Good weird beers tend to be the rare finds of the beer world, ones that get secreted away to age in dark cellars or traded with like-minded drinkers for other legendary brews. But every year craft fans get a chance to pay admission to a free-for-all zoo of the wildest ones, captured and served at the raucous drunken atmosphere of the Extreme Beer Festival in Boston, Mass.
Two days of boozy exploration
A Champion is Crowned
The winners of their respective divisions — Sam Adams, Guinness, Natural Light and Steel Reserve — match up in the Final Four of the Mass Market Beer Tournament, and we crown a champion.
Just buy whichever's cheapest
The battle of the lights: Bud, Corona, Natural, Busch, Coors, Keystone, Michelob, Miller. Who will come out on top — and will we even be able to taste the difference?
In Search of the best ugly gems
Dive bars face a tug-of-war: they’re either worshiped or ostracized. This must stop. Dive bars are just like any other bar — plus or minus a few roaches and/or bathroom stall sex stories — in that “good” or “bad” depends on who’s asking. Whatever your cup of tea, we contest simply that “dive” not be used to describe a place that sucks: it should be a place that sucks with vigor, or with style, or with crassness. Here are the sordid watering holes that our staff believes, in their slightly perverse estimations, capture the true spirit of the dive bar.
The Weirdos Come Out to Play
The top selling malt liquors, ciders and flavored beers in America meet in an NCAA tournament of blind taste tests to find the best in the business. We’re talking about both Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita and Lime-A-Rita; we’re talking about Bud Light Lime; we’re talking about Colt 45, Steel Reserve, Angry Orchard and Woodchuck. We’re talking about a fiasco.
Libations the world over
We explore drinking culture from around the world to bring you the best five customs and oddities we could find — from beer-chugging Prime Ministers, to drinking and driving (don’t do it), to the biggest party in Iceland and more.
1 Japanese, 1 Dutch, 1 Belgian, 1 Irish, 1 English, 1 Canadian and 2 Mexican Beers Walk Into A Bar...
In the Imported Division of the Mass Market Beer Tournament, our blind tasters pick the their favorites and grant a Final Four berth to the best in the division. This round, it’s between Corona Extra, Guinness, Heineken, Modelo Especial, Labatt Blue, Newcastle Brown Ale, Stella Artois and Sapporo.
Round One of Malted Madness 2014
We kick off the Mass Market Beer Tournament with the Domestic Division. It’s a blind tasting fight to the finish (and a Final Four berth) between Budweiser, Sam Adams, Yuengling, PBR, Miller High Life, Blue Moon, Coors Banquet and PBR.
Wait...Yuengling's not an Import?
Put a Heady Topper next to a Busch. One of the beers is craft, and the other is not. Why? When does a beer stop being craft? Who wrote the current definition, and why did they define craft like they did? Part of the answer, it turns out, involves two breweries you know.
34 Beers. 5 Rounds. 1 Winner.
We got down from our high horse, if only for a second, to judge the best of the generic, watery and cheap mass market beers. How exactly? It has to do with seeding a total of 34 beers into four divisions and holding an NCAA-style tournament of blind tastings in order to declare a winner. Read on for all the details and a preview of next week’s madness.
We Test 10 Huge Imperial IPAs
Over the past 20 years, the way to make a double IPA (otherwise known as DIPA or “imperial IPA”) hasn’t really changed: roughly double the ingredients that would go into a normal IPA and you get a double IPA. As the weather changes, more and more stores begin cellaring their heavy winter stouts and replacing them with these hop- and malt-forward beasts. For those looking to expand their palates, doubles offer the citrus hop and bready malt flavors of regular IPAs, but amplified, and with plenty more complexity to spare. We tasted ten of our favorites.
Cream of the Cropless
A fair amount of people in this country drink gluten-free by necessity, and that’s not even counting those who do it by choice. But when you tinker with malt, one of the four main ingredients in beer and the one that activates the autoimmune response in those with celiac disease, does the resulting product still taste like beer? And if so, how does it hold up against more traditional counterparts? To find out, we put ten gluten-free beers to a blind taste test.
Think Globally, Drink Locally
One of the sublime joys of a tropical vacation is the beer. I’m not talking about anything you can find at your corner liquor store in Manhattan (Kansas or New York), or even those Mexican imports with the clever TV ads. I’m talking about the ones that come in brown bottles with peeling labels and caps that you knock off on the edge of a table, beers with names like Belikin, Polar, Banks, Sands, Sol, Belashi, Kalik or Three Coins.
Because their flavor profiles range from hearty to downright bacon-filled savoriness, Rauchbiers — especially smoked porters — are the perfect winter beer, sipped alone or paired with charred meats. Crack one of these five in your living room in front of a roaring fire; if you don’t have a fireplace, it won’t be hard to imagine one.
60, 61, 75, 90, 120, Floor
Though Dogfish Head currently produces 33 beers, 65 percent of their sales come from their five “continuously hopped” IPAs — the 60, Sixty-One, 75, 90 and 120 Minute. We tasted them all, in numerical order, and learned much more about Dogfish Head, and craft beer in general, than we expected.
An American Road Trip for a Great American Beer
On November 9th, we asked K.B. Gould and Henry Phillips to make a fall pilgrimage to the Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. The closing of the brewery’s retail operation loomed just days away. Joined by driver Dave Watson, the two accepted their assignment: visit the home of Heady Topper, one of the highest-rated beers in the world, to pay homage to its brewmasters, enjoy a taste and a tour and scrounge a rare case. This is the chronicle of their trip.
When In Russia...
You ever have one of those ideas that seems really good at the time? Like, let’s drop these broken speakers down a flight of stairs, or let’s jump into the mosh pit at a Machinehead concert, or let’s see if we can lure that deer into the car? Just last weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to taste-test a whole load of Russian Imperial Stouts. If you’re not familiar with the style, it’s characterized by high ABVs and huge chocolate, coffee and malt flavors.
Although they’re monstrously strong and typically expensive, Russian Imperial Stouts push the flavor intensity spectrum, offering a look at the sultry, heady, muscly side of beer. For those willing to experiment, they offer a variety of smells, flavors and textures found in few other styles of beer. But take note: if you’re going to try them, don’t make it a marathon. Give them the credit that they deserve. Still, from the pain of my hangover emerged this list of our favorite Russian Imperial Stouts.
Gifts He'll Actually Remember in the Morning
What to call a man who obsesses over alcohol? A connoisseur? A fanatic? A drunk? We call him The Mixologist, and you know him well. He’s the man whose cupboards are stocked with more bitters than spices, whose basement is reeking of homebrew, whose glass is always half-full — at least. And yours too, for the Mixologist prides himself in the cocktails he makes and the beer he serves. He’s an enabler of fun, an anti-Scrooge, a Holiday MVP. He’s every character in Billy Joel’s Piano Man — in fact, he does a mean Billy Joel if the night goes late enough. So cheers to The Mixologist. Here are a few gifts he’ll cheers to.
Brown Suede Shoes
Normally, we like our fruity beers fruity and our dark beers dark, period. But we managed to get our hands on a bottle of 10 Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter — which comes in a sexy brown and purple bomber — before the official October 7th release, and were pleasantly surprised at the result.
It's the end of the world (as we know it)
Seventeen years is a long time to experiment. That’s evident in Stone’s 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA, a beer with a name that means “the twilight of the gods” (in this case, meaning “the end of the world”) and shares its title with a Wagner opera. This nomenclature lends an impression of serious clout, and in many ways it’s warranted.
A Capitol Brew
DC has its downsides. It’s not a state. Traffic is depression inducing. The city is built on a swamp and has the clime to match. The poor folks who reside there have to deal with the assholes who run our country. But add to the list of good things (it really is a long list, despite our recent pessimism) DC Brau, the home-town brewery for our nation’s capitol, which besides this one, has surprisingly little beer to offer. We recently got a chance to try all three of their flagship brews.
Our favorite oat sodas
Selecting our favorite domestic craft beer was rather like selecting a favorite child: really not that hard, but bound to incite debate. Discussion of beer, like children, brings about a certain sentimentality — nostalgia, even — for the dogged unsophistication and everyman appeal of the malted beverage. Pitting our favorite beers against one another in…
See no evil
I entered the portion of the bar sectioned off for the Craft Your Senses event, handing my ticket to the hostess as I ducked behind the curtain. It was dimly lit and already teeming with a boisterous crowd surrounding each of the seven independent breweries present. Conversation starters were being poured and enjoyed at each…
Hail to the King, Baby
It felt good to finish a successful 64-beer tournament. Partly because our bladders were feeling the pressure after lots of beer samples, but mostly because we got to crown a winner. 64 beers — Vienna-style lagers, IPAs, imperial stouts, wheat ales, barleywines, pale ales — under one bar’s roof is chaos (delicious, delicious chaos). But picking one as the absolute best is as singularly satisfying as the tick-hiss of popped bottle cap.
The final two competitors prove we did something right. Founders Breakfast Stout and Victory Prima Pils make drinkers happy, and they make brewers happy. They’re delicious, complex, drinkable and extremely accessible to beer fans; they’re also the epitome of two foundational styles, perfect examples of what excellent American craft brewing can create.
The tastiest kind of reminiscing
Malted Madness is a celebration of beer. Largely, we’ve glorified suds through our favorite medium: bloodthirsty head-to-head competition. Now, though, we pay homage to the most foundational of beer’s values… enjoyment. We asked our staff to remember the most memorable water, malt and hops they’d ever had and recorded their misty-eyed reminiscences. What we found — unsurprisingly — was that the true measure of beer is often when and where it’s enjoyed, and who with.
Meet the Best Lager, Light Ale, Dark Ale and Wild Card
“You’re all winners in my book”. Overused by little league coaches everywhere, it’s a turn of phrase that doesn’t even trick children. You think little Tommy really believes he’s a winner? He might’ve been picking his nose absentmindedly when the winning run dribbled right by him, but he’s not stupid.
So we won’t apply it to this tournament, dammit. Call us over-competitive, but just because a beer made our list of 64 great beers doesn’t mean it’s a champ. It’s been a rocky road (see the whole bracket here), and some excellent brews have gone down swinging: Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Rogue Dead Guy, Oskar Blues Ten FIDY, Lost Abbey Deliverance, even eminent Pliny the Elder, perfect by BeerAdvocate and RateBeer standards. But they’re out, without a second chance between them. The closest things to winners — beyond the actual champion, that is — will be the final four beers, a.k.a. the top dogs of the Lager, Light Ale, Dark Ale and Et Al. styles.
The Going Gets Tough, The Suds Get Going
Ah, the round of sixteen. Narrowed down to a quarter of our original beers, the Malted Madness field (see the whole bracket here) has been cleared of those excellent beers with even a muted set of flaws. What remains is a clash of subtle differences, muddied everywhere by the trouble of putting slightly different (sometimes, vastly different) styles head-to-head. The process wasn’t pretty — but how can tasting 16 of the best beers we’ve ever imbibed not be beautiful?
Mind you, we still didn’t know which beers were moving on. What was abundantly clear, however, was that the “As” and “Bs” we had given the nod so far were damn good. Decision depression was at an all-time high, and we all defaulted to our overarching rule, beyond judgement of appearance, smell, taste and mouthfeel: Which beer would you rather drink?
This Bud's For You
Editor’s Note: Malted Madness is a celebration of America’s craft beer. But what about the rest? Brandon Chuang feels… strongly about the everyman beer. We haven’t forgotten the good ole’ standbys either, so we let him vent.
By now, just a few short days into Malted Madness, you’ve taken in about as much as you can when it comes to beer. You’ve studied the bracket — our curated list of 64 of the best craft beers in the country — and you’re drunk with emotion. Why isn’t my beer in the tournament? How could that beer make it past the first round? Nothing brings out our passions more than competition, and nothing clouds our judgment more than the wants and desires of our own hearts. And in this boozy, passion-soaked attempt to find the best of the best, we’ve forgotten what “the best” truly means.
We’ve begun a coronation while the king still lives.
The Hoppy Mayhem Continues
The second round of any 64-team single elimination tournament is always clearer. The chaos is winnowed down in scale but magnified in intensity. Dark horses that dazzled against top-ranked teams return to earth (ahem, Harvard). Under-performers face heavier competition, and some of the best battles of the tourney ensue.
The second round of Malted Madness brought a whole new level of great matchups and tough calls for tasters. The first round’s head-to-heads had been largely decided on gut reactions. In this round, the tasters began showing signs of “decision depression” — i.e. not wanting to make a selection — and there was far more frowning going on than should be in a room loaded with excellent brews. Still, we had known the risks going into the tournament (though we forgot to include alcohol poisoning waivers). Furrowing brows and downing saltless crackers to revive our palates, we forged on.
Take off eh!
Not content to be contained, Malted Madness is spreading across the 49th parallel. Lucky for us, our neighbors to the North hold the same passion for cranking out (and drinking) mouth-watering microbrews as American brewers. And lucky for you, the GP team has a Canadian correspondent to help guide your sudsy stumblings beyond the world’s longest international border. The goal was the same: finding category contenders worthy of each of our style brackets (lagers, light ales, dark ales, and Et Al.). But instead of crowning winners, we’re presenting four Provincial picks (plus a personal favorite) to whet your palate. You might even be tempted to hop the border and find out what excellent Canuck craft brew is all aboot, eh?