Mike Ryan is Kimpton’s National Manager of Bar Education, and no, you can’t have his job. Mike has more than 15 years of experience in the culinary/bar world and he helped lead Sable Kitchen + Bar in Chicago to national prominence. Sable was named one of the best bars in the country by Food & Wine and one of the top hotel bars by USA Today, among other accolades. In honor of National Beer Day, we asked Mike to set us up with some of his top seasonal beer choices.
As the seasons turn and frosts fade, the buds blossom on the trees and the mellifluous sound of wrens and robins fill the air, a young man’s fancy turns to saisons, maibocks, doppelbocks and travel — on the hunt for great beer.
April 7 is National Beer Day. And that provides us with all the justification we need to dive into a few of my favorite spring beers.
The saison, or farmhouse ale, originated in Wallonia, Belgium, as a beer brewed in the cooler months and then stored until summertime. These days, saisons are typically lighter-bodied, refreshing, highly carbonated, and sometimes lightly spiced. I find them lovely transitional beverages as the winter drops into the past. Saison Dupont is the benchmark here, although Sofie by Goose Island, and Saison du BUFF by Dogfish Head are excellent variations on the theme.
One of the few styles specifically brewed for the springtime months, the maibock is a lighter, snappier version of the classic German bock style, which is simply a fuller-bodied lager with a darker roast. The doppelbock, similar in style, was once brewed exclusively by monks to nourish them through their Lenten fasts. Look for classic German breweries such as Paulaner, Ayinger and Spaten for benchmark versions of each. Truly one of my favorite treats of the season.
Where Are You?
I’m fortunate that I get to travel a lot for work — and so I get to experience the best of what this awesome country has to offer in terms of great beer. I live in Chicago, which is home to Goose Island, Revolution, Two Brothers, and a new Lagunitas brewery; plus there are great regional favorites like Three Floyds, New Glarus, Ale Asylum and Hinterland. The Pacific Northwest is ridiculous: More incredibly high-quality craft breweries are popping up in Seattle and Portland every week, joining such favorites as Deschutes, Fremont, and Boneyard. I grew up in Pennsylvania, so I always order a Yuengling when I’m out that way … simplistic but, hey, they’ve been around since the 1820s — they’re doing something right. If you want a little more punch when you’re in the Keystone State look for Tröegs, Victory or Weyerbacher.
One Life to Live (YOLO)
Who doesn’t like a little weirdness from time to time? I’ve got a basket of one-hit wonders: Beers that are delightful departures from the norm — but best consumed one at a time rather than by the six-pack. Sweet Baby Jesus by DuClaw Brewing in Maryland is a chocolate-peanut butter porter. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry — you’ll quench your thirst, hunger and sweet tooth for a week with just one of these.
If you’re craving a little more salinity and general oyster-ness in your beer, reach for Oysterhead Stout from San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewing. They shuck real Hog Island Sweetwater oysters into the brew tanks, adding a pleasant pungency. And if you’re the sort of hop-head whose palate has long since become inured to even the most irresponsibly hopped American IPAs, look no further than Stone’s Ruination, logging in at over 100 IBUs (International Bittering Units … by comparison American lagers are generally in the five range).
After a long, hard, sweaty shift behind the bar or in the kitchen, I love a light, crushable lager like Lone Star, High Life, Coors Banquet, or the aforementioned Yuengling. But man (and woman) does not live by lager alone: seek ye out local craft beers and seasonal favorites, and you might just find a new point of connection with another human being out there. Which is the whole point of this whirlwind tour around the sun.
— Mike Ryan