I thought it might be interesting to do a personalized “Top 10 Breweries” list to see if I could whittle all of the incredible ale factories in the world down to just a handful. These are my “apocalypse” breweries. If civilization collapses, and only 10 breweries remain, these are the ones I would select. Determining this list was extremely difficult. My choices definitely aren’t the 10 “best” breweries in the world…just the 10 that mean the most to me. I left off some brilliant ale factories simply because I haven’t sampled enough of their products or because I don’t have enough of a relationship with their brews at this point in my life. Geography plays a major role in that since I have very little access to some of the fine West Coast offerings. Such is life…we take what we can get.
Some caveats…this list is skewed almost entirely towards American breweries. That’s not to say America is the best brewing nation (though it is)…it’s just that, I’m an American. I enjoy brews from all over the world, but when push comes to shove, I prefer my local products. I’m a goddamn patriot is what I am.
The second caveat is that 10 is a really small number. I mean REALLY small. Trying to pare down all of my favorite breweries to a list that tiny was painful. Particularly since no one actually asked me to take on this task and it was a conundrum entirely of my own making. But I’m nothing if not persistently stupid, so I did my best. Just as an example of how hard this task was, take a look at this Top 10 list:
10. Great Divide
7. Bear Republic
4. Port/Lost Abbey
3. Three Floyds
1. Dogfish Head
Pretty awesome, right? That’s a murderer’s row of ale factories. You know how many of those are on my personal Top 10? None. That’s how hard it is to make a list of top breweries. So if you have a problem with my selections…just know that I do too. Hell, it will probably change tomorrow. But for now, here’s the list:
10. Samuel Smith: This is actually the brewery that got me thinking about this list. I overlook Sam Smith’s a lot, but after cracking open an Oatmeal Stout the other night (it had probably been a couple of years since my last one), I remembered that I really, really like everything they do. Their Taddy Porter, their ridiculously sessionable Nut Brown, their Imperial Stout, their Winter Welcome…they’re about as solid and consistent a brewery as exists on Earth. That consistency is probably why they’re overlooked. Plus they don’t really have flashy marketing, names, or funky, extreme brews. All they do is make some of the best beers in the world and they’ve been doing it for over 250 years. Can’t leave them off the list.
9. Orval: Probably a surprise, but not to folks who know me. Orval pretty much makes just one beer, but damn is it a good beer. Maybe you think Rochefort, Westvleteren, or Westmalle should be my Trappist entry. But in all honesty, if I’m only drinking one Trappist beer for the rest of my life, it’s Orval. Hell, if I’m only drinking one BEER for the rest of my life…it very well might be Orval.
8. Oskar Blues: They’ve got a small line-up and there are a couple of duds on there (I’m looking at you Gubna). But if my fridge was only filled with Dale’s Pale Ale, Ten FIDY, Old Chub, and the Gordon…I certainly wouldn’t complain. Plus, cans! I love drinking out of cans!
7. North Coast: I suspect the other Aleheads wouldn’t have them on the list, but North Coast is a personal favorite. The Old Rasputin is their “killer app”, but the Brother Thelonius, Pranqster, Old Stock, Old #38, Red Seal…even their sessionable ACME label brews are all supremely drinkable and well-crafted beers. I can’t think of a time when I haven’t had at least one of their offerings chilling in the McHops Monastery.
6. Avery: Avery’s one of those amazing ale factories that somehow seems to nail every style. They make killer stouts, amazing IPAs, delicious Belgians, and super-sessionable English-style ales. The worst beer they make is probably their Karma (a Belgian Pale Ale)…and you know what? It’s pretty good!
5. Deschutes: My favorite of the Oregon breweries. Deschutes is rightly championed for their stupendous Abyss, but they’re no slouches when it comes to other styles. The Black Butte Porter (and it’s XX variations), their Obsidian Stout, the Hop Henge, Hop Trip, even their basic Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Cinder Cone Red. Every one is a winner. No way they were getting left off the list.
4. Terrapin: I’ll definitely be the only Alehead to have them on the list (and even I was surprised at how high I had them). But since moving to the Southeast, the Terps have become my “go to” brewers. Their Big Hoppy Monster and Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout have become two of my absolute favorite brews and all of their one-offs, mash-ups, and oak-aged offerings are simply outstanding. They always go big and they ALWAYS make interesting beers.
3. Russian River: Ask a thousand Aleheads to name the best brewery in the U.S. and chances are Russian River will rise to the top of the list. They’re best known for their insanely delicious Pliny the Elder (and the Younger which is, as yet, undrank by me), but the brewery doesn’t stop at just Imperial IPAs. The Supplication, Temptation, Consecration, Beatification, Sanctification, Temptation…their basic Blind Pig IPA…each one is a gem. They do Belgians, porters, stouts, wild ales, brown ales. You name it, and Russian River doesn’t just make it…they master it. Find me another brewery that knocks it out of the park every time like they do.
2. Allagash: My boys. I’m a sucker for Belgian-style brews and NOBODY does Belgian-style brews with an American twist like Allagash. Four, Grand Cru, Curieaux, Confluence, Gargamel, Fluxus, Interlude, Odyssey. Beautiful names. Beautiful brews. My mouth waters just typing them. It was my favorite brewery for many years until recently. But King Allagash has been overthrown by…
1. Founders: I came to Founders late in life, but since sampling their suds, I haven’t looked back. Their Breakfast Stout (and the Kentucky and Canadian variations) is obviously what caught my attention first, but since then, I’ve learned that Founders can literally do no wrong. As Doc said, even their cherry beer (the Cerise) is ridiculously good. The Red Rye, Porter, Devil Dancer, Dirty Bastard, Imperial Stout, and Centennial are all special, special beers. They do barrel-aged brews better than almost anyone and they’re always pushing the envelope and experimenting. If someone told me I could only partake of brews from one ale factory for the remainder of my days, I wouldn’t hesitate to say “Founders”. Now if only they distributed to Alabama…
I challenge the rest of the staff to write up their own Top 10 lists and share them with our dear readers. What say you, Aleheads? Are you man enough?!