We are loathe to stoop to sentimentality on such a no-nonsense beer blog. We are journalists, for crying out loud! Editorializing and succumbing to rose-colored hindsight is anathema to the hard-hitting and objective reporting you've come to expect.
That being said, your faithful Janglers have been rather lazy as of late, and in lieu of an actual post with actual information or insight, we have decided to discard our heretofore impenetrable sense of balance and neutrality, and present you with The Ten Best Beers I Ever Had.
Please note, these are not to be confused with "The Ten Best Beers I'VE EVER HAD," or necessarily, anyway. Those beers would all judged on an objective basis, taking into account the various properties of those brews and their merits. The quality of these here brews are of varying degrees, and are not necessarily our Top Ten Beers of All-Time, ratings-wise.
These are ten moments in this critic's life that were special in some regard. It's like when you love a song that might not actually be well-crafted, but hearing it reminds you of a special time or moment in your life. These beers are all snapshots of a life in transition, straddling the line between extended adolescence and overdue maturity.
You may notice that these events were coincidentally shared with great friends, and that that is actually no coincidence at all. We will try not to make it sickening to the reader.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order...
- MENDOCINO WINTER ALE 2005-2006 at Old Saratoga Brewery. I went to this brewery for the first time with Javen in the winter of 2005, and it was a moment at which a beer made me re-evaluate an entire style. Prior to this beer, I had been warming up to IPAs and admiring their qualities. But this beer snapped the light on. The citrusy, grapefruity hops. The perfectly balanced pale malt. Not to mention the dark and cozy atmosphere of a keenly-lit bar on a snowy night, college football on TV, and the thrill of discovery with a fellow burgeoning beer geek. Any time I see the label for this beer, it just makes me feel happy.
- MIDDLE AGES SWALLOW WIT in my backyard, Summer 2005. It was one of those lazy Saturday afternoons. I had just come back from the Middle Ages Brewery with a growler of Swallow Wit Belgian White beer. Not only was it the perfect thirst quencher on a blazing summer day, but it reminded me of the days where it was okay to relax without feeling like a bum. It reminds me of having a backyard, and feeling somewhat settled. It feels like a decade ago now, but I remember sitting in the sun, taking a large Swallow, and acknowledging --relishing -- that moment of contentment.
- POST ROAD PUMPKIN ALE at my new apartment, November 2006. I had never lived on my own. Finally, in autumn of 2006, I decided to give it a try for the first time. I hate moving, and this time didn't endear me to the practice any further. After my furniture had all been moved, and before my cable was even hooked up, I hauled what seemed like the one-thousandth pile of my shit into my new apartment. There were boxes and appliances all over the floor. [Please insert "So What's Changed?" joke here, those of you who have seen where I live.] I was exhausted from moving, and sore, and sweaty. It was one of those moments where you just want to plop down on the couch and sleep for roughly 20 hours. I looked into my refrigerator and was thrilled to see that I had previously had the foresight to bring with me a six-pack of Pumpkin Ale with me and left it in the fridge. I cleaned out a glass, poured a pint of the Post Road, and crashed on my couch. Staring out my new window. It was the moment where I felt like maybe I was ready to grow up a little. Even if just a little...
- SLEEMAN'S 46 IPA, Summer 2006. Javen and his wife TT and I went to Montreal. There were a lot of rough patches (bad Montreal service, horrible border delays, TT's various "feelings," a lot of walking, the Sabres losing playoff games), but the weekend goes down in memory as one of my favorites. At the end of our last night there, Javen and I had come back from a few bars on a quiet Sunday night. We ended up sitting at the picture window in the hotel and looking out at the dark but shiny Montreal skyline. The beer we drank wasn't that impressive, honestly, but being on vacation in Canada and feeling very free for some reason was.
- BEAR REPUBLIC RED ROCKET ALE at the Old Toad, Rochester, NY, February 2007. My little sister Kate is never content with me getting any attention, so on my 31st birthday she somehow found a way to get her boyfriend Scott to propose to her. The next time I saw the two of them in Rochester, we decided we'd go out for a few drinks to relax and enjoy a nice pub. I still had my tax money, so I decided to treat these two lovebirds to whatever they wanted for the rest of the night. It turned into a very nice, if low-key, celebration. I bought my sister some kind of $13 lambic, and since she loved it, it was worth it. The best beer I ended up getting my hands on was the Bear Republic Red Rocket Ale, which was served to me in a 220z bottle with an English nonic pint glass, for about $3.50. Not only was it the best bargain at the Old Toad, but it was a fantastic beer. I ended up dropping something like $80 that night on nothing but beer for three people, but I felt like the rich uncle who picks up the tab, at least for one night.
- DOGFISH HEAD 60 MINUTE IPA at Blarney Stone in Philadelphia, Sept 2006. We had a rip-roaring time in Philadelphia for the first weekend of the football season in 2006, the coup de grace being watching all the opening day games of the day at the Blarney Stone in Philly. We had gone to the Victory Brewing Company the night before, but decided that for the games, we would get the $15 all-you-can-drink Miller Lite special. After the first slate of games, I had consumed all the pitchers I could muster, and I decided not to re-up for the 4:15 games. Instead, I went to the bar and ordered a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. I don't know if it was the euphoria of football, the elation of Tecmo Super Bowl being played on the bar TV, or the severity of the upgrade, but that 60 Minute was pure hop nirvana. The contrast was astounding, and being more discriminating, I ended up being sober enough to drive the four hours back home that night.
- BRIEUXHAUS NEBULA BELGIAN L.S. WIT, 2003-04ish. My old brewing partner Bruce and I created several different styles when we homebrewed over the course of 2003-2005, but in my opinion, our best one was our Belgian White. Not only was it crisp and delicious, with the perfect amount of citrus, but it was loaded up with alcohol. (The L.S. stood for "Leg Spreader.") The beer not only made me feel proud that I actually helped create such a superior-tasting beer, but it made me appreciate the craft of brewing that much more. It was a seminal event in my journey into beer.
- CAPE ANN BREWING COMPANY FISHERMAN'S IPA, 2007. Have you ever rented a DVD on a whim and been completely blown away by it? This was the beer equivalent of this. I had purchased a random mixed six-pack from the Party Source in Syracuse and brought it home, going through each one and taking notes, as is customary for an OCD nerd such as yours truly. I poured this one thinking it would just be another beer in the long chain of beers I tend to trudge through (ok, fine, "trudge" is probably the wrong word). This beer stood out for me so much, it almost shocked me. It was such a well-crafted beer that I couldn't believe I had never had any of Cape Ann's beers previously. The moment was simple -- me on my couch in front of the TV -- but it reminded me that life is often full of great surprises.
- MILLER HIGH LIFE, back of a van, Milwaukee, June 2004. Because of this event, the words "all of it higher" will go down in the lore of my traveling crew of buddies. Picture seven large men in a van far too small, having started in Mansfield, Ohio on a trek to Milwaukee. We had spent a grueling amount of time inching our way through Gary, Indiana, and by Chicago we were all beat. Actually, the word "miserable" would probably best describe our mood. We appeared to have been defeated by the Interstate Highway System. A fateful trip to a gas station in Wisconsin, however, changed everything. We picked up a case of Miller High Life in cans, and played the famous card game "high-low," best represented by the game show "Card Sharks." The game provided the second wind we so desperately needed to get us back on the track, which led to one of the more hedonistic (okay not really) and memorable (yes, definitely) weekends of my young life. The High Life will always hold a special place in my heart for the way it resurrected our dying vessel and propelled us into Midwestern legend.
- SIERRA NEVADA HARVEST ALE at Javen's, October 2006. I generally recount this as the best beer I've ever had, but I'm not 100% sure that the beer was that great, or if it was just the perfect moment frozen in time. I came to visit Javen on a whim for my first time at his new apartment, which was strange enough given that his old place was so iconic in my memory. I was going through a very painful personal experience at home, one that had sent my fragile psyche into a tailspin. But what I remember about that weekend is not my agony at home, but of being able to leave the hurt behind for a while and enjoy normalcy for a brief period of time. Javen brought home a growler of the Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, and I thought little of it. But when I took a sip, I fell in love. For the duration of that pint of beer, all my troubles were gone. I've been searching for that moment ever since, and I have a feeling that just like that one, the next one will come upon me unexpectedly as well.
We hope this didn't make us look like too much of a sap, but just like we have movies and songs and days that hold a special place in our hearts, these beers represent snapshots of perfect moments. And though we can never go back to those exact days and events, we can try and transport ourselves again ever so briefly, a pint at a time.