The Best Beer?

I am not going to write about Westvleteren 12.  I am not going to write about how Queen’s Quay sold out in 4 minutes, moving 112 six packs at $76 each.  I am not going to write about all this, because a lot of other people will.  Westvleteren 12 is a great beer, world class, no doubt.  I’ve had it a few times, and have always been impressed. It’s a beer that every beer lover should try.  But I’m not writing about that.

I often get asked, “What’s the best beer you’ve ever had?”  This is an interesting question, as it’s not “what’s your favourite beer?”, a much easier to answer question.  I also don’t hear this question as being “what’s the best-made beer you’ve ever had?”.  It’s not strictly about the brewer’s craft.  How does one rate a beer, in terms that can then identify it as “best”?  There are numerous judging standards, like the BJCP, which are a great start. and are user-rated beer databases, which rely entirely on (ideally) objective quantitative measures.  Is the colour right? What about the aroma? etc.  They are generally number-based, and fairly easy to use, if, say, judging a homebrew contest.

My Georgian-vintage pewter mug

Cask beer at Castro’s in my Georgian-vintage pewter mug is at least 78% better than the same beer served in glass anywhere else.

But to me, this is missing a huge part of what beer is.  It is not simply a fermented beverage that provides you with some nutritional value and also intoxicates you.  Beer is a social and cultural experience.  It can be political.  It can be an emotional response.  Drinking a beer often includes other people.  None of these things really equate in the numbers game.  “I give this bottle of Chimay Blue 6/8 in culture, for my sense of participating in history”. See what I mean?

I have had technically exceptional beers in the wrong setting, and while I was able to appreciate the excellence of the beer, the over-all experience wasn’t outstanding.  I have also had mediocre beers in excellent settings and would rate them high on the “best-o-metre”.

So, how about that question of the “best beer”?  Here’s my top three, in no particular order, and you might be surprised:

After not having seen my best friend, Andrew, for 2 years, the first pint of Guinness with him in The Crown Liquor Saloon in his hometown of Belfast, accompanied by a dozen Irish oysters was nothing short of sublime.  Why?  Guinness is good beer, but not necessarily an outstanding stout.  But with the right people, in the right setting, with the right food, it was beyond incredible.

A few months ago, after finally picking up the used car we bought (after heaps of false-starts, hiccups, and general nonsense), Erika and I settled down on the couch with a bottle of DeuS by Bosteels, a chunk of Monforte Dairy sheep’s milk cheese, and some fruit and crackers.  Again, perfect company, perfect food, and a perfect beer, all in reward for a lot of hard effort.  A perfect evening.

On August 5th 2008, my son was born, after a pretty difficult labour/delivery.  Erika was a rockstar and further cemented her right to the title “awesomest woman I know”.  After being up all night for the labour, we both slept a bit during the day (her more than me, obviously), but I was just beat when I kissed her and Ben goodnight and headed home after dinner.  I got home, checked some emails, and settled down with a cigar and a beer, specifically, a bottle of Mill Street Barleywine, the 2003 vintage that I had cellared for 5 years.  In this case I was alone, but the decadence of the incredibly complex beer, and the sense that my world had just changed for the best, in the best way possible, lined up so that I will probably remember drinking that beer, long after I’ve forgotten my first pet’s name or what street I live on.

The best beer doesn’t have to be ultra-rare or expensive, it doesn’t have to even be “cool” or “craft”.  It’s bestness (yes, it’s a word now), has as much to do with where you are at, physically, emotionally, etc, as it does with what it actually is.

So let me ask you: What’s the best beer you’ve ever had?


  1. Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    just loved this post bud. love.

  2. Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Wonderfully written post. Beer is much more then a drink.

  3. Richard S
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Oerbier Special Reserva – Kulminator in Antwerp, the night of my birthday. I have 4 in my cellar (a rare find in North America) and i will have one on my birthday for the next 4 years.

    Cantillon Bio-Lambic – a magical beer no matter where and when you drink it.

  4. Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post, it’s true that it’s the experience that shapes the beer.

    For me, I’d have to say it was the first time I had an Upright 5. I was pretty new to Toronto and my friends and I had heard of this place called “Bar Volo.” We saw some beers that were named by number and thought that was neat and somewhat adventurous as we’d also never heard of a saison before. It was an eye opening experience, and though we’re now better “beer educated” we all still have a soft spot for that wonderful Upright 5.

    Oh, and going L’Academie de la Biere in Paris with my wife on our honeymoon. Great food, great beer, great atmosphere, great everything. Just a night to remember.

  5. Jeff Hall
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink


    By far the best little article I’ve read on beer in quite some time.

    …and great to put that in perspective with today.

    For me it was a bottle of Cantillion about five years ago at Beer Bistro. I can’t even remember which one. No, not because it’s Cantillion, but because I was on one of my first dates with my wife. I was still pretty newbish, and was trying to impress my then date. We split one at the bar after eating our meal. It was the first lambic, and even the first sour I had ever had! I was finding it really difficult to drink, but wanted to keep up the illusion that I knew my stuff. She started laughing that it smelled like a horse, and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

  6. Kelly
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    What an insightful blog post into what makes a beer the greatest you’ve enjoyed…you are so right that it is the sum of all parts that makes it great. I think for me it was a Grapefruit Stiegl and a Früli chaser that my husband and I enjoyed together at the Bier market after traipsing about downtown and going to the Sportsmen’s Show. We had spent the day together, walked ALL over, stopped at the St. Lawrence Market, talked about everything…and then sat together for a rest at the Bier Market…since then we have looked for that Stiegl in bottles – but to no avail…

    Thanks for sharing Chris…really enjoyed reading about your favourites…

  7. Paul C.
    Posted December 13, 2012 at 4:16 am | Permalink

    Chris, this was truly an excellent post.

  8. Paul Harrison
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Chris, I thought your perspective was a nice alternative to most of the quick pics of people’s score of a Westy 12 six-pack. I’ve had it several times and like you said, it’s worth trying if you’re a fan of beer. It’s tough for me to recall all of the great beers I’ve been fortunate to sink but what’s easier to recall is the great times and conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers while sitting on a barstool. I’m particularly fond of having a Sunday afternoon session with my old man during the winter months. I don’t think there’s anything better than watching large, fluffy snowflakes float down while sitting in a warm quiet place with beer in hand.

  9. Brian
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Oh man, tough. Too tough.

    1) A Kellerbier at some pub in a Berlin commuter town, don’t remember the name of either the town or pub. Kind of undiscovered local beer destination that’s becoming near impossible to find.
    2) First ever cask beer I had, Deuchar’s Caledonian at some crappy pub in Edinburgh.
    3) Sharing a Fantome Chocolat in Brussels with a friend I hadn’t seen in years.

    Also, really jealous of your mug.

  10. chris
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for all the positive feedback and stories! I’m very flattered and a bit surprised how well received this piece was. Thanks everyone!

  11. Dave A
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    A snifter of Goose Island Bourbon County at the Goose Island Wrigleyville Brewpub after my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

  12. Posted December 29, 2012 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    I spent my honeymoon in Belgium and obviously brought back a lot of beer. One of them was an 11 year old Chimay Grand Reserve. I waited a few months until Thanksgiving to open it with my brother after our meal. It was incredible; obviously well cellared and was probably the perfect age to open it as oxidation was just starting to creep in.

    While in Belgium I also bought a fresh bottle – 2009. I’ve kept it to this day and I patiently wait until 2020.

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