50 beers to try

I grew up around beer but it was only quite recently that I developed a true affinity for beer. After I tried some flavorful wheat beers, smoky porters and rich stouts, I realized there was actually something worth liking. And I have since discovered that sipping a good craft beer is like tasting a fine wine.

Last month, my sister introduced me to the term “hop head,” sort of the beer drinkers’ equivalent to a wine snob.  I do enjoy touring breweries, visiting ale houses where I can try flights of beers and I know terms like wort and some of the names of the more common hops. Am I a hop head? I don’t know, but I’ll admit I am a bit of a beer aficionado.

So it was no surprise that the first book I’ve tackled for 2013 is Brewed Awakening by Joshua Bernstein. Joshua was a beer writer for the now-extinct Gourmet magazine, one of my most trusted culinary guides. (I am so thankful it lives on as an app, Gourmet Live, at least) On a broad scale Joshua’s book is a testament to the craft beer revolution, but it touches on everything from the four ingredients that comprise beer and homebrewing to leading craft brewers and beer festivals small and large around the country. And while he focuses primarily on the American craft beer scene, he touches on international breweries of note as well as a few select craft offerings by the macro-brewers. One thing I love about this book is that Joshua weaves in his top picks to try throughout the book, explaining some of the subtleties of what imparts flavor, aroma, etc., to the particular beers to make them unique. I highly recommend the book as a great guide, especially to anyone interested in the burgeoning craft beer scene, but even to those looking to learn more about beer.

Over the past few months I’ve read quite a few lists of beers to try, curious to see how many I’d tasted. On a couple, I’d actually tried 10%, not bad for only a year or so of really exploring craft beer. The best part about these lists is stumbling on interesting beers that I’ve never heard of and might like to try (although tracking some of the smaller craft brews down is another story).

We'll start with two lists I recommend perusing that have a lot of variety. I have tasted 5 of 50 on GQ’s "50 beers to try right nowbut I think at some point I will have to try them all. I did a bit better on Cooking Light’s “Best American craft beers." I’ve tried 7 of 50 on this list. Here’s a couple shorter, but equally interesting lists -- Huffington Post’s “10 craft beers to try right now” and Bon Appetit’s “Strange brews: The weirdest beers in America.” I’ve tried zero on either of these lists but there’s two beers included on them that top my list of ones I want to try soon: Ommegang Hennepin and Willoughby Brewing Co. Peanut Butter Cup Coffee Porter.

There’s just something about kicking back on the weekend, relaxing with a cold beer and some football – simple and enjoyable. But why limit yourself to the usual, or worse to a bland beer. The great craft brewers are experimenting with unexpected ingredients, developing complex flavor profiles and pushing the boundaries of what is expected.  I’ve tried some pretty unique beers, and I’d say 9/10 times I was pleasantly surprised. That’s why I love ale houses that offer flights, it always forces me to pick at least one beer that I’d probably never touch otherwise.

All of this has inspired me to create my own list of beers to try, highlights from my own craft beer adventures. While the beers on my list cross the spectrum, I like some for their easy drinking quality, some for their complexity, and some for the unexpected ingredients, but I enjoy all of these fifty for their great flavor profiles. So without further ado, my top 50 beers to try:

1.       Abita Imperial Oyster Stout
2.       Anchor Brewing Anchor Steam Beer
3.       Anchor Brewing Breckle’s Brown
4.       Anderson Valley Winter Solstice
5.       Ass Kisser Vanilla Pale Ale
6.       Ass Kisser Smoked Porter
7.       Barrel Trolley Belgian White
8.       Batch 19
9.       Bison Chocolate Stout
10.   Bison Gingerbread Ale
11.   Bison Honey Basil Ale
12.   Blue Moon Farmhouse Red
13.   Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale
14.   Boulder Beer Planet Porter
15.   Breckenridge Agave Wheat
16.   Breckenridge Avalanche Ale
17.   Breckenridge Vanilla Porter
18.   Deschutes Red Chair NWPA
19.   Dogfish Head Chicory Stout
20.   Fifty Fifty Donner Party Porter
21.   Four Peaks Peach Ale
22.   Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
23.   Four Peaks Sunbru
24.   Firestone Walker Walker Reserve Porter
25.   Full Sail Ltd 06
26.   Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale
27.   Lagunitas Lucky 13
28.   Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout
29.   Leinenkugel’s Canoe Paddler
30.   Leinenkugel’s Creamy Dark
31.   Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
32.   Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter
33.   Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale
34.   Mudshark Havablue
35.   Nimbus Oatmeal Stout
36.   North Coast Old Rasputin
37.   Odell Cutthroat Porter
38.   Odell Isolation Ale
39.   Prescott Brewing Achocolypse
40.   Prescott Brewing Petrified Porter
41.   Rogue Mocha Porter
42.   Rogue Old Crustacean
43.   Russian River Brewing Pliny the Elder
44.   Speakeasy Prohibition Ale
45.   Stone Levitation Ale
46.   Stone Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers
47.   Stone Suitable for Cave Aging (porter aged in bourbon barrels)
48.   That Strawberry Blonde
49.   Third Shift Amber Lager
50. Wasatch Ghost Rider