10 beers to try before you die
4 January 2016, By Jonny Garrett
There are only a few certain things in this world – death is one, taxes unless you’re Amazon is another. But the saddest fact for me is that I will never try every beer in the world.
Sure some are awful, but that just makes the magical ones even better. That said, with limited time there are some beers that you simply cannot miss and that is what this article is all about. But how do you distill tens of thousands of breweries and millions of beers into just 10 beers to try? Well, first we made sure they were all available on beermerchants.com. Next we tried to go across all the broad styles in beer, taking in the brewing history of every nation and picking either the best or most important beer from each.
You see, this is not about finding the best beers in the world (though I think six of them are). It’s about seeing the breadth of beer and range of flavours it presents. Because that’s what makes beer the greatest drink on earth.
I’m starting with lager because, along with beer itself, it gets a very bad rap from people who don’t know better. Lager is not bland – bland lager is bland. Good lager is loaded with biscuity sweetness and lemony bitterness. Hacker Gold along with Kout 12, unfiltered Pilsner Urquell and Hacker-Pschorr Keller, is the best lager in the world. And one of the best beers in the world, period.
There is no brewery quite like Schlenkerla. Found in the heart of Franconia in Germany, this brewpub has become world famous for its smoked beers. They use majority smoked malt for a huge oaky and bacon-y aroma and flavour on top of their well brewed, clean Germanic beers. They use so much smoke that their helles lager, which contains no smoke at all, is still smokier than any beer you’ve ever had. Except the Marzen, obviously, which is almost as effective as a nicotine patch. But it smells like bacon.
Russian River Pliny the Elder
We'll never have this beer on the site but that's OK. We'd rather people had to travel to Santa Rosa, California, to taste it. That's because when fresh we still don't think there is a better beer in the world. It's not brash like so many other IPAs (but hey, we love brash) that came in its wake. Like an elegant white wine it's got lots of soft fruit, clean minerality and is hugely refreshing – all while the 8% abv silences clouds you eyes and the amazing simcoe citrus aroma sends your synapses firing. It's a beautiful beer, and don't listen to anyone who doesn't agree with us.
Quite possible the only unique beer in the world, we have never tasted a beer that came close to Orval. That’s partly down to it’s dry-hopping (rare in Belgium) and unique strain of brett yeast, which give it a pithy orange bitterness and cider-like edge, but it’s also because no two Orvals taste the same either. Each beer seems to age at its own pace, replacing the sweet citrus with more dry cider and a farmyard funk that gets deeper and deeper.
We are absolutely honoured to be able to say we buy Cantillon direct, and get a small quantity put aside for us every year. The beer from this tiny lambic brewery in central Brussels is very hard to get hold of, so it only makes it on the site three or four times a year in tiny quantities. But watch our Twitter and Facebook feed (as well as our newsletter) and you’ll catch it one day. We won’t say which beer is best to get, partly because we don’t know what we will get in, but also because they are all world beating, from their gueuze to their kriek to their amazing apricot beer, Fou’ Foune.
Harvey's Best Bitter
Bitter may not be the most trendy beer style these days, but on cask and from bottle it can still be one of the best. A good bitter has that bready aroma, sweet maltiness and notes of banana, clove, pear or even peach from the yeast. These beers are supposed to be subtle so they are easy to drink and endlessly sessionable, but when you try to break them down you realise how complex the flavour is. Harvey's is easily one of the best in the world and has all those characteristics but also just a hint of buttery, burnt caramel that makes you salivate. A truly stunning and unique beer.
Beer Merchants have been working with the Kernel almost since it was founded. In our opinion there aren’t many brewers that can compete with the IPAs and pale ales this brewery produces, but the export stout gets a lot less praise than it deserves. Somewhere between a black IPA and an imperial stout it has lots of coffee and liquorice, sliced apart by a huge dose of hop aroma to make for a complicated but endlessly drinkable dark beer.
Widely recognised as one of the best beers in the world, Rochefort 10 may be a whopping 11.3%, but it drinks like a beer half that strength, with lovely dark fruits and banana on the nose, and just a hint of roasted malt and liquorice. In our mind it is the best quadruple beer in Belgium, beating even the legendary Westvleteren 12.
Dale’s Pale Ale is a trailblazer, not just because of its perfect balance of sweet malts and big, bitter, fruity hops, but because it was the first US craft beer to be canned, and was therefore the beer that sent us down the wonderful road of tinnies once again. God bless you Dale, whoever you are.
Scandinavia like to be different. They don’t do wars, or single currencies, or even nighttime half the year. And they also don’t really do breweries. Some clever men from Norway, Sweden and Denmark realized that someone can do all the hardwork of brewing for you – so you can just sit in an office looking after a running club and occasionally creating recipes for some of the best beers on the planet. Mikkel, the man who essentially invented this business model stumbled on a brilliant, rich vanilla stout by accidentally putting the wrong number on his recipe sheet. Mike Murphy (now of Lervig fame), who was brewing the beer, did exactly as he was told and the rest is history.