve still got 8 spots to fill.

  5. abbasbrew · · Reply

    Barley,

    I am glad to hear that thier cherry beer Cerise is worth trying I will pick up a few this weekend

  6. sweeneyphi · · Reply

    10. Lagunitas
    9. Lost Coast
    8. Great Divide
    7. Avery
    6. vicotry
    5. Oskar’s
    4. Dogfish Head
    3. Seattle-Maritime
    2. Deschutes
    1. Russian River

    I leave off traditional belgian breweries because it’s like being on another planet. I will say that I would put Orval in the top 5. I love that beer. Also, Rocky Mountain High….really?
    1.

  7. Love this posting.Bro Barley gives exceptional direction in a tremendously crowded field. His coherts do as well.

  8. From his post-apocalypse bunker, your beloved Baron shall sip the following:

    10. Samuel Smith’s – A noble brewery whose spectacular offerings taste like long, late nights in the Cheshire Cheese caverns. This monolithic outfit stood as a perfect testament to the craft-brewing movement long, long before craft-brewing was a movement.
    9. Otter Creek – I couldn’t allow a frosty nuclear winter to pass without tucking into a few flavorful offerings from our neighbors in Middlebury, VT. Although they’ve discontinued a number of my favorites in recent years – notably Spring Mud Bock – their competition series is as brilliant as anything on the East Cost right now.
    8. Bell’s – As in the case of Founders (#5), the Windy City exploded when Bells hit the shelves. Bell’s puts out gem after gem, all of which I’ve loved from the first sip.
    7. Cantillon – I’m with the Doc on this one. The first time we cracked into a bottle of Fou’ Foune, my opinion of beer was changed forever. The romance of the brewery, its farm to table operation, the wild yeast blowing in from the countryside notwithstanding, Cantillon produces the finest lambics on the planet. It’s something different; something good.
    6. The Bruery – Novel, daring, and delicious. At times wild and wooly, the brewery maintains a true sense of dignity and dedication to the art of craft brewing. I’ve loved everything I’ve tried.
    5. Founders – When Founders hit the taps in Chicago, there was much rejoicing in the Windy City and deservedly so. While I’m not as much of a fan of KBS as other Aleheads, I could drink this outstanding brewery’s Breakfast Stout until the end of time.
    4. The Lost Abbey – Quirky, smart, and whimsical. I can’t get enough of this brewery’s Angel’s Share Bourbon-Barrel Aged American Strong, not to mention its Gift of the Magi or Serpent’s Stout… Hell, I can’t get enough of anything Lost Abbey puts out.
    3. Russian River – The Harvey Milk of breweries: A true American hero. Bold, brave, and gloriously unconventional. Supplication is, in my opinion, about as interesting as American craft brewing gets. Last week I spent an embarrassing sum to have two bottles of Pliny the Elder shipped to Boston. I can’t get enough.
    2. Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project – A brewery that eschews standard brewery business models, styles, and, hell, even profit margins in the interest of having enormous fun with craft brewing. I have never had an offering that didn’t cause me to sit back, sigh deeply, and re-think my understanding of beer. Brilliance in a bottle.
    1. Three Floyds – For the Baron’s money, the finest American brewery. Over the course of three years in Chicago I tasted anything and everything Three Floyds had to offer and was never disappointed. Moloko Milk Stout, Apocalypse Cow, and Blackheart were among the most exciting brews I’ve tried, and Dark Lord seems to be one of the most exciting American brews that just about anybody has tried. An easy and solid #1 in the Baron’s book.

  9. Beerford · · Reply

    It’s daunting (and exciting) how many great breweries there are out there remaining for me to discover. I wouldn’t remotely feel qualified to generate a real top ten list, but I consistently enjoy Deschutes, Sam Smith, Duvel/Ommegang, and quite a few of Magic Hat’s brews (that last may be as much nostalgia as truly high level craft). Lately Ninkasi has been on pretty high rotation in my fridge as well, but they’re probably not on my forever list yet. And I’ll take Guinness too, just out of pure old-timey loyalty.

  10. Stellar list, von Brue. I have many fond memories of Otter Creek from my earliest beer-drinking days. I always thought of them as a solid if unspectacular brewery, but this list is about breweries that mean the most to you. And since you lived in Middlebury for many years, I fully understand the inclusion of OC in your list.

    Bell’s/Founders are two great rivals and I know many people who, like you, prefer the former to the latter. I’m a Founders man myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t drink an absurd amount of Bell’s. Particularly since they distribute in ‘Bama and Founders does not.

    I think the Bruery and Pretty Things still need a little more “fermentation” time so to speak, but they are clearly very special ale factories. I love their approach and philosophy and I won’t hesitate to try anything either brewery produces. I think when all is said and done, Pretty Things may end up being one of the best breweries in the country.

    No qualms about Port/Lost Abbey. My only issue with the brewery is that they make soooooo many beers (Port in particular has hundreds of offerings) that it’s inevitable they make some duds. Although, if variety is the spice of life, you’d be foolish to leave them off your list.

    You know I love Three Floyds…I just don’t have enough personal experience with them to include them on my list. I’ll make that trip to Munster eventually…

  11. […] 10 list despite my woefully incomplete history with the style. As with Doc’s IPA list and my Best Breweries list, these are just personal selections. I make no claims that these are actually the best […]

  12. […] IMPERIAL STOUT IN AMERICA Our Top Ten lists are blowing up the blogosphere, so we’re keeping the momentum going here at Aleheads. […]

  13. […] Community Center in Portland, ME and $1 goes to the organization for every bottle of Victor sold. My love for Allagash has been noted many times on these pages, but the Victor is the kind of beer that could potentially […]

  14. […] Barley has shared the merits of jolly old England’s most exquisite brewery, but other than a few notes here and there we don’t bring up Samuel Smith nearly enough. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: