The Best Beer You’ll Ever Taste is the One You Weren’t Expecting

I recently had the pleasure of sampling a very rare, very highly regarded beer, and it was pretty good, but not as good as I thought it would be.  The problem?  High expectations, or hype. It’s like a nasty ester that spoils the brew, an off flavor that casts a pall on an otherwise good beer.

I won’t name the brew, because this post isn’t about one particular beer living up to its hype, it’s about ANY super-hyped beer living up to its enormous reputation.  There are a few that actually manage to do so, but in my experience, it’s a rare thing.

Speaking of rare things, I remember back to the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting in Denver last year, where the beers I liked best were the ones I hadn’t really heard of before. The ones that disappointed me the most were the super-hyped “ungettables” that didn’t taste as magical when surrounded by an orgy of other awesome beers.  Shoulder to shoulder, many didn’t quite live up to their reputations.

This got me to thinking of some of the best “wow!” flavor moments I’ve ever had with a beer, and most of them involve an element of surprise.  Here are a few off of the top of my head: 

  • The first time I had a Chimay Red, I was blown away that a beer could be so involving. This was my craft beer epiphany when I realized I had been missing out on a whole world of goodness.
  • My visit to Idaho where our buddy Rick at Brewforia gave me a taste of Schlafly’s Reserve Imperial Stout (a 2006 in this case) and my toes were curled with an unexpected sultry pleasure.
  • The hot Friday evening when I had a cold Arrogant Bastard after work and its hoppy goodness perfectly matched the flavors that my brain was craving.
  • The Hitochino Nest White Ale I had in a Japanese restaurant in Hollywood a few weeks ago that charmed me with its subtle banana and citrus flavors that paired so perfectly with the food we were enjoying.  I’ve been craving it ever since.

I could go on, but you get the idea – these are mostly regular craft beers that I had no preconceived notions about, or they were familiar beers that surprised me with how well they matched the moment.  I’ve been fortunate to taste many great beers in many cool circumstances, but for me it’s been the little moments that have left a big impression.

Well, mostly.  I still remember the first time I tasted Sam Adams Utopias (2009 in this case) and my body actually tingled with pleasure.  I knew it was supposed to be special before I had it and it still surpassed my expectations. Of course some folks will say it isn’t really a beer, but you get the idea.  I think this exception proves the point – it’s rare when this happens, a magical moment.

Overall, I contend that the best beers you’ll ever taste are the ones that sneak up on you. The ones where you grab for the bottle and examine the label, searching for an explanation of why the beer is so awesome.  The ones that instantly leap into your top five.  The ones that aren’t filtered by prejudice or hype.  The ones you weren’t expecting.




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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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38 Comments on “The Best Beer You’ll Ever Taste is the One You Weren’t Expecting”

  1. Starks
    November 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Only beer that’s worth MORE than the hype it gets, is Heady Topper. Absolute perfection. It’s for anyone that appreciates well-made beer. It’s not a hop bomb per se, it doesn’t take the enamel off your teeth. The connoisseurs will love it and new comers to heavily-hopped beers will welcome it with open arms. It’s simply the best, most balanced IPA you’ll ever have.

    • November 21, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

      Never heard of it, which will probably make it even more awesome…

    • Greg H.
      November 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

      I cannot agree more. Heady Topper is awesome, in fact I have some 4 packs here. Too bad the pub is forever closed, but the brewery lives. Jim, drive up to Orange County if you want one, I’m probably an hour away.

      • November 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

        I live three miles from the border, so it shouldn’t be a hardship.

        • Greg H.
          November 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

          You have my email.

  2. November 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I Agree! The first time I had an Arrogant Bastard it was perfect and changed my whole outlook on what beer could and should be!

    • November 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

      Yeah, it’s hard to beat that “a-ha” moment!

  3. johnking82
    November 21, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    What 3F beer was it?

    • November 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      And that’s why I didn’t share any names, folks!

      But Dark Lord tasted VERY average at the Rare Beer Tasting in Denver last year. Enough that Don and I wondered if there was something wrong with it…

      • John G
        November 21, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

        I’ve had the 2011 version of Dark Lord twice and didn’t really care for it either time. Way too sweet with no complexity at all to balance it out. I actually went to Dark Lord Day to pick up a 4-pack, and if it weren’t for the fact that the event was a blast (unlike their 15th anniversary party which wasn’t as enjoyable), I would have felt like I wasted my time and money buying that beer. I actually prefer Old Rasputin over Dark Lord.

  4. John
    November 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Kentucky Breakfast Stout was a beer epiphany. I had had Goose BCS and it was good but it was like chewing on a beer. This was simply heaven… Had never heard of it prior to drinking and now I cant ever find any.

    • johnking82
      November 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

      it comes out, it just flies off the shelf. I think it came out in March this year.

      • John
        November 21, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

        I did get 2 bottles and I was on a list to get those. I’m getting tired of having to chase the beer I really like.

        • tronto
          November 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

          I think it’s going to be even harder this year due to it becoming even more popular and founders has expanded to alabama and south carolina.

        • November 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

          F-ing people other than me! Send it all to New Jersey I say…Fuggetabboudit!

    • November 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      That sucks when you fall in love with a beer you can’t get.

  5. FatCatKC
    November 21, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    I was at a beer bar the other day and just wanted to try something new. Never really reading anything about it I ordered a Weihenstephaner Dunkel and man that beer blew me away. I didn’t see it coming but that beer blind sided me for sure.

    • November 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

      Getting blindsided by an awesome beer is the best. It get rarer the more you get into craft beer, but there’s always something out there that hasn’t wowed you yet…

    • November 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      I had that Weihenstephaner Dunkel at a beer tasting in Cincinnati this past summer. It is the best dunkel and one of the best beers I’ve ever had… If I’m not mistaken it’s an unfiltered, wheat dunkel…. It is fantastic.

  6. Mark S.
    November 21, 2011 at 2:10 pm #


    North Coast’s Old Stock Ale. Just wonderful.

    a lot of stuff by Founders

    Victory’s Baltic Thunder and Old Borizontal Barleywine

    Oskar Blue’s Dale’s Pale Ale

    Sam Adam’s Vixen – a new favorite

    Fegley’s Bagpiper’s Scotch Ale

    a lot of the Weyerbacher four packs

    • November 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

      shhh…you’ll ruin the surprise!! 🙂

  7. November 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    I got the over-hyped thing with Arrogant Bastard, the guys at Falling Rock kept telling me how good it was before they got it on tap, and when I finally had it, I didn’t think it was any better than any number of beers I’ve had at some of the smaller breweries I’ve visited.

    But I know about the surprises where you least expect them, over the past twenty-some years I’ve had it with a traditional IPA at the Queen Molly in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; the first time I had Compass IPA on nitro at Bristol; the Breckenridge 20th Anniversary aged in Stranahan’s, and most recently with Andrew’s Pale Ale in Maine.

    It’s one of the reasons why the wife and I visit so many breweries, you never know what special, awe-inspiring beer you’re going to have, and 9 times out of 10, you can’t get it anywhere else.

    • November 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

      True, the breweries are where it’s at. Plus the whole “on nitro” thing will blow your mind the first time, and they seem partial to that at breweries, which is terrific.

    • November 21, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

      I agree about the Arrogant Bastard. Meh. I, apparently, wasn’t worthy.

      • November 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

        It’s a good beer for the price I think, even thought I seldom buy it these days. But it’s a godsend when you want a good beer and you’re in a crap liquor store in these parts – most of them stock Arrogant Bastard!

  8. Wayne
    November 21, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    My biggest disappointment? DFH’s 90′ & 120′ IPAs. (These beers are what put DFH on my seldom go-to list.)

    Very pleasant–dare I say habit-changing–surprises:
    Dale’s IPA (first canned beer I’d had in years);
    New Belgium’s Ranger IPA (the best American-made IPA I’ve had to date)
    New Belgium’s 1554 Enlightened Black Ale (though its understated compared to many/most of the beers featured in these pages, I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked it);
    Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter (FD is NOT one of my Go-To breweries)

    Also, after seeing that several subscribers were very disappointed in Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler, I had to give it a try and found that I really liked it–sorry guys! It reminds me of many of the house ales I had in Britain–yum! But that’s why they make so many varieties of beer I guess.

    • November 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

      Funny about the Dales – I started drinking it because of the novelty of the can, and now it’s a staple. It went from “pretty good beer for being in a can” to “I want a Dale’s!”. A sneaky one, that beer.

  9. November 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    I’d have to say all of DFH’s brews have disappointed me. I’d really been looking forward to DFH IPAs and, well, I have to say I am just not a fan of east coast style IPA, which I think DFH IPAs exemplify (60 Minute is listed as a commercial example in the 2008 BJCP Guidelines).

    I really dug Red Lodge’s Bent Nail IPA. Lagunitas’s Hop Stoopid knocked my socks off after a lengthy sojourn on the east coast.

    But, the one that I found worthy of the hype: Pliny the Elder. Cowabunga, Buffalo Bob.

    • November 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      I like my IPA’s from west of the Mississippi mostly, Colorado, California, Oregon, you name it.

      • November 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

        Me too, as far as IPAs go, west coast is the best coast. However, I thought French Broad’s IPA pretty darn good. Before anyone says anything, French Broad is a river near Asheville, North Carolina.

  10. November 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Funny you should do this post on the day of my Ungettables Gathering. I’m hoping to be surprised by many beers that people bring this evening. I know some heavily hyped beers will show up, and some I’ll have no clue about. So, I should be able to put your theory to quite the test, Jim. If Don shows up (haven’t heard from him yet today regarding the reminder I sent), he can test your theory as well. Nice follow up post, I suspect.

    At the first Ungettables Gathering, I was blown away by two beers. On was hyped, one I knew nothing about, and both in a style I expected not to like. See, I want to like sours, but have a hard time wrapping my head around them. But I REALLY dug Russian River’s Supplication. And I’d heard a lot about that beer. I also Thoroughly enjoyed Midnight Sun’s The New Black. I’d never hear of this beer. It was a sour black ale aged in oak barrels with brett and black currents—a crazy sour beer that was crazy good in a style that I’m challenged by. Completely unexpected by me that my top two favorite beers that night would be sours.

  11. Jeff
    November 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    I had a small gathering 2 weeks ago to open a bottle of CBS. We started out with a Hoodoo from North Peak, followed by the CBS, then a DFH120. A few less notable brews were mixed in between. The CBS was great, the DFH120 and Hoodoo I found to be much more enjoyable. (Hoodoo is my current seasonal semi-gettable fav – it’s like an imperial hopped up apple jolly rancher)

    But the kicker is that at the end of the night I decided to open an ’06 Mephistopheles from Avery. We all agreed hands down that everything else paled in comparison! Fortunately a few local shops still have it on the shelves, so I stocked up the next day.

    • johnking82
      November 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      I’ve found the 06′ and 07′ pretty tough to drink…It’s my chili beer now.

  12. November 22, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Expectations certainly play a role, and I have noticed that trying a vaunted BeerAdvocate top 100 beer is usually disappointing for me, perhaps because my expectations were too high. On the other hand, I’ve had plenty of beers that I expected to be good that met or exceeded expectations, which is a beautiful thing in itself. If a beer can actually live up to the hype, well, that’s worth it too. But the great unexpected discoveries are also a big part of why I love beer. There’s always something new that I’ve never heard of that can knock my socks off (often a local or brewpub type beer). So yeah, beer rules. I like to try lots of different varieties. What were we talking about again?

  13. November 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    Hollywood?!? Get a rope.

  14. Andy
    November 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Now, how do I get a hold of one of those t-shirts?

    • November 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

      I guess we’d have to make them. It’s original artwork.


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