Over more than a decade of Beer Town, I’ve rarely written much about breweries or beers I don’t like — preferring to celebrate the good stuff and advocate for the growing craft beer movement, rather than waste time moaning about the bland mass-market lagers that still take up too much space on store shelves.
During that same time, I’ve rarely written about breweries or beers that aren’t available in Georgia — reasoning that there’s no sense in teasing you with unattainable treats. But there are ways to get beers that aren’t distributed here, whether it’s trading for them, bringing them back from a trip or ordering them from a mail-order site. And, of course, new beers arrive in Georgia all the time.
With all that in mind, here are four great beers I wish I could buy at my local beverage store, right now.
Alaskan Smoked Porter
The classic German smoked beers of Bamberg, such as Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, are lagers. Alaskan Brewing Co. founder Geoff Larson created a new style of alderwood-smoked porter in 1988, when smoked beers were essentially unknown in the U.S. Since then, the limited edition, vintage-dated brew (released every year on Nov. 1) has become coveted by collectors, who age it like fine wine. And it is one of the most award-winning beers in the history of the Great American Beer Festival. Opaque, robust and complex, with aromas and flavors of coffee and bitter chocolate and a pervasive smokiness, it’s a great match for barbecue, smoked fish and strong cheeses.
New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red
A fruit beer for those of us who don’t love fruit beers. Wisconsin’s New Glarus is an unusual brewery in almost every respect, and brewer Dan Carey calls Belgian Red a marriage of wine and beer. It’s brewed with whole Montmorency sour cherries, Wisconsin wheat, Belgian roasted barley and German Hallertau hops, then aged in oak tanks for a year. The result is a bright, ruby red, highly carbonated beer with a pronounced fresh cherry bouquet and flavor and yeasty notes. New Glarus recommends serving Red in a brandy snifter or champagne flute and pairing it with turkey, ham, cheese or desserts, which makes it a perfect beer for the holidays.
Russian River Pliny the Elder
Describing Pliny the Elder, posts on beer rating sites often say, “Believe the hype.” This archetype of a California double IPA is brewed in the heart of Sonoma County wine country. Russian River Brewing Co. owner/brewer Vinnie Cilurzo is renowned for both big American and Belgian-style ales, as well as sour and barrel-aged beers. But Pliny is the brew that’s captured the hearts and minds of beer geeks. It has all the attributes hop heads seek, with a tapestry of floral, resinous and grassy aromas and flavors around a juicy palate of citrus and malt. Once a year, Russian River releases a ridiculously limited edition triple version, known as Pliny the Younger.
Trappist Westvleteren 12
For big Belgian beer lovers, Trappist Westvleteren 12 is the Holy Grail. Many have called it the best beer in the world. Certainly, it’s rarest of the Trappist ales, officially only available by reservation at the Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren abbey store. Though it’s the product of the contemplative life, this bottle-conditioned beer is anything but meek or mild, ranging up to 11.5 percent alcohol as it ages, and exhibiting a spirited complexity. A malty toffee aroma gives way to surprising hop bitterness and sweet malt, with notes of dark fruit and cherries. Saint Sixtus brews two other beers, Westvleteren Blond and Westvleteren 8, but the 12 is the one you’re most likely to find in the U.S.
What’s your favorite beer you can’t buy here?
— Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog