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Oakes Weekly - June 22, 2006

Ten Beers You Need to Try - Geeks’ Version
Features June 22, 2006      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

For the final entry in this three-part series, I present to you ten beers I think you need to try, beer geek version. It’s sort of tough to put a list like this together. On one hand, I want to pick some really cool beers that you probably haven’t had. But the Ratebeer community is pretty good at finding rare beers. Anything bottled that is at all worth drinking seems to have 50 ratings, usually more than 100.

Plus, I don’t want to make the list too predictable. Anybody can look at my Top 50 or Top 100, or 4+ or whatever lists and see what beers I think are kick ass. You probably should go out of your way for any beer I think is kick ass. But I wanted this list to be something distinct from a list of Josh’s favourites. By that same token, I figured it best to avoid my favourite examples of styles that have a lot of really good examples. I think when you have as many incredibly good imperial stouts as exist in this world, which one ends up as your favourite comes down to personal taste and experience. Even amongst experienced tasters, there is no clear champion and so personal taste seems to play a pretty big role. So for me to say “my favourite is something you MUST try, because your favourite kind of sucks in comparison”, when both beers in question are pretty damn good, is a bit much.

Then there’s the whole issue of availability. If the beers are widely distributed, the list isn’t really a geeks’ list, is it? I wrote that list last article. But picking ten incredibly obscure beers, especially of questionable future production, won’t accomplish much. It would be about as useful as a list of Hollywood actresses you should sleep with. I didn’t want to draw up a list of beer geek fantasies, I wanted something you could sink your teeth into.

So what did I come up with?

Schultheiss Berliner Weisse – This was a no-brainer. Shocking, bracing, stylish, humble, and the epitome of an extremely rare style. You can’t buy it in the US and even in Germany it’s hard to find without being premixed with some sort of syrup. You are a beer geek. You won’t drink this with syrup. A beer this complex, challenging and unique needs to be on your beer resume.

Jovaru Alus – Another no-brainer, and not just because I needed to have at least one on the list none of you have tried. Lithuanian farmhouse beers are a style all their own. They embody some very strange elements but this example is quite clean, and is very refreshing. You have to go very close to the source to get it. It showcases the local hops, which you won’t find in any other beers outside of this style. I think it’s safe to say that quite of few of Lithuanian Farmhouse beers are love-it-or-hate-it, but I really don’t think this is one of those. I think everybody will appreciate how unique, original and well-crafted this beer is.

Drie Fonteinen Framboos – Maybe I shouldn’t lay down the hype without having tasted the upcoming batch. A few vintage bottles of this beer have trickled out of Belgium’s most exclusive cellars and the beer geeks have slavished unprecedented praise upon it. It is the top-rated retired beer on the site, and its mean score would make it #1 overall. Yes, the monks would need to find another scapegoat, but that’s not my problem. Anyway, the bottles that have made it out appear to be among the most complex, balanced lambics ever tasted by this audience. There are dozens of incredibly good lambics on the market and this one stands out. I think that’s an amazing feat. The next bottling of this beer is slated for later this year. You’ll want to find some.

Nynäshamns Pickla Pils – Intensely bitter, but with a good bit of balance, and without doing the “imperial” cliché. It’s not easy to find. Heck, there haven’t been any ratings since ’04. But if it’s ever sighted again, don’t ask questions, just do it. A bold, simple yet very effective pilsner that is one of the class examples of this style anywhere.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Singaporean version – The reason why I pick this one over the unique sorghum-enriched Nigerian version is simple. The Singaporean version is the closest thing I’ve ever had to the true roots of the style, as they are understood today. It is not just strong and complex with rich fruity depths but also has a hint of that signature brett in the finish. Regular Guinness Draught has that sour-mash note to it, but I don’t find much tartness is the average FES. This is a notable exception, and is one of the few foreign stouts that I can actually envision having spent six months in a wooden barrel on the ocean.

À l’Abri de la Tempête Corne de Brume – A rich, bright and multi-faceted Scotch Ale from the far-flung Magdalene Islands in Quebec. What I like most about this beer is that everything it shows you, it shows you in the best possible light. Each flavour is bold and distinctive, and as fine as I’ve tasted. Think of it like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Now, that may be made from chocolate and peanut butter, but it’s hardly the best chocolate and peanut butter out there. But what if it was? That’s what Corne de Brume is all about.

Pannepot – OK, you’ve heard about it, but I notice some of you haven’t had it yet. Stop screwing around. This is what Belgian beer is all about – it’s big, it’s unique, it fits no style, it is insanely characterful and exhibits some of the most gorgeous aromas and flavours to be found in beer. This is why we drink beer.

Sorghum beer, kymyz, chicha, bozo, oshikundu, ch’ang – These aren’t even all considered “beer” for our purposes, but they are all ancient indigenous beverages. Some are closer to extinction than others, but all are worth seeking out. The rusticity might put you off. The flavour might be a taste you’d rather not acquire. But each is an integral part of local culture and a fascinating glimpse into the purest roots of beer.

Face Cachée de la Pomme Frimas – No, not beer. Ice cider is a relatively new beverage on the world scene, and you may as well get in on the ground floor. The only examples I’ve seen are from Quebec and British Columbia, but Face Cachée is the company that started it all, and Frimas is perhaps their finest expression. A rich dessert.

Old English 800 – After all those great beers, you need something to keep your head from exploding. What can ground an insane beer hunter better than a forty of malt likka? OK, I’m just kidding. You can take a pass on this crap. I was thinking of recommending something so bad it’s educational, like Steelback Link or Zhigulyoskoye, but not all of you are out for educational experiences and these are certainly not good for anything else. So I’ve decided just to recommend you try the nearest untried beer. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just go try a new one. Think about what makes it tick. Thousands of great beers await you. You’ll always go back to your local favourites, don’t worry. But being a beer geek is about more than just enjoying a good pint. That’s being a fan. Being a geek, however, is about the thrill of the hunt, and seeking new pleasures. As sure as your local favourite is in your fridge right now, there’s another pleasure just around the corner. Go find it.



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