Brewmasters Tell Us the Best Beer They Ever Brewed
While your finest accomplishment at work might have been making a killer formula in an Excel spreadsheet that saved your company thousands of dollars, no one is interested in reading about that. No offense. We spoke to brewmasters from across the country about their finest accomplishment at work: the best beer they ever brewed. You'll probably recognize a beer or two in this article, and you'll probably also want to head to your nearest beer store after reading this.
"A beer we're really proud of that's gaining a lot of attention and excitement is Namaste. It's based on traditional Belgian white/wheat beer -- traditionally these beers are brewed with orange peel and coriander. Our version has orange flesh, and the yeast eats the fruit sugars, which weaves the flavor of the orange into the taste of the beer instead of just having the orange in the aroma, which is what happens when you just focus on the peels. The beer also has lemongrass in it, which we freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw to break down the cell wall of the lemongrass. It releases its aromatics so the lemongrass contributes to the citrusy aromas of the beer." -- Sam Calagione, founder
"One of our early Pub Reserve offerings was a saison with brettanomyces named Cultivateur. That was a proud moment for me because our team set an ambitious goal with that beer and really nailed it." -- Ben Kehs, brewmaster
American pale ale, 5.6%
Rapid City, SD
"The best beer I've ever made changes almost daily according to my taste, but our biggest seller is a very simple American lager." -- Mike Kilroy, founder/brewmaster
American pale ale, 5.7%
"It took 10 long years of beating my head against a brick wall to balance the recipe of Hopalicious American pale ale, which I now brew commercially as the flagship beer of my brewery. I love that beer! It's bursting with hop flavor, full of aroma, and is what I consider the perfect beer after a long day of brewing." -- Dean Coffey, co-founder/brewmaster
"hopKat is a cool, crisp, refreshing lager generously hopped with Equinox and Fantasia to impart a fun, tropical, and citrusy finish. It's a favorite not only in the taproom but everywhere else it's poured as well." -- T.J. Compton, brewmaster
Imperial stout, 10.3%
"I've come to really understand chili peppers and coffee in beer. When I created our Mexican hot chocolate-inspired stout, we struck gold. The ingredient list for Dire Wolf Canis Mexicanus includes four different chilies, locally roasted coffee, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and cacao nibs. These ingredients all meld together along with the natural roast, chocolate, and espresso notes already in our imperial stout. The beer has a lot of heat, but it's all in the back of the throat so it doesn't immediately burn the way some habanero beers can. It's bold, luxurious, and a lot of fun, too." -- Chris Davison, brewmaster
"Howdy Beer -- the all-American Pilsner fulfills my need for crisp, flavorful lager. It's a clean, delicious everyday beer which showcases the exquisite beauty of American ingredients, all the while winning medals at competitions and garnering excellent ratings and reviews from respected beer publications. Not too shabby for a quiet little beer like Howdy." -- Bryan Selders, brewmaster/partner
"I have quite a few favorites, but Tweak stands out for me. We tend to make a lot of 15-18% ABV beers, and on most of them I advise splitting the bottle between two or three people. Tweak is the one exception -- I never thought I'd be interested in drinking an entire bottle of an 18% ABV coffee-infused, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout, but this beer proved me wrong. It can also be used for a killer beer float. Or as a substitute for your morning coffee as long as you don't need to drive anywhere." -- Andy Parker, chief barrel herder
San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S. Mexico
"One of the best beers we've created is an amber ale called Peliroja (aka Baja Red) which translates to 'Red Head.' My goal was to create an amber ale for the hotter weather that could be highly drinkable but with great amber flavor. It was a very challenging beer to make because you need to have the right balance between the malt and hops, which can be tricky. -- Jordan Gardenhire, brewmaster
Double IPA, 8%
Clifton Park, NY
"There are quite a few beers that I've been really surprised by -- every brewer wants each recipe to be one of those 'knocked it outta the park' brews, but this simply can’t happen every time. At Shmaltz, we were offered some really sweet hops by a friend that we had never used before (the hops are known as Calypso and now have a great reputation).
"Our foray with Calypso was set to be a double IPA, but we needed it to be really drinkable, not one of those big, chewy beers that people were used to recognizing as an imperial IPA. We had some internal jokes about the beer being a session beer as well as a double; with a little bit of silly, tongue-in-cheek marketing prompted right at the time of the release of the beer, one of my favorite projects was embraced by beer drinkers everywhere, and simultaneously shunned by a few bloggers who had seen our press release/marketing before being able to take a sip of the light-golden goodness of what had become Wishbone, the first-ever session double IPA proudly brewed by Shmaltz.
"We couldn’t have been happier! At an 8% ABV, we were sitting on a substantial beer, which just so happened to drink as if it were a 6% IPA. It was ripe with delicious fruit notes that were chalked up to those delicious Calypso hops as well as other house favorites like Simcoe, Citra, and Crystal.
"We have an unofficial motto in house: 'test batches are for sissies.' We do the 'go big or go home' deal quite often, and while it might scare some folks, we have a great group of people with tons of experience and input, and we actually take a lot of pride in the fact that our team can actually crack a home run pretty consistently." -- Richie Saunders, brewmaster
"I'm very proud of Bellwether. It's a blended beer: one component is a double wit aged for six months in Old Tom gin barrels from Ransom Spirits here in Oregon; the second half is a sour wheat beer fermented with Lacto and aged on Thai lime leaves. The blend ends up having this really heady mix of gin botanicals, citrus, lactic sharpness, and classic wit spice." -- Ben Edmunds, brewmaster
San Francisco, CA
"The best beer is tough to pick due to emotional attachment, but from an objective position, The Black Bear earned a bronze medal in the 2004 World Beer Cup for German-style schwarzbier, so from a brewing-industry perspective, that would be probably be the one." -- Brenden Dobel, head brewer
Amber lager, 4.9%
"Hands down, Samuel Adams Boston Lager is the best beer I’ve ever brewed. I first homebrewed it in my kitchen in 1984, and as soon as I tasted that first batch I fell in love with the beer. I knew that if I could drink it every day of my life, I’d be a happy man. You have to remember that at the time, the American beer scene was a wasteland; it was full of light, flavorless, fizzy beers, and beer drinkers had never tasted anything like Boston Lager. To me, Boston Lager exemplifies the fundamentals of a great beer: rich and full-flavored, balanced and complex, and brewed with the highest-quality ingredients including noble hops. Now, more than 30 years later, I love it when I see people enjoying a Boston Lager the way I do. I’m more proud of this beer than of anything else I’ve ever brewed." -- Jim Koch, founder
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