Last year while holiday shopping I saw a “Beers of the World” gift pack that included Moosehead (Canada), Corona (Mexico), Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic), and Becks (Germany). I watched some poor mom put a couple boxes in her cart, and this made me sad.
“I should make up my own beers of the world gift pack,” I thought to myself. “One that tells a story of beer and how it came to be.” I ditched my cart and drove to Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa and survived a frosty 30 minutes in their cold box like an Antarctica research scientist. I came out with a solid pack of beers, then went home to compose a letter to include with the gift pack, which I’ve included below.
Merry Christmas! Here are my favorite beers of the world!
Beer nationality falls into four general categories: German, British, Belgian, and American, the latter being heavily influenced by the other three. I chose beers that define history and culture and are basically like drinking a museum. They are all 90+ on Beer Advocate, so rest assured they are all delicious.
In the pack:
- Belgium: Orval, Saison Dupont, Rodenbach Grand Cru
- England: Samuel Smiths Taddy Porter and Yorkshire Stingo
- Germany: Weihensephaner Korbinian and Aecht Schenkerla Marzen
- America: Fresh West Coast IPA, Anchor Steam, Pumpkin Beer
Where to start drinking? Germany.
Korbinian is a doppelbock, a style born in 1634 by the Paulaner monks in Munich, Germany. They named the beer Salvator (Savior) and drank it as their sole form of sustenance during lent. This beer is where the term “liquid bread” comes from. All doppelbocks usually have a -ator ending (ala Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz), except for this one, which is named after Saint Corbinian, a Frankish Bavarian saint born in 670 A.D. It doesn’t hurt that the beer is delicious with notes of figs, dates, and toffee. One of these lenten seasons, I will attempt to live on this beer alone; care to join?
In northern Germany is Bamburg, a city known for making rauchbier (smoke beer), and Aecht Schlenkerla is one of the only breweries that distributes its beer to the U.S. They make several styles, but I prefer the Märzen around fall and winter. The brewery starts by kilning the malt over an open beechwood fire, and you can probably guess that on the first whiff. Although it smells like your clothes after a camping trip, try to get past that and focus on the bready malts. Think of it as Islay Scotch before distillation, but with a different smoke character.
Just as some monks settled in Germany and made lagers due to the lower temperatures, other monks settled in Belgium around 1070 to make Ales.
In Southwest Belgium in Luxembourg lies Orval, one of the original Trappist breweries. Look for the official Trappist logo on the back of the bottle as you endure the lengthy yet heady pouring process. Brewed with wild yeast, Brettanomyces, the beer is oozing with complexity. When young, the beer is bright and hoppy…as it ages past six months, funky yeast notes develop as the hops fade. This beer has influenced numerous American craft brewers that strive for the same complexity. My favorite part of it is the head that can rise a good 3 inches past the glass without spilling.
Speaking of funky yeast, the Belgian town of Roeselare, Belgium, has a homebrew yeast named after it, most notably for the beer Rodenbach Brewery makes. I chose the Grand Cru, which is their “best of.” The Flemish red style of beer originated from French settlers who landed in the area and didn’t have fruit to make wine. So they made beer to mimic it, and this is the result. The slight souring is meant to imitate wine’s acidity, and you’ll find aged oaky malts to put you in the wine state of mind. American sour breweries heavily imitate these practices, going overboard most of the time.
On the other end of the Belgian spectrum is the saison, which is a highly effervescent pale ale bursting with fruity and spicy farmhouse character. Historically, brewers on the Wallonia French-speaking side of Belgium lacked refrigeration and would brew late fall to have provisional beers on hand to get them through the harvest season. As the farms lacked potable water, the beer they made gave hydration to the migrant farm workers, who were allowed up to three liters of saison a day. Saison Dupont is considered the de facto modern saison, but early versions were probably tart, low alcohol, and funky. You guessed it, American brewers including myself, brew an ode to this yeast-driven beer.
England did a few cool things to beer, including the production of pale malt by the invention of indirect kilning. The Pale Ale was born! I didn’t include any British pale ales because they don’t travel well, sadly. Instead, here are two beers that define what the Brits can do. Yorkshire Stingo and Taddy Porter from Samuel Smith’s Brewery.
Stingo is fermented in square slate fermentation vessels called “Yorkshire squares” and aged a year in oak. Best drank at cellar temp (51 to 55 degrees), you’ll taste toffee, raisin, fruit, and Christmas pudding pop out. Wow, such a great holiday beer!
Taddy Porter is a whole different beast. If you think there isn’t terroir in beer, this is proof otherwise. Brewed with the original well water in Yorkshire, you’ll pick up some minerality and unique malt characteristics that pop because of the water. This is also fermented in the Yorkshire squares and is best around 55 degrees. This is my favourite Porter.
America has several indigenous beer styles such as Pumpkin beer, West Coast IPA, California Common, and bourbon barrel aged beer, but I find they’re derivatives of styles born elsewhere, just like us!
That’s my festive beers of the world pack! Hope you enjoy!