Ken's Beer Page

Ken's Favorite Beers That You Actually Have Half a Chance of Finding

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. - Benjamin Franklin



To begin with a strange analogy, I miss the days before 1982, when a silly book named Real Men Don't Eat Quiche came out, because back then I was free to loathe the taste of quiche, a dish akin to a rotting omelette vomited up by a sick goat, without someone telling me I just disliked it because I was trying to be macho. Can't I just have a preference on a dish of food without having my sexuality psychoanalyzed? Similarly, once in a while I like a glass of white wine. But this is something a person enjoys in private, like listening to Cyndi Lauper. I don't talk about wine much and I don't order wine in restaurants, partly because it will be half a week's wage, and partly because if I'm with people I don't know well there might be a wine snob: "Oh... you asked for the 1996 Chalou Briante de Hôchenfleüff, did you, now? You pronounced those hard words quite well! No, thank you, I won't touch that, that... how you say in English... that swill. You might have known at least that one shouldn't order a poultry dish and combine it with a German blush from after 1988 when clearly the appropriate choice would have been a Chilean—ow! you're getting my blood on my ascot!"

How did wine and beer come to attract such different demographics? In AD 9, German military leader Arminius tricked the Roman armies into an ambush as they marched across the Rhine to subdue German rebellions and expand Roman lands. Forget what you saw in Gladiator; they're Germans. In the following carnage they completely annihilated over three legions— some 20,000 men. The Romans, totally spanked, and not in a fun way, subsequently stayed the hell out of Germany. Some historians call this zone the Beer-Wine Line, as the alcohol of choice in the Latin world was wine and Germans drank beer. To this day we have the North American (and possibly British) distinction that wine is an aristocratic drink and beer is the working man's beverage.


It is bad enough that the wine police have scared so many people away from enjoying the drink; now beer is being fetishized into the same sort of effete, unapproachable status. I'm beginning to see disturbing signs that the beer snob is starting to become more common, and is also trying to ruin everyone's night by second-guessing their choice of suds and trying to impress everyone with his knowledge of obscure brewing processes and beer festivals in Oregon he attended. Someone had a beer with an unpronounceable name that you have to travel to a village of 300 people in the Black Forest in September to find, and now the mass-produced local stuff is beneath their distinguished palate, etc, etc. A drink that is sloshed around in metal kegs and drank from styrofoam cups is being described for its granular body, fruity aftertaste, and its hints of nutmeg and boysenberry and notes of cinnamon. And of course half of these people are from California.

It would not surprise me if these are the same buffoons who rabbit on about Bob Dylan or their summer following the Grateful Dead, or their exotic adventure in Asia (spent in Bangkok in the tourist backpacker section eating banana pancakes and telephoning mom and dad for money). In the end, many of these people perhaps do not even like beer anymore, but simply the power rush of dominating others. This is the same type of killjoy who refused to go out on New Year's Eve in 1999 because the 21st century didn't really start until 2001.

If people must see wine only as an elitist drink to be aged in expensive wood cellars, and sipped langorously on yachts with smelly cheeses and Lizst, that's unfortunate. But beer is meant to be drank in dingy bars with rock music, pool tables, and posters of bikini girls (or, preferably, with actual bikini girls). The beer snob is an unnatural aberration that should not be permitted. In short, beer is a working man's drink. It is not meant to be sipped and spat out. It is meant to be slugged back while your friends chant, "Chug! Chug!" Perhaps this is why the beer snob is typically male. My experience is that women know better than to worship a beverage.

Let me continue by addressing the most common and most irritating claims of the beer snob:

Mass-produced beer isn't any good, especially from the big American breweries. Good is a subjective claim; if you think that Coors Light is tasty, that's your right. Second, it's snobbery in action to say that because a beer is mass-produced and consistent it is bad. Televisions are mass-produced; does that make them bad? And so far as consistency, do you want toast to taste different every time you eat it? Labatt's Kokanee is an excellent beer, and so is Miller Genuine Draft. Molson Canadian is a decent, reliable brew, and these large breweries have rigid quality standards because they serve huge markets and jurisdictions. Third, the corollary that microbrews are generally better is false. Some are excellent, and some are awful. The Alley Cat beer I tried in Edmonton, Canada was aptly named. It is difficult to counter the beer snob's claim of how great the beer is in the Peruvian village he went to, because conveniently for his argument it is always made in an exotic place totally unobtainable even to the best-traveled at your table. The best beer in the world is never sold at Costco.

Mexicans don't drink Corona. it's just a phony tourist beer. No, it isn't (although it is true that the Australians don't drink that much Fosters). I lived in Mexico, and Mexicans will drink whatever beer is in front of them and will have a good time without complaining. Corona is statistically the number one seller in the country. And what would be wrong, in theory, with drinking a beer that the country of origin does not? In a year in Mexico I never once saw nachos— they're a Tex-Mex invention. But no one sniffs that we shouldn't eat them because they're not authentic enough. Tea is not an authentic British drink. No one in the Canterbury Tales is drinking it or eating chips and curry. Tea was introduced when India was colonized. It's a mug's game to try to determine the pure origins of any food or drink.

There's a Correct Way™ to pour a Guinness. I worked in a grad pub in Newfoundland and came to hate the Guinness Nazis who all told me on a daily basis that I was doing it all wrong, and everyone in Ireland, faith and begorrah, knows that you're supposed to... and so on, ad nauseum— because every one of these "experts" was telling me something different. Sheesh. Tip the glass. Don't tip the glass. Chill the glass. Don't chill it. Fill it all the way. Fill it to an inch. Fill it halfway. Wait one minute. Wait five minutes. Dammit, what is this, the folding of the flag ceremony? Holy communion isn't treated with this amount of sacred ritual. When I pour coffee, do I have to do a dance on a rug and put on a fez because the beans came from Turkey? The Guinness representative once visited the bar to check the taps, and I asked him, for Pete's sake, how do I pour a Guinness? His answer was, try to angle the glass and pour slowly, but just do your best and don't worry about it.

It's not as good as it is in country X where it's made. This is often spoken by the aforementioned Guinness Nazi: "Well, you haven't had real Guinness until you drink it in Dublin, but only in the keg room in the far left corner of the third floor of the factory where everyone knows the real Guinness comes from." Well, life is full of settling for good enough, isn't it? Sometimes brew mixes are shipped from country to country, but the local water does admittedly impart a slightly different taste, so these people are somewhat correct. All I can do is enjoy my beer while pitying the snob who is drinking orange juice out of spite because the Guinness/Budweiser/Hoegaarden does not attain the Platonic form of the original. You can perhaps needle the beer snob by asking him if the Dublin water is exactly the same as it was in 1759. All I can say is that I went on the Guinness factory tour in Dublin in 2014 and had a pint. It was great. But it tasted the f—ing same as fresh Guinness anywhere else. Tasted. The. Same.

The anti-beer snob snob: Liberal egghead defeatists drink fancy-pants imported European stouts, but real men who love their country drink draft lager. The people who will not drink import beers on principle are as bad as the people who will only drink it; they also tend to own dogs and guns, so it's not good to make such guys angry. If it's easier for everyone else at the table for me to share a pitcher, I will. Otherwise, if I feel like a Belgian beer, I'll have one. I am not trying to make a statement. Why does everything have to be so political? And while we're talking about it, how do you define your beer as domestic? Many North American breweries are owned by the Belgians or Brazilians (90% of Canadian breweries are foreign-owned). Budweiser is a Czech beer, not an American one.



Okay. Now that I have all this out of the way, I can explain that my list of favorite beers is not meant to be a beer snob's list. I will not accept anyone's credentials to tell me what beer is better than others other than expressing an opinion, and I recognize no equivalent to sommaleur in the beer world. Accordingly, I am not making any pretense of telling you what beers you should or should not drink. If you like Grolsch, I respect your right to enjoy it as I exercise my right of thinking it tastes like coagulated bat urine. This is simply a list (in no particular order) of beers I like, and which I recommend you try.

Remember: This is not my list of the world's best beers. It is the beers that I like and frequently return to, and which I suggest beer drinkers give a chance. If you are griping that the beer you like isn't on the list, it may only because I haven't tried it yet— unlike the beer snobs, I don't get to spend every October in Germany. I always like to get feedback or suggestions for new beers, but arguing with me about what beers I like is a little like arguing with me over whether I have a stomach ache or not...

What's the difference between lagers, ales, cream ales, pilseners, and stouts? Lagers are lighter yellow and tend to be more carbonated. Ales are usually more brownish and more bitter. Cream ales are sweeter, milkier, and heavier. Stouts require a stout person to tolerate them, except for Guinness, which is a stout but tastes like a cream ale. Oh, and then there's wheat beers made with combinations of other grains. Pilseners are called such because people who drone on about how real men drink them can be a real pill. I won't nitpick about these distinctions, and beware of the gripers who do. A signal clue that someone is a beer snob is that he (or she) will ostentatiously refuse to have anything if the bar lacks their approved choices. If a true beer fan is in an outback saloon with one beer on tap, he'll drink it and be content.

 

  • Asahi
  • Lager 
  • Japan
Most of the expat teachers I've worked with in Korea prefer Japanese to Korean beers. I actually don't as I tend to find Japanese beers too bitter, reflecting their British origins. Asahi has grown on me over the years, though. It's sharp but there's a fullness to the bite.
  • Bintang
  • Lager 
  • Indonesia
I haven't tried many Thai beers I've liked, but Bintang is a decent beer from Indonesia with a bit of sharp bite to it. You need this to wake up after laying on a Bali beach. It also tends to be quite cheap and is often sold in large bottles.
  • Black Horse
  • Lager
  • Newfoundland, Canada
I'm breaking my rules a little because Black Horse is hard to find outside Newfoundland. it's a mellower, slightly skunkier lager (in a good way), and I had the sense that it was for older drinkers. Because Newfies don't pronounce h's, it can be a little risque when they call out, 'Let's get on some Black 'ors tonight!
  • Caffreys
  • Stout - Cream Ale
  • Ireland (sort of)
I'm told that Caffreys is more of an export product, but who gives a fiddler's behind. it's a filling, slightly milkshakey beer that's nice on cold days, although like most stouts / cream ales (not really sure what the difference is supposed to be as you can't see through either) you can't drink it all night.
  • Cafri
  • Lager
  • Korea
Cafri is a bit of a cynical beer as it's a total ripoff of Corona right down to the yellowish bottle, but Corona is hard to find in Korea, and Cafri is cheap and everywhere. Hold your hand over the label if it's such a big deal! It doesn't have as strong a taste as Hite, but it's a nice hot-weather beer.
  • Corona Extra
  • Lager
  • Mexico
The beer that beer snobs like to hate, it's mild, approachable, and always seems festive to me. Ordinarily fruit doesn't belong in beer, but limes just go well with Corona. Maybe I'm biased because I love Mexico, but to me Corona is also a good learner beer for new drinkers, and there's nothing wrong with that.
  • Fat Tire
  • Ale
  • U.S.A.
People will tut-tut that this is (the nerve!) an American beer imitating a Belgian style, but why not imitate the best? As I remember, it was a pretty gentle beer without an ale's usual bitterness.
  • Guinness
  • Stout
  • Ireland
Well, here is the Alsace-Lorraine of beer, which people either love or hate. I'm not going to pay ridiculous prices for it just to say I had Guinness draft in Vietnam, but if you're in an Irish pub, it's a dark, slightly chocolately drink that's very filling on a cold day. An acquired taste that is worth it.
  • Heineken
  • Lager
  • Netherlands
True to form, as soon as I get a taste for Heineken, hipsters start calling it "the Miller Draft of Europe." But everyone hates hipsters anyway. It's a good, dependable beer, and I'm getting to like its dry but clean finish. In some ways it is European beer on training wheels. Why is that so bad?
  • Hite
  • Lager
  • Korea
Korean beer tends to imitate lighter, crisper American lagers; Japanese beer imitates more bitter English ales; Chinese beer imitates (and is probably mixed with) industrial pesticides. Hite, like most Korean beers, doesn't reach for the top but by U.S. standards has some bite and taste. Tolerably drinkable stuff.
  • Hoegaarden
  • Wheat Ale
  • Belgium
This is one of my favorite beers. Most beers are better as draft, and Belgium's Hoegaarden is particularly so. These beers are also called white beers because of their color due to the wheat and orange peel in their fermentation. it's a little like a cream ale except that you can drink plenty of it without feeling like you ate a box of licorice.
  • Keith's
  • Ale
  • Nova Scotia, Canada
Nova Scotians, particularly the 'Capers' (Cape Bretoners) I lived with in Newfoundland, are very loyal to their Keith's, pronounced like Keats. It is an ale with its characteristic sharpness but isn't as bitter as an English beer.
  • Kilkenny
  • Stout - Cream Ale
  • Ireland
Another Irish beer, Kilkenny is lighter and a little less milkish than the others. it's nice on its own, or you can mix it (sacrilege!) half-half with a Guinness if you don't want the lead-weight feeling in your stomach. Apparently these cream ales aren't actually high in calories, but they can feel like a meal sometimes.
  • Kirin Ichiban
  • Lager
  • Japan
Again, I was never a fan of Japanese beer as I found it had a British bitterness to it, but Kirin Ichiban is becoming one of my favorite beers. It has a crispness but a sweet aftertaste. Somehow straddling the middle, it neither punches you in the face nor lacks flavor. Assuming you want to, a beer you can drink all night.
  • Kokanee
  • Lager
  • British Columbia, Canada
An excellent beer made with mountain spring water, Labatt's Kokanee is an ideal lager with its bright, clear bite. Budweiser gives me a headache, but I can drink Kokanee all night; it just feels and probably is purer.
  • Leffe
  • Wheat Ale
  • Belgium
Leffe is another abbey brew from beer heaven, otherwise known as Belgium. It is a little darker and skunkier than Hoegaarden, but it has a fuller, richer taste. Stella Artois isn't bad too but I just never got a taste for it.
  • Miller Genuine Draft
  • Lager
  • U.S.A.
To reiterate, I don't hate orange juice because it's a middle American drink, and I see no reason to hate MGD for the same reason. I like the fact that it's cold, tasty, and the same wherever I go. As I get older I like surprises less. And hipsters hate it, which is another reason to drink it.
  • Molson Canadian
  • Lager
  • Canada
In Canada, Molson and Labatt compete like Cola and Pepsi, and my father, who worked for the latter, would be appalled that I like Canadian. But despite all the jingoistic advertisements, it's also a consistent, dependable lager that you can drink all night.
  • Moosehead
  • Lager
  • Canada
A strange name for a beer, but this Nova Scotia brew is a fairly gentle lager without being too sweet. I always expect a green bottle to signal the bite of an ale, but this is a learner's beer or one for a warm day. As it is rich it's not one I want to drink all evening.
  • Negra Modelo
  • Ale
  • Mexico
Although there's nothing wrong with Corona, there are other nice Mexican beers too. I was never a Dos Equis fan, but Negra Modelo is a darker, fuller brew that's good with food. It does get cooler in Mexico in winter.
  • Peroni
  • Lager
  • Italy
I can't say much about Peroni because I've only had it a few times, but it's a pleasant lager that's a little less sweet. I have it here to show that wine-making countries can make good beer. Except for France. Every French beer I've had tastes like a contractual obligation.
  • Pyramid Hefeweizen
  • Wheat Ale
  • U.S.A.
If you can't find Hoegaarden, here's an American beer which tries to emulate a Belgian / German witbier style. it's less full and less orangey than Hoegaarden, but a nice table beer all the same.
  • Samuel Adams
  • Ale
  • U.S.A.
Sam Adams is an east coast U.S. beer that has a variety of styles from witbier to Scotch ale. I don't like their bitter stout, but these are interesting, original flavors.
  • San Miguel
  • Ale
  • Philippines
San Miguel is a decent enough ale / lager and is a sort of Filipino version of MGD with a slightly sharper flavor. I also have it here on the list because you can buy it for as little as 25 American cents in a supermarket in Manila!
  • Sleeman Honey Brown
  • Honey Ale
  • Canada
Although I usually associate ale with bitter, this is a cream ale without the cream— a honey beer that's actually quite close to mead. A sweet, tasty drink which also stands out because the bottle has no label.
  • Tiger
  • Lager
  • Singapore
I'm not a big fan of Singapore, but all through southeast Asia you will find Tiger, and it's also a dependable, sharp lager. I wasn't much for Vietnamese or Thai beer, and so this is a reliable standby.
  • Wexford
  • Stout - Cream Ale
  • Ireland
Malty is usually a word which scares away beer drinkers, but again, on a cold day I like a beer with a hint of chocolate milkshake. I drank it in England and then found it in Las Vegas of all places, ten years later. I've never seen it in bottles. it's fine in a can but awesome on tap.
  • Zipfer
  • Lager
  • Austria
Okay, okay, I get it.. I have to go to Germany to have their best beer. Well, until I go there, Austria's Zipfer is relatively easy to find and it's a slightly richer, sweeter lager (or ale? —does it really matter?).


Beers I Can't Stand

Again, if you like these beers, that's fine; we can still drink together and be friends without the tanks rolling. it's just my opinion, remember?

  1. Cave Creek Chili Beer. This is an American lager with a chili pepper in it. Searingly hot spice and lager are not a taste that go together well. Beer is meant to be enjoyable, not penance.

  2. Grolsch. I like the Dutch and the Netherlands, but Grolsch is a beer that I try once every ten years to see if my tastes have matured into liking it, and every ten years I throw away 19/20 of the bottle. Most British ales are pretty biting, but Grolsch to me is the bitterest, harshest liquid apart from window cleaner. So I like slightly sweeter beers; sue me.



  3. Kloud. Kloud is a new Korean beer made by the large conglomerate Lotte. Korean beer is never stellar and imitates American beer too closely, but it's improving. Yet Kloud tastes like it sounds, a sonic mix of "klunk" and "cloudy." I would have picked "skunk." It's not terrible, but it lacks flavor and has a stale, murky aftertaste that suggests, like Jim Dixon in Lucky Jim, that some small animal has used your mouth as a latrine and then a grave.

  4. French and Chinese beer. In France, drink wine. In China, well, drink bottled water. I've never had any beer I could finish a bottle of from from either of these countries. They're just not beer nations, yet at least.

  5. Coors Light. If you like it, that's fine. To me it's beer-flavored water, and American beer is generally thinnish anyway. This is not an elitist comment, because Coors makes other beers that are okay. But light beers to me generally defeat the purpose; it's like someone saying, I want a chocolate milkshake, but I don't want it to have any calories, and I don't want it to have a strong chocolate or milkshakey taste to it. If you don't like the flavor of beer, there's no crime in drinking something else.

  6. Homemade beer. Homemade wine can be tasty. I've even had good homemade mead. But I have almost never had homemade beer that wasn't flat, thin, and didn't taste like fermented underwear with sediment floating in it. Like building your own space shuttle, it is not easy to make your own beer without the proper equipment. I hope to be proved wrong someday, but in the meantime, impress me with the store-bought stuff.