Without intent, I have collected well over 1,000 beer bottles since the early 70s. When something finally had to be done about the cheap paneling in this old modular, I had a choice: tear down the walls while, oh, so carefully, replacing the often rotted 1X3s; OR, cover them with…
The Bottle Collection.
Written by Ken Carman
Those have been reading for a while know that in the middle of my 1,000 plus plus Bottle Collection I have a best of rack. These are not necessarily what I would call great examples of any style, just brews that fascinate my specific palate. Below you will find what’s either on the shelves now, will be once I finish my present bottle, or if I ever find the a bottle I’ve misplaced. There are a few I do think could be considered for “classics of the style” status, like Gafel. There are also a few I had a long ago and may not even be available anymore. So if I could do a side by side with an official BJCP classic of the style I might have a different opinion now.
You might also notice my palate tends to go for complex, big, brews. If something in this list isn’t that that means I had a lot of respect for it back when I tried it.
Ken’s Best of Shelf
Anchor’s Old Foghorn (Before Fred sold the brewery)
Barrington Brewery’s Vienna
Cigar City’s Maduro Brown Ale
Cool Springs Hop Brutality
Crested Butte Brewery’s Red Lady Ale
Crested Butte Brewery’s White Buffalo Peace Ale
Dubuque Brewing’s #8 Silverback Gorilla Black Coffee
Gueze Fond Tradition
Guinness Foreign Extra
Longshot Hazelnut Brown
Hoppin Frog Raw Frog
Hoppin Frog’s D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer Double Imperial Stout
Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged Christmas Ale
Hoppin Frog’s B.O.R.I.S.
Left Hand’s Widdershins
Left Hand’s Smoke Jumper
McGuire’s I’ll Have What the Gentleman on the Floor is Having Barleywine
North Coast’s Old Rasputin
Otter Creek Mud Bock Spring Ale
Rivertown’s Old Barrel Aged Cherry Porter
Rogue Farm’s Marionberry Braggot
St. Peter’s Old-Style Porter
Saranac’s Legacy IPA
Saranac’s Big Moose Ale
Seven Point Brewery’s Winter Seasonal
Stark Mill’s Milly’s Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Straight to Ale’s Unobtanium
Straight to Ale’s Illunium
Straight to Ale’s Velvet Evil
Straight to Ale’s Laika
Thirsty Dog’s Siberian Nights
Terrapin’s Gamma Ray
Terrapin’s Coffee Oatmeal Stout
Urtel’s Hop It
Wachusett’s Black Shack Porter
Yazoo’s Embrace the Funk
Gaffel: for a Kolsch to arrive on my “best of shelf” it had better be damn good. Kolsch is by no means my fav style, though I do enjoy it. When at the judging table it’s actually one of the styles I feel I judge well because, to be honest, I kind of don’t care. Clean beyond clean, fresh, enticing.
Top labels: Hoppin Frog and Straight to Ale. I’ve never had a bad beer from either brewery. If I had to choose top of the top it would be Boris from Hoppin Frog and Illudium from Straight to Ale, But it might be a close call in side by side comparisons, and I doubt I could choose between the two breweries. Each deserve the top spot in sheer numbers of brews I love from east coast breweries.
Rivertown’s Old Barrel Aged Cherry Porter: OK, it was flat as all hell. Don’t care. The cherry, the bourbon barrel, the deep complex malt? When I die I’d love to have that final synaptic snap swimming in this delight.
Anchor’s Old Foghorn: I had to state up front pre Fred selling the brewery. For a long time after you couldn’t find it in Tennessee. I finally bought a pack of this former delight and it was horribly phenolic. Makes one wonder, what does one do to make a barleywine: usually quite complex, this phenolic. The sad thing: I haven’t trusted Anchor since.
McGuire’s I’ll Have What the Gentleman on the Floor is Having: unfortunately even if the new brewers have attempted this, I doubt that they matched Steve Fried’s version. Some of what’s been brewed there has been beyond what that past tense brewer brewed: when it comes to innovation, but I’ve yet to have them mimic Steve’s best. And this was Steve’s best. Sweet, deceptive abv, be careful. Beware: I’ve had a few bottles that did not store well. Unusual for a barleywine.
Cigar City’s Maduro Brown: the oatmeal makes it
deliciously complex. I had a damn good clone of it at a meeting of Mid State Brew Crews’ Chili Cookoff and it was still incredible: minus a few ingredients.
Crested Butte Brewery’s White Buffalo Peace Ale: wish I could tell you more about this one, I just remember it being incredible, but the last few bottles sold were skunky. Did not store well. I would say wheat beer, but at the time I really disliked wheat beer. So I’m baffled. I’d check the bottle, but it seems to have disappeared.
Saranac’s Legacy and Big Moose Ale: Legacy is probably exactly as claimed… an old recipe that matches what IPA used to be many years ago. Perfect balance, little malt complexity if any. The hops are the star, but not today’s hop drama IPA’s. Big Moose Ale: OK I grew up, partially, in Big Moose, New York, and you might think it’s there on that shelf to honor my roots. No, it’s basically Legacy with more complex, interesting, hops and very refreshing. Very.
Cool Springs Hop Brutality: if you long for hop extreme this is it, and it isn’t rip the tongue out bitter, compared to other brews I’ve had. Yes, I like that, but prefer more aroma and flavor than those hop bombs have. And there’s no “grassy” here. If you want a tad grassy do Hoppin Frog’s Raw. That has a hint. Have no interest in cow cud beer.
Barrington Brewery’s Vienna: Seriously, with all the Imperials and Barleywines, a western Massachusetts “Vienna?” Yes, absolutely. Last I had this they got the water/mineral sense just right and the grainy goodness of Vienna malt seems perfect. I’d have to compare side by side with an official BJCP classic, and have the guidelines in front of me, but I’m guessing it compete do quite well. Well worth the quaff.
Rogue Farm’s Marionberry Braggot: I am a brewer of braggots and most commercial braggots leave me wanting. A braggot is a mix between mead and beer. You really need to be able to taste the honey and the beer, and most commercial versions seem to be either/or. Indeed I’ve had a few that should qualify as Honey Porter, at best, or Honey whatever. Marion is what it should be, and the berry comes through too. As with all good braggots there’s so much going on there that “complex” doth apply.
Yazoo’s Embrace the Funk: I think this may have been their first bottled version and I’m not sure what the in house name was. You’d have to buy from a collector. Brandon Jones: Music City Brewer and now in charge of Yazoo’s Sour program is a master. NOTE: I may have lied about “first.” Perhaps “first intentional” might be more appropriate? Fortuitous was a spinoff of Sue, a deep Porter, that went bad in an interesting way after shipping. They liked the resulting funk so much they got together with Brandon and, after many batches, a grand, more funky, version of Sue was sold. I haven’t seen it since, so I’m guessing it was a one off.
Dubuque Brewing’s #8 Silverback Gorilla Black Coffee: you want coffee beer? Well, you missed it. Without the harsh, espresso, sense that other extreme coffee beers had this was “coffee beer.” Kudos for creativity back when craft had thought “sour” meant “bad,” and super hopped beers were just coming to be respected. Sadly, haven’t seen it for years and I suspect the brewery is gone.
Urtel’s Hop It: there are probably better Belgian slight funk/American hop fusion brews out there now. but this is the original and it’s damn good.
St. Peter’s Old-Style Porter: what a Brit porter should be. Been a while, one hopes it’s still as good.
Guinness Foreign Extra: I had to include. In 1974 I found it in a small pub called Finnegan’s in Montreal: probably not the one that’s there now. I asked the bartender if he had any dark beer, because that was about the best it got on the east coast at the time. “What’s dark beer? Oh, but I do have Guinness.” This is Guinness on full bore, all the flavor. They just brought it here a few years ago. I missed it and remembered the taste, the mouthfeel: everything, the moment it hit the palate and brought me back to Montreal 1974 with Millie, now my wife, and Ellen my sister-in-law.
BrewWorks: I had to include this growler. The now empty building started as a brewery many years before I was born, died, then became BrewWorks. Tim Rastetter was the brewer, now the master brewer at Thirsty Dog. I never had a bad beer there, and he was doing IBUs well over 100 back when there was nothing like that on the east coast. Fred Karm, from Hoppin Frog, told me he considers Tim a mentor. The building had Jillians in it and even that failed. Last I checked: still empty.
Longshot Hazelnut Brown: this, I think, was from the first Longshot competition, and it was pretty unique for the time.