This marks the beginning of a series on beer designed by multiple Houston beer experts to help anyone interested in craft beer. Whether you’re just now delving into this big, wonderful world or have been a collector for a long time, there’s going to be something in the series that applies to you. Here are the upcoming parts of the series:
- Part 2: Readily Available Beers to Cellar
- Part 3: Seasonal and Limited Beers
- Part 4: Beers Worth Standing in Line For
- Part 5: Beers to Seek When Traveling
Our experts include Kevin Floyd of The Hay Merchant; Justin Vann, a certified cicerone with Public Services Wine & Whisky; and Joey Williams, beer manager for Spec’s Fine Foods & Spirits. As we go, we may add a few more knowledgable voices, too.
Let's take a look at some readily available beers that should be bought and consumed, not bought and saved for a rainy day. If you're not into aging beer as much as you are into drinking it, this list is for you. It's also for beer collectors who discover that they've done such a good job in carefully acquiring and future-dating beer to be aged that they find there's nothing ready to drink!
So, you have to also keep on hand a few good, guilt-free beers to be enjoyed with abandon. These also tend to be really economical considering the quality. At Spec's downtown, I got the following for $35: one four-pack of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, a bomber of Lone Pint Yellow Rose, a bomber of Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout and two bottles of Orval. (We'll talk about Orval more in Part 2 when we discuss beers suitable for aging, but this is one you really, really need to get to know.) That's a lot of beer for the buck.
The following are some of the best sitting on store shelves right now.
Beers 10 through 7 are recommended by Floyd, and 6 through 1 are recommended and described by Vann with some input from Sean Jensen (who also used to work for Floyd as the general manager at The Hay Merchant). For each, we’ve noted alcohol-by-volume (ABV) and International Bitterness Units (IBUs).
10. Lone Pint Yellow Rose, 6.8 ABV, 62 IBUs
This SMaSH (single malt, single hop) IPA from a little brewery in Magnolia, Texas, is considered a best-in-class example of the style. Lone Pint’s most ubiquitous offering has a ton of malt, but the addition of a relatively new hop cultivar called Mosaic creates enough bitterness to bring it into balance. Dry grapefruit and tropical notes make Yellow Rose a perfect beer for everyday drinking.
9. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, 7.2 ABV, 34 IBUs
There was a time where the sorachi hop, with lemongrass and pine characteristics, was deemed too “weird” to use in beer. A family in Washington State decided to cultivate it, and it was Brooklyn Brewery that found it makes a perfect classic Saison. Sorachi Ace frequently appears on the menus of some of the best restaurants because it is exceptionally food-friendly. The sorachi hops that it's named for are added near the end of the brewing process. This method, called “dry hopping,” means this beer is lemony and herbaceous in aroma as well as on the palate.
8. Scotch Silly Barrel Aged, 11 ABV, No Stated IBU
Scotch ales and wee heavys often are a little obnoxiously heavy and sweet, but this iteration benefits from some time in the barrel. This is the newest and best of the Scotch Silly series, with a slightly bitter aftertaste to balance notes of caramel, toffee and brown sugar. Use with caution — with an 11-percent ABV, this beer is more serious than you might think. There’s no stated IBU, but it’s worth nothing that the unaged Scotch Silly weights in at 23. In other words, it’s a malt bomb.
7. Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tropical IPA, 6.7 percent ABV, 55 IBUs
The results of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp, to which brewers are invited from several other companies to come experiment, are often collaborations. This isn’t one of them but is still noteworthy. Clocking in at a 6.7 percent ABV and 55 IBUs, it is no weakling, nor is it overwhelming. Amarillo hops are added for bitterness and the beer is finished with Mosaic, Citra, Comet and El Dorado hops for fruit-like complexity.
6. Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout, 5 ABV, 32 IBUs
Fun fact: Samuel Smiths resurrected the category of oatmeal stout in the 1980s — it was out of production for about 50 years before that. This brewer is the modern progenitor of the style, and though I've tasted lots of good oatmeal stouts, this is still my favorite. It clocks in at a balanced 6 percent ABV and is a breath of fresh air in a world where stouts are getting stronger and oakier with each release. I would honestly rather drink this beer than the coveted Founders Breakfast Stout, because Samuel Smiths doesn't need to add coffee or chocolate to achieve those flavors. And I can have a couple without getting drunk enough to get arrested.
5. Pilsner-Urquell Czech Pilsner, 4.4 ABV, 40 IBUs
This beer has been sold in green glass bottles for much of its life. I would never order it because the green glass allowed the beers to become skunked easily. However, in 2014 the brewer switched to brown glass bottles and larger six-pack holders to prevent ultraviolet light from spoiling the beer so easily. I can now recommend it with gusto. This is the original Pilsner — and I love it because it's one of the lightest versions of the style, in the new world and the old world. With just enough of the earthy, spicy saaz hops, this beer works well with virtually everything.
4: Live Oak Pilz, 4.7 ABV, 30 IBUs
This suggestion comes from Sean Jensen (who, as the former general manager of The Hay Merchant, knows a thing or two about beer). Live Oak's Hefeweizen often steals the spotlight from its pilsner, which is one of the best domestics in America. Show this beer some love. Formerly this beer was draft-only. It will be available in cans soon. You will have no excuse for neglecting it.
3. Rodenbach Classic Flanders Red Ale, 6.1 ABV, 15 IBUs
The entire category of Flanders red ale is underappreciated, but the classic bottling from Rodenbach is an easily accessible and affordable luxury that is often overlooked as the market receives more new, collectible sours. Rodenbach's entry-level sour is a blend of young and aged beer, but the brewery has more prestigious higher-end bottlings that aren't much more expensive. This is the beer to give to your annoying wine-nerd friend who hates beer. It is extremely versatile with heavier foods where you might call for a medium-to-light-bodied red wine.
2. Reissdorf Kölsch, 4.8 ABV, 27 IBUs
This is simply the best classic Kölsch available on the market. I feel like Kölsch gets put on a lot of labels domestically for light, tasty beer, but very few approach the flavor and complexity of the real deal from Cologne, Germany. Kölsch is a hybrid between a lager and an ale, with just a touch more grapey, fruity esters than a typical lager. You can't drink just one.
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1. Victory "Golden Monkey" Tripel, 9.5 ABV, 25 IBUs
This last suggestion comes from Jensen as well. Golden Monkey is one of the best domestic tripels and packs a punch with lots of fruit and spice. What makes this beer dangerous is how cheap and strong it is. A six-pack costs about 12 bucks, and, at 9.5 percent alcohol, it will sneak up on you fast.
Join us next week for Part 2, where we'll find out what beers are both easy to find and perfect for aging. No standing in line required!
Updated, 1/21/2016, 12:02 p.m.: Victory Brewing Company just announced that starting around February 1, Golden Monkey will be available in cans.