Life

Beer Judges, Writers, And Brewers Name The One Craft Beer They Always Return To

There are well over 8,000 craft breweries in the United States. That number explodes once you go overseas, meaning we truly live in a golden era if you savor unique and local brews. That being said, it also means there are a lot of craft beer options to sort through on your local grocery or liquor store shelves. To help you sift through the nonstop deluge, we reached out to some bona fide beer experts to ask: “When the cameras are off, what do you actually drink?”

As a beer writer, I personally get to sample a huge amount of beers every year. But my beer sampling consumption pales in comparison to beer judges, editors, and brewers — whose entire lives revolve around the world of beer. As with most things, beer or not, there’s a lot of flat-out bad, mediocre, and perfectly passable examples out there. Few brews stand out, much less stand the test of time.

The nine craft beers featured below were named by people who drink beer every day for work. These are the beers that have grabbed their attention, the ones they’ve gone back to again and again, and the beers that occupy coveted fridge space at their homes. Check them out — with full tasting notes to make you extra thirsty!

Weihenstephaner Helles — Miguel Rivas, host of the “Every Beer Has a Story. Every Story Has a Beer” storytelling series on IGTV Live

Miguel Rivas

Style: Helles Lager

ABV: 5.1%

The Beer:

For this new panel, I chose the exemplary Helles from the oldest brewery in the world, Weihenstephaner. Ever since my last trip to Germany and the Czech Republic back in 2018, I have become more enamored with lagers. There’s just something about hundreds of years of tradition, culture, and how people there embrace their beers that’s simply contagious.

I am very happy to see how in the last two to three years in the U.S. there has been this explosion of breweries making lagers. Some of them are making extraordinary beers that would rival any beer from the old continent, in my humble opinion. To me, it boils down to time, patience, and respect for the beer.

Tasting Notes:

This pours a crystal clear bright golden color. There are two to three fingers of frothy white head, great retention, and spotty lacing that decorates the glass. The aroma has notes of lightly sweet, bready malts. A subtle, doughy yeast presence comes through on the nose with light floral, herbal, and earthy hop notes coming through on the back end. Taste is consistent with notes of sweet bready malts, clean malt backbone, and very floral.

The mouthfeel is sublime, light, crisp, and extremely quaffable. There’s lively carbonation with a semi-dry finish.

Bottom Line:

This one is what I would call a textbook beer. It’s masterfully executed, checks all the boxes of the style, and is just a perfect beer for any occasion. The fact that it is now available — canned fresh in Germany and sent to the U.S. — is a real treat!

Lupulus Pils — Cristal Peck, Brewmaster and Malt Specialist at Boortmalt Innovation Center in Antwerp, Belgium

Lupulus

Style: Pilsner

ABV: 5%

The Beer:

Lupulus Pils is an organic pilsner brewed by a southern Wallonian Belgium craft brewery, Brasserie Lupulus. A level above the ubiquitous and overly hopped craft attempts at pils, this one is an excellent and high quality, heavily German-influenced pilsner.

Tasting Notes:

With aromas of soft sulfur and subdued graininess, fresh straw, and earthy hops, Lupulus pils pours a classic golden-yellow with a vibrant white and persisting head. Effervescent and dry, with a solid hop character, well-balanced but not shy bitterness, reminiscent of a traditional style, well-crafted German pilsner. From a glass, or direct from the bottle, it’s as refreshing as any German Fußpils, very thirst-quenching, and bloody delicious.

Bottom Line:

When I moved to Belgium, I assumed my beer-drinking agenda was sorted for life. The world became my oyster when it came to exotic Belgian ales, Trappist delights, and both delicate and extreme mixed fermentations. What I could never have known was just how I would come to miss something I had grown to take for granted throughout my time in Germany: A bloody solid pils!

Try as I might, the Belgian options continued to disappoint. Sweet, grainy, and overly esterery — due to forced fermentation times and adjuncts. Devoid of the nuanced lager yeast aroma and flavor complexities the majority of German breweries place such importance on, thanks to high-quality raw ingredients and prolonged lagering times.

Then I stumbled across this gem in my local organic grocery store. Seriously great and as close to my beloved Rothaus Pils as Belgians can get without a trip to Germany’s Black Forest!

Urban Chestnut Stammtisch — Joe Stange, co-author CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide To Belgium and managing editor Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine

Urban Chestnut

Style: German Pilsner

ABV: 5.4%

The Beer:

This is a beautifully bitter pilsner from a St. Louis brewery with the Bavarian brewmaster (Florian Kuplent). While their Zwickel is a flagship, the Stammtisch is more of a local cult beer among the lagerheads and a favorite among the city’s brewers.

Tasting Notes:

Classically brewed with German Noble hops to the tune of 40 IBUs or so, this is how I want a pilsner to taste: Bitter, but with enough malt backbone to support it alongside plenty of spicy and herbal hop flavor.

Bottom Line:

Sometimes I neck it straight from the bottle, but it also looks great in the glass. It’s bright gold, with sturdy foam that lasts all the way through the glass and tells its tale with residual stripes of lace.

Green Bench Brewing Kulture ‘Tings — Latiesha Cook, Certified Cicerone® and president of Beer Kulture

Green Bench Brewing

Style: German Pilsner

ABV: 5.1%

The Beer:

The one craft beer I stock in my fridge is Kulture ‘Tings. Kulture ‘Tings is brewed with 100 percent Barke Pilsner Malt, German Tettnang, and is a single decoction German Pilsner.

Tasting Notes:

It pours clear yellow, with a white head and gives off a pilsner biscuit bouquet. Kulture ‘Tings is clean and super refreshing with bready and malty highlights. It’s a snappy, dry, and effervescent beer.

Bottom Line:

I stock this beer because it’s such a beautifully made pilsner. It’s the perfect crusher after a day’s work. Everyone should be drinking it because simply put, it’s delicious. It’s also the flagship of an amazing nonprofit.

Elusive Brewing Oregon Trail IPA — Matthew Curtis, founder/editor in chief of Pellicle Magazine

Matthew Curtis

Style: West Coast IPA

ABV: 5.8%

The Beer:

I’m a pub creature at heart, but even though the U.K.’s boozers have finally reopened for drinking this week — outdoors, anyway — l always try to make sure I’ve got something delicious and refreshing in the fridge to help bridge the gap between work and rest. My go-to style is West Coast IPA. And although Elusive Brewery is based in Berkshire, England, and not San Diego, it’s perfectly channeled the flavor and spirit of California into its Oregon Trail IPA.

Tasting Notes:

Oregon Trail IPA has got that classic flavor/aroma combo of grapefruit zest and fresh pine. But what really makes this beer stand out is its firm fixture of malted barley, giving the beer a perfectly bittersweet character that makes it difficult to put down.

Bottom Line:

This is also a more sensible 5.8 percent ABV — a strength that means its flavor isn’t impacted but you can throw back a couple of cans in quick succession without feeling giddy. Unfortunately for my U.S. friends, you’ll need to come to the U.K./EU to try it. And when it’s safe to do so, I really hope you do.

Odell IPA — Dave Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Zymurgy, Certified Cicerone®, and author of Lager: The Definitive Guide to Tasting and Brewing the World’s Most Popular Beer Styles

Odell

Style: American IPA

ABV: 7%

The Beer:

Odell IPA is an American-style IPA from Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado. In addition to the standard 12 fl. oz. cans and bottles, it’s also available in tall cans that deliver a thirst-quenching imperial pint (19.2 fl. oz.).

Tasting Notes:

Expect clean, dry malt with just enough toast and light caramel sweetness to serve as foils to the firm 60 IBUs of bitterness. The hops profile is built on a solid foundation of classic American IPA citrus and evergreen, but you’ll also uncover hints of pineapple and mango.

Bottom Line:

Odell IPA is almost always in our fridge because the brewery is less than a mile from our house and it’s easy to get fresh product. This locally brewed, world-renowned beer is always available and never goes out of style.

Lucky Saint Lager — Mark Dredge, award-winning author of A Brief History of Lager and founder of BeerDredge.com

Lucky Saint

Style: German Pilsner

ABV: 0.5%

The Beer:

There are two beers that are always in my fridge. First, there’s Duvel, which is my favorite beer. I love it because it’s as lean, light, and refreshing as a pilsner, yet powerful, impactful in flavor, and always delicious. Next to the Duvel is the Lucky Saint, my favorite alcohol-free beer. I drink a lot of alcohol-free beer, mostly because I get up early to work or go for a run, and the Duvel might slow me down in either of those activities, but the Lucky Saint won’t.

Tasting Notes:

Lucky Saint is a German-brewed 0.5 percent unfiltered lager. It’s the ideal combination of slightly sweet, almost toasty, or chewy malts, and deeply refreshing with a dry lemon pith bitterness. There’s something wonderfully quenching yet also comforting about the flavor. I personally need the balance on days when I don’t drink alcohol. But with this beer, I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything. It’s just a good lager.

Bottom Line:

By the way, I’ve only now just noticed how the Devil and the Saint stand side-by-side in my fridge, perfectly characterizing the conscience on either of my shoulders — Drink the Duvel! Be a Saint!

Springdale IPA — Christopher Osburn, Beer Writer / Editor

Springdale

Style: West Coast IPA

ABV: 6.2%

The Beer:

If you don’t know about Springdale, you’re really missing out. While Jack’s Abby only makes lagers, this “other brewery” from the famed craft brand makes every other style. Its flagship brew is its Springdale IPA. Instead of settling for a simple West Coast IPA (which would have been amazing no doubt), the folks at Springdale made a beer that takes the best aspects from both the bitter, hoppy West Coast IPA and the more fruity, less bitter East Coast IPA — using Citra, Sultana, Amarillo, and Galaxy hops.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find aromas of a field of Christmas trees, ripe pineapple, cantaloupe, and subtle citrus zest. On the palate, you’ll be greeted with juicy grapefruit, ripe tangerines, peaches, and a nice kick of pine resin. The finish is filled with tropical fruit flavors, bright citrus, and just a hint of bitter hops presence.

Bottom Line:

As I get older, I have less of a desire to be knocked off my feet by overly bitter, hoppy, West Coast-style IPAs. This IPA is perfect because it bridges the gap between the two iconic varieties. It’s fruity, sweet, and hoppy enough to make everyone happy.

Writer’s Pick: Alaskan Smoked Porter — Zach Johnston, Deputy Editor UPROXX Life, podcaster One More Road For The Beer

Alaskan Brewing Co.

Style: Smoked Porter

ABV: 6.5%

The Beer:

Alaskan Brewing’s Smoked Porter is a special beer. It has somehow survived decades of craft waves. The beer is made with smoked malts, giving the final product its signature smokiness. The brew is released once a year, in November as a vintage, and can be aged for years and years in a cellar, if you want.

Tasting Notes:

Generally speaking, you’re going to be greeted with a well-used backyard smoker that’s part fatty smoked brisket, part smoked salmon fat, and a part smoked brown sugars. The bitterness leans more towards coffee beans with a hint of vanilla lurking in the background and maybe a touch of eggnog spice. The maltiness is light, while the body of the beer is somewhat hefty but never overpowering.

Bottom Line:

The beauty of this beer is that it changes as it ages. That means that I can stock up on bottles when I travel back to the Pacific Northwest and keep a fair amount in the cellar (for later) and the fridge (for now). There’s an evolution to the beer as the years tick past that really enthralls me.

But it’s more than that, too. This beer takes me home to Washington State. It takes me to oyster saloons, backyard salmon smokers, and those campfires that spit and crackle under a steady rainforest drizzle. It’s a beer that transcends and transports. You can’t beat that.

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