The Session No. 66: The One Beer to Rule Them All!

Today is the first Friday in August and that means it’s time to take part in The Session.  As we first noted back in May 2011, The Session is a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.  I’d planned to take part as often as possible but . . . . well . . . . let’s just take it up from here with the same idea.

This month’s Session is hosted by Craig at Drink Drank, “a beery blog dedicated to great beer and other notions.”  He writes:

We all have our favorite brews—even if you say you don’t; deep, deep down we all do. From IPAs to Pilsners, Steam Beers to Steinbiers, something out there floats your boat. What if we took that to another level? What if you were to design the perfect brew—a Tolkien-esque One Beer to Rule Them All. The perfect beer for you, personally. Would it be hoppy and dark or strong and light? Is it augmented with exotic ingredients or traditionally crafted? Would your One Beer be a historic recreation or something never before dreamt of?  . . . . . However you want to come at this, it’s your ultimate beer, your One Beer to Rule Them All!

Ryan and I decided to take up the challenge.

Ryan’s One Beer to Rule Them All

Creating “One Beer to Rule Them All” would be a little like creating the fountain of youth, right? If it existed no one would drink anything else, and that would be a travesty in the beer world. It’s exactly because we have thousands of creative breweries and brewers out there that craft beer enthusiasts keep trying new ones and exploring the depths of what’s possible with malt, hops, water and yeast (along with a few adjuncts). But in the spirit of this post, I’ll allow myself to dream up what that “perfect” beer is for me.

For one, it would need to be something I could drink often and year-round. Therefore I would need to rule out the Russian Imperial Stouts (which I love) and IPAs, as they tend to be on the extreme ends of the scale. I would also need it to be a lower ABV, a “Session” beer of sorts. Perhaps something about 4-4.5% ABV would sit right with me.

I would stay away from lagers just because I prefer the complexity of ales. I’d also have to say “no thanks” to Belgian yeasts and wild yeasts (no gueuzes, lambics or Brett beers). And no barrel-aging necessary. I’m looking for beer, not whiskey.

I also need some color to my beer, so I’m thinking along the lines of a porter, even a robust porter (which can have 4.8-6.5% ABV according to the BJCP guidelines). It’s stronger than a brown ale but not quite a stout. And though I like hops, I don’t need to kill the malt with them. Just enough to provide some aroma and small bite would be fine. I also love things like chocolate and coffee in my beers, but it would probably be too much for a session beer, but I could envision playing up the nutty side of a porter.

And the last major component of my perfect beer would be that it comes in 16 oz. cans. Why? Because they are lighter than bottles, can be taken on rivers and provide exceptional protection against oxygen and light.

I guess I need to name this beer too. After careful consideration, I would probably call it “Grey Street,” after the Dave Matthews Band song:

Using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together
To grey

A beer that blends all the colors of my favorite things would, in essence, turn “To grey.” I’d probably like this beer, a lot, but I believe there’s a different beer for every reason, season and song, so let’s go find them.


Alan’s One Beer to Rule Them All

To kick this off, I’ll tell you something about Ryan you probably didn’t know.  He’s never rated a beer on untappd as a five-star beer (the highest rating).  That’s not because he hasn’t been blown away by a variety of beers.  It’s because he’s afraid if he does, the search for the one beer to rule them all comes to an end.  Thus, it didn’t surprise me at all when he designed a session beer that would be “perfect” but not the “ultimate.”

Me? I’ve met a number of five-star beers.* They are beers that immediately stop me in my tracks with unusual depth and interest.  Three star-beers are good beers I’ll buy again.  Four-star beers are exceptionally good beers I’ll stop and savor and certainly put away for cellaring when they’re suitable for such treatment.

That’s the beauty of beer.  As varied as personal palates and rating systems are, we can gather around the bar stool and both be right.

Unlike Ryan, I have no trouble with the idea of creating the fountain of youth of beers – that beer that tops them all.  I’ve already got beers in the cellar that come pretty darn close and I don’t drink them every day to the exclusion of others.  They’re huge beers that deserve a place and time of special significance and when that moment comes, they complete the scene in a marriage of friends, family and beer.  

Where I have trouble is in the design.  I’m not a good homebrewer.** But I do know what direction I’d take.  My five star beers run the gamut from Belgians to stouts, but there’s one style I’m sure to grab when I see it on tap, at the bottle shop, or for a special occasion:  coffee stout.  A big one. One with complexity. One with depth. One to rule them all.

The base of the beer would a robust imperial stout.  It would have lots of bite from highly roasted caramel malt, roasted barley and black barley.  I’d probably throw in some black patent malt for an earthy, charcoal addition. It would check in around 10 to 11% abv, but would never be sweet. 

I’d take about 10% of the beer and age for a short while in a whiskey barrel.  One that held a rich, full bodied whiskey in a European oak cask so it picked up a hint of smoke while avoiding the strong vanilla flavors that come from American oak.  I’d blend this back in to pick up traces of flavors that keep you guessing.  Do I taste whiskey? Am I getting smoke?

Of course we’d have the coffee. Espresso actually. It sounds cooler and I love the sharp bite and deep aroma.  It would smell like you’d just pressed a cup through a high-end Italian machine of beauty.  Given I’d age this thing for a bit, I’m not sure how to preserve the aroma. Perhaps we’d need to blend the espresso in before bottling.  

Hops? There would be a surprisingly high IBU level, but only to keep the beer from becoming cloyingly sweet.  It would make you wonder whether the bite you sensed came from the sharp roast of the malt, or the bitterness in the hops.  I’d use earthy, bitter hops like Chinook or Northern Brewer.  No citrus here, please.

Ultimately there would be no exotic ingredients, but the result would have complexity, richness and depth in a package that contained roasted dark chocolate flavors, sharp espresso aromas, a touch of smoke and charcoal, an earthy quality and such a slight whiskey note that you’d spend all night debating whether it was there or not.  The pour would be black as . . . well . . . espresso and the head would be a dark tan color.

You’d take your time with this one.  You’d want to pair it with a raspberry/blackberry cobbler or maybe a fudge brownie with vanilla cream cheese frosting. You’d sit outside in the cool evening as the sun sets and tell stories about beer.

So, what to call it.  I’m not big on clever names.  I don’t need much more than some indication of the style of beer, if not a simple “Imperial Stout” on the label to go with a basic description. Thus, I don’t find it a cop out to go with “Dark Roast Imperial Stout.”  Which, I discovered after writing it, has already been used in the beer world.  I’ll keep working on it.

So there you have it.  Two takes on the One Beer to Rule Them All.  What’s your One Beer to Rule Them All? 
* As it stands, 15 out of 554 unique check-ins during the past year, though fully explaining my personal system would take an entire blog post and bore you to death.

** Yet.  I’m holding out hope I someday take it seriously.