Yes, I’m a beer geek. Just the other day I rated my 700th beer on ratebeer. If you don’t know ratebeer, you’ll probably say, “oooh.” If you do know ratebeer, you’ll say, “eh, OK, whatever.” I mean, there are thousands of raters who are over the 1,000 mark and many who have crossed the 10,000 threshold. I’m just out there in the middle with thousands of other raters, drinking our beer, taking notes, jotting them down and moving on. For what? I’ve been asking myself. I know that no one else reads such ratings and I’m not writing them for others. But for me? Well, I have become more and more aware that my ratings of a single beer can vary quite dramatically from one tasting to another, so how helpful are the ratings for me? The descriptions themselves become more about filling out the character-count for the rating to be posted than actually meaningful anymore (how often can I say citrus or pine or grass or dark fruit etc?). I’ve also found that the comparative aspect of ratings has made it almost impossible for me to give a score higher than 4.5 (and that’s pretty damn rare). Higher than that needs to be almost perfect in each category: aroma, appearance, taste, palate, and overall. So, does that Mikkeller look better than that Stone? Hmm, not so sure, so give it a 3 out of 5. “Overall” becomes this sort of catch-all category to really give the final number where I think the beer belongs–but the numbers seem dictated by my original ratings as I find it harder to rate some much higher than the quality beers I started with. I could go back and re-evaluate them all, but who the hell would have the time or desire to do that? So I’m back at the question, what’s the point? Why this desire to catalog all these beers. Is it just to say “I’ve been there?” Maybe. See, I’m cool.
I’ve previously argued that ratings ought to consider price in their evaluations–a 4.0 beer may be a great find at $7 and a really poor find at $15–so I’ve started to include that in my own ratings so I can remember what really seems worth shelling out the money for. But even that seems silly since I don’t carry my ratings to the store with me, so when do I look them up in order to be helpful? Well, yesterday I was talking with some friends about all the great winter beers that we love. I drink well at Christmas time. So I was trying to remember what good beers I enjoyed last year at this time and went back to that point in my ratings and realized what I suppose I’ve known all along: what ratebeer really is is a kind of diary/travelogue. So many important events in my life involve good drink and good food (yes, I can no longer pretend to be a radical, having clearly sunk into a bourgeois lifestyle for good) so keeping tabs of the beers I discover is also a round-about way to keep track of experiences. As I was backtracking to last winter, I flashed by the brewpubs I found on my travels over last summer which brought lots of good memories to mind. I remembered trips to visit friends and family as well. It’s a different kind of photo album. With that in mind, I thought that this year’s best of list would be my top ten beers of 2010 with “top ten” status being a combination of quality of beer and quality of experience. I mean, one reason my ratings probably would vary so much from one tasting to another is that context is an important part of the equation. We’ve searched for years for a port that MB would like, but the truth is the times she has enjoyed port have been when she’s enjoying an evening with friends at a restaurant or another festive setting; at home, she finds she doesn’t really like port. There are beers I’ve loved only to later discover that I don’t really like that much (though the discrepancy isn’t like MB with port–it’s more likely that I may love a beer once then later think it’s a really good beer rather than a great one), so I’ll give up on the rating as an actual rating and simply consider them memories. Here’s a snapshot of 2010:
10. Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter: Summit has a great place in my heart. I’ve loved their pale ale from the day I first moved to Minnesota some twenty years ago. It’s not the most outrageous beer, but it’s very well crafted, clean, straightahead ale and it’s been there for some great moments in my life. Their other beers however are pretty hit or miss (more miss than hit). Their “unchained” series has been a real hit, though. Their most recent unchained is this pumpkin porter. It’s delicious. I discovered it on a visit to minneapolis in early December to visit friends. I sampled it first at W.A. Frost with the Koefods and proceeded to drink it throughout the trip. Yum.
9. Town Hall Masala Mama. Same trip as the Summit. A frigid, snowy night, and MB and I at Town Hall Brewery getting some snacks and beer in a gap between visits to different friends. Crowded, noisy, with a really great beer and sweet potato fries. Just my kind of happy hour.
8. Green Flash Imperial IPA. Holy crap, this beer had the most intense fresh hop flavor I’ve perhaps ever tasted. I mean ridiculously fresh. A big fluffy white head that just wouldn’t die. Enjoyed this one over Thanksgiving weekend in our new Mount Vernon house, feeling nice and warm with this big be and our toasty fireplace roaring.
7. Central Waters Illumination. This is a really big beer, tons of malt and hops. I’ve had some decent Central Waters beers before (they’ve got a nice coffee stout) but nothing like this beer. This was great and it tasted amazing when I discovered it in a bar in Stevens Point on my way back from an artist residency on Isle Royale. I was tired and really in need of some good food and beer. This hit the spot.
6. Mikkeller Single Hop Amarillo. I actually blogged about the price of beers using another single hop beer as my foil, but the truth is it’s a really good series of beers–and I love the Amarillo. I had this one at the Lincoln Wine Bar when I got back from my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was worried that it would be tough to come back to Iowa after two weeks out in Rocky Mountain, but it felt like home to go to the wine bar, listen to some great live bluegrass and drink this beer.
5. Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. This is just a ridiculous beer. Not much more to say about it. Had this one during my visit to Maryland for my Mom’s 80th birthday party. Kind of a tradition now when we get to Maryland to go to the Gaithersburg brewpub with Mom & Dad for a few pints.
4.Dieu du Ciel Equinoxe du Printemps. I’ve been loving what this Canadian brewery has been doing. And this is an excellent beer. Shared this with my friend Matt at his wine bar one slow day in early spring, a cloudy rainy day but really nice in the bar. This was right after we’d put an offer on a house in Mt. Vernon and it felt good to share this beer and feel comfortable in our new town.
3. Twisted Pine Imperial IPA. Had this one on tap at the brewpub in Boulder Colorado. I stopped here when I first got into town on my way to visit my cousins before I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was tired and a little dazed from the drive and it was baking hot outside, but I had the bar just to myself for a bit. I had their IPA which was nice, but when the bartender realized I was a beer geek he had me sample a few that weren’t actually on the list yet. This Imperial was great and a perfect start to this trip.
2. Rochefort Trappistes 10. This is perhaps one of the finest beers I know. I’ve had it before but it’s been a long time. I had this one on my birthday, a freezing cold night in February when MB and I went to Iowa City to spend the night, have a nice meal, and enjoy a few beers at one of our favorite places, The Sanctuary. I splurged on this and my birthday felt quite complete.
1. Stone Russian Imperial Stout. Another ridiculously good beer. We drank this to toast in the new year last year, just me and MB and a roaring fire and a bottle of Stone. This was when we resolved to make some big changes in our life over the next (now the last) year, most notably to move out of Cedar Rapids to Mount Vernon, a resolution we managed just as we planned. This was a perfect year to help us start a new chapter in our lives and to signal a good year. It was a great year indeed and we’re hoping the next one is as well, for all you Street Parade readers as well. Happy 2011.
Honorable mentions: Mikkeller Beer Geek, Sierra Nevada Southern Harvest, Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary, Bells Batch 10,000, Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2010 (many raters say this Mikkeller should be cellared for a year. I get their point that it can certainly hold up for cellaring, but to say it’s unbalanced or too sweet to drink now is just downright silly. Drink it!).