Young and Hungry

My Top 5 Desert Island Beers. What Are Yours?

A sixer of Dale's to go — on your desert island

I've had, and still do have, a proclivity toward lists and the ranking of favorites. High Fidelity inspires desert island-record discussions. Fantasy football drafts are a drug. And as tykes, my brother and I would sit cross-legged in the living room, surrounded by sorted mounds of Halloween candy or Pogs (depending on the season) and conduct elaborate trades and negotiations based on our arbitrarily prized possessions. (Should I be confessing this in print? If I ever run for public office, let's pretend this didn't happen.)

The point being: I'm no different today. So when I see the Alström brothers of Beer Advocate fame enumerating their top five desert island beers alongside a profile in The Boston Globe, I start getting ideas. Building a desert island list is a delicate task. With records, you need to take into account all the different styles, eras, and at least one sentimental favorite. You probably want some reggae in there, being on an island. So while ranking Pogs may be less nuanced, picking just five beers to drink for all of sand-locked eternity seems unfair, if not impossible. Or in other words, fun.

Like records, my favorite beers change frequently — probably every time I walk into a beer store. But here's my outline, the prototypical desert island beer list. And despite the urge to apply a beach theme, I have one rule: nothing with a lime in it. Ever.

  1. The go-to quaff. You need one lighter beer, a refreshing lager you can drink by the case while watching the game (better believe my desert island gets NFL Sunday Ticket). This beer is also necessary for pairing with the fresh seafood your monkey butlers bring in off the trawler every morning. My go-to here is Victory Prima Pils, or in fantasy land, I'd take Pilsner Urquell, unfiltered and fresh from Plzeň. But no, if I really have to pick just one, it's Terrapin Rye Pale Ale from Athens, Ga. It's as light as Tahitian sand and bristling with dry rye flavor. Terrapin doesn't ship to D.C. yet, but I'm on their case about it.
  2. IPA, at least one. What's a man without hops? Sad and alone on a desert island, that's what. But if there's a Bells Two-Hearted Ale or a Dale's Pale Ale in my coconut shell, I'm doing all right.
  3. Sentimental favorite #1: big and hoppy. As with Jason Alström, I have to have some Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. It's a dark, spicy beast with enough hops to put your average IPA to shame.
  4. Something for the palate.You're going to want to invite guests over to the desert island, and you'll need something classy to pair with a fine cheese plate. Something in the Belgian style seems in order; I'd go with a trappist like Rochefort 8, St. Bernardus Abt 12, or a saison like Dupont.
  5. Sentimental favorite #2: mellow and complex.I'm still lacking in slow-sipping beers, so I'm leaning toward a double IPA or barleywine. My choice here at the moment is Head Knocker from the Vintage 50 restaurant and brewpub in Leesburg. It's a lighter, golden take on an English barleywine, with a honey aroma and a sweetly smooth finish. The beer is now retired, but brewer Bill Madden will open brewpub Mad Fox in the fall. On my fantasy island, it's delivered in fresh casks via helicopter.
  6. The cheating sixth beer. Come on, you knew it was coming. Who can pick just five beers? My cheating sixth: Fullers London Pride, the ultimate English bitter, in all its quaffable, buttery glory.

So fellow Beerspotters, let's hear it. What are your top five (okay six) desert island beers?

  • Matt Billings

    1) Stone - IPA
    2) Terrapin - Rye Pale Ale
    3) Russian River - Beatification
    4) Brooklyn - Brown Ale
    5) Cantillon - Oude Gueze

  • alex

    1. go to quaff: three floyds (Muenster, Indiana) pride and joy "mild" ale
    2. ipa: If I can have it fresh on tap, loose cannon hop 3 ale from clipper city in MD, bells two hearted, or three floyds alpha king
    3. double ipa: bell's hopslam
    4. palate: fantome saison
    5. sour: Lost Abbey Cable Car

  • Kelly in the Big Blind

    1. Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted (cask)
    Everyday drinker with just enough complexity that one pint is worthy of discussion but putting back multiple pints to solve all the world's problems is always in the offing.

    2. Sly Fox Pikeland Pils (draft or can)
    The working lager is a tough choice, but my heart leads me to the recent American interpretation of the German variation of the original Czech lagers. Ahem. In any case I've found myself in love with this one. Like the above it can be cranked back in copious weekend sessions on the deck or just one is worth some introspection. Victory Prima Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils or Brooklyn Pilsner could just as easily filled this roll.

    3. Saison Dupont (bottle; never draft)
    Simply a perfect beer. While there are innumerable exotic Belgian specialties to consider this is a brew sans fault. Complex, spiced, balanced, perfumed and good with food or playing by itself.

    4. Andechser Dunkel (draft)
    Ur-beer. There has to be something dark in here for when one needs a bit more sustenance. Plus there are at least a dozen Bavarian brews I could put on the list, life without a Marzen seems like a mistake, but this covers multiple categories. It's just a damned fine beer.

    5. Anchor Our Special Ale (draft) aka Anchor Christmas
    I wait for this anxiously each year. Some years are better than others but it's always a treat. This a brew worth waiting for. I will only drink this from Thanksgiving through February as God intended.

    Now my cheating 6th brew is a true cheat. It's not made anymore. Well not exactly.

    6. De Dolle Oerbier
    Full, refreshing, asskicking, complex, insane, unstoppable. For a strong brew it's very "drinkable". For a "drinkable" beer it's very complex. For a heavy hitter it's very nuanced. Since Interbrew/InBev/Enormocorp took over Rodenbach, De Dolle source for the original yeast strain, this has not been the same. They are still trying to work their way back to the original taste but they're not quite there yet. I pray daily that they will get there and I will kick something else off the island to put this on.

  • Carrie the Red

    1. Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat -- My desert island is the kind with orange trees on it and I want a beer that will taste good with them in it.

    2. Red Sky at Night Saison -- Great spicy saison, local brewery will provide tender reminiscences of home, and the name forecasts a nice sunny day with no typhoons.

    3. Brouwerij Houghe Floris Apple. A girly beer that tastes like an apple Jolly Rancher. I'm on a desert island and there's no one there to judge me.

    4. Rogue Dead Guy -- caramelly, hoppy, awesome. Image of squatting skeleton on label will make the desperate bottle-messages I send from the island more likely to be picked up by curious beachcombers.

    5. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA -- Because it's bitter and malty and 9 percent ABV -- a good one to drink myself to death with after Wilson the volleyball gets swept away by the tides.

  • Arlene

    Kelly has a beer list after my own heart.

    1. Saison-Dupont
    2. De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva (2007 too much to ask?)
    3. Ninkasa Tricerahops
    4. Aventinus Weisbock
    5. Lost Abbey Avant Garde
    6. Cantillon Lamvinus

  • revrag

    1)Bear Republic Hop rod rye. It was the first in my head when the question was posed, it may not be original but that’s irrelevant. It is the correct answer.

    2)I’ll take Stone IPA for all-day top-popping. Perfect balance with a little “Hey there, you’re a pretty swell guy and I think you’re neat” hop-forward hello; consistently the best head of any IPA bottle pour so I don’t even need a tap; I’ll take bottles with me on my seal-skull pontoon boat, thank you very much.

    3) I’m really into the unholy union of american 1x/2x IPA with belgian process; the best of breed (that i’ve had) is houblon chouffe. This is my palate beer, and the little goblin on the bottle can be my Wilson.

    4) I almost said Bell’s Oberon but then I knifed myself in the face because it turns out my island is served by a magical distributor that doesn’t have “territories” and says pish-posh to a given brewery’s annual capacity. So, FFF Gumballhead, on tap. I’ll freakin’ shower in that noise, and my amarillo smell will attract a she-bear to be my mate.

    5) So it turns out two-hearted and Racer 5 fought each other with poisoned blades; each had fatally scratched the other and there was just enough time to embrace; bitter rivals, finally and evenly matched. There are far less victorious deaths than to have spent your life in the defeat of an honorable, worthy opponent. But the upshot for me is I can’t pick either because they’re dead, so I take Brooklyn Lager so I at least have something quaffable to use for beer pong in my monthly tournaments with my she-bear harem

    6) Cheating is allowed? Then I'll take a brewing kettle, and some seeds. I like my beer like I like my women -- unlicensed, with questionable regard to style guidelines, decent head, and full of wild bacteria and yeast

  • Drew

    1. Sam Smith India Pale Ale
    2. Foothills' Seeing Double IPA
    3. Avery's Hog Heaven Barley Wine/Maharaja
    4. Flying Dog's Double Dog IPA
    5. Guinness
    6. The cheater's sixth: Paulaner Hefeweizen

  • Tre

    I don't need much more than IPA-variation in life or on my desert island.

    1) Go-to quaff: Smuttynose IPA, it's an IPA, with grass clippings! Remember when you had to do things like mow the lawn, instead of sitting around drinking IPAs all day, waiting for a boat or plane or friendly sea creature to rescue you?

    2) IPA, at least one: Stone IPA, the finest single for my dubloon.

    3) Sentimental favorite #1: Pliny the Elder, for wisdom.

    4) Something for the palate: Orval, because it tastes like yeasty bread and my island doesn't have any unbottled wheat.

    5) Sentimental favorite #2: Victory Old Horizontal Barley Wine, but really I just mean Bell's Two Hearted Ale.

  • reilly

    all of mine are so not desert island appropriate but whatever seasonal/temperate appropriateness has always been overrated to me...i mostly like dark heavy things and hops put salt in my delicate vagina

    1. Duck Rabbit Baltic Porter
    2. Bells Expedition
    3. Allagash White
    4. Bells Oberon
    5. Highland Gaelic

  • Cornholio

    1. Guinness
    2. Guinness
    3. Guinness
    4. Guinness
    5. Guinness
    6. Guinness

  • Auckland Jon

    1. Stone IPA. I've never had an IPA that's as well balanced and aggressive. It's big enough that I won't crave a DIPA, but still refreshing. The hops are incredibly clear... It's as close to perfect as I've had.
    2. Bell's Expedition Stout. Something huge, complex, and roasty for those cold nights.
    3. De Proef's Flemish Primitive Ale - Surly Bird. Easily the most sour and hoppiest of these four beers, it smells like opening a bag of gym clothes in a dank barn, and goes from there. 9% gives it enough malt to stand up to it, too.
    4. Three Floyds Gumballhead. This won out over Weihenstephaner, but barely. The citrusy hops push out the clovey esters any day, and when availability isn't an issue, Weihenstephaner doesn't have a leg to stand on.
    5. Schneider Aventinus. There's nothing else like it, and while there are better beers out there, it holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it's actually available here in New Zealand -- a dessert island of beer in its own way.

  • alex

    Auckland Jon, you misspelled desert

  • Thirty-Nine

    1) Deschutes The Abyss
    2) Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley Wine
    3) Rogue Imperial Stout
    4) Ninkasi Believer Double Red
    5) Bridgeport IPA (I'll need something lower in ABV!)

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  • Vic Arpeggio

    1.) Bell's Oberon
    2.) Bell's Two Hearted Ale
    3.) Racer Five
    4.) Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
    5.) Pliny The Elder
    6.) Drake's 1500 Imperial Pale

  • Jordan

    Orr, I can't believe you didn't through in High Life so when you're on that island you can think back to all the good times...

  • Ben Wideman

    1. Franziscaner Hefe-Weizen
    2. Smuttynose IPA
    3. Russian River Pliny the Younger
    4. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
    5. Dogfish Head Raison D'Extra
    6. Stone Ruination

  • alyse

    1. Bells Hopslam
    2. Allagash Curieux
    3. Rochefort 10
    4. Stone Levitation Ale (This is my low alcohol content beer...because sometimes you don't want to get stupid drunk after just 3 beers.)
    5. Loterbol Blonde (De Dolle's Ara Bier is an acceptable substitute. They both smell phenomenal and have those amazingly refreshing grapefruit notes.)

  • colin

    Dogfish 60/Dales/Wallop/Nugget Nectar

    Delirium Tremens


    Saranac Black and Tan

    Dogfish Fort

    Thomas Hardy Ale

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  • Billy Mitchell

    1) Brugse Zot
    2) Victory Prima Pils
    3) North Coast's Red Seal Ale
    4) Stone IPA
    5) North Coast's Old Rasputin

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  • Beerking1

    Errr, Orr, that is 6 styles, but ELEVEN beers.

    Sheesh, talk about cheating! 😉

  • Kyle

    1) Allagash White
    2) Smuggler's Rocky Mountain Rye
    3) Cape Ann Fisherman's Ale
    4) tie - Dupont Biere de Miele/Allagash Confluence .. I need a complex beer for the palate and can never decide which one of these I like better.
    5) Ayinger Celebrator for dessert.

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