In honor of National Beer Day, a sampler of national and local classics.
We all love craft beer. Even if you’re not really into the taste of beer, the friendly, inclusive culture that surrounds the industry is even more intoxicating than those hearty, barrel-aged beers so many brewers love to make. Yet, somehow, National Beer Day (4.8) isn’t a big deal; it should be. Beer is transcendent. It crosses all racial and cultural lines. Beer was brewed long before people understood the nature of fermentation. While it’s unlikely people started malting and mashing grain before they realized fruit juice could turn into something boozy over time, beer still predates recorded history. The love affair humans have with beer is time tested, and socially approved.
Tragically, too many of today’s beer drinkers are so busy trying to keep up with the latest and greatest radical offerings, some of the classics that got the beer industry to where it is today are overlooked. So, in honor of National Beer Day, here are five old school beers that you need to try.
This is the granddaddy of the epic “Tripel” style, which was once the biggest of the beers. At 9.5 percent ABV, Westmalle Tripel is still an elite contender in the heavyweight division, but it’s surprisingly nimble, delivering a clean finish that keeps you reaching for more. This is a beer that can be enjoyed cold, or at room temperature, but it’s best in the cellar range (45-50 degrees F). The Westmalle Brewery is in a Trappist monastery that limits production to three styles of beer, one of which is not available in the U.S. They also produce excellent cheeses.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Try to find one brewer who will say anything unflattering about this beer. Go ahead. For many, including this writer, the aromatic pine notes that wafted out of that first pint we sampled of this beer were a revelation. This easy-drinking classic American Pale Ale still holds up today as one of the all-time greats. Sierra Nevada might be the perfect craft brewer, and this beer is exhibit A.
Rockmill’s Matthew Barbee once credited this beer with inspiring him to brew. That alone makes it worth seeing what the fuss is about, but this 6.5 percent ABV ale is a refreshingly effervescent thirst quencher that is as delicious as it is fun to drink. These farmhouse ales have centuries of brewing history behind them, and a depth of flavor that is difficult to reproduce.
A.K.A The California Common, this historic beer was originally created when somebody in California tried to brew a German-style brown lager at ale temperatures. Anchor introduced America to West Coast hops, and was one of two breweries who inspired the first wave of craft brewing.
Sam Adams Boston Lager
Yes, Jim Koch quickly expanded his brand by contract brewing, which rubs some people in craft beer circles the wrong way, but you have to give him credit for being a true believer. He helped open sales channels many craft brewers later followed. Despite Boston Beer Company’s enormous success, they have never tried to crush smaller competitors. In fact, Koch has helped numerous smaller brewers become more successful, even as some of those brewers push his beer off the tap lists. It’s also worth paying homage to Sam Adams because it’s a lager and not an ale. This is a beer that focuses on a rich malt flavor and a balanced hop profile.
Those are some heavy hitters, and there are so many worthwhile beers that didn’t make the cut. But what about the local beers? How do we tell the Central Ohio Story?
Barley’s Tour De Hops
Angelo Signorino is probably getting tired of being referred to as the most venerable brewer in town, but he’s brewed more distinct batches of beer than anybody around. Tour De Hops is a testament to his skills, and the evolution of brewing philosophy at Barley’s. There was a time when the focus was on very approachable, English-style ales, and Angelo pushed pretty hard to buck that trend and take a West Coast tack on some offerings. Tour De Hops is an imperial IPA that gives Angelo and his brew crew a chance to experiment with hop profiles. The results drink exceptionally well.
Four String Hilltop Lager
While a few aspiring brewers were making social media noise about how awesome they were going to be once they opened, Dan quietly beat everybody to the punch and became the first of the huge wave of new breweries that opened in Columbus over the last several years. Hell, Dan didn’t even want to talk much after he opened. He doubled down a few years later and opened up a large production facility. While other brewers have cheekily dabbled in light bodied lagers, Dan plunged into that pool with both feet, offering up an unabashed take on the American Adjunct Lager. This is cheap beer you drink right from the tallboys while pregaming for that epic concert. Rock on.
Wolf’s Ridge Clear Sky
This beer did two things for Columbus. First, it underscored that there is a market for light-bodied, low-abv beers. That alone is no big deal because Actual did as much with Photon first. What Chris Davison did next, however, is ridiculous. He infused the beer with coffee. Infusions are nothing new, but usually brewers select bigger beers that can hold their own. A cream ale can barely handle its own grain bill. Coffee worked, so then it was on to other infusions, all of which have been successful, despite being somewhat insane. Wolf’s Ridge almost has a brand built around Clear Sky, which is a beer everybody should go back to and appreciate.
Forget about Bodhi, Creeper, and even Thunderlips. This is the best beer in the CBC arsenal, and the sales numbers seem to prove that most people agree. There’s just something comforting about a beer that doesn’t need a lot of festoonery. The history here goes back to when Eric Bean took over operations. You could say that this was the beer that saved Columbus Brewing Company, but that’s a long story for another time. Just drink it.