Every time I step into the beer store, I see something new. Beers I've never seen before, on the shelf, every time I visit. Few would — or should — complain about plentiful options, but there is a downside to such an embarrassment of riches.
I was recently perusing the selection of a local shop in search of a beer to feature as the beer of the week. It took me a few laps before settling on Chimay Dorée, a bottle I'd passed over many times, probably due to the sheer familiarity of the Chimay name and logo.
But this beer was actually a new one for me. When did Chimay release Dorée in the United States? In 2013, I later found. How had I gone three years without trying a new release from such an iconic brewery — a brewery that played a large role in my love for good beer way back when?
The answer is simple. With so many new and exciting beers hitting the market on a steady basis, it becomes easier to scan right past the classics. With that in mind, I have a suggestion to make: We should make it a point to periodically revisit some of the iconic beers that are so easily overlooked in an ever-growing sea of new beers.
Why not make it a mix-and-match sixer? Everyone has their own short list of memorable beers that they've been neglecting — here's mine (disclaimer: my six-pack is a little pricey!).
North Coast Old Stock Ale: Brewed annually and released in the fall, Old Stock Ale can often be found year-round, despite being held in very high regard by beer fans (99 on Rate Beer; 92 on Beer Advocate). This is a traditional English-style old ale, which is great fresh but can also be aged with good results. Thick raisin and plum notes complement a bready malt base in this rich, complex brew.
Orval: 84 years ago, Orval became the first Trappist ale to be sold commercially in Belgium. Today, the monastery/brewery still only makes this one beer for sale to the public. Of the 11 Trappist breweries, Orval is unique in its use of dry-hopping and the addition of the local brettanomyces lambicus yeast strain. These two processes give Orval a simultaneously spicy and fruity complexity, while the latter ensures that the beer will continue to evolve in the bottle over time.
Brooklyn Lager: Years ago, "craft" and "lager" were all but mutually exclusive. Samuel Adams and Brooklyn Brewery were instrumental in changing this, with both breweries touting a Vienna-style lager as their flagship brew. Brooklyn's version is dry-hopped, which gives it a little bit of an extra aromatic kick to go along with its crisp, refreshing base. Brooklyn makes a summer ale, too, but for my money, this is one of the most thirst-quenching beers out there.
Paulaner Hefe-Weizen: Berliner weisse and gose get all the play these days, but the wheat beer that turned many of us onto German brews was a simple hefeweizen. My personal favorite comes from Weihenstephaner, but the 0.5L bottle won't fit in a six-pack! Paulaner's version is fantastic, as well — a subtle example of the classic banana-and-clove notes that hefes are known for. Paulaner claims that it's the most popular hefeweizen in Germany, and I believe them.
Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout: There is more to world-class stout than gigantic, barrel-aged imperial versions. This oatmeal stout from Yorkshire, England's oldest brewery is a master class in the combination of roasted barley and oats. It's rich, velvety, and semi-sweet, with a coffee-like finish. I've had my share of oatmeal stouts from breweries around the world, and nothing touches this one.
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron: Dogfish Head has never been one for subtlety, and this 12 percent ABV brown ale is no exception. The beer is aged in giant barrels custom-made from Paraguayan palo santo wood, which lends sweet toffee and vanilla notes. While the beer is unquestionably big, it's remarkably nuanced. It's so good that I have to stop and wonder why I've waited so long to revisit it.
Feel free to try my picks, or choose your own. I think you'll agree that it feels good to check in with old friends.