My entry into the world of craft beer came thanks to complete strangers. I had been placed in Portland, Oregon, as part of a volunteer program based on "simple living." And though there wasn't much of an entertainment budget, the "community" part of the program made up for it. Soon an endless stream of kind-hearted, former-volunteers were welcoming us to the neighborhood . . . six-packs of locally brewed beer in hand!
While it was the flavor and diversity of craft beer that originally drew me in, ultimately it was how this beer was consumed that kept me coming back. My newfound friends in Portland taught me from the start that craft beer is meant to be appreciated and shared with others. In this light, drinking craft beer managed to feel both counter-cultural and patriotic at the same time.
Five years and nearly 1000 different beers later, my enthusiasm for craft beer remains. My hope as a beer columnist is to share this joy with you, just as it was shared with me. So let's start with my ultimate mix-a-six pack, with the goal that you can make up one of your own at finer local liquor stores. Remember, though, I don't have an answer key here — drink what you like!
As a transplanted Mainer — and shameless homer — I must start with a beer close to my heart: ALLAGASH WHITE. Maine truly is "the way life should be," starting with a brewing scene that can go toe-to-toe with any other state. Allagash Brewing deserves a lot of the credit. The Belgian-style ales that Allagash specializes in are characteristically flavorful and easy-drinking, making their White a crowd favorite.
Where Allagash is one of the great technical brewers, Dogfish Head may be the most creative. When brewer Sam Calagione wanted to add hops continually through the brewing process for DOGFISH HEAD'S 90 MINUTE IPA, he jerry-rigged his old-school, vibrating football game to drop the hops into the brew kettle! As intended, this Imperial India Pale Ale is hoppy and sweet, without the biting bitterness of some other imperial beers.
I'm going out to Michigan next, but FOUNDERS BREAKFAST STOUT is relatively available on the East Coast. This is unquestionably my favorite label: a little kid, replete with bib, going to town on a bowl of oatmeal. Flaked oats help to give this beer an almost supernatural smoothness that is meant to be savored. I have literally spent two hours drinking a single 12-ounce bottle!
For two of my favorite styles of beer we can go back to New England. In my mind, New Hampshire's SMUTTYNOSE ROBUST PORTER stands out among other English Porters for its sharp bitter edge. While that may not sound too appealing, it actually balances out the roasted coffee malts. And balance is good. Although I love dark beers, I'm still an unabashed hop head. THOMAS HOOKER'S HOP MEADOW IPA out of Connecticut is a great example of what IPAs bring to the table: floral hop aroma, a flavorful, almost fruity bitterness, and smooth texture. I never pass this up on tap.
My last choice in this mix-a-six may surprise you, but I have to pick IPSWICH ORIGINAL ALE. This Massachusetts product has become my go-to session beer of late, combining drinkability with plenty of flavor.