THE OTHER DAY, a poker friend was complaining, “Sometimes I just want a normal, everyday beer. ”
“That’s why they make Coors,” I joked.
That went over like a lead balloon because this is a guy whose fridge is commonly stocked with Orval, a hoppy, slightly funky, $60-a-case ale made by Trappist monks in Belgium. For him, Coors or any other mainstream lager would be like going back to an old girlfriend. Been there, done that.
And, yet, this is a question I’m hearing more frequently from beer-drinkers.
We live in the best of times when it comes to beer. We have our pick of imaginative, exceptionally crafted flavors: smoked, ultrahoppy, sour, barrel-aged, fruity, sweet, roasted, high-alcohol, spicy or whatever the latest trend might be. And, yet, there is this yearning for something basic – a beer that is simply refreshing, with a flavor that doesn’t completely overwhelm the palate.
Author and beer critic Andy Crouch said he felt the same thing when he finished his just-released hardback, “Great American Craft Beer” (Running Press, $22.95). Here is a thoroughly engaging book whose chapters touch on all of the savory, complex flavors of more than 300 ales and lagers: “Mellow and Malty,” “Dark and Roasty,” “Lush and Fruity,” “Extreme Tastes. “
But as he completed his writing, Crouch said, “I found myself . . . in search of less-complicated and more approachable beers.
” . . . After several years of chasing high-alcohol monsters and brutally hopped ales, I think consumers are returning back to Planet Earth in terms of what they want to drink. The experimentation stage was fun, but now it’s time to explore simpler flavors. “
Are we witnessing a backlash against craft beer, a return to the dull, lowest-common-denominator suds?
“Simple need not mean uninteresting, quite to the contrary,” Crouch said.
What Crouch needed, what my friend needed – what every beer drinker needs – is a dependable bottle that you can buy by the case, that you can drink day in-day out and never tire of.
A go-to beer.
Everybody’s go-to beer is different, and it may even change over time. It may not be your favorite beer, for that’s something you’ll save for special occasions. But it’s not dumbed-down, either.
Indeed, when I put the question to my Facebook friends – “What’s your go-to beer?” – few mentioned any conventional brands that come in 30 packs of cans.
For the most part, they preferred American microbrews with a light body and a fairly hoppy bite. Not coincidentally in these belt-tightening times, they’re looking for something that rings the register at less than 35 bucks a case.
Here’s a few of their suggestions:
Victory Prima Pils (Downingtown). Crisp, hoppy and light-bodied, it was the most commonly mentioned go-to beer in my informal poll. Crouch writes, “It delivers in every possible way . . . “
Jever Pils (Germany). This is the beer that Victory was aiming for when it designed Prima Pils. A bit more expensive, but even drier and always a delight.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (California). When your taste buds need a break from all the bitterness of imperial IPAs, back it off a notch and you’ll rediscover the grapefruitlike Cascade hops of this craft beer original.
Terrapin Rye Pale Ale (Georgia). Again, the hops shine through, but with a malty balance and a slightly tart finish that will have you opening a second or third bottle.
Lagunitas Sirius Ale (California). Yes, it’s a bit stronger than the others at 7 percent alcohol, but Crouch said that “results in some rather unusual complexity,” with honey and fruit notes. Its dry finish makes this a mellow, easy-drinker.
Lancaster Kolsch. This new release now available in cans is smooth and light-bodied with a subtle orange flavor. Extremely refreshing and a terrific value at less than $25 a case.