A star-studded sixpack These brews set the standard for the decade

THIS TIME OF the year, everybody does a Top 10 List. But I consume beer by the sixpack, so that’s what you’re getting today: The 6 Beers That Defined the Decade.

These aren’t necessarily my favorites. (Heck, I can’t even pick my favorite from last night. ) But they are beers that set the pace in the American beer scene in the ’00s.

Stone Ruination (2002)

Though not the first imperial (or double) India pale ale to be bottled, its in-your-face attitude defined the rule-breaking innovation of American craft beer in the ’00s.

Boasting a “ruinous effect on your palate,” the ale typified the decade’s “extreme” beer movement that saw craft brewers shredding recipes to produce strongly flavored versions of long-established styles, from imperial pilsner and double white to triple bock and cherry-flavored quadruppel. Beer fans glommed onto other audaciously named brands (see Victory Hop Wallop), as a previously arcane brewing term (international bittering units) found its way into barroom lexicon.

Nearly unheard of at the start of the decade, by 2003 double IPAs would have their own judging category at the Great American Beer Festival. Today there are more than 750 varieties listed at BeerAdvocate.com.

Pabst Blue Ribbon (1844)

Though introduced in the 19th century, PBR came to define the entire 21st-century hipster generation – an anti-beer consumed as an ironic cultural protest against both the slick advertising of Big Beer and the yuppiedom of microbrews.

Dark Lord Imperial Stout (2002)

Few people are lucky enough to have tasted this majestically strong (13 percent alcohol), oak-aged, vanilla- and coffee-spiked treasure.

And that’s the point. It’s the ultimate cult beer, released in an extremely limited supply by the Munster, Ind., Three Floyds Brewery to an eager, loyal corps of lathered beer freaks.

The surrounding publicity is priceless and helps support the company’s other brands, a clever marketing tactic emulated by hundreds of other small breweries. (See Weyerbacher Brewer’s Select Series, Flying Fish Exit Series.)

Dale’s Pale Ale (2002)

For their first 20 years, American microbrewers did everything they could to distinguish themselves from mainstream gulpers: no corn or rice additives, no bikini models, and definitely no cans.

Until tiny Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colo., came along. Its exceptionally bitter ale (rated America’s No. 1 pale ale by the New York Times) broke that rule, proved craft beer lovers would drink from a can and paved the way for the aluminumization of other big-flavored beers. (See Sly Fox Pikeland Pils.)

Michelob Ultra (2002)

Within a year of its introduction, the low-carb beer was one the nation’s biggest-selling brands, evidence that – even in the midst of the craft-beer explosion – most Americans will spend perfectly good money on mass-advertised dreck.

Midas Touch (1999)

At the close of the 20th century, Dogfish Head reached back to the 8th century B.C. for a recipe that would pioneer the decade’s most important beer trend: the winofication of beer. Based on a chemical analysis of drinking vessels found in the ancient tomb of King Midas, the sweetly spiced ale is made with malt, honey and grapes.

It’s not just the fruit that made this a crossover beverage.

Midas Touch was a bold step away from American beer’s long heritage as a popular drink of mere refreshment, into the realm of original cuisine crafted for refined palates. Its arrival was a harbinger of a trend that, by the end of the decade, would give us Robert Parker-like ratings, corked $20 bottles and the dreaded beer sommelier – all of which showed, brilliantly, that beer is far more than NASCAR decals and the clear Rocky Mountain water of Coors Light.

But it does make you pause to check your wallet . . . and wonder where beer is headed in the ’10s.

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