Breweries these days make a ton of one-off or or experimental beers. Sometimes these are an experiment with an eye toward establishing a new full-year or seasonal offering; occasionally to commemorate a special occasion (especially brewery anniversaries [brewniversaries?]); and sometimes just to entertain the brewers who are tired of brewing the same half-dozen beers time and again and want to challenge themselves (or show off their brewing chops). Often these beers show up at a brewfest or two, or maybe in the brewery’s home pub on tap. Sadly, many great one-offs disappear into the mist after a single batch, never to be seen again.
It’s also not uncommon for a brewery discontinue a regular offering, whether because they’ve concluded that consumer preferences have changed and it’s no longer selling well, or just to replace it with what they feel is a better beer. I know many a staple of my own fridge has quietly faded away, leaving a nostalgic hole where a beer that I associated with a particular time in my life used to be.
And so today we’re going to leave aside the forward-looking themes of past conundra and instead look fondly backward for a moment. Gentlemen, please tell us what discontinued beer you most wish would return to production.
A few days ago the impish and impressionable Kid Carboy mused that he couldn’t quite grasp the sympathetic yet seemingly undeserved ventricle-with-a-view Magic Hat Brewing Company held in the otherwise crusty, craggy, inhospitable hearts of ancient Aleheads. I can empathize with his bewilderment; I haven’t had a decent Magic Hat brew in over ten years. But there was a time, not so long ago, in a place between Vermont and New Hampshire, where nubile young Aleheads cavorted in the sun, listened to Rusted Rood and Phish, and drank Magic Hat beer. Granted we were young and stupid, with potent hallucinogenic compounds coursing through our central nervous systems, but still. Craft beer was in its infancy and distribution was nowhere near what it is today… favorite beers required a 2-hour drive to Boston, and our collective attention spans could only handle such a journey every few weeks, even with the promise of Mama McHops’ cooking wafting in the background. So we found ourselves marooned, strangers in a strange land; the choices were Bud/Miller/Coors macros, or the local rebellion: Harpoon, Catamount, Otter Creek, Smuttynose, or Magic Hat.*
*Beerford’s Note: or occasionally Saranac.
Magic Hat were the Ben and Jerry’s of craft beer (ed. note: the phrase “craft beer” had not been invented yet. We called them “Smooth Beers”); idealistic and whimsical hippies with innovative brewing minds, who stumbled on a way to make [gasp] female college students gravitate towards off-centered offerings. The answer? Apricot.
Magic Hat #9 was the best and worst thing to happen to the brewing company. Sweet irony! The lightly-sweet Pale Ale introduced countless souls to the world beyond Big Beer, but like a python swallowing its own tail the quaffable beer became the end of MH as we knew it, culminating in an acquisition by North American Breweries. My favorite fallen soldier? Heart of Darkness, a thick and chocolaty oatmeal stout that introduced many of us to the limitless potential of dark beers made on this side of the pond. My reaction to never tasting this sessionable stout again? Paging Colonel Kurtz:
The horror… the horror….
Slouch hits it pretty much right on the head, because honestly, I have no idea what those heady days must have been like, when practically every brewery innovation and new beer that we today take for granted was a revolutionary concept. In a sense, I suppose it’s probably better as a beer drinker to be drinking today, as measured in any objective way, but still I wish at times that I could have been there when things were just getting going.
For the same reason, this is a pretty difficult conundrum for me. I’ve been into craft beer for about three years, now, and if there’s a beer that I REALLY like, the chances are pretty good that the beer still exists and hasn’t been discontinued.
The only real option for me to choose, then, is an exceptional one-off beer. Thankfully, I just had one a few nights ago–Left Hand’s “Week Sauce” coffee porter. Brewed in honor of American Craft Beer Week and sampled at what is probably central Illinois’ best pure beer bar in terms of selection, (Radio Maria in Champaign, 27 craft taps) I was immensely impressed by the uber-flavorful Week Sauce, which stacks up against some of my favorite robust porters like Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald, with the added bonus of excellent, roasty, but restrained coffee flavor. If this beer existed as a regular offering from Left Hand instead of a one-off release, I would be on my way to buy a six pack right now.
P.S. And for what it’s worth, I actually had the honor of adding this beer to Beer Advocate and submitting the first review–so that’s a first.
Well, I know what beer should never return to production, and that’s Billy Beer. What a stupid, idiotic concept for a beer. I’d sooner buy a beer with a cold activation label than I would a beer endorsed by the lesser brother of a politician.
Anyway, if I could have one beer back in my life it would have to be something profound, something epic and beyond understanding why the beer ever left in the first place. I know brewers do one-offs all the time, but if it’s the best beer ever, why stop there? Dammit! Now I’m frustrated again. For me, I want more De Dolle Speciaal Brousel.
The Speicaal Brousel, a Flanders Red brewed back in 2000 for the 20th anniversary of the Belgian brewer, is one of my favorite beers of all time. I had it first in roughly 2003 then again in 2005, then again in 2010 (I’ve got 2 more bottles stashed away too [Slouch’s note: I just chugged one, mailed one to Slouch, and flagellated myself with a horsewhip. Problem solved.]). It’s toning down a bit now, but there’s still plenty of funky awesomeness going on to keep me on my toes and remind me just how great a beer this truly is. No need for a full tasting note here, just know that it’s one of the best beers ever made and I hope to God that De Dolle does something like this again.
Honestly, I have no fucking clue.
I have been paying close attention to craft beer now for only 15 months, and in that time my local offerings have expanded geometrically. I have not witnessed much carnage, and, as such, if pressed I could not name a single beer that has ceased production.
This leaves me with one option: be completely lame. Go to beeradvocate, search all of the retired beers from one of my favorite breweries, and select a style that I would enjoy.
How about this one?
Founders All Night Long DIPA. I don’t know about you, but I could go for a DIPA all night long.
Actually, scratch that. What about this?
Founders Imperial IPA. Really. One of the best breweries in the world is making a kickass IPA (centennial), a kickass double (Double Trouble), and a kickass Tripel (devil dancer). But the brewery doesn’t regularly produce an imperial IPA? Really?
As Lyle said in Blazing Saddles: “Well I am de-pressed.”
Beer regrets…I’ve had a few.
I could delve way back into the past and name a few breweries from my early years that I kind of, sort of miss. There was Apollo Ale made by the Big Bang Brewing Company. The beer itself was nothing special, but it had the coolest bottle of all time (cobalt blue with a simple, clean, clear, vertical graphic…pretty sweet). There was Old Nutfield Brewing’s Auburn Ale, an easy-drinkin’ Pale Ale from Derry, NH. There was Big Shoulders Porter from the Chicago Brewing Company…a robust, dark-roasted brew that should still be on package store shelves.
Or I could reminisce about recently discontinued brews that are a bit more reputable than those long-lost ales. The North Coast Old Rasputin XII was a one-off created for North Coast’s 12th anniversary. It was spectacular and I sincerely wish it was still available. There was Oskar Blues’ One Hit Wonder…a crazy-good DIPA which you can probably still find in some taphouses (I honestly have NO idea why the One Hit Wonder blew through the beer world like a comet while the Gubna lingers on forever like one of Beerford’s farts). And then there’s Southern Tier’s Big Red…arguably my favorite brew from ST which was just put on hiatus. I drank a snifter at Hopjack’s in Pensacola over the weekend not knowing if it would be my last ever.
In the end, I decided to single out a beer that was both delicious AND evokes long-forgotten beer memories: Otter Creek’s Hickory Switch Smoked Amber Ale. It was everything a smoked beer should be. A strong malt backbone, but not too sweet. A good hop profile that balances everything. And a deliciously wicked smokiness that punctuates every sip and floods your brain with memories of burning leaves, apres-ski fires, and crisp, New England autumns.
Oh, I’d also like W.L. Weller to start making the Centennial again, but that’s a post for Bourbonheads.
Back when I lived in Eugene, OR (Go Ducks) I used to frequent, among other watering holes, Rennie’s Landing. I spent many an afternoon/evening hanging out on the patio around the fire pit, and when I did it was nearly always with a Full Sail Rip Curl in my hand. A tasty, sessionable English Pale Ale that seemed to ride the line between a pale and an amber, with enough hop bitterness on the finish to perfectly balance out the front-forward malty goodness, this is definitely on my top ten list of beers consumed by volume. Formerly a staple on taps across a large part of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, it’s been replaced by their current IPA and amber offerings. It’s possible that this beer wouldn’t hold up as well in light of my subsequent immersion in the incredible variety of great craft beers available these days, but since it’s gone the way of 14.4 bps modem, I guess its good-beer status is safe in the mists of history.
So, faithful readers, what beers are you missing?