Okay, I’ve been doing some serious documentation of my beer-drinking for three years now. Hedonist Beer Jive started on March 19th, 2006 with this post. I knew so little about the whos, wheres and whatfors of craft beer at the time that I made multiple rookie faux pas; I bagged on a ST. BERNARDUS beer that surprised my palate; I decided that my first taste of RUSSIAN RIVER “Damnation” was no big deal; and like most newbies, I tended to overpraise IPAs and ignore almost everything else. I’m still working on a few things: an appreciation for lagers (may never happen...); trying to drink all the Belgian beers available in the United States; getting to more festivals and dinners; and generally developing a better vocabulary for what I write about.
I’ve got a pretty good sense of who I’m rooting for, though. My Top 10 brewers are all brewers who’ve created more than three or four beers that have totally delighted me. In order to make this list, they’re got to be brewing incredible beers up & down the lineup, and I have to personally have tried a bunch of them. Sure, they can have a few misfires from time to time, but those are exceptions to overall greatness.
In order, here are whom I believe to be the ten finest brewers on the planet:
1. BRASSERIE DE ROCHEFORT – This classic Belgian trappist brewer only makes three beers, and they’re all in my Top 65, including my favorite beer of all time, TRAPPISTES ROCHEFORT 8. Right behind that is the 6, and only slightly behind that, the big quadrupel 10. I imagine I will be drinking these with regularity until the men in the white coats tell me I cannot drink any longer.
2. ST. BERNARDUS – The Wizards of Watou, Belgium thankfully are fairly well-distributed in the US, and thus I’ve been able to taste just about their entire lineup. It’s incredible, straight up & down – from the superb GROTTEN BROWN to ABT 12 to this past year’s Christmas Ale. Pretty much a can’t-miss with every one of them.
3. THE LOST ABBEY – This American brewer is younger than Hedonist Beer Jive is, and in less than three years have vaulted to the top spot among American brewers. They’ve made one misfire – one! – and the rest are varying shades of incredible. Every time I buy a new $10-$12 bottle from these folks I know I’m the one getting the better end of the deal.
4. RUSSIAN RIVER BREWING – On such a hot streak it’s not even funny, and now that they’ve expanded their distribution their legend is going to reach many more corners of the US. Sour Belgians, Double IPAs, smooth stouts, black ales – they can do it all, and as such, have never made a single “bad” beer that’s crossed my lips (and I’ve had well over a dozen of ‘em).
5. AVERY BREWING – Why I’m not drinking more Avery beers is a mystery even to me, as I looked back over my various scores for them the past few years and they’re all in the 7s, 8s, 9s and 10s. Note to self: just because they’re well-distributed now doesn’t mean they’re any less-special. New to Avery? Try THE REVEREND. Or WHITE RASCAL. Or any of them.
6. UNIBROUE – My 2008 vow was to try everything this Quebec brewer made, and outside of a few that I can’t find, I succeeded. They make nothing but Belgian-style ales, and virtually all are fresh, zesty and delicious.
7. DOGFISH HEAD – The beer dork’s brewer of choice, and the poster children for the boundary-pushing craft beer “scene” in the 21st century. Another brewer whose beers I’ll buy every time I see a new one, no matter how oddball it looks. They’re always great.
8. DE PROEF – I’m just starting to uncover how amazing this Belgian brewer is. Last year I tried 4 of them (either straight-up house beers or collaborations with American brewers), and was floored each time. 3 of them are in my Top 65. I need to find out if the rest of the lineup’s going to make it in there as well. OK, that’s my drinking goal of Q1 2009 – drink the rest of the DE PROEF beers!
9. TELEGRAPH BREWING – I’ve waxed semi-lyrically about this Santa Barbara, CA small brewer on multiple occasions, and I think folks are starting to catch on to how inventive, unique & still incredibly drinkable their beers are. You could take the biggest beer dork and, say, my wife, and put a glass of California Ale or Golden Wheat in front of them, and they’d both love ‘em. I hope they become rock stars in 2009.
10. GREEN FLASH BREWING – Every new beer I try from Green Flash seems to best the one before it. When I look at my ratings over the years, this San Diego brewer’s got plenty near the top – try that SAISON, BARLEYWINE or GRAND CRU if you get a chance.
Honorable mention: MOONLIGHT BREWING; MOYLAN’S BREWING; LAGUNITAS; SOUTHERN TIER; CAPTAIN LAWRENCE; PORT BREWING