By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
Gather a group of beer enthusiasts and scholars anywhere in the world and ask them to name 50 of the world’s greatest beers. I would bet money the lion’s share of that list would include a high number of Belgian brews—a country the size of Iowa mind you.
In reality, there are hundreds of beers around the world that are regarded as standards in their respective style or country. Since I’m often asked what my favorites are, I’ll share a handful that I believe are the best of the best.
Duvel. The devil in Dutch, this beer is sometimes evil in the way it will sneak up on you with its understated 8.5 percent alcohol content. Like many Belgian brews, the yeast strain is unique to this beer only. A testament to its impeccable brewing process, it’s one of the only beers in the world where after you’ve taken the last sip, there is still a creamy, white head at the bottom of the glass. This one ranks among my top five in the world.
Samichlaus Doppelbock. Brewed only one day each year on Dec. 6, this is one of the worlds most unique brews. At 14 percent, with a rich malt character and low natural carbonation, it packs a punch. This beer isn’t for everyone, but if you can get your hands on a bottle it’ll be a treat, I promise.
Ayinger Celebrator: Another doppelbock, this German classic is rich with malt character and a bit higher alcohol by volume content. With a flavor profile boasting notes of coffee, maple and wood this beer has won numerous awards and is one of the world standards as far as doppelbock’s go.
Pilsner Urquell. Thanks to a new British malting technique, this was the worlds first pale brew and one of the earliest lagers. This beer is notoriously soft and smooth, despite its generous Saaz hops. The area around Pilsen has some of the softest water in the world and when it comes to brewing, water matters big time. The Saaz variety of hops are known for their spicey, herbal notes. These two characteristics are what make this beer stand out and their name translates to “original source”. Since 1842, this is the beer all pale beers were patterned after.
Fullers ESB and London Pride. Historically, an Extra Special Bitter or ESB, was the draft version of a pale ale in old England. That’s mostly still true today in the United Kingdom. Americans continue to increasingly believe that more hops are better. But the malt-hop balance in this beer, while still showcasing classic English hops and flavor, make these two beers world classics.
Liefmans Goudenband. I saved the best for last. This beer could be my all time favorite. Originating in the rolling hills of the Belgian countryside, this beer has perhaps more character than any other. It is first spontaneously fermented with wild yeast, then a second controlled strain is introduced when it undergoes a second fermentation as it bottle conditions. A sour, malty, subtle hop character, make the flavor profile deeply complex and at 8 percent alcohol, this beer both drinks and ages as a wine might.
Aecht Schlenkera. Made with smoked malt, this beer is truly unique. It’s not for everyone, and sometimes it’s not even for me, but it has been brewed the same way for the better part of 200 years.
Orval. A pale ale made by Trappist monks, this beer is nearly impossible to categorize, yet has a global cult following when you can get it.
Rodenbach Grand Cru. The original sour beer, the grand cru undergoes lactic fermentation in two stages and is aged in oak barrels for two years.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.