I was recently reading a blogpost by a long standing follower of mine going way back to my podcast days, Myles Lambert which was titled ‘20 Most Important Craft Beers…. on my journey.‘ Over 2,000 different beers later, it got me thinking hard about my own journey through craft beer which really only started in 2001 despite growing up in a house where home brewing was done regularly. And these when I think about it, are the 20 craft beers that even today are firm favorites that have influenced my tastes even now.
This list of beers is in no real particular order, except for the first five which were my first ever craft beers I tried. They sent me on my own path of discovery & a reconnection with beer after I’d pretty much abandoned it after being so disappointed in commercial beer for so long, I’d joined the vodka/whiskey/Jaeger crew.
Beer in the mid to late 1990’s in Ireland was dull. Uninteresting. Boring. Flavourless. And was just so bloody unenjoyable. The second the chill was gone from the beer, it was frankly undrinkable piss. A time-out in my life to live in the U.S. just outside Philadelphia changed all that. And being introduced to craft beer was more than an eye opener. It began an obsession, & a period of intense disappointment up until around six years ago.
Now, some of these beers are no longer ‘considered craft’ after some megacorp somewhere waved a big sack of dosh at their owners, but none-the-less, these shenanigans weren’t a thing when I first discovered them. So go easy on the backlashings/rantings/cursings of me lol.
The very first craft beer I ever tried was in Boston, & was Sam Adams Boston Lager. It was Lager, was a beer I’d never tried. And it blew my mind this was ‘lager’. The only lager I’d know was a piss-coloured one that was vapid, without any body or discernible flavour.
After my first wake-up call to things called Lager being beyond what I’d experienced, I went one better with Philly brewery, Yuengling & their traditional lager – which again was anything but traditional. And it opened my eyes a little wider, despite my obliviousness to ‘what is craft/micro/whatever’ beer poo-politics.
This was the first pale ale I’d ever tried. And it blew my mind all the way back. My first thoughts were ‘What the hell kinda beer is this?’ It was bitter, and smelled of fruits. And it was utterly enjoyable.
Torpedo was the eye-opener of how ‘extreme’ beers could get on my first foray into micro brewing. I nearly choked on my first taste of it, & hated how it felt like my mouth was being attacked. I persisted with it, & boy am I glad I did. This beer became a go-to beer once it arrived here in Ireland. And it’s still as good as ever.
Hop-Devil nearly sent me running from IPA’s completely as the first IPA I ever tried. It scared the bejesus out of me. It was the beer that led me to trying Torpedo. My first comments when I smelled the beer were ‘People fucking drink this? How the fuck? It smells like death!’ Boy was I wrong.
Tokyo* will forever be a beer I hold near & dear. Everything about this stout is perfect to me. Thick, luscious, extravagant, voluptuous, & decadent AF. Years later after my very first one, I still hold it in such high regard it’s a joint favorite stout ever made alongside Stone’s w00tstout for me. Tokyo* remains pure magnificence, & inspired me to brew my own Christmas-y take on it, which unfortunately fell shy at the 13.8% mark. How this is produced with such consistency by BrewDog at 16.5% is still a marvel to me.
Sculpin for me changed everything I thought I knew about IPA’s. Much like my first trip ever to the left coast, it absolutely opened my eyes to a whole other way. Fish tacos, mild earthquakes while you sleep, Mexican taco stands & food trucks. And then SD’s brewing scene. This one IPA forever changed the measuring stick for how I like my IPA’s.
I honestly bought this beer the first time because of the name & the logo. I had no idea that what lurked inside was one of the most deliciously sick & twisted beers I’d forever love for its ability to wring a whiskey face out of me every time I drink it. And it’s a beer that is still ridiculously as enjoyable every time I come across it as it was the first time. It is & will forever be my big-boy-fun-beer.
Had I not already been introduced to Stone via their Pale Ale (which I adored), & their IPA, this one single beer may have been a complete shock to me. It has been a great deal many years since I first tried the Bastard, & even today in its Berlin form, I am forever sold on the Bastard. Arrogant Bastard for life.
#10 Anchor Steam
The very first time I visited the left coast & visited San Fran, my mother told me I had to try Anchor Steam. She said whatever about anything else I saw out there whether it was Alcatraz, riding a trolley, or seeing the Golden Gate, I could not leave SF without trying Anchor Steam. She told me how important Anchor was as part of SF’s identity like Nike was to Oregan. I hate admitting when she’s right. But I got it, & got a fondness for the beer style. I’ve tried many other brewery’s takes on the style, & not a single one has ever come close to Anchor Steam.
#11 BrewDog Punk IPA
For me, Scottish beer was Deuchars or a pint of heavy. As far as I was concerned, they should stick to Scotch & Haggis suppers from the chippies, cos they couldn’t do beer. Then this cheeky fuck appeared one day. Deprived of Sculpin, this was my fix. This was the beer that every single time I went beer shopping found its way into my fridge. This was the beer that I felt that when an Irish microbrewery brewed their first IPA they had to come close to, as I knew Punk IPA was always going to be a game changer in the UK & Irish markets. One of the very few times I was right. However, I think I’ve definitely fallen out of love with this beer. It just does nothing for me anymore.
#12 Lindemans Kriek
This wasn’t cider. It wasn’t ‘beer’ in my then limited understanding of beers. But it was just so bloody enjoyable, even if I felt the color was ‘unmanly’. This was my treat beer when I could find it. And today,I’m happy to admit it’s a beer that around the Christmas holiday, I like to make sure I’ve a few bottles of.
It was Euro 2000. I was in Brussels for the opening game & ceremony. I’d travelled there on the Eurostar in first class from London, & was staying in a suite in The Hilton. The night before the opening game, I’d decided to go out & try some local food (chips & mayo, & turkey bites on sticks), & came across a lively bar where I saw a sign with a pink elephant on it. I thought it was hilarious; drunk, pink elephants, beer. And then I had my first ever Delirium Tremens while joking to myself about the DT’s. I can never put my finger on what it is I like about this beer, & its by no means even one of the best beers you can get from Belgium. But it still brings a ridiculous smile to my face.
I was in Lake Garda many, many years ago on a late Autumn-borderline winter trip purely because it was cheap & needed a long weekend type getaway. On my trip there, all I kept finding was Peroni, which pissed me off. Then, I wandered into a bar in the middle of the town called Marilyn’s, which was supposed to be an Irish bar. And there, I discovered this gem. I fell in love hard with this beer. It’s a beer that many off-licenses here have found me asking for at odd times in the year on the off chance they’ve found one in the back somewhere. This is an absolutely decadent & wonderful beer that just gives you such a happy feeling going down or sitting over when you need some comfort.
Canned. Craft. Beer. WHAT THE SHIT??? The first time I saw this I was looking at it in a fridge in a gas station in the U.S., & thought the can looked tacky as hell. But I was willing to give it a try. Lesson I learned from discovering this gem is that sometimes, in the U.S. you will find some incredible beers in gas stations to take back to your hotel when they’ve got nothing but shit on tap in them. And that this was the bar for Pale Ales for me.
Arrogant Bastard was a game changer. Then this appeared one day. ‘Hardcore? IPA?’ Alrighty, I’ll give this a bash. There are very few beers that have come & gone that have made me angry at a brewery for removing it from production. This is one of them. I recently had this again to see how I felt about it, & honestly BrewDog, not sure I can forgive you for killing off this one. Ever.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Irish craft beer over the years. Although, in the last year or so we’ve kissed & made up. I’m firmly in love with Irish craft beer at this point, where the vast majority of beers I buy are Irish ones. But this beauty, oh let’s get, let’s get, let’s get rocked & adrenalize. I absolutely adore this beer, & its evil twin, ‘Devil’s Half Acre’ from Porterhouse. It’s a big badass American style Barleywine that is absolutely unapologetic. When I come across this, I have a tendency to snatch up a few bottles for Friday night YouTube rock-outs.
When this beer first appeared, it was in the Norseman in a little ass keg covered in leather, & Barry who ran the place then (now of Underdog ownership – cheap plug, but I don’t care …. love that man!) shoved this in front of me one afternoon & told me to try this that it was Irish. I almost cried. Finally, a DECENT Irish stout. When he told me what it was & pointed me to a younger cheeky Bret fucker called Declan Nixon a few stools down at the bar, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Declan & his then brewing partner in crime, one Alex Lawes of Whiplash/Rye River. Ever since then, I have repeatedly bitched at them both to rebrew it, & last year they did under a limited canned Whiplash/Otterbank/3fe edition, & it was glorious. Hey guess what guys? REBREW THIS FUCKER! I’m out of my stash!!!!!!!
Amber Ales. I’ve tried many over the years, & so many have disappointed apart from a few such as Narpabier ZZ+, Stone Levitation (still angry at Stone over killing this off too) but it was an Amber beer with a snappy assed name from Mitchelstown in Cork released around the time Rhianna was signing about her umbrellas that caught my heart for Amber beers. As much as I love the Amber beers aforementioned, none have ever come close to this iconic beer for me & caused me to have so many Amber ale disappointments in its aftermath.
Where in the shit has this beer gone from our shelves huh? I have ballached, bitched, moaned, & asked for this beer for so long to be here in Ireland, & then we had it. And I drank a fuck ton of it while it was here & available. This to me has always been Torpedo’s long-lost baby brother from another mother from the first time I ever had it in ATL years ago on a trip there. And has always been a trip of a pale ale to me. I am slightly fucked off it’s not here anymore for one reason or another. Just when I thought I had most of my ‘beer to be able to buy regularly wish list’ sorted. God damnit #sadfaceses.
I’d love to know some of YOUR most important beers from your journey through beer? What would make your top 20 list? Share yours in the comments section below 🙂