There are a huge and ever-growing number of beers that are worth drinking out there right now, but periodically it's important to stop and think about which ones aren't so much delicious as they are important. Beers that transformed the American Craft Beer landscape or created a new style or craze all on their own.
One of my favorite games is "Mount Rushmore". You pick a topic, any topic, like say... snacks, and you make the "Mount Rushmore of Snacks" (Potato Chips, Oreos, Pretzels, Funions). The other day a few of us decided to try the Mount Rushmore of Craft Beer. What started as a fun game ended as a shouting match about what were, not the best, but the most important Craft Beers. Since I write the blog, my 4 will be enshrined in history as the winner. Here are my personal choices for the Mount Rushmore of Craft Beer
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
What started as the dream of some homebrewers has become perhaps the single most important product in American Craft Beer. Focused on Cascade hops and 100% two-row malt, the sheer gravity (Beer Puns!) of this beer pulled the entire style of Pale Ale and and IPA toward itself. One of the first genuinely hop forward beers to hit the American Market, it's hard to see what the hop boom of the past 20 years would look like, or if would have happened at all, without this beer. Just as important as it's legacy is it's staying power. It's just a relevant today as it was when it came out 25 years ago and is one of my few go-to craft beers.
Sam Adams Boston Lager
Like countless other people, Sam Adams Boston Lager was my first foray into Craft Beer. What started in 1984 as Jim Koch making an old family recipe grew quickly into the most widely available and ubiquitous craft beer in the country. Sam Adams was the first Craft Brewery to make a real charge at huge breweries on beer menus and to turn people's heads and make them realize that Craft Beer was here and here to stay. Boston Lager, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, is still the flagship beer of the juggernaut and it shows no signs of going anywhere.
Pliny The Elder
Often Imitated. Never Duplicated. It's a testament to the voracity of the Craft Beer industry and it's drinkers that a beer available in something like 5 states can be one if the 4 more important craft beers ever made. I can think of swaths of people I know that have heard of this beer but only a fraction of them have ever had it. What SN Pale Ale started decades before evolved, in the late 90's and early 00's, into what can only be described as a hop arms race. Beer who's IBU's dwarfed their own quality flooded the market in an effort to become the newest hop bomb. Pliny the Elder did it best. Made by a small brewery in Northern California called Russian River Brewing Company, Pliny the Elder lets the flavor of the hops shine through instead if just it's bitterness. Russian River brewer Vinny Cilurzo is often credited with creating the Double IPA style, but in the 17 years since it's release, Pliny still sits at the top of the hop throne.
New Belgium La Folie
You may be tempted to think this beer is a controversial addition to this list but you'd be wrong. When sour beer first entered the US market by way of Belgium in the 70's people returned them by the case because they believed them to be infected. For another two decades the only sour beers you could find were from Belgium. To think there was a time when Cantillon could be found on shelves is madness today. Sour beers have absolutely exploded in the last few years. Farmhouse Ale, Gose, Lambic, Flanders Ale, Wild Ale, Saison, seemingly every brewery is throwing their hat in the ring. If you follow the breadcrumbs back through time you'll find La Folie. If Sierra Nevada's Ken Grossman can be called the Grandfather of Hoppy Beer, New Belgium's Peter Bouckaert must be the Godfather of the American Sour Ale movement. Brought in from Belgium by the Colorado brewery, La Folie was the first major entrant into the style. It's a bracingly tart Flemish Style Sour Brown that any sour lover needs to try.
This list is absolutely 100% subjective. There's quite simply no way to limit the most important Craft beers to just 4, but this was my best effort. There are dozens of beers that could go on this list, though I'd struggle to find justifiable replacements for Pale Ale and Boston Lager. Here just a few of the beers that missed the cut.
Dale's Pale Ale - Oskar Blues legacy doesn't lie as much in their beer, though it is tremendous, but in it's packaging. When everyone was convinced that good beer came in bottles, they released craft cans. Game changer.
Anchor Steam - Definitely the hardest to keep off the list above, this is the OG American Craft Beer.
Heady Topper - The NEIPA... thing? Let's call it a thing. The NEIPA thing is everywhere right now and if you're tired of hearing about them, blame Heady Topper.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout - Not on the list for not actually being craft, but they were the first to bourbon barrel age beer.
Celis White - Pierre Celis brought Belgian Wit Beer to the US in 1992. Three years later 2 things happened: a beer called Blue Moon was released and Celis sold to Miller Light. Blue Moon exploded and Miller closed Celis in 2000. The classic is back though and it's fantastic.
What beers did we miss? Let us know!