5 Must Drink Beers #1

Welcome to my first “must drink” beer review.  It should go without saying that this is simply the opinion of one man, and as an open forum, critiques, opinions and thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

That being said I give you these recommendations and reviews with complete confidence that these are beers regardless of style, that any craft brew drinker who is taking time to explore the world of beer should at least experience in order to broaden their appreciation and scope of what is out there.

For those of you who already take time to review beers on your own, I will also post the ratings from both Beer Advocate and RateBeer with each beer.  I have chosen to include these ratings for two reasons.  One I believe they are the most used and arguably “the best” beer review sites out there.  Secondly they help give a broad representation of beer opinions around the globe.  Beer Advocate caters to a more American crowd, whereas RateBeer’s audience tends to lean towards the European beer drinkers.

Without further Ado…

1.  Lagunitas Sonoma Farmhouse Hop Stoopid Double IPA.
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
(Lagunitas Brewing Petaluma, CA 8% ABV)
Beer Advocate Rating: 93  RateBeer Rating: 100
Now I’ll be completely honest, I am a victim of the IPA takeover in the world of craft beer.  I simply cannot get enough of this style, and with the ever expanding varieties of hops both natural and lab created the flavor profiles of these beers continue to grow, change and become more diverse.   Lagunitas, out of Petaluma, CA is without a doubt one of my favorite breweries in the country.  I got hooked on their “Little Sumpin’ Sumpin'” and am constantly searching out their latest releases.
Hop Stoopid, is a brilliant DIPA that contains all the attributes I look for in a quality DIPA.  Balance, hop profile and bitterness, bright exciting flavors and of course a high abv.
This beer poured a nice hazy copper with a large two-finger bright white head that dissipated very slowly.  The beer left a tight heavy lace the entire way down the pint glass and truly was a sight to behold.  I believe it can be difficult to truly experience the beauty of a beer in a standard pint glass, but this brew looked phenomenal the entire time I drank it.  Generally one should drink this beer out of a tulip style glass to truly experience the aromas, but even out of a pint glass this beers aroma filled the entire room.  Needless to say this beers aroma screamed hops.  Grapefruit, melon and hints of pine cut right through.  While the citrus notes are plentiful there is still a surprising complexity to the aroma.  This particular beer showcases a large amount of Cascade hops (one of my personal favorites) and unlike many beers does not use hop flowers.  Instead a hope extract or oil is created to maximize the “hoppiness” in this beer.
The flavor continues along the hop train.  The cascade profile is showcased beautifully with a very bright and citrusy hop flavor that provides a very pleasant bitterness.  The bitterness however, is not overwhelming, somewhat of a surprise considering the beer checks in at 102 IBU’s.   The hoppy taste lasts long into the after taste and slow fades at a very pleasant rate.  This beer is extremely drinkable, with no sort of alcohol burn even though it sits at 8%.  A refreshing, bright and hoppy DIPA, this is a beer that every beer drinker should enjoy.
Matt’s personal rating (4.2 out of 5)
2. Fore Smoked Stout
Style: Stout/Smoked Beer
(Dark Horse Brewing Co. Marshall, MI 8%ABV)
Beer Advocate Rating: 88   RateBeer Rating: 98
The smoked beer is underrated.  Probably because so many beers that fall into this category are over smoked making them almost undrinkable.  That being said done right a good smoked beer can spawn memories of nights around the campfire, family BBQ’s and picture perfect fall days.  The aroma and flavors of beer just like food works wonders at triggering memories (hopefully good ones) and this particular beer style always seems to bring me to my happy place.  Stouts make a perfect base for a smoked beer, as the roastiness and chocolate notes of the stout help accentuate the smokiness of the beer.  Dark Horse Brewing Co. out of Marshall, MI has released what I consider to be a near perfect example of a smoked stout.
Poured into a tulip glass (although a lager glass or stein would also be sufficient) this beer appears black as night and almost opaque.  That being said, held up to the light you can see how clear this beer actually is as it shines like a brilliant onyx.  The head is large and creamy pouring a dark khaki.  Sadly you must enjoy the visual of this head quickly as it fades very fast leaving a small ring for the remainder of the beer.  This beer also showcases very little to no lacing which was somewhat surprising given the thickness and density of the original head formation.
The aroma of this beer takes the traditional stout to a whole new level.  Coming across very complex the aroma shocases the typical stout notes of roasted barley, chocolate and coffee (probably from a Carafa malt addition), but also has a distinct and obvious smoked note.  The smoked note is truly what sets this beers aroma apart.  While it is not overwhelming it is certainly the star of this beers aroma.  Once I caught a whiff of it, I couldn’t wait to take my first sip.  I hadn’t even tasted the beer yet and all I could think of was s’mores at a campfire.
The flavor does not disappoint although it does seem to lean more towards the stout flavors than that of the smoked beer it is classified as.  While the smoked flavor is there, it is somewhat hidden behind a very strong coffee and roasted flavor profile.  While the smoked flavor is somewhat overpowered the flavor is still very complex and when I closed my eyes and tried to decipher each of the different flavors I was tasting, I was brought on an amazing journey.    This full-bodied beer finishes fairly dry, with a slight bitter/coffee aftertaste which is very pleasant, especially for anyone who is a fan of coffee.
Matt’s personal rating: (4.1 out of 5)
Oude Tart
Style: Sour/Wild Ale
(The Bruery Placentia, CA 7.5%ABV)
Beer Advocate Rating: 94  RateBeer Rating: 99
Perhaps the most misunderstood of all of the beer styles out there.  When a person takes their first unsuspecting taste of a sour, they quickly pucker their lips, and ask what the hell is wrong with this beer.  The fact of the matter is, there is nothing wrong.  Instead they have just had a sip, of one of beers hidden gems.  Unique and complex the “underground” world of the sour or wild ale is home to some of the worlds greatest beers.  For those who have yet to be introduced to this style, let me explain what we are dealing with.  Sour or Wild ales are generally of Belgian influence although American sours are becoming more and more popular.  They are created by inoculating beer with a “wild” yeast or bacteria such as Brettanomyces or Lactobacillius.  This addition can be from “contaminated” oak barrels, pitched directly into the beer or through a sour mash process.  The result is a distinct sour almost wine like characteristic, unique to this style.  People drinking this beer for the first time often claim they taste something “funky”, and they do as the bacteria and critters that have actually “infected” this beer to create its unique flavor profile, are certainly funky to those not used to this style.
All of this being said, I present to you one of my favorite American born sours, Oude Tart from The Bruery in Placentia, CA.  This sour can be categorized more specifically as a Flemish Red and pours a deep reddish-brown with no head whatsoever.   This beer should be enjoyed in a snifter, tulip or even a wine glass to help capture its beauty and distinct aromas.
This beer’s aroma is a prime example of a Flemish red.  Vinegar, acetone, unripened berries such as cranberries and sour cherries, and a strong red wine almost brunello-esque dominate the nose.  This beer is pungent and explosive.  There is no denying this beers sour appeal once you take one whiff of this beers aroma.
The flavor helps me continue down this sour journey and brings to mind a childhood favorite, sweet tarts.  Now obviously the beer is not like drinking candy, but the flavor and especially the aftertaste you get once you pucker your lips together spawns that memory right away.  (Again another example of beer bringing me back to a happy place.)  The beer is very tart and quite dry.  The cranberry aroma from the beer becomes even more prominent in the taste.  It’s wine like complexity is vivid and speaks volumes to the aging process this beer went through.  While the flavor is extremely complex, without a doubt my favorite moment of this beer is the aforementioned aftertaste.  This beer sticks to your lips, and I can still get the tart sting on my lips long after I have finished the beer.
This beer is a sipper, complex, strong in flavor and very tart.  I will be the first to admit that this style is an acquired taste and not for everyone.  But, anyone who fashions themselves a beer drinker should at the very least try a sour, and this release from The Bruery is a fantastic example to use as a jumping off point.
Matt’s personal rating: (4.6 out of 5)
Style: Specialty/Imperial Rye
(Boulevard Brewing Co. Kansas City, MO 11%ABV)
Beer Advocate Rating: 93 RateBeer Rating: 99
Holy punch to the face!  In a good way of course.  I first experienced this unique beer on tap at the Boynton in Worcester, MA.  I later got myself a bottle from the 2012 batch.  both experiences were top notch but different.  Before I talk to much about this beer I will say I think this particular beer, benefits from a “hard pour” as it seems to really help release the spicy notes from the crazy amount of rye used in this beer.
This beer pours a hazy mahogany with a two finger white head that seems somewhat thin.  A member of Boulevard’s “Smokestack Series” this beer’s grain profile is rye heavy.  Furthermore the beer is later aged in rye whiskey barrels, that according to the Boulevard website are from Templeton Rye.  The focus on rye, not only in name but in this beers creation process is obvious throughout.
The aroma of this beer had a distinctive breadiness to it, followed by a strong spice note and a powerful bourbon and vanillin kick clearly from its time being barrel aged.  There is also a surprising balance between the rye and alcohol notes and the hop additions used in this beer.  With such a strong spiciness from the rye a high alpha hop was needed to really help balance out this beer with a solid dose of bitterness.  Enter magnum hops, a high alpha hop that truly does a wonderful job of balancing out this rye heavy beer.
The flavor of this beer is extremely complex, the beer starts with a strong spicy kick balanced out with a citrusy hop flavor.  What makes this beer special is the warming experience I went through after the initial flavor kick.  At 11% it is no surprise that this beer as a serious alcohol bite.  That being said, it wasn’t overwhelming.  Instead it added a tasteful and enjoyable warming flavor to the tail end of the beer.  The barrel-aged flavors of rye and vanillin begin to over take the spicy and hoppiness from the initial flavor surge, and I am left with a long lasting warming sensation in the aftertaste.
Perhaps more than any of the other beers talked about in this review, Boulevard’s Rye-on-Rye is a one and done.  You simply aren’t going to be capable of, or want to drink more than one of these at a time.  That being said this is a surprisingly complex, unique sipper that really showcases rye malt and the concept of barrel-aged beer.
Matt’s Personal rating: (3.8 out of 5)
Saison Du Buff
Style: Saison
(Stone/Dogfish Head/Victory Collaboration *Stone Release Escondido, CA 6.8%ABV)
Beer Advocate Rating: 87  RateBeer Rating: 97
As we move into the end of the summer, I wanted to take a moment to tip my hat to one of my favorite late summer/fall beer styles the saison.  Meaning “season” in French, this beer is a farmhouse style, low-ish alcohol summer session style beer.  (Note this particular saison is not all that session-able)  These beers are set apart by the yeast used to ferment them.  Unlike most ales that ferment at a temperature in the high 60’s, saisons are fermented anywhere from the high 70’s into the 90’s.  From a historical aspect these beers were created before the use of fridges, therefore the beers were brewed in the fall or winter months and stored (at warmer temperatures) until the late summer harvest.  Most saisons are highly hopped.  Today that is part of the style, but the original reason behind the high amount of hops was to preserve the beer.   Because of the yeast and the high fermentation temperatures saisons are often noted for having a strong yeasty characteristic both in its aroma and taste.
Three fairly popular breweries, Dogfish Head, Stone and Victory came together to create this unique spin on the common saison.  While the beer is a collaboration, each brewery released their own version, differing slightly on ABV as well as the equipment used.  Therefore each had slightly different characteristics.  For this review I am reviewing the Stone release which I believe to be the best of the three.  That being said I highly encourage everyone to try all three and make their own judgement.
This beer poured a brilliant light gold with a large long lasting white head.  This beer was highly carbonated and almost “fizzy”.  This beers aroma was amazingly refreshing.  Citrus notes dominate but a strong herbal characteristic can be found.  This beer stands apart from most saisons due to to the addition of a herb pack consisting of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  The use of these fresh herbs creates a unique and welcoming characteristic to this beer that I had never experienced.  Furthermore that classic yeasty aroma can also be found on the nose, helping solidify the fact that I am drinking a farmhouse style brew.
Unlike the aroma the flavor really showcases the herbal additions.  Unlike the other two breweries releases of this particular beer which seemed to be somewhat strong on the rosemary, Stone’s release is very balanced and presents a cornucopia of herbal flavors.  The yeastiness is there but somewhat subdued for the style.  The mouthfeel is highly carbonated but fairly light bodied.  Citrus notes seem to dominate the aftertaste, but hints of herbs can still be detected.
This is a unique twist on the common saison.  I will admit that for those of you out there who are saison purists, this particular beer does not scream saison to me.  it fits the profile, but because of the herbal additions the spicy/yeasty notes common to the saison are somewhat hidden.  That being said this is still a very tasty beer, and for someone looking to try a unique twist on a fun style this is a must drink.
Matt’s personal rating: (4 out of 5)
Sooooo  there you have it, my first “5 beers you must drink” review.  Hopefully you enjoyed my takes on these beers and I have inspired you to try and hunt them down.  As you can see from just these 5 beers, there are a lot of unique styles out there.    Again feel free to post any comments, questions or opinions that you may have about these beers, or even better any beers that you suggest I try and possibly review.
Stay tuned for my first brewing post as later this evening I work with my dear friend Nate on creating a Coffee infused robust Porter.
Categories: Beer


  • Pete Daoust says:

    Great reviews! Can’t wait to try them for myself! Keep up the good work!

  • Journey to the Beer Store says:

    What a great first review. I have known the author of THE BEER FILES since college. He is a great musician and has greater knowledge of beer. I am going to continue to read him and I think you should too. Everyone should keep drinking good beer.

    Journey To the Beer Store.

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