Matt's Best Brews!

There are thousands upon thousands of terrific beers out there, and it is my mission in life to seek them all out.  I will not succeed in this noble endeavor, but I will continue along that happy road for as long as I can.  Even in my relatively brief period of time of serious beer sampling and reviewing, I've managed to come across some absolute gems, brews that currently hold the highest order of distinction in the grand 'Matt Scale of Drinking.'  These are the brews that are among the top of their class, the ones that set the bell curve for the rest, the brews that were probably forced to practice violin for five hours a day after school while all the other brews play kickball.  Simply put, these are (some of) the best brews in the world, at least in my humble opinion.   As per usual, your opinions on these brews will invariably be different, and that's cool.  But I strongly urge all of you to at least give them a try, because I personally feel that they are sublime. 

This list is definitely a work in progress, as I'm hoping to add many more brews to the list as I go along, but these are the best I've encountered thus far.  Thus, without further Apu, here's a little rundown of some damned good beers.  (Pictures not available for all brews as of yet!)

Beer: Schneider Aventinus Weizenbock
Brewery: G. Schneider und Sohn (Kelheim, Germany)
Type: Weizenbock
ABV: 8.2%
BA Score: A+ (4.8/5) 

Chocolate and banana, hazelnut, wheat, malt, a touch of hops and warming alcohol to the finish.  Banana and nuts linger as the brew warms up a touch.  This brew is like the holy offspring of a dunkelweizen and a tripel, combining the very best of both styles.

Beer: Old Rasputin XII
Brewery: North Coast Brewing (Fort Bragg, California)
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 11.2%
BA Score: A+ (4.75/5)

Simply sublime, one of the finest stouts I've encountered thus far. A superb blend of coffee, vanilla, bourbon, roasted malt, bread and cocoa.  The bourbon barrel aging process provides a lovely smoked oak backing.  A mild alcohol burn to the finish.  All this put together in a thick, creamy texture meant for some seriously awesome drinking.

Beer: Duvel ("Devil")
Brewery: Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat (Breendonck, Belgium)
Type: Belgian Tripel
ABV: 8.5%
BA Score: A+ (4.55/5)

Lovely colour and frothy head.  The taste starts off dry and bitter, but quickly moves to a sweeter finish, with a blend of apple, pepper and spices.  I can detect the alcohol, but it enhances, rather than hinders the overall experience.  Very well carbonated.

Beer: Don de Dieu ("Gift from God")
Brewery: Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec)
Type: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
ABV: 9%
BA Score: A+ (4.65)

Taste is very smooth - ridiculously easy to drink. Yeast, bread, apricot and spices. Only a touch of alcoholic presence is there, but certainly not enough to dissuade me. Similar flavours as in the nose - a fruity, citrussy entry and a bready, slightly dry finish. Great stuff.

Beer: St. Bernardus Abt 12
Brewery: Brouwerij St. Bernardus (Watou, Belgium)
Type: Quadrupel
ABV: 10.5%
BA Score: A+ (4.75/5)

Tasting notes are similar to the nose, which work brilliantly together. A nice toasted brown sugar and caramel flavor as well. A wonderfully balanced brew, hard to believe it's a quad, considering the absolute lack of an alcohol taste. Finishes slightly dry and crisp. The brew only gets better as it warms, which opens up all the richness within. Superb stuff.

Beer:  Schneider Aventinus Eisbock
Brewery: G. Schneider und Sohn (Kelheim, Germany)
Type: Eisbock
ABV: 12%
BA Score: A+ (4.6/5)

Beer: Péché Mortel
Brewery: Dieu du Ciel! (Montreal, Quebec)
Type: Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.5%
BA Score: A+ (4.65)

The taste is a tremendous burst of espresso flavor, which attacks the tongue with vigor. As the brew warms a touch (and after the tastebuds acclimatize to all the espresso goodness), I'm also picking up some subtle notes of caramel, dark fruit, and just a touch of bourbon. The finish is surprisingly dry, boasting peppery hops and coffee bitterness. Although I can certainly detect the alcohol, it is warming and flavorful. Long, bitter finish.

Beer: Ommegang Abbey Ale
Brewery: Ommegang (Cooperstown, NY)
Type: Belgian Dubbel
ABV: 8.5%
BA Score: A+ (4.55)

A delicious, stand-up dubbel.  Wonderful notes of cherry, plums, black currant, pear, malt, brown sugar and yeast. A textbook example of a brew whose flavor opens up tremendously with a bit of warmth - the taste just got better with every sip. First rate stuff.

Beer: La Fin du Monde ("The End of the World")
Brewery: Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec)
Type: Tripel
ABV: 10%
BA Score: A+ 4.55)

Beer: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier
Brewery: Weihenstephaner (Freising, Germany)
Type: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5.4%
BA Score: A+ (4.55)

Beer: Maudite
Brewery: Unibroue (Chambly, Quebec)
Type: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
ABV: 8%
BA SCore: A+ (4.55)

The taste is a wonderful blend of malt, spices, tea, and some dunkelweizen usuals like banana and clove. While it's not the most complex or hearty Belgian strong ale out there, it's 'damned' delicious and easy to drink. Let this brew warm up if you can, it really opens things up.

Beer: St. Ambroise Stout Imperiale Rousse 2009
Brewery: McAuslan Brewing (Montreal, Quebec)
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9.1%
BA Score: A+ (4.55)

The oak barrelling does wonders for this brew, evening out the sweet caramel and chocolate and letting the hop bitterness provide a late kick. Similar flavours as in the nose. The alcohol is covered fairly well, but it is evident in the finish.

Beer: Jai Alai IPA (White Oak Barrel)
Brewery: Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Florida)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 7.5%
BA Score: A (4.5)

The nose is brilliant - a superb blend of citrus hops, oak, smokiness and a lovely tropical blend of mango and orange, coconut and vanilla. Anything but your standard IPA bouquet.  The taste is very similar and delicious; the addition of the oak wood barreling to the regular Jai Alai elicited an excellent woodsy, fruity character that truly brought out the best in the basic recipe.

Beer: Imperial Pumking
Brewery: Southern Tier (Lakewood, NY)
Type: Pumpkin Ale
ABV: 8.8%
BA Score: A- (4.1)

The taste is also unmistakably that of pumpkin pie, an effect that caused many a quizzical look to be certain that our leftover frozen pies from Thanksgiving hadn't thawed, liquified, spontaneously fermented and then poured themselves into our glasses of their own free will.  Pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon, crackers, crust, and to keep things from getting out of hand, a slightly hoppy finish to cleanse the palate. What really shocks me is how little of the alcohol I can detect - hard to believe there's 9 percents-worth lurking in here...
Beer: Hop Stoopid Ale
Brewery: Lagunitas (Petaluma, California)
Type: "Double" American IPA
ABV: 8%
BA Score: A (4.4)

Hops deliver a big knockout punch at the beginning of each sip. Malt and lemon come through towards the middle, then the brew exits with a resin hop bitter finish. Excellent usage of hops here: not hoppy for the sake of being hoppy (despite the name), the brew is more of a showcase of the AIPA hop spectrum. Lingering resin bitterness on the tongue. Tangy and satisfying.

Beer: Young's Double Chocolate Stout
Brewery: Wells and Youngs (Bedford, UK)
Type: Milk Stout
ABV: 5.2%
BA Score: A (4.4)

Shaved dark chocolate, a bit of caramel, coffee and malts. Sweet, but not overpowering.
Truly terrific stuff.  The chocolate doesn't dominate this beer; it enhances it, works with the other subtle flavours to produce a satisfying finish.
Beer: Fuller's London Porter
Brewery: Fuller's (London, UK)
Type: English Porter
ABV: 5.4%
BA Score: A (4.5)

Beer: Flying Monkey's Smashbomb Atomic IPA
Brewery: Flying Monkey's (Barrie, Ontario)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 6.2%
BA Score: A- (4.25)

The first really fantastic Ontario brewery take on the IPA style, and Flying Monkey's has done well here.  I would certainly classify this IPA as a West Coaster, but the British style of hops keeps everything in check. Big citrus and resin flavor. Dry, bitter finish. Towards the end of the pint, after my tongue has had a few minutes to acclimatize, the creamy malt character finishes things off.
Beer: Dominus Vobiscum Triple
Brewery: Microbrasserie Charlevoix (Baie St. Jean, Quebec)
Type: Belgian Tripel
ABV: 9%
BA Score: A (4.35)

A lovely, flavorful tripel, sweet and yeasty, with nice pear, banana and citrus notes. A nice mild bitterness to clean things up at the finish. Remarkably smooth; alcohol is present, but only provides a warming sensation rather than a burn. Hard to believe that nearly a tenth of the glass is alcohol.

Some other brews worthy of special mention:

Stone Russian Imperial Stout
Orval Trappist Ale
Chimay Bleue and Rousse
Unibroue's Trois Pistoles
Affligem Blonde
Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Tremens
La Trappe Konigshoeven Quadrupel
Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale
Wellington Russian Imperial Stout
Prima Pils
Propeller IPA
Dieu du Ciel's Solstice d'Hiver

Onwards and upwards!