We humans are by and large happy, lumpen beasts who require far less variety than we’re typically offered. Entire books have been written about how we thrive when superficial choices are reduced and life is simplified. But product designers and marketers need to eat, too, so they’ve tricked us into thinking we prefer a world with 37 different flavors of toothpaste.
Upscale beer consumers have fallen particularly hard for the more-is-better lie, which makes sense when you consider the demographic. If your life is so sweet that you can afford the time and money needed to turn getting loaded into a whimsical, educational adventure rather than an end-of-shift necessity, then you’re the sort of sport who might have real use for our 3,500 breweries and their dozens of thousands of beers. Or if not a “real use for,” then at least a thirsty Untappd account. Either way, we’re lucky to be part of the leisure-booze class.
A couple months ago Drunkspin led a fun exercise that asked you all which beers you’d choose if you were limited to the same three for the rest of your days. That was invigorating and terrifying, and today’s game is going to be a bit less stressful: How about if you could only pick three breweries?
Like any reasonable drinker, I change my mind all the time, but my three favorite breweries (among those with fairly broad distribution) right this instant might be Allagash, Firestone Walker, and Boulevard. The trouble with Allagash, though, is that the vast majority of their beers are high-priced and high-proof. They are America’s foremost manipulators of Belgian yeast, weird microbes, and repurposed booze barrels, but every now and then a fellow wants something a bit easier on the tongue, the liver, and the wallet.
Firestone Walker produces many of my favorite hop-forward beers, in addition to an excellent barrel-aged imperial stout, Parabola, and a beautiful-if-bonkers “Central Coast Quad” called Stickee Monkee. If nits must be picked, though, I’ll note that their portfolio is a little light on easy-drinking lager (I like Pivo Pils, but it’s hoppier than I prefer in a pilsner) and affordable saison (Opal is very good, and fairly priced at about $8 per 22-ounce bottle, but I’d rather it were available in a smaller dose).
Kansas City’s Boulevard isn’t necessarily better than Allagash or Firestone Walker (or Russian River or Cigar City or Three Floyd’s or etc.), but it brews a wider variety of great beers. They may be best known for Belgian-style numbers such as Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, Long Strange Tripel, and Saison-Brett, but they also offer good pilsner, pale ale, and stout, among many others. And now their new imperial IPA, the Calling, fills in the one gap in their portfolio: an unabashed, world-class hop monster.
The Calling uses eight different hops, including new-wave darlings Mosaic, Galaxy, Equinox, and Amarillo. The result is what you’d expect, but better. It opens with a fantastic blast of citrus, followed by strong topical fruit and lighter floral and pine aromas; it’s one of the very rare IPAs that showcases all four of those distinct hop profiles. There’s a sticky toffee element on the palate, along with a slightly more roasted edge than its peers, and a faint nuttiness, too. Then the hops reassert themselves in the form of grapefruit and overripe nectarine before the long, dry, resinous finish.
I simply don’t get around enough to declare which is the nation’s finest brewery, but I am very confident that Boulevard knows more tricks than any other operation I’ve come across, and the Calling is the best new IPA I’ve tried in 2015.
This is Drunkspin Daily, the Concourse’s adequate source for booze news, reviews, and bullshit. We’ll be highlighting a beer a day in this space; please leave suggestions below.
Image by Jim Cooke.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and some of his closest friends have met Certified Cicerones. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.