The Top Craft Beer Recommendations by Style

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The Top Craft Beer Recommendations by Style

With the holiday season just around the corner and craft brews still on the rise, delicious beer is a more popular gift choice than ever before. But the vast number of breweries in the market these days makes buying beer more intimidating than ever, especially for non-beer drinkers. To help you navigate the sea of ales, read on for a roundup of excellent bottle recommendations sorted by type.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Top PicksShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

A quick note on distribution: some breweries or beers may not be available in all 50 states or in your local bottle shop. In that case, it may be best to use beer locator websites and apps such as BeerMenus or Untappd to find good places to buy beer and get an expert opinion on which of the bottles available in your area would be closest to your target. As always, your local brewery or bottle shop is usually the best place to seek out fresh and delicious craft beer, no matter the style.

Stouts & Porters

A good stout or porter is a natural pairing for winter and the holidays. Their massive malt character and typically higher alcohol content act as perfect complements to a cold night. Moreover, stouts are valued for their ability to be stored and aged (except in some cases, due to additives), making them gifts that can be enjoyed as soon as they are cold, or kept for years to come. I’ve split this category into barrel-aged and non-barrel-aged, for those who prefer their dark malt without any woody character.

Non-Barrel-Aged

For non-barrel aged stouts, the adjuncts would be your best guide for buying unfamiliar beers. Look for flavors that your recipient might like, which can range from traditional adjuncts (or additions) like coffee, vanilla, and cacao all the way to exotic ones with various herbs, fruits, and nuts. If you have a stout purist on your hands, you job is even easier, as many regional breweries have excellent examples of true-to-style porters, stouts, and imperial stouts.

Non-Barrel Aged StoutsShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
AleSmith Speedway Stout 12% San Diego, CA Coffee
Prairie Double Dunk 11.9% Krebs, OK Oreos
Perennial 17 10% St. Louis, MO Cacao Nibs & Peppermint
Evil Twin & Decadent Decadent Delight 4 11.7% Brooklyn, NY African Kola Bean & Madagascar Vanilla
Westbrook Mexican Cake 10.5% Mt. Pleasant, SC Cocoa Nis, Vanilla Beans, Cinnamon, & Habanero

Barrel-Aged

Because of the time, expense, and skill required to brew them, barrel-aged stoutswhich are perfect for sharingare largely considered some of the most decadent brews. They can contain many different kinds of adjuncts and can be finished in various spirit barrels, ranging from the classic bourbon or rum, all the way to tequila or Islay barrels. Look for familiar alcohol finishes and be sure to mind the alcohol when buying these beers.

Barrel-Aged StoutsShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Ballast Point High West BA Victory at Sea 12% San Diego, CA High West Barrels, Coffee & Vanilla
Central Waters Cassian Sunset 11.7% Amherst, WI Bourbon Barrels, Coffee, Vanilla Beans, & Cinnamon
FiftyFifty Brewing Eclipse 11.9% Truckee, CA Varies yearly, with different  adjuncts & many types of barrels
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout 11.6% Grand Rapids, MI Maple Syrup Bourbon Barrels, Chocolate, & Coffee
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout 15.2% Chicago, IL 4+ year old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels

Sours

Sours are a quickly emerging fan favorite among beer consumers, and I’d imagine that their various price points and complex, wine-like characteristics will make them very good gifts for the holiday season. Below, I’ve highlighted two different methods of making sours that can also work as an indicator of beer quality on average.

Kettle Sours

Kettle sours are a great go-to if you know you need a sour, but aren’t quite sure you want to gift the more expensive barrel-aged sours. These are usually pretty light and refreshing, often mixed with fruit or more exotic adjuncts. Look for recommendations on Berliner Weisse, Gose, and lighter dry-hopped sour ales.

Kettle SoursShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Edmund’s Oast Sour Blackberry Raspberry 6.5% Charleston, SC Fresh Blackberries & Raspberries
Lost Nation Gose 4.5% Morrisville, VT Sea Salt & Coriander
Platform Life Itself 4.2% Cleveland, OH Lime Zest, Lime Juice, Graham Cracker, & Lactose
Stillwater Action Bronson 7000 4.5% Brooklyn, NY Dry Hopped & Muscat Grapes
To Øl Sur Series Varies Denmark Various hops

Barrel-Aged Sours

Barrel aged sours represent the best of what sour beers have to offer. Most take anywhere from six months to three years to make and a master to blend them together in the right amounts. They can contain fruit as well, which contributes an additional layer of flavor that’s complementary to the complex sour base. Some are aged in wine barrels, which results in an accentuated tannin profile that also complements the already acidic body well. Barrel-aged sours can be enjoyed fresh, or aged to lower the fruit and allow for more tartness.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Barrel Aged SoursShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Crooked Stave Surette Reserva Series 6.2% Denver, CO Various Fruits & Oak Barrels
Upland Darken 9.7% Bloomington, IN Oak Barrels, Ginger, Coriander, Grains of Paradise, Star Anise, & Black Pepper, Candi Sugar, & Rye Malts
Cascade Sang Noir 10.1% Portland, OR Aged in Bourbon & Wine Barrel up to Two Years with Cherries
Almanac Valley of the Heart’s Delight 7% San Jose, CA Wine Barrels, Apricots, & Strawberries
Firestone Walker Peachy Bones 6.1% Buellton, CA White Peaches, French Oak, & American Oak

Belgian Beers

Possibly the world’s most classically influential beer regions in the world, Belgium’s beers are prized for their rich, deep brewing traditions. While Belgian-style breweries aren’t the biggest fans of categorizing beer by styles, they make many kinds ranging from light Belgian pale ales to the intensely sour Oude Gueuze and the dark and sweeter Quadruple. Below, I’ve picked my favorite two styles of Belgian beer that are sure to impress as gifts. Make note that some are only Belgian-style, meaning they are not brewed in Belgium.

Saisons

Typically lighter, lower in alcohol, and soft and funky, saisons, which range from dry and funky to very acidic sours, make ideal gifts for those who are looking for both something lighter, but still exciting. They are among the most broadly defined styles, as the origins of the style come from individual farms in Belgium and France, each of which has its own brewing technique. Below, I’ve picked some of the more dry and lightly funky saisons to gift, some with interesting twists on the style.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018: SaisonsShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Blackberry Farm Ampersand 7.3% Walland, TN French Aramis & Nelson Sauvin hops
Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes √225 6% Switzerland Oak Barrels
Jester King Mad Meg 8.9% Austin, TX N/A
Saison DuPont Brasserie Dupont 6.5% Belgium N/A
Separatist Beer Project Strange Landscapes (Chardonnay) 5.5% Easton, PA French Oak, Chardonnay Grapes, & Russian River Valley Chardonnay Casks

Dark Belgian Ales

Softer, smoother, and more fruit forward than their stout counterparts, Belgian Dark Ales make for ideal winter warmers without the additional roasty notes you might find in stouts without sacrificing intensity. Usually made without any special adjuncts, the use of Belgian yeasts cultivated over the lifespan of a brewery is what pushes those plum, raisin, and sugary notes forward. Ask for classic Belgian examples of Quadruples, or see below for some delicious (and ageable) examples.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Belgian Strong Dark AlesShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Avery Fimbulvvinter 16.9% Boulder, CO Rum Barrels
Brouwerij Het Anker Gouden Carolus Cuvée van de Keizer 11% Belgium N/A
Jackie O’s Skipping Stone (Bourbon Barrel Aged) 12% Athens, OH Bourbon Barrels
Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven La Trappe Quadrupel 10% Netherlands N/A
Brouwerij St. Bernardus Abt 12 10% Belgium N/A

India Pale Ales

The key to gifting any India Pale Ale (IPA) is freshness. IPAs are built and judged on their hop character, a flavor that will fade over time. If you’re gifting someone an IPA, making sure it’s a last-minute present is paramount. This is certainly one category I would highly recommend visiting your local craft brewery to obtain. Be sure to check freshness dates.

Classic IPAs

Classic East Coast and West Coast IPAs are beers that are built upon creating a harmonic balance between bitter hops and sweeter malts. This style of IPA has approximately a three-month shelf life. They can be made with adjuncts as well, but for a more interesting take on the style, look for IPAs made in a series. Sometimes brewers will make IPAs with only one hop, or with experimental hops and techniques to keep things interesting.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018: Classic IPAsShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Alesmith IPA 7.3% San Diego, CA All American hop blend
Cigar City Jai Alai 7.5% Tampa, FL Amarillo, Simcoe, Cascade, Motueka, Centennial & CTZ hops
Melvin 2×4 9.9% Alpine, WY Columbus, Centennial, Citra, & Simcoe
Flying Dog Alpha Initiative Series Varies Frederick, MD Various hops & IPA substyles
Zero Gravity Conehead 5.7% Burlington, VT Citra Hops

New England/North-East IPAs

While more classic styles have a shelf life of about three months, the newer and more popular New England India Pale Ales (NEIPAs) need to be consumed in less than six weeks from packaging. This means that the best NEIPAs need to be sourced as locally as possible to ensure freshness and the best hop flavor and aroma. Below I’ve listed some easy-to-source (mostly) local beers from New York City. Visit the following breweries for the most cutting-edge IPAs the city has to offer: Five Boroughs, Greenpoint, Other Half, Interboro, Finback, Kings County Brewers’ Collective (KCBC), and Singlecut. For everywhere else, check your local bottle shop or brewery for the best NEIPAs near you.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018: New England IPAsShane Monteiro/Carmine Street Beers

Brewery Beer ABV Location Finished With
Industrial Arts Wrench 6.8% Garnerville, NY Mosaic & Citra Hops
Exhibit A The Cat’s Meow 6.5% Framingham, MA N/A
Interboro DDH Premiere 6% Brooklyn, NY Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, & DDH Mosaic hop pellets
Finback IPA 7.2% Queens, NY Chinook & Columbus
Singlecut Softly Spoken Magic Spells 8.6% Astoria, NY N/A

 

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