Matt's 10 favorite brews

March 5, 2009 4:40:03 AM PST
Here is what Matt O'Donnell might be sipping during Philly Beer Week 2009:1. 90 Minute IPA (Dogfish Head - Delaware)

First of all, the story behind this beer is awesome. Sam Calagione, now considered by international beer folks as a master brewer, needed a way to evenly distribute hops into his beer-boil. So, he placed the hops on an old electric football game. He set it on the rim of the pot, so that the vibrations from the toy game would slowly spill them into the concoction. For this particular beer, Sam left the game on for - yes, you got it! - 90 minutes. Word has it the electric football game was later destroyed. I'm also partial to this beer because I met Sam at the University of Delaware in 2008 (he lives in Delaware, I went to college there). Oh, and the 90 Minute is also massively delicious. Be careful, though, it contains 9% alcohol - more than two times as much as your average beer.

2. Shakespeare Stout (Rogue - Oregon)

My first taste of this heavy brew occured at Monk's Cafe in Center City many years back. I asked the bartender for something thick and different, so he handed me this dark, 22-ounce bottle with some marquis-looking guy on the label. I couldn't believe how good it was. I'm not a huge fan of beers tasting like dessert, but it has just the right amount of a chocolate taste to it, it's creamy like a nice Guinness, and it still has a slight bite to it like an IPA. Rogue is from Portland, Oregon, considered one of the top beer-brewing cities in the country (after Philadelphia, of course).

3. Golden Monkey (Victory - Pennsylvania)

This is another heavy hitter in the alcoholic content, so be easy on the Monkey. I love this Belgian-style ale's hoppy taste - it has plenty of bite, but is not so bitter that you get the shakes after a sip. It's also great to support a great local brewery like Victory (it is located in Downingtown, Pennsylvania). Some say Victory's Hop Devil is much better. I disagree, the Golden Monkey is where it's at.

4. La Terrible (Unibroue - Canada)

I just discovered this Abbey-style dark ale over the summer. You can tell by the company's name that it's probably not brewed in the United States (Quebec, actually). La Terrible is rich, flavorful, with a nice color to it. If it was just a tiny bit heavier, it might be considered a stout beer. Mmmm.

5. Pilsner Urquell (Urquell - Belgium)

If you think Bud, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc. are pilsner beers, think again. This is what a pilsner is supposed to taste like. In fact, its makers claim Pilsner Urquell is the world's original pilsner beer (its name means "original source of pilsner in German). It is golden in color, and slightly bitter in taste. A nice switch-off from the darker side of the brewing spectrum.

6. Chimay Red (Chimay - Belgium)

Probably the most famous of all Belgian trappist ales. Apparently, the tradition of monks brewing beer began in their efforts to find a clean, healthy drink. Because it is boiled during the brewing process, their trappist ales tend to be free of contaminants and harmful bacteria. I am actually not partial to any of the Chimay brands (there is also the Chimay Blue and the Chimay Triple), they are all delicious. Great with all sorts of different fine cheeses. Or great by itself.

7. Tongerlo Double Blonde (Tongerlo - Belgium)

This beer made me forget everything I thought I knew about the beverage. It happened during my first trip to Europe, at an outdoor cafe along the Gran Place in Brussels, Belgium. I asked the waiter for something local. He didn't speak English, but had an idea that I was an American, and therefore looking to score some fine Belgian brew. He said something in broken English that included the word "strong," and started to pound his chest like Tarzan. I looked at my wife and said, yeah, sign me up! He brought out a bottle of Tongerlo, and put it in an ale glass (I had no idea at the time that they had to put certain beers in special glasses). And all I can tell you is that I fell madly in love with the taste. It was so good that I took the bottle back home with me. To my despair, I have yet to have a second glass of Tongerlo Double Blonde - the Abbey Ale is extremely hard to find in the United States.

8. Guinness Draught and Harp Lager - Half and Half (Guinness/Diageo - Ireland)

Of course we're going to include a nice Irish concoction! I've read that the whole "black and tan" and "half and half" combination is not so popular on the Emerald Isle, more of a fad in the United States. I don't care, I like it. Using Harp as the second component (rather than a Bass, which would make it a "black and tan") seems to make the half and half superior in texture and taste. I also love it when a bartender properly pours a Guinness. You have to do it really slow over a spoon - don't ask me exactly how. The only drawback is that you have to sit there with the Guinness in front of you, to wait for it to settle. Also, contrary to popular belief, Guinness is actually low in alcohol content and in calories. In fact, Guinness is good for you!

9. Duvel (Duvel - Belgium)

Yeah, I'm kind of partial to the Belgian beers. This one is golden and pure. Duvel likes to call it the best of both an ale and a pilsner. There was a prohibition on gin in the 1920's in Belgium, and legend has it, the beer producers in that country compensated for the loss of the spirit by making their ales stronger in alcoholic content. Duvel is about 8.5%. Be careful!

10. Yuengling Lager (Yuengling - Pennsylvania

"Yuengling?!?!?!?!?!" you say? Yes. Because you just can't go gourmet every time. If I'm at a place with a poor selection of beers, at least I can count on the Lager. In fact, if you order a "lager" at a bar, there's a good chance they'll know you're talking about Yuengling. It's from Pennsylvania, it's from the nation's oldest continually-run brewery, and it tastes different from the other know, Bud, Miller, Michelob, etc. In fact, compared to those, Yuengling has enormous taste! I also enjoy their Black and Tan.