As a trend proliferates, it normalizes itself within the market, within society, within the public zeitgeist. It follows then, as dictated by human nature, that our natural tendency toward self-preservation would incline us to haphazardly rationalize decisions that, up until recently, had come with so little baggage: whose music to listen to, what movie to watch, where to order household goods from, and—most relevant to our purposes here—what to drink.
I’ve come to terms with some of these things. Kanye West is a complete nutter and attention whore, but he’s probably also a genius; Vincent Gallo is a grandstanding instigator but, holy shit, Essential Killing; I still order through Amazon, who advertises at Breitbart. Still, for better or worse, I’ve chosen to make beer a major component of my life, and so I can at least afford to draw a line in the sand in that regard. Anyway, I’m never drinking these beers again, and I’m really sad about it.
IPA – 7% ABV
When Ballast Point initially dropped in Wisconsin a couple of years ago, I was pretty thrilled, and Sculpin was mainly to blame. Bright, bone-dry, and just brimming with tropical fruit and orange flavors, it was right in my wheelhouse for IPAs. It was drinkable enough to crush a sixer, and just strong enough to make you think twice about repeating the feat. The $15.99 price tag was a minor deterrent, but still—Sculpin, son.
Then, for a cool $1 billion-with-a-B, Ballast Point sold to Constellation Brands, a beverage conglomerate known mainly for peddling Corona. The group also boasts Pacifico, Modelo, Robert Mondavi, and High West whiskey in their portfolio. As of right now, they own the third-largest (about 7.4%) market share of all major beverage suppliers, and are the largest beer importer in the United States by sales. And while they haven’t done anything particularly nefarious, they still…oh wait, what? They were busted for selling fake Pinot Noir to customers in the early 2000s? Never mind.
Imperial Stout – 12-15% ABV
AB-Inbev’s purchase of Goose Island, followed shortly by their purchase of the original Clybourn pub, is still the standard-bearer for consumer drama and nebulous justification. Further, perhaps no single beer encompasses that drama more than Bourbon County Stout.
Even if you’re more principled than I am, chances are you’ve had this beer. Hell, you’ve probably had it post-buyout, and I can’t really blame you. A simply gargantuan imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels for about one year, Bourbon County Stout is still worth drinking if you’re just getting into the style; legacy alone justifies it, and almost mandates it. An oaky, vanilla-raisin-bomb cheesecake of a beer, it still sets the bar for bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts. And I’m going to miss it.
Tripel – 8.4% ABV
I’d start this section off with the qualifier “In my opinion,” but this is an objective fact. There is a holy trinity of Belgian tripels: Westmalle Tripel, Tripel de Garre, and Tripel Karmeliet. The latter, based on an old three-grain recipe, is made at the Bosteel’s brewery in Buggenhout, Belgium, and may still be the best iteration of the style in the world. Still, it—and the other four beers Bosteel’s produces—is 100% owned by AB-InBev.
But man, is this beer good. The wheat and oats lend a soft, pillowy texture to it, allowing the lemony, tropical fruit notes to glide over your palate. Peppery yeast phenols and herbal hops lend a crispness that is nigh impossible to resist.
Black IPA – 5.8% ABV
This one may seem a tad random, both in terms of a favorite beer to list, and in terms of breweries that AB-InBev would target. Regarding the former, I’ve had this beer just often enough to qualify it as one that I’m going to miss. A very refined beer, it manages to tick all the boxes of the black IPA designation while avoiding the pitfalls of so many products that call themselves that: surprisingly light-bodied, it exhibits chestnut, milk chocolate, piney hops, and a hint of burnt toast.
Regarding the latter, no doubt AB-InBev—smartly—saw a young, promising craft beer market, and decided to capitalize. The beer scene in Italy is just now wriggling loose from its awkward adolescent years, and touts a predilection towards wine-barrel wild and sour ales, saisons, and weirdo adjunct stouts.
Wild ale w/peaches – 6.2% ABV
F*ck. Just, f*ck, man. I’d already gotten confirmation that this year’s Shelton Brothers Festival was going to be in Atlanta, my old stomping/slouching/wheezing grounds, and I was all set to load up both of my Southwest Airlines checked bags with some sweet, sweet Wicked Weed schwag, because Georgia is still awesome sometimes. Now, not so much.
I haven’t had many Wicked Weed beers. But I’ve had enough to know what I’m working with, and what I’m working with is world-class brewing prowess. It is painfully obvious that the Dickinson boys know what the hell they’re doing, and there is perhaps no greater example of this than Garcon de Ferme, an oak-aged wild ale with peaches. A regular customer brought in a bottle of this to our bar one night, along with a bottle of Central Waters Ardea Insignis, because we cater exclusively to baller-ass librarians. It is all up on that Fou Foune-meets-Fuzzy tip, with a fresh, juicy peach character that underscores this brewery’s Southern roots. Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough: F*ck, dude.
Double IPA – 8% ABV
I could’ve done an entire article on just AB-InBev beers, such is the breadth of that company’s tentacles. To wit, this thing. A friend of mine runs one of the better bottle shops here in Madison, and he recommended this beer to me with these exact words: “It’s an InBev beer, but trust me. You need to try this.” And I did. So I did.
It’s good. It’s really, really good. This is a near-perfect hybrid of old and new-school IIPA: the hops are dank and juicy, the body ultra-dry. It goes down smooth as hell, and the tallboy can is an lol serving size. I would slam a four-pack of this stuff and leave Jackson Pollock lawnmower lines in the back yard.
Doppelbock – 7.6% ABV
Look, I’m as much of a sucker for pastry-inspired stouts, fruited wild ales, and thousand-island IPAs as the next guy. As of late, however, I find myself drinking more classic, simple beers: German lager, saison, English oatmeal stout, etc.
Optimator, one of the classic examples of the rich, dark German lager known as doppelbock, is such a beer. About nine months ago, before I knew about the brand’s InBev buyout, I had a full Oktoberfest-style mug of this stuff at a local German bistro. Even now, it is a masterpiece: layer upon layer of toffee and caramel, with a distinct dark chocolate-covered almond note. The phrase “dangerously drinkable” gets tossed around a lot, but it is truly applicable here.
Belgian Witbier – 4.9% ABV
Hot take: most beers that contain the word “breakfast” in their title or label description are most assuredly not suitable for breakfast, unless you want to begin your day by kneecapping productivity. Founders Breakfast Stout and its variants, Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast, Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast, etc are all great but, as the mildest of those is 7.5% abv, you’re not going to get much done afterward, and you could very easily have a three-day weekend you hadn’t planned for.
The old Belgian witbier, however, is the quintessential breakfast beer. Typically between 4-5% ABV, the light body and citrus-spice notes do just as well cutting through fatty egg dishes as they do latching onto fruit and yogurt salad. Anyway, Hoegaarden, one of the oldest and best-known examples of the style, sold out to—you guessed it—Ab-InBev, so reach for a St. Bernardus Wit instead. No doubt it’s more expensive, but Pierre Celis, creator of the original Hoegaarden, formulated this recipe, and it is truly outstanding.
Double IPA-8% ABV
I’ve reached that point in my beer geek progression in which I experience crippling indecision whenever I walk into a bottle shop, supermarket, or bar. It’s typically about 10 minutes of small talk with the buyer, followed by me hemming and hawing over the shelves and walk-in cooler, eliminating certain beers based on price tag, bottle date and whatnot, then grabbing three or four random things in a panic. Which is how I compiled most of the contents of my cellar.
But there is that handful of breweries that hit the sweet spot of quality, affordability, and consistency. And until the Heineken buyout, Lagunitas was the go-to in my household; no beer more so than Lagunitas Sucks. This one actually has a great story: a few years back, the brewery screwed up production of Brown Shugga, a holiday seasonal strong ale. As a point of apology, they brewed Lagunitas Sucks, a mega-hopped, resinous, tangerine-juice double IPA. The beer, probably the single best thing Lagunitas makes, caught fire, and now it’s available year-round. Sigh
German Wheat Beer – 5% ABV
Even before the Ab-InBev buyout, Franziskaner beers were beginning to lose their luster just a bit. Not in terms of quality, mind you; variety and marketing had passed them by. Weihenstephaner had begun a revitalized ad campaign that put their widely accepted status as “world’s oldest brewery” front and center. On top of that, both Weihenstephaner and Schneider offered more than just standard wheat beers in the American market: Weihenstephaner also had world-class examples of pilsner, helles lager, weizenbock, and doppelbock up its sleeve, and Schneider, already armed with the singular, delicious Aventinus, began dabbling in barrel-aging. Franziskaner, on the other hand, offered just two beers: a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen.
Still, they were, and still are, both fantastic beers. The hefeweizen in particular boasts the most complex bouquet of any hefe out there, Weihenstephaner included: huge clove-banana notes, with a hint of orange peel, lemon, and a cream-of-wheat mouthfeel.