I usually start every non-sports related post with an apology, but not this time. If you like sports, there’s a 98.5% chance you like beer. The two go hand in hand. Well, maybe beer goes hand in hand with everything. You might notice a little West Coast bias in this list – much like everything else we write about on Doin Work. It’s also affected by the fact that breweries I’ve visited tend to skyrocket up my personal power rankings. But I also truly feel that the best beer is brewed along the Pacific. If it’s from California, Oregon, or Washington, I’m usually on board. So, apologies to fans of Allagash, New Belgium, or Victory Brewing Co. This list isn’t for you. Well, maybe it is. Maybe it’ll inspire you to step up to some better beers. First I should introduce my taste. I’m a fan of Pale Ales, IPAs, and Pilsners. If the mood is right, I can appreciate a good Porter or Stout. What you won’t catch me enjoying is a Hefeweizen or White Ale. If it’s brewed west of Germany / Denmark or East of Colorado / Montana, I probably won’t like it. (If I’m truly missing out on something, let me know. I’m not too proud to prove myself wrong) I don’t claim to be a beer science expert. You won’t hear me talking about aromas and finishes and what not. I just like what tastes good. I used to feel like the hoppier the better, but I’ve since been proved wrong. There’s a fine balance.
#10 – Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing:
This is the equivalent of the NFL Draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant”. I can’t honestly say that Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is the 10th best brewery in the world, but it makes my list because it’s the one brewery taproom I’ve been to where every single beer I tried was flawless top to bottom. Like many of my brewery visits, this place was a completely impromptu stop on a weekend road trip. I don’t even know how we found the place – I had never heard of it before that one random weekend in Santa Cruz. We must’ve just seen a sign on the side of the road or something. Anyway, it felt like we were hanging out in a trailer where they served beer out on a farm. Okay, that description doesn’t really do it justice. I had a phenomenal afternoon on a Sunday drive home to San Francisco circa 2006. What’s funny is that was the only time in my life I ever drank Santa Cruz Mountain beer….. until recently. I stumbled upon an Organic Dread Brown Ale at a BevMo somewhere in the last year. I’m pretty neutral when it comes to Brown Ales, (I still think Newcastle does it best) but this one excels. Like I said, everything top to bottom is solid.
#9 – Grand Teton Brewing Co.:
These guys are poised to start jumping up on my list. I seemed to stay away from their beers for a while, perhaps because of something so simple as boring labels. To be honest, Grand Teton brews don’t really stand out. But every one I’ve tried to this day has been great. If anything, you know them for Bitch Creek. It’s an average ESB, but their real gem is the Sweetgrass American Pale Ale. That’s some great stuff. I’m also a big fan of the seasonals and limited releases of late, thanks to my local grocery store being of the boutique fashion. There are three from Grand Teton that stand out in my memory. The Pursuit of Hoppiness Imperial Red and the Trout Hop Black IPA were particularly good, but it was two days ago when I had the beer that would forever cement Grand Teton in my top ten. I was perusing the beer aisle when the Persephone Imperial Pilsner called out to me. I tell you it was glowing on the shelf. Time stood still. It was $9.99 for a 750mL bottle, but my confidence in this brewery was sky high. They exceeded all my expectations with this one. If you see a Persephone Pils on your shelf, grab it. It’s well worth the ten dollars. Or if you see one of Grand Tetons traditional offerings, feel free to try that instead.
#8 – Russian River Brewing Co.:
Here’s another one that benefits from me paying a visit to. It was sort of overshadowed by the other brewery I visited on this particular road trip, which you’ll hear about at #2, but there was one knockout brew there that puts them on my list. Russian River Brewing is primarily known for their Pliny The Elder Ale. I’d had it, and it’s above average, but nothing spectacular. But what I had on this Sunday afternoon earlier this year was definitely spectacular. I asked the bartender to suggest something that a pale ale fan would like. The first one he mentioned didn’t pique my interest, but the second one certainly did. It was called the Segal Select, but he said the employees preferred to pronounce it seh-GALL, like the actor. Pretty soon it just evolved into the Steven Segal. Like I told the dude there on the spot, I’m on board with any beer called the Steven Segal. Doesn’t look like it’s available anymore, but that was easily one of the top ten beers I’ve ever had in a brewery’s taproom. Then, just to prove that it wasn’t just a one hit wonder, I checked out a Damnation Ale just to be sure. It more than checked out; in fact it was amazing.
#7 – Eel River Brewing:
I visited this spot after a long solo drive from Sacramento to Humboldt County and it was the perfect nightcap to a long night’s drive. A good friend of mine was getting married in Scotia, so we booked some rooms in nearby Fortuna, which just so happened to be a short walk from the Eel River taproom and restaurant. They have an awesome garden area, which was the perfect atmosphere to relax and unwind after a five hour drive. Of course I gravitated toward the IPA, and it didn’t disappoint. I believe I got ballsy and went for the Porter the second go round, but it was a fuzzy night, so I couldn’t tell you for sure. Since that trip, I’ve revisit the IPA, and it was every bit as good as I remembered. I also made a good girlfriend compromise purchase when I picked up the California Blonde Ale. It’s not something I would’ve went for on my own, but it worked out pretty well. If you really want to cater to your girl, the Acai Berry Wheat is surprisingly good. Trust me, I’m the last guy to say that, and I can’t believe I really just did, but it’s not too shabby. If you’ve never sampled any of Eel River’s offerings, start with the IPA. Theirs is as good as anyone’s. Oh yeah, and being in Humboldt, everything they make is certified organic.
#6 – Lost Coast Brewery:
What’s funny about Lost Coast is the more popular the beer, the less I seem to like it. Their best known for their Great White Ale, but I’m not a fan. It’s good for what it is, but as I said earlier, I’m not a white ale fan. Next to that they’ve got their Downtown Brown, which may be second best to Newcastle in that department, and the Tangerine Wheat. The Tangerine Wheat is another classic example of a beer I wouldn’t typically like, but they do it well, so I can appreciate it. The real gems are the ones that are hidden behind the Great Whites, the Downtown Browns, and the Tangerine Wheats. My favorite has got to be the Indica IPA. Surprise, surprise… I like the IPA best, but they really do make a good one. The other ones you don’t see in stores often is the Alleycat Amber and the Winterbraun. The Winterbraun really won me over on a November pilgrimage to Eureka, CA. The best beer may very well be the one I’ve never seen in bottles for purchase at a store. The simply named Lost Coast Pale Ale is up there with the best. They’re ranking suffers in my book unfortunately because the style of beers they excel in are not my favorite, but everything they do is close to perfection. As much as I hate white ales, I should probably concede that Great White is the best I’ve had, for what it’s worth.
#5 – Mendocino Brewing Company:
Just glancing at their lineup, it looks like I’ve had nine different beers. In order of quantity consumed, they are: Red Tail Ale, Eye of the Hawk, Red Tail Lager, Blue Heron Pale Ale, Bock Beer, Blackhawk, Blonde Ale, Imperial IPA and White Hawk. For the record, the Imperial IPA is exceptional, it’s just not something I can drink every night. To be truthful, I feel like the last few times I’ve had Red Tail it hasn’t been as good as I remember. A handful of people in my like still to this day associate Red Tail Ale with me, and I’m fine with that, but I’m starting the realize it may not be as good as I used to think. But that’s not to say that Mendocino doesn’t make some amazing beer. Seriously, try TWO Eye of the Hawks and see if you don’t love every little thing about life. I still think this joint would rank higher on my list if I was able to check out the spot. I road tripped with some friends to Ukiah one weekend, figuring we’d hit up Mendocino Brewing Co, but we couldn’t find it. It appeared to be closed, which obviously it couldn’t be. But apparently, they moved the taproom down the 101 to Hopland, CA. Oh well, their loss. Since I couldn’t find them, I was inspired to go out to the coast to find #3 on my list. The Mendocino lineup is impressive nonetheless.
#4 Deschutes Brewery:
Now we’re getting into the real good stuff. My love affair with Deschutes was no overnight sensation. It happened completely organic over time. The more I tasted Mirror Pond Pale Ale, the more I realized how remarkable it was. Once I started sampling their other stuff, it was a wrap. One by one, they started knockin em out of the park. Inversion IPA, boom. Green Lakes Organic, pow. Obsidian Stout, smack. Black Butte Porter, YES. Their seasonals are where it really gets good. Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale is in a class of its own. Twilight Summer Ale is not necessarily my style, but very good for what it is. Jubelale each year climbs up a notch in my holiday ale list, joining the elite rankings. Speaking of elite, the two elite brews I’ve endulged in from Deschutes were the Mirror Mirror Barleywine and the Jubel 2010. I’ll tell you what really embedded Deschutes in my top five for life. A road trip to Portland in 2009 paved the way for an unexpected visit to their taproom and restaurant. I was really proud of my selection of a cask-style Mirror Pond, but my accomplice managed to select the best beer I’ve tasted in my life to this day. It was a “Freshly Hopped Mirror Pond” and it has yet to be topped. They’ve also got a series, which I just tonight learned is called the Bond Street Series. It consists of the Hop Henge IPA, the Hop Trip Pale, and the one I was completely smitten with just one week ago when I first tried it… the Hop In The Dark Cascadian Dark Ale. It was one of those “not my style, but amazing for what it is” beers. Deschutes makes hit records.
#3 – North Coast Brewing Co.:
Talk about the most underrated brewery in the United States. North Coast makes some of the best brews this country has ever seen, but no one has tried. Their primary offering is Red Seal Ale, which is relatively unknown – but GREAT. I ended up at North Coast in Fort Bragg, CA after the aforementioned failed attempt to find Mendocino Brewing, and boy am I glad it happened. I fell in love with my favorite Pilsner that day. It’s a little beer called Scrimshaw, and you should try one. I’ll be honest, it’s sort of got the Red Tail effect, where I seem to like it less each time I try it, but it’s still good. They also have a roster of outstanding beers that includes Acme California Pale Ale and IPA, Old Rasputin, Blue Star Wheat, Old No. 38, Pranqster, and especially OLD STOCK ALE. If you ever come across an Old Stock Ale from North Coast, buy it, store it at room temp, and drink it that way. I’d like to see some seasonal ales or something from these folks. It’s all good, but it would be nice to try something new.
#2 – Lagunitas Brewing Co.:
I would have no problem repping Lagunitas as the number one brewery in the world, but #1 is just a tad bit better. Lagunitas is in a field of its own though. They make the world’s greatest IPA, that’s for sure. Their Pils is top five as well. The Dogtown Pale is great yet terribly under the radar, the Censored Ale and the Hop Stoopid Ale are my two other favorites. I could go on and on and talk about the IPA Maximus, Gnarlywine, the Hairy Eyeball, Little Sumpin Wild, or the WilcoTangoFoxtrot (WTF). I’m actually very surprised it took me as long as it did for me to make it to Lagunitas in Petaluma, CA. It was less than an hour from San Francisco, and even now in Sacramento it’s only an hour and a half from here. At any rate, a little stop at the brewery on the way out to Bodega Bay was all it took for me to fall in love with Lagunitas. I knew I loved their beer, but something about the environment made me just want to stay there all day long. It certainly didn’t hurt that the beer was amazing, but seriously when I say this, everything Lagunitas touches turns to gold.
#1 – Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.:
This is a hands-down, no-brainer. I may have been raised to worship Sierra Nevada, but it truly is the work of God. Their Pale Ale is legendary. If you don’t know, now you know. And whether or not I said it about other breweries, I can truly say that no one makes beers like Sierra Nevada does. What I wish I could say is that I’ve tried all of their beers. However, the Organic Estate Homegrown Ale has seemed to elude me for all these times. Other than that, Sierra Nevada makes the finest brews in all the land. There’s something in these beers… I’ve always said you can taste the American River in Sierra Nevada. While that may be far-fetched, there’s something refreshing about it. I’ve been to the brewery in Chico, CA twice, and each time felt like a pilgrimage. Tonight, I picked up the Beer Camp 12-pack. Most of them are so-so, but I believe the California Common is a keeper. Sierra Nevada always has and always will…. reign supreme.
July 23rd, 2011 at 12:20 pm
Your beer horizons really need to be broadened…one word – Wisconsin.
July 23rd, 2011 at 12:37 pm
Hahaha, like I said, I’d be happy to take suggestions. Out here, Wisconsin is pretty much known for Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller. I know there’s got to be better.
July 25th, 2011 at 9:11 am
I am totally with you on the value of pacific beers. really got into rogue in newport! i live in north carolina and have discovered ONE local brew i really like. try highland out of asheville sometime.
July 25th, 2011 at 5:07 pm
I really wanted to hit up Rogue when I roadtripped to Portland, but Newport is a little out of the way! They do make some good stuff though. Dead Guy Ale comes to mind. I’ll keep an eye out for Highland….
July 25th, 2011 at 10:01 am
Next time you’re in Socal, we will have to hit up the Stone Brewery, seriously some amazing beers there. It’s probably the best brewery I’ve hit up down here. The Karl Strauss one was okay, but nothing too exciting.
I’m 100% with you on Red Tail and Red Seal. I liked them in college, but for some reason my taste buds have changed since then, and when I have them randomly now, I don’t really like them…
July 25th, 2011 at 5:09 pm
Stone was an honorable mention, but just missed the top ten. I think I’ll always remember them for that 4-kegger we had in Del Mar, where we were stupid enough to save the Arrogant Bastard keg for LAST. Worst idea ever. They are great brewers though. That other one in San Diego is not too bad either. Ballast Point, I believe it’s called. Though the Yellowtail Ale is the only one I for sure remember having.