The REAL 20 most influential beers of all time

A beery audience

‘Guys, you’ll never believe this “20 most influential beers” list’

An American website called First We Feast has just announced what it declares are “The 20 most influential beers of all time”, a list put together by a “panel of beer-industry pros – brewers, distributors, publicans, and importers, as well as a few journalists.”

You’ll have some idea of the validity of this list when I tell you that half the beers on it are brewed in the US. I don’t want to diss the panel that chose these beers, but I only recognise one name on it, apart from him there are none of the commentators I turn to for insight into the North American brewing scene, let alone anyone from outside the US, and there doesn’t appear to be a single brewing historian among any of them. Which is presumably why they came up with such a totally crap list, with far, far more misses than hits.

The First We Feast attempt at naming the 20 most influential beers of all time

Gablinger’s diet beer, Rheingold, New York
Blind Pig IPA
Westmalle Tripel
New Albion Ale
Fuller’s London Pride
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Pilsner Urquell
Anchor Steam Beer
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
Ayinger Celebrator
Generic lager
Cantillon Classic Gueuze
Anchor Old Foghorn
Reissdorf Kölsch
Draught Guinness
Allagash White
Sam Adams Utopias
Saison Dupont
Schneider Aventinus

I mean, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye is more influential in the history of beer than Bass Pale Ale or Barclay Perkins porter? Don’t make me weep. Allagash White trumps Hoegaarden and Schneider Weisse? (You may not like Hoegaarden or Schneider Weisse, but I hope you won’t try to deny their influence.) Gueuze, Saison and Kölsch are such important styles they deserve a representative each in a “most influential beers of all time” list, while IPA and porter are left out? I don’t think so. And the same goes for Schneider Aventinus: where are the hordes of Weissebockalikes? Sam Adams Utopias has influenced who, exactly? “Generic lager”? I see where you’re coming from, in that much of what has happened over the past 40 years in the beer world is a reaction against generic lager, but still … And I love London Pride, but it’s not even the third most influential beer that Fuller’s brews.

Gablinger’s Diet Beer is about the only smart choice on the FWF list, because although it’s pretty obscure now, it was the inspiration for all the “lite” beers that, through big brands such as Miller Lite and Bud Light, came to dominate the US beer scene. Pilsner Urquell is a must: you could argue (and I will, in a moment) over whether there has been a more influential beer, but no “all-time greats” list could ignore the pale lager from Plzen. Westmalle Tripel: Duvel, surely, is more important. Guinness: I really don’t think Guinness is influential: it’s so sui generis, it’s just carried on being itself, without influencing anybody.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I’m prepared to consider, as the pioneer of “hop forward” American pale ales, and the same consideration may be due to Blind Pig IPA, the first “double” IPA. Anchor Old Foghorn was itself too influenced by other beers, especially the English old ale/Burton Ale tradition, to be on a “most influential” list itself. If Goose Island Bourbon County Stout was, as it appears, the first “aged in barrels used for something else” beer, then for all the brews that has inspired, it deserves a “most influential” mention. But having both New Albion Ale and Anchor Steam on the list is far too California-centric: indeed, if you’re looking for a beer than inspired the boom in American craft brewing, them I’d put on a steel helmet and announce that it’s Samuel Adams Boston Lager: I bet that inspired far more drinkers to try something other than the mainstream than any other early American “craft” beer.

So: what ARE the real 20 most influential beers of all time? Judged purely on the size of the effect they had on subsequent beer history, I reckon they are:

Gabriel Sedlmayr

Gabriel Sedlmayr: the most influential brewer of all time?

1 Spaten Dunkel The lagering techniques Gabriel Sedlmayr perfected at the family brewery in Munich, and the yeast that he used and then so generously donated to brewers from Carlsberg in Denmark to Heineken in the Netherlands were what powered the lager revolution in Europe and around the world. Without the work done at the Spaten brewery, there would have been no Pilsner Urquell. But the original Spaten lager (and indeed the first lagers brewed outside Bavaria) were all dark beers, little known by modern drinkers, which is why their importance has been forgotten.

2 Pilsner Urquell The genius of the men who set up the Burghers’ Brewery in Plsen in 1842 appears to have been in combining Bavarian lager yeast and lagering techniques with pale malt made in the English fashion, to produce the world’s first pale lager. It took another half a century or more for the Pilsner style to triumph over its darker rivals even in continental Europe, but most of the beer drunk in the world today has its roots in Bohemia.

3 Hodgson’s East India Pale Ale There’s a good case for saying that Bass Pale Ale, as the most successful IPA of the 19th and 20th centuries, should fly the flag for the style. But Hodgson’s brewery in Bow, London was the maker of the highly hopped pale beer shipped out east whose success inspired the Burton brewers to follow with their own beers brewed for the Indian trade, beers that later proved popular back home in Britain as well. Therefore it’s Hodgson that deserves to be on the “most influential” list, even though the Bow brewery eventually collapsed into obscurity.

4 Parsons’ porter We have no good evidence as to who, if anyone, first turned London brown beer into what became known as porter: it looks as if the city’s whole brown beer trade slowly moved in the first 30 or so years of the 18th century towards a hoppier, more aged style of dark beer that eventually became hugely popular. But there IS evidence that the pioneer of lengthy storage for porter in huge vats, to perfect its flavour, was Sir Humphrey Parsons, of the Red Lion brewery, by St Katharine’s Dock, to the east of the Tower of London, which would make him the most influential porter brewer, since everybody else copied his idea. And without porter we wouldn’t have stout.

5 Barclay Perkins Russian Imperial Stout A number of London brewers were exporting very strong stouts to the Baltic lands in the 19th century, but Barclay Perkins’s Anchor brewery is the earliest we have evidence for, the best-known and the longest–lasting. Its imperial stout influenced brewers in Poland, the smaller Baltic states and Germany in the 19th century, and American craft brewers in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

6 Schwechater Lagerbier Anton Dreher was a big pal of Gabriel Sedlmayr and accompanied the Bavarian on his “study tours”. At the family brewery in Schwechat, just outside Vienna, Dreher used Sedlmayr’s lagering ideas and, like the brewers in Plsen, malting techniques based on those used by English brewers, though Dreher produced darker malts than the Bohemians, to give a beer halfway in colour between Pilsner and a Munich Dunkel. Think Sam Adams Boston lager, and you’d be about right. Dreher’s is the influence on all those lagers that look more like English bitters in colour.

7 Einbecker Ur-Bock Without the Einbeckers of Lower Saxony, there would be no Bock beers.

8 Paulaner Salvator And without Munich’s Salvator, the first of the souped-up Doppelbocks, we wouldn’t have all those beers ending in -or.

9 Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Come on – of course it was hugely influential. It pioneered national beer distribution around the US, and it set the standard for what American beer was expected to be. You might not like that standard, but millions of drinkers did, and do, in the US and abroad.

10 Bass No 1 Best-known of the strong Burton Ales, this was the beer that other barley wines wanted to be, until number 16 on my list came along.

11 Schneider Weisse Who should carry the banner for Bavarian wheat beer, a style that was restricted to little old Bavarian ladies only 40 years ago but which has since bounced back hugely and now has imitators everywhere? There are several candidates, but I’ll give it to the guys from Kelheim, because they brew nothing else.

12 Hoegaarden When it comes to Belgian wheat beer, however, there can be only one original, and all the rest are imitators (even if some now, whisper it, might be doing a better job). When Pierre Celis rescued this style from the grave, he was to have far more influence than he could have possibly imagined.

13 Duvel Anyone brewing a strong, golden Belgian-style ale is bowing towards Breendonk.

14 Fuller’s ESB A winter-only brew to begin with, ESB became famous as the strongest bitter in Britain, and spawned a new style in the US.

15 Newcastle Brown Ale First and best-known of the fruity dark amber “Northern brown ales”.

16 Tennant’s Gold Label The Sheffield brewer Tennant’s launched its golden barley wine more than 60 years ago, inspiring a host of imitators among brewers who had previously believed strong beers had to be dark.

17 Fowler’s Wee Heavy Wee Heavy is a much misunderstood style: it’s not that old and it certainly shouldn’t be made with smoked malt. But Fowler’s is the one everybody copied.

18 Sierra Nevada Pale Ale See above

19 Blind Pig IPA See above

20 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout See above

Now: let the arguments begin.

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226 thoughts on “The REAL 20 most influential beers of all time

      • Influence doesn’t have to mean that other beers try and be like it. It’s so ubiquitous and perfect in what it does that none of the big guys even bother to make a beer like it. That’s influence to me.

      • Guinness as a brand have always been there in the pubs in Ireland and England as that other choice. The one black beer that keeps people in mind that there is another option to bland Euro-lager that seems to be prolific in England and of course, Ireland. So it has been influential in that aspect, that it keeps that sort of gateway option alive. There’s always been somebody raving on about the fact that a draught stout can beat pissy lager any day.

        • Guinness is the first beer to bridge the category of “stout porter” to just “stout.” Beforehand, stout only meant strong, and could be used in conjunction with many styles, so I would say Guinness (export stout) as we know it today definitely had a strong place in history.\

          • Permit me to say I believe your history to be flaky. The change in stout’s meaning from “strong brew of any sort” to “strong dark beer” took several decades and had nothing to do with Guinness particularly.

    • Guinness should be on the list for the simple fact, it’s history notwithstanding, it seems to be the most popular ‘gateway’ beer in America that leads Americans away from ‘the big 3′. It may not be these days because of the craft brew movement, but about a decade or so ago, it definitely was the one beer that got a lot of people away from typical American fare. And for that alone I would say it has been very influential.

    • Wife is starting to monitor protein & carbs. Mentioned that in the early 1960s that I drank a beer called Gablingers because it was zero carbs. She nor anyone else I know had ever heard of it. Googling it, Lo & Behold I find that it was the original beer. I started drinking Miller Lite & still do till this day, & now find out that it actually is the product of the no longer brewed Gablingers. This was an exciting discovery for me, for I have been a long time beer drinker & continue to be. Have been a drinker of Schlitz, Bud.,Blue Ribbon,Gablingers,& now Lite since day-one.

  1. Most influential beers of all time? Both lists seem more like ‘most influential beers on how beer is today’. Surely for most of these beers it’s too early to tell?

    Wouldn’t “all time” include things like the first Egyptian bread beer and gruit ale which have many centuries of history and widespread production?

  2. As influence can be both positive and negative I am surprised there is no mention of Greens(?)/Flowers keg and the way that styled the drinking of the 60′s and 70′s.

      • I might argue that Peter Ballantinemay have been more influenced by the Albany Ale brewers than those of Burton. He apprenticed with Robert Dunlop, before opening his own brewery in the city. Not, that Albany brewers weren’t influenced, themselves by British brewers, but Albany—by the time Ballantine moved to Newark in 1840—was already steeped in it’s own brewing traditions.

  3. It’s so difficult to know how to define “influential.” Most of the beers we have now are pale lagers, so you could say that nearly everything on the list should relate to lagers and pale lagers especially. But that makes for a boring list, doesn’t it? I’d do a combo of commercial import and importance in shaping the current trends in beer. A few I’d consider for inclusion:

    DUB export. Much more than Pilsner Urquell (which obviously belongs on the list), this created the template for modern industrial, pale-lager breweries.

    Cantillon Gueuze. The current trend toward sour beers was hugely influenced by Jean Van Roy, who lent his knowledge to breweries in across Europe (especially Italy) and North America.

    I do tend to agree that the US has been hugely influential in sparking beer trends (stronger, hoppier, barrel-aged, and sourer) over the last thirty years, but I would cut back on their inclusions. I’d go with Ballantine IPA, which was more the template of big, hoppy beers than anything–and it was oak-vat-aged–SN Pale, which created the citrus fashion in hops, and Bud (obviously).

    I’ll have to think about it more seriously, though–those just jump out. For what it’s worth, from your list I give high marks and agreement to 1 (though I might have gone with Oktoberfest to kill two birds with one beer), 2, 3, 4 (nice), 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, and maybe 17. I’d say your list is a bit anglo-centric and could use a bit more Belgium, but I do have to think about it.

    • If the sour beer trend advances as much in other parts of the world as it has in the US (which I suspect it will) then yes, Cantillon Gueuze will deserve to go in. The problem is, right now, the beers that are most influential in the US, which do include more Belgian beers, are not the same as the beers that have been most influential world-wide. It’s too easy to be parochial – I left out Hop Back Summer Lightning, for example, because it’s been hugely influential in promoting the Golden Ale style in the UK, but outside the UK it’s not had anything like the same impact. DUB? One might argue (and if I had a second go I think I would) that Carlsberg, Heineken and/or Becks were more influential, globally, in introducing that ubiquitous eurolager style.

        • Surely you refer to Carlsberg, not Heineken? It was at the Carlsberg Laboratory that Emill Christian Hansen in 1883 was the first to isolate one strain of bottom-fermenting yeast, the Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis, that was distributed to whomever wished for it by the order of our most idealist founder J.C.Jacobsen.

          • An important part of Heineken’s business was propagating and selling yeast. Part of their Rotterdam brewery was dedicated to the process. They supplied many German breweries with bottom-fermenting yeast.

  4. It’s an endless argument, isn’t it? Best tussled with at a pub. But even naming Samuel Adams Boston Lager as a potential honorable mention sets off ripples of dissent, since it so heavily copied–right down to flavor, bottle and label design–New Amsterdam Amber Lager. So what inspired whom?

    • Joseph (“light beer”) Owades had a hand in creating both SA Boston Lager and New Amsterdam Amber Beer. For the latter, he was even listed as “brewmaster” at the short-lived Old New York Brewing Co’s brewery on the westside of Manhattan circa 1986. So, the connect between those two early contract/craft beers is more than just ‘inspiration’.

      Also, Koch’s experience at Wm. Newman’s was not quite employment – he took a class that Newman gave on brewing that he offered at the brewery (apparently to make a few more bucks, since selling beers like those in the early ’80′s was not as financially rewarding as it might be today).

  5. I think that you need Guinness on this list for Nitro & for the dry stout. Wherever you go, just about every bar has a nitro system today. That’s thanks to Guinness. When you think about the original dry stout, it’s Guinness. Every Irish pub in America has it on draught. It may not be what beer snobs want, but when you want an Irish beer you reach for Guinness. When you want that rich, creamy, silky, smooth beer: you reach for a Guinness.

      • In the US, Guinness was often THE gateway beer. For years, it and sometimes Newcastle were the only “good” beers you could find on tap in large swaths of the country.

        Its “only” the US, but it was hugely influential on the American brewing scene, even if few tried to duplicate it directly or even indirectly.

        Whether that is enough to make the list, I dont know, but it WAS influential.

      • What about drinking trends? This of course goes right back to the argument about what influential means, but influencing drinking, serving, and dispensing habits has to be just as important as influence over brewing styles and processes, right? Guinness, much more so than Boston Lager, changes people’s conception about beer, and does so on a world wide scale. I’d argue that even in the U.S. it’s more of a gateway beer to craft than Boston Lager, but I think it’s hard to find a beer more widely influential on drinking habits than Guinness. Hell, Guinness is probably the main reason there is an Irish Pub in most major cities worldwide.

        • I came of age around 1979 (turned 18, the drinking age at the time) .. I thought I didn’t like beer. I heard about this “Guinness” .. when I finally got to try it .. that was my gateway drug into real beer .. I cannot help but believe that it had a similar influence on that first generation (about my age) of American micro-brewers. Foreign beers simply were not to be found, outside of tales told by returning GIs. Once Americans did notice, we of course went all in and to extremes. Latest beer I sampled was Voodoo Donuts bacon maple donut .. found in the average American grocery store in these parts.

          • Oh, the point being not that Americans tried to copy or were particularly enamored of the specific traits of Guinness, rather the influence of Guinness was that it introduced the novel idea to Americans that beer could taste different, period, than Budweiser, Miller, Coors Lite. “American pisswater” as the GIs calledit.

        • Came here to say this. If “influential” includes a beer’s effect on the drinking public, as opposed to just brewers, then Guinness is massively important. I didn’t think of beer as an artisanal beverage until Guinness. That’s down to my own ignorance, obviously, but I was twenty years old at the time. It may not be the best beer, or even the best stout, but it’s the reason I stepped out of everyone else’s comfort zone. It’s also dead reliable. For the record, my favorite beer ever is also not the best ever, it just never fails: Full Moon Pale Rye, from Real Ale, right here in my hometown. Nothing at all like Guinness, but I wouldn’t have even tried it without Guinness.

  6. Surely “heavily copied” is a pretty good way of identifying an influential beer? The weakness of the original list seems to me that some beers are included on the grounds that they’re benchmarks of their style, rather than that they’ve inspired hosts of imitators and, in the more favourable cases, extensive themes and variations. Martyn picks a great example in standard Guinness, almost the Platonic form of a certain style of beer, but who really tries (bothers?) to brew beer like Guinness? There are a few craft brewed dry stouts in various countries that are clearly influenced by it — O’Hanlon’s, Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX, Titanic, Camden Ink are examples I can think of from the UK — but it’s hardly spawned a prolific genetic line in the way that, say, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale did.

    Having said that, I’m slightly more sympathetic to the original list than Martyn. Westmalle Tripel would certainly be on my list — in fact I think Westmalle Dubbel and Tripel arguably have to be taken as a pair. Both beers have certainly been hugely influential in Belgium, and to some extent in the Netherlands, having defined the template for all those secular brewers anxious to garner some fake Catholic cred and put some Gothic type on their labels with abbey beers. No other Trappist brewery has a range fitting the paradigm, but every “abbey” brewer has to offer a dubbel and tripel. And from here the idea has spread to all those US homebrewers with a yen to brew like a monk, and from there to commercial craft brewing. If it comes to it, Westmalle trumps Duvel — the latter still remains a “one of a kind” beer a bit like Guinness, and though there are a few Belgian contenders at 8.5% ABV with devilish or otherwise mischievous names, few try to clone the Moortgat version and some of them are even amber. I’m not aware that there’s a whole host of imitators from the US either.

    Saison Dupont also has a right to be there I think. Though the various Anglophone mutations of the original DNA have now become so divergent it’s difficult to know exactly what English speaking brewers really mean by “saison”, it’s more than likely enjoying a bottle or two of the Dupont interpretation that set those particular journeys in motion. Though I suspect that Dany Prignon of Fantôme is the one we should blame for licensing them to do what they like with the style.

    Spot on with picking ESB rather than Pride for Fuller’s. And Cantillon also seems a choice that hasn’t really been thought through. Very few sour/Brett beers from US and international craft brewers taste anything like Cantillon or any other genuine lambic, and seem to owe at least as much to Rodenbach Grand Cru as they do to the microflora of Anderlecht.

    • If this were a list of “most influential brewers in the US and Belgium” then yes, Westmalle would be on there. And ditto Saison. But I’ve been educating myself in the global craft brewing scene over the past three months, and it seems to me that outside those two areas – certainly in the UK – there’s rather less of an influence.

      • Considering your attempt at worldwide influence, China and/or Asia seems to be missing from your list.

        Although, maybe AB Budweiser covers that.

    • Des, Wrasslers XXXX takes its name, and allegedly its recipe, from a beer brewed by Deasy’s of Clonakilty. It’s about the only Irish stout which we can say *isn’t* influenced by Guinness.

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  8. Spot on, except… I have to massively disagree with you and Des on Guinness. It’s only a little over 50 years old so doesn’t have the depth of influence of most of the rest of your list, but it’s hugely influential and much copied all around the world. Look at Geniuss stout by Ørbæk; look at Hite Stout in Korea; read the cringe-inducing, we’re-not-worthy paean to Guinness on the back of a bottle of Meantine London Stout. At one stage Camden Town wanted to hold the launch for Ink in Dublin. When Antares say their Cream Stout is “una cerveza negra de origen irlandés”, what do you think they’re referring to?

    Draught Guinness is the Platonic ideal of middle-strength stout everywhere in the world — except Ireland, where other brewers rarely mention it. It may not deserve a place on this list, but to say it’s its own thing and isn’t imitated or otherwise massively influential doesn’t hold up in my international drinking experience.

    • A good argument, but (1) stout is still a “small minority” drink in most parts of the world and (2) I’m still not totally convinced that most modern stout brewers would be saying they wanted to imitate Guinness, rather than the idea of stout in general. But I’m wobbling towards your viewpoint …

      • So stout’s out on the “small minority” grounds. But doppelbock: fill your boots?

        On the second point, maybe I notice it more because it annoys me, but the association of Irish stout specifically with modern Guinness seems ubiquitous. Saku’s Cream of Dublin has a black and cream label with a red signature on it. Quite the coincidence, no?

        • No, it’s more that I’m not convinced Guinness influenced people to brew stout so much as stout influenced people to brew stout: clearly in the past Guinness wasn’t influencing anyone, everybody in GB and Ireland made stout. Arguably the importance of Guinness is that it kept the style going and thus became a point of reference when stout was revived, a point of reference that, eg, porter didn’t have. But should Guinness get the credit for influencing the stout revival when nobody gets the credit for influencing the porter revival? I don’t think so, personally.

  9. Why did you choose schneider over Weihenstephaner? Schneider’s hefe is unlike any other hefe, and actually comes closer to being a Dunkelweizen. Weihenstephaner’s hefe is considered the gold standard of all Bavarian hefes.

      • So you decided to choose the brewery that first got it’s feet wet over nine-hundred years later?
        Furthermore, why is GI BCBS even on this list? Were you taking shots in the dark hoping that nobody would call you out here? Many breweries had been bourbon and whiskey aging stouts prior to GI’s BC making it’s way to the scene.

        • Robert, if you paid attention, you’d see that I repeated the Goose Island beer from the First We Feast list, on the basis of their claim that it influenced all the subsequent spirit-barrel aged beers. If you’ve got evidence for earlier ageing in spirit barrels, do please present it. And this is a list of influencers, not pioneers: besides, while wheat beer is undoubtedly a style with deep roots, I doubt there’s much similarity between today’s wheat beers and whatever Weihenstephan was brewing in the 11th century.

          • I can’t be sure about this, and someone out in Chicago-land would have to pull up documentation to prove or disprove this, but it was MY impression that Goose Island swiped/borrowed/whatever the concept of bourbon-barrel aging of stout from Todd Ashman, who supposedly pioneered it at the Flossmoor Station brewpub just south of Chicago before moving north to Titletown Brewing in Green Bay, Wisconsin. All I can say is that when I was out in the Midwest in the mid-to-late 1990s or so, Flossmoor had the first bourbon stout I ever had, and Goose Island didn’t. I’d have to go dig out notebooks, and it’s still possible that Ashman got the idea from Goose Island’s own in-house projects that weren’t around/on tap when I was out there, but I can still remember that first sip of Flossmoor bourbon stout….

            • Alexander – This opens the door (again) to the matter of what constitutes influence. Todd had heard about BCS before he began making barrel-aged beers at Flossmoor Station, but had never tasted it. Brings to question about how influential a beer might be when there is a limited amount available. Todd’s barrel-aged beers won medals at GABF in 1997 and 1998 and he led the effort for a separate barrel-aged categories (until then, they often were entered as “experimental” – although BCS won honorable mention as an Imperial Stout in 1995). Of course, now they are several categories.

              You could argue that he Todd more to increase awareness of barrel-aged beers – he also did a variety of presentations for brewers, sharing techniques. However, availability of BCS (and thus awareness) has increased dramatically since AB-InBev acquired Goose Island. The pendulum continues to swing.

            • Todd Ashman spoke at SF Beer Week “Beer talks” last week and gave credit to Goose Island for the method. I do believe some homebrewers in the Chicago area cite homebrewer experimentation, but I have never spoken to anybody who was there.

              I didn’t expect Todd to credit Goose Island. The audio transcript is at
              http://t.co/uxmeE0Jwf4

              Good details on Anchor Liberty Ale in that talk too, from Mark Carpenter, long the master brewer there.

    • I strongly disagree here. Schneider is the ur-source for modern wheats. If Georg I hadn’t taken over a Munich wheat brewery in the mid-19th century, we wouldn’t be drinking weizens now. That no one copies this legendary beer does not mean they weren’t massively influenced by it. Except for the amount of dark malts, everyone else plays by the Schneider rulebook. It would be like saying Pilsner Urquell is uninfluential because other breweries don’t try to copy it but do variations on a theme. No: they do variations on theme because they don’t *dare* to copy it.

      • Actually this is wrong. Schneider was the last one to rent the white Hofbräuhaus in Munich. He acquired the right to brew Hefeweizen in 1872 and sat up a brewery. Hefeweizen (known as today) was brewed long before that by the family Degenberg, the only one allowed to brew beer with wheat in it, that was 1548 in the Bavarian city of Schwarzach. So Schneider was not the inventor of Bavarian Hefeweizen as we know it today.

  10. I would argue that Ballantine IPA belongs on your list. In the sense that this particular beer influenced both Fritz Maytag at Anchor and Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada to brew their own versions of what would become the prototype American craft brewed IPA, heavily hopped with Cascade hops. Both Anchor Liberty Ale and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale influenced many of the 2nd wave of American Craft brewers to make the IPA style their flagship beer. Ballantine IPA may be the only American IPA to survive prohibition.
    In any event, your list is a huge improvement!

    • re: Ballantine as the only American IPA to survive Prohibition.

      I’ve found close to 20 US India Pale Ales having been brewed in the post-Repeal-pre-craft era (some labeled just “India Ale”) though I have never checked if all of the beers (rather than just the breweries) pre-dated Prohibition, as well.

      Just looking at my list, I’d say Beverwyck’s (Albany), Bartels andMoore & Quinn’s (both in Syracuse), Neuweiler’s (Allentown, PA) and Feigenspan (Newark) all were brewed before and so claimed in ads – but I suspect most were.

      In the US at the time, some brewers used label terms like “stock ale” “india pale ale” and, to a lesser extent, “October ale” interchangeably and, in the case of “stock ale”, they number greater than IPA’s.

      I also have doubts that Ballatine’s IPA can be considered the same recipe/beer as their pre-Pro IPA, given the change in ownership and the Burton-on-Trent trained brewmaster they hired in ’33 (who had also brewed in North America, for Molson).

      On the topic, I’d agree that Ballantine IPA had a great influence on the early US “craft” brewers mentioned. On the other hand, having drank (and was shocked by) Labatt IPA in the mid-1970′s -and knowing what became of many UK’s IPA’s- I’d say that in much of the rest of the world, they apparently ignored it as anachronism.

        • I just want to make one point about Ballantine IPA. It tasted nothing like APA. It tasted more like an English pale ale, more like London Pride, say, or any of the nutty, bitter English beers. It had a huge influence indeed on American craft brewing, but more an inspirational one rather than anything palate-related.

          APA tasted quite different to anything that came before it. Cascade does bear some connection to Cluster, Northern Brewer and other U.S.-grown hops – they all seem to have a terroir resemblance – so there is some continuity probably with Ballantine XXX or, say, Rainier’s strong ale aka “The Green Death”, but basically APA emerged from whole cloth in the mid-70′s. No beer before APA tasted like vodka-and-grapefruit juice – a popular drink in the 70′s, I wonder if there is a connection – and now a thousand brews do. That was something new.

          It is unbelievable to me that Ballantine IPA has not been revived.

          Gary

  11. Based purely on the influence it had over consumers, then maybe Watneys Red Barrel deserves a mention. Without this product maybe Camra wouldnt have existed and bland lagers and keg bitters have become the only choices available today.

  12. To be fair, the badly worded FWF title should really read: “The 20 Most Influential Beers Upon the Modern American Beer Market”. This is what they mean, but they probably didn’t think it through, and in any case wouldn’t get so much attention if this was the title, would they? This said, I agree there are a few mistaken inclusions/exclusions.

  13. How about “Most Influential Beers Still in Production (in something approximating the original form)”?

    Half the fun of such lists, after all, is going off to “try the original”… :]

  14. Anchor Steam is one of the most influential American beers. Anchor is the grandfather of the American craft beer scene. Add Sierra Nevada as well. While Blind Pig is my all time favorite IPA (that I can’t get where I live sadly), I am actually surprised to see it on both lists. Normally Pliny the Elder is the Russian River beer everyone drools over. I’ll take a Blind Pig any day. I retire in 4.5 years. I have actually considered re-locating to an area I can get Blind Pig to retire. Hmm, maybe it is more influential than I realized. It is nice to see brewers who’s names I know (and beers I love) replying to this list as well. If I move where I can get Blind Pig, I will be able to get their beers as well.

      • If the jist of this article is a Tit for Tat, you brewed this, I definitely have to brew that particular beer, then you are correct. Anchor though brewed something different than a macro lager and showed that a style other than a macro lager was desired by the consumer. It opened the door for styles other than a macro lager. That’s how I interpret the ideology of the article. That is influence. It’s not about who brewed the “best” IPA or the “best” Stout.

        In reality, there is no such thing. Just because an “expert” says this is the best in no way means it is “best”. I have wasted a lot of money trying “best” beers just to find that they do not suit my palate or in reality they are just living up to a cult hype. I find this particularly in Stouts. I like a good stout but I have sure been turned off by quite a few of the “best ever” stouts out there.

    • As I also said above, I’d pick Liberty Ale without a doubt. Unless I’m misinformed, it’s the first big commercial beer to use Cascade, and definitely the oldest that’s still alive. And citrus hops is pretty much the foundation of the American craft beer revolution as well as what has happened in Scandinavia and is happening in Italy, Czech Republic, UK etc…

    • I’m pretty sure the Blind Pig IPA being included is not quite the same as the one Russian River brews today. I believe it refers to Vinnie’s work at the now defunct Blind Pig brewpub, and I think this is generally credited (rightly or wrongly, I don’t know) as the originator of the double/imperial IPA style. My understanding is that the current Russian River Blind Pig is a sort of a general tribute to Vinnie’s time at Blind Pig brewpub, and not a specific reproduction of the original Blind Pig IPA….

      Now, as for whether or not that is a “most influential” beer, I have no idea. Clearly double IPAs are a big deal in the US, but I would think that Anchor OSA/Liberty or Sierra Nevada Pale would represent the influence of US hops (i.e. without them, probably no Blind Pig).

  15. I have to disagree with the dismissal of Anchor Steam beer. The author confuses it with Anchor Old Foghorn (a barley wine) and dismisses it on that basis, but Old Foghorn is not the beer cited in the original list. Anchor Steam was the first beer produced by the revitalized Anchor Brewing Company, and is often cited as the beer that kicked off the craft brewing movement in the US. As such, I believe that it rightly holds a place on the 20 most influential beers

    • “I have to disagree with the dismissal of Anchor Steam beer. The author confuses it with Anchor Old Foghorn (a barley wine) and dismisses it on that basis, but Old Foghorn is not the beer cited in the original list.”

      Yes, Old Foghorn IS on the original list, at number 14. I’m not confusing anything with anything. And while Anchor-the-brewery was obviously hugely influential, Anchor Steam as a beer hasn’t influenced very much.

  16. For whiskey barrel beers, I would suspect that Weyerbacher (out of Pennsylvania) was more influential than Goose Island. Their Heresy and other strong beers aged in bourbon barrels were predecessors to Goose Island’s, yes? I certainly was drinking these back a decade ago, long before I had any of the Goose Island brew. I wonder which direction the influence ran?

  17. I’m not going to argue with any of the beers on your list Martyn, as always a well researched and informative read. That it sparks discussion and dissent in the colonies I find a source of amusement.

    • We always have been a fractious bunch! I, for one, hope that discussions like this one will eventually lead to a better balance of options for us colonial beer drinkers, with fewer extremes and more balanced beers.

  18. I thought about Mann’s, but decided it was less influential outside the UK than NBA was.

    The history of the development of bitter, I don’t need to tell you, is astonishingly murky: AKs and bitter ales suddenly appear from nowhere alongside IPAs. I really need to start ploughing through old local papers from the 1840s … no time, though …

  19. For Scotch Ale, I’d probably go with William Younger’s No. 1. BEcause I don’t think Fowler’s was really known outside Scotland, whereas Younger exported all over the world. Or McEwan’s. They were the brewers that gave global visibility to that type of strong beer.

    • Yeah, but I’m not sure you can give Younger’s or McEwan’s any credit for the revivals of the style, while US sources do seem, IIRC, to give a nod to Fowler’s. Do correct me if I’m wrong, someone.

  20. As much as I adore Schneider’s products, they are atypical and are still mostly found in niche establishments. I would instead give the spot to Erdinger. It was that company which popularised Weißbier outside Bavaria, and they’re still benefiting from that pioneering. It’s the most common Weißbier in the UK by a long way and in Ireland it’s your only alternative to Guinness in most pubs. The US microbrewery Weißbiers I’ve had are the more usual paler style typified by Erdinger, rather than the darker, older style that Schneider still makes. I think I can guess which was the first Weißbier the brewers drank.

    • Yeah, but does anybody outside the U.S. really care about that? Certainly influential for a relatively small group of drinkers with a niche interest, but not influential globally.

  21. Love the list, but Utopias blurred the lines between spirits, wine and beer. It should definitely be here. One whiff of it sends you to the fortified wine and spirits category. No other beer has done that.

    • If this were a list of “most innovative beers” then I might agree, but what has Utopias influenced? It just kind of sits out in its own category somewhere near the freakishly-eised strong beers from the likes of Brewdog and Schorsch.

      • And, really, no one really drinks it. Just references it. Influence needs to speak to the marketplace and not just brewery “tricks” for other brewers to nod in appreciation towards.

    • Well, the big London porter brewers were doing it first, and Guinness was influenced by them to get into porter (and then stout). Guinness became THE big stout brewer because the London brewers effectively abandoned the market.

  22. Great list. I just wanted to add this to #9: “…Busch pioneered the use of refrigerated railroad cars to ship St. Louis beer to hot climates and keep it fresh…” Also, if we had 21 spots, do you think we could add Oskar Blues due to the canning?

  23. Choosing *the* beer that was the originator of the Cascade (and similar) -hopped trend that now utterly dominates the American brew ing scene (and is now substantial in several other countries) is always going to boil down to perspective. Anchor Liberty was the first from what I understand, but you can easily argue that Sierra Nevada went on to influence more people even though it came several years later. But Anchor Steam Beer, though not hopped with Cascade, is remarkably similar in many ways and I think you could argue that it kept the idea of a hoppy, amber beer alive into the micro-brewery boom, allowing Anchor to make LIberty Ale with the new Cascade hop that further defined the coming trend. That there are few close imitations of Steam is partly due to the fact that you can make a similar beer with less effort by using standard ale methods. Throw in a new hop, and you have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I see a clear lineage, even if Grossman was also looking back to England at the time.

  24. Yes, the discussion is good, but rather US biased. I think the problem is that we don’t now know the most influential brews ever made. They are undoubtedly brews by European farmer’s wives, monks, inn-keepers and others whose recipes died with them. Who actually was it that first threw some hops in a brew, etc…..? Actually, I’m surprised the Samuel Smith bottle range doesn’t get a mention, since the late Michael Jackson, Humphrey Smith and the owner of Merchant du Val, the US wine importer, sat together and planned a range of bottled beers to keep the disappearing British ale types alive. This was well before CAMRA!! Later, an ex-army officer employed by Scottish and Newcastle brewery to clean up the protection racket on Newcastle pubs ( achieved) was sent to the US to build a market for Newcastle Brown ( also achieved!) and later Old Speckled Hen for Morland, subsequently Greene King. ( Michael Campbell-Lamerton is now Export Director at Fullers).

    Now; which came first? Imported European bottled beers or the US Craft brews? Sitting over here in the ‘Old World’, I’m not sure….., but as an importer of good beers to Denmark since 1997 when Carlsberg had a 97% monopoly, all I hear here is that Danes quite independently have invented Craft Brewing anno c. 2000 and afterwards.

    • I’ve been perusing further through the comments here and had missed this one. The points made are salutary although I am quite sure CAMRA existed before that first meeting mentioned. I did not see the Sam Smith beers in the U.S. before 1978 and CAMRA had already existed then for a few years. However, I agree with the main point, that imports had a definite influence on U.S. craft beer. McEwan’s Scotch Ale was sold here (Canada too) since the late 60′s at least if not before, so was Guinness Extra Stout, so were a number of Belgian trappist and abbey beers, Ruddle’s County, Theakston Old Peculier, Whitbread Pale Ale and many others (e.g. Pilsner Urquell). So good beer could be purchased here albeit not always in top condition, but the general taste profiles were known and had a definite influence on U.S. craft beer and beer in general as we know it today. The latter might sound odd but not really since many of the imports weren’t commonly available in the countries of origin, or not at the same strength, so sending over the best ultimately had a rebound effect and encouraged the survival of good beer in the U.K. and elsewhere outside Germany I’d say (where they didn’t really need the help. BTW I’ve sampled many kinds of German weizen here and in Germany and fail to see what is wrong with Schneider Weisse, it is a classic of the genre IMO).

      And yes of course the old-established breweries in England never stopped making fine beer, to which the CAMRA-influenced new breweries added their fillip, but American craft brewing has had an undeniable influence in the old country. So what influenced it in turn needs to be acknowledged. So let’s raise a glass to those mid-70′s imports from Britain and Ireland, they did great work to help make the beer scene what it is today. Confession: I liked Newcastle Brown then but even more Double Maxim! An excellent brown ale and interesting name.

      Gary

  25. It is always helpful when conversations are not excessively smug and rife with condescension. There are major misgivings on the original list and it is as one characterized above certainly poorly titled at any rate.

    Immediately running to the mockery till is not going to help advance what is surely, at least I believe, an important concern. That being that beer did not begin in 1975 in California (admittedly that is hyperbole for sake on my part).

    But in the end what I see here is a very well thought out and quality discussion that will not penetrate enough minds as it should, because unfortunately it takes a decided tone of “you are beneath us.”

    A great list and worthy discussion here thereafter.

    • I think it depends on how you use the word “influential” in this context. You could argue that Bass Ale was itself influenced by Hodgson’s East India Pale Ale, and that without it, Bass Ale might not exist, at least not in the way we know it today. But Bass Ale itself was also, of course, a big influence around the world.

  26. Schneider in the list is unfortunately wrong. Schneider was the last one to rent the white Hofbräuhaus in Munich. He acquired the right to brew Hefeweizen in 1872 and sat up a brewery. Hefeweizen (known as today) was brewed long before that by the family Degenberg, the only one allowed to brew beer with wheat in it, that was 1548 in the Bavarian city of Schwarzach. So Schneider was not the inventor of Bavarian Hefeweizen as we know it today.

    • And Hodgson didn’t invent India Pale Ale, Hoegaarden was not the first witbier and Pilsner Urquell likely wasn’t the world’s very first pale lager. But the list is about influential beers, not the original source from which they came. By that logic, this entire list would have to be comprised of whatever the Sumerians were making and whatever the Picts were making years later.

      • Have you read my comment?
        Pilsner Urquell in fact was the first Pilsner and therefore influential.
        You can source it back to a brewery called Drachselsried and it is only around 300 years before Schneider, so talking about Sumerians is nonsense.

        • Errr, not really the point I was making. The arbitrary facts or notions I selected were less important than the idea that I, and the list, are both illustrating. After reviewing the list, it’s clear that there is a modern tint to it; beers that have been influential in developing the commercial preferences in the modern drinking world. In that sense I would say Schneider certainly deserves to be on this list, and whether or not it was copied to near-exact specifications by another brewer is irrelevant. it was still incredibly influential.

          • So what is your point why is thas to be on the list?
            If one is looking for “the first” Bavarian wheat in a modern time frame, then it’s from 1548 and not 1872. Schneider was definitely highly influential for the beer history, but we the list is about beer styles in general and the style, as known today (!), was there 300 years before Schneider was.
            If the list is about the most famous though, then it’s Erdinger and again not Schneider, because Erdinger made the Hefeweizen style to what it is today, they are the pioneers for the success of Hefeweizen.

  27. I have little to quarrel with but agree with Ron that McEwan’s or Younger’s probably had more influence than Fowler’s. Were you thinking, viz. the U.S., of Traquair possibly? Traquair had a lot of influence in early U.S. craft brewing days but McEwan’s had more, and I’m sorry, but it did taste smoky then, via roasted malt, as beer writer Jim Robertson reported in the late 1970′s. I can’t really speak for which Scotch ale had the biggest influence on Belgian brewing earlier but I’d have thought McEwan or Younger again figure large here.

    But no Carlsberg or Heineken?? If we have a Bass as against a Hodgson, we need a Heineken or Carlsberg (the latter with its single-cell yeast) as against Urquell.

    I would take out golden barley wine. It isn’t really that significant today especially as your own and others’ research shows that strong mild ale was pale anyway in its heyday.

    I would put a saison in there, it has become a staple of world craft beer communities. Probably Dupont’s deserves the nod. I’d argue that Westmalle Tripel deserves a place, more than Duvel whose influence seems to me lesser than formerly.

    Gary

    • I hasten to correct: I meant McEwan’s (spelled MacEwan’s here) used roasted barley, the element which – or so I understand – gave it a notably smoky taste in the 70′s and 80′s. Jim Roberston called it a roast bacon taste and I agree, I remember the beer well. In recent years, the export version seems not to feature this taste, or not as strongly, but Bert Grant would have known the earlier version mentioned…

      Gary

      Gary

  28. Seven reasons Guinness is the most influential beer of all time.

    First off, let me be clear that I’m taking the word “influential” in a broad sense; that is, affecting other aspects of life. It’s one thing to say that a beer has “influenced” other brewers, but that’s a very narrow view of influence. It’s a bit like saying that because the Spice Girl spawned lots of imitators, they’re more influential musicians than say The Beatles.

    So, the seven reasons are:

    1. No other beer is so widely recognised as a symbol not just of its maker, but of its whole nation.

    2. The history of Guinness is so inextricably linked with the history of Ireland that you can’t tell one story without the other.

    3. No Irish-themed pub worthy of the name would open its doors without Guinness.

    4. In Ireland, you don’t even have to ask for it by name. You can literally raise a finger and the bartender will know what you mean; or if you must verbalise, you can simply ask for a “pint of plain”.

    5. Although perhaps not the first or the best, it is the exemplar of the Irish dry stout style.

    6. Guinness has been widely accepted by international communities (largely a result of the Irish diaspora), yet other Irish icons like hurling and Gaelic football have not.

    7. The Guinness Storehouse at St James Gate in Dublin is the no.1 tourist attraction in Ireland. How many other beers can claim their place of manufacture is the most visited site in their nation?

      • Though I’m hardly any defender of the 700-ton Borg Known As Guinness, to reject Guinness and/or the reasons listed above is to willfully ignore practically any degree of marketing in the role of “influence” of a beer brand.
        This is your list and blog, and you are certainly free to do that, but I in return would insist that such willful ignorance calls into question the accuracy of your list. You don’t have to LIKE that such marketing is effective in exerting influence (I sure don’t), but it can’t be dismissed so cavalierly.

        • I think a lot of good arguments have been put forward for Guinness being influential. I’m still not convinced that they amount to saying more than “people have been brewing more stouts recently, and Guinness is the biggest stout brewer, so Guinness is influential”, which is a logical non-sequitor.

          • Guinness has changed so much too, true it pretty much created a category of modern craft ales, namely nitro-dispensed beer made with roasted barley to lend the signature taste. But neither nitro dispense nor roasted barley were used by Guinness before the 1950′s and 1930′s respectively from what I understand. The drink anyway is fairly bland at this stage. I suppose you could say Budweiser has changed too, but it still uses beechwood chips and American beer did often use adjunct in the 1800′s, so that case is a bit different I think. If Guinness stood up more for tradition in stout brewing I’d have no trouble agreeing with its inclusion on such lists but as it is, I don’t feel strongly about it. Whereas Urquell and Hoegaarden, to take just those two, seem more on the traditional beer vector I’d say. And had Heineken been included, one might have noted it returned to all-malt about 20 years ago.

            Gary

    • I must admit; when I read The Great Hunger, Cecil Woodham-Smith’s account of the Irish famine in the 1840s, I was shocked. Not by the accounts of whole villages succumbing to starvation, or epidemics of cholera and dysentry. Not by accounts of animals eating unburied corpses, or people living in ditches and trying to exist on a diet of weeds. Not even by the idea of ships leaving Ireland with food, or Camero – sorry, Trevelyan’s idea that market forces would solve everything.
      No, what shocked me was how anybody could write a book about Irish history without a single reference to Guinness. And not a single leprechaun hat/fake ginger beard in sight..

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  31. Sorry to bring this up so late in the conversation, but Blind Pig IPA was not the first Double IPA. Perhaps Blind Pig Inaugural Ale, which was described as a “double IPA” pretty much from the start , was first. And it obviously had great influence.

    And as much as I appreciate beer made with a silly amount of hops, I’m curious to see how history treats the Double IPA “style.”

  32. I learned what good beer was many years ago in college, having fallen in with a crew of hard-drinking Brits and Aussies – Newcastle Brown, Bass Pale Ale, a long and tasty list. But it was all one step removed from my own Budweiser heritage until I had my first Samuel Adams Boston Lager – my God, *Americans* can make great beer too! So their influence wasn’t on any new kind of beer, but on its growing up as something we could take pride in as well. There are now more great American beers than I can drink in a year. So it may not be a worldwide influence, but I will note in my world travels, there are few places that I can’t find a Sam Adams.

  33. This is great, and I agree with your points on the whole; I would just propose one more: Carlsberg, for really kicking off the scientific understanding of and culturing of yeast in lager brewing. I suppose the difficulty would be in deciding which of their 19th-century lagers would be ‘the’ one to pick as the most influential, since Emil Christian Hansen was working in the Carlsberg lab and not brewing himself, but I’d say they were worth a mention.

  34. great dialogue, thanks for calling us on this one martyn – im happy i offered guinness and schneider aventinus – expect more lists to come from “first we feast” and im sure chris schonberger the editor will follow up with many of you! cheers jimmy carbone

  35. Hi Martyn,

    Very interesting take and I can tell you are very knowledgable. My question is regarding Palm Ale from Belgium. It was the hands-down winner of a challenge to all Belgian breweries (over 100 years ago) to create an “ale” that drinks like a “lager” and has since grown to become the #1 consumed ale in Belgium and the Netherlands. This beer outsells all other Belgian ales, including Hoegarden, in Belgium – the land of the ales. It has been the influence, and some would say the creator, of the Speciale Belge category. It also was the driving influence behind the New Belgium’s Fat Tire, as well as Ommegang’s Rare Vos, both of which are highly regarded in the American craft revolution. With a recent successful launch in the US it is becoming much more popular as well as accessible to the beer drinking public. I was curious how this stalwart of the industry that actually changed the dynamic of the ale consumption when all or most of consumers were leaning toward lighter lager styles, was left out of the discussion? I feel that this beer had a profound influence in Belgium of keeping the “ale” category from going extinct or at least preserved it on a large basis. It has also, singlehandedly, rescued styles and brands that are part of the brewing culture in Belgium as well, such as Rodenbach (which I could make another argument for not making the list) and Boon lambics. I realize slicing down to 20 is not easy but I seem to have doubts on your failure to include one of the most influential Belgian ales of all time.

    • As Dr Johnson said when asked why he had got one of his definitions wrong in his dictionary, “Ignorance, sir, pure ignorance.” Palm is really not very well known in the UK, and its history even less so.

  36. Another vote for the Anchor Liberty here, over Sierra Nevada. Still, a much better list than the First We Feast offering. Allagash White? That’s a head-scratcher. Utopias is just laughable, as well. I mean, if you’re going to look at influence, the Samuel Adams Triple Bock seems a stronger suggestion than Utopias – neither of them really influencing a larger audience, however. Nice job on the list.

  37. Palm is the best-selling ale in Belgium because of I don’t know how many tied cafés that have/offer little in the way of choice. Influential within Belgium? Arguably. Outside of Belgium? Not that I have seen; De Koninck would have a better but still dubious argument.

  38. Very educational responses.

    One of the core arguments being put forward by others revolves around the interpretation of ‘influence’. There seems to be two strands to these arguments, the first bases influence on primacy of brewing a particular beer style, the other bases it on how much the global market has responded. The two are not easily compatible. Before globalisation any influence would have been local and spread as ripples on a pond, the more the world opened the greater the potential spread. So early beers would only have had a local influence and we may never know when one variation on a theme occurred and became the desirous norm. To be a real global influence, and I think as we are talking about global beers this is core of the argument, the beer would have to have lasted (even as a memory?) into the era of globalisation, whenever that started (a new argument?).

    One last word on individuals, they may well have influenced many others but we need to understand how that influence was enacted. David Bruce certainly inspired others to open brew-pubs but I doubt if any of the beers produced would make it on to any ones list. While there are also some arguments supporting individuals as the influence these should not count as they are not beers we should concentrate on the beers they produced. Perhaps Martyn could start another list of the 20 most influential people!

  39. Okay, one more comment on the American side of thing. I often hear the citation of Anchor Liberty Ale as the most important because it used Cascade hops. It gets to the heart of what “influential” is. It is a heavy, sweet beer in which the hops add a bit of character but nothing of the intense citrus that came to be associated with American brewing. Anchor was the first at a lot of things. This, I think, is exactly the case against it. Anchor didn’t spark the craft brewing revolution. It was nearly a decade before the first micro opened in America–surely outside the range of causation. Liberty Ale, meanwhile, didn’t seem to spark much in the way of copycats, either.

    And it didn’t inform Ken Grossman, either, who told me this when I interviewed him: “I was an avid homebrewer starting back in 1969 and brewed through the seventies and ran a homebrewing supply store that I founded in 1976. I had brewed a range of pale ales and when we were thinking about starting the brewery I wanted to do something that was not British, that was American, and wanted to feature American ingredients wherever possible and so chose the Cascade hop as about the only signature American aroma hop at the time. I blended a little bit of brewing technology and history from England with my homebrewing and some US ingredients and came up with pale ale.”

    Of course, after *his* pale hit the market, there were scads of imitators, almost instantly. None of this is to disparage Fritz Maytag, who was a pioneer deserving of our thanks and respect. But just that, if “influential” means first, the whole premise of the thread loses its impact.

  40. Gee, I must say when I try Liberty Ale it reminds me of APA – it defined it, in my view. It is more attenuated than many modern examples (and in this respect is arguably truer to 1800′s export pale ale than those others) but is well within the range of flavours of APA, IMO again.

    To me it seems unavoidable to conclude it influenced early craft brewing if not Sierra Nevada specifically. I should mention too Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, a lager from Blitz-Weinhard that used Cascade which came out between Liberty Ale and New Albion Pale Ale, IIRC. Jackson wrote about that as well as Liberty Ale in his early books and that helped to spread the idea of this new American taste. No question SN is a great beer but there were others around the same time that people which helped form the idea of a new style. I recall Boulder Pale Ale as one but there were others especially after ’82 and I can’t imagine some of those brewers hadn’t been impressed with Liberty Ale.

    Anchor Steam too, while relatively restrained by today’s standards, had a big influence on craft brewing, on all those early “ambers” surely. I’d give Anchor Brewing huge credit, Maytag was a visionary and one day maybe someone will interview him more about Liberty Ale and Cascade. Why on earth did he try that new and untested (relatively) hop? It only came out in ’72! One of the untold stories of the early craft revolution, IMO.

    Gary

      • I will check it out, thanks. I have read some accounts to date, even an interview with Maytag, but none of it is detailed enough: perhaps this account is different. Eg did he know the hop was new, developed by USDA with big brewers help. did he know its taste had no real precedent for aroma hopping? What other options did he consider? Anyway, I’ll check, thanks.

        Gary

        • Those are good questions, Gary, and – sorry – not really answered in Mitch’s book. One thing to remember is that Cascade stands out more in retrospect than it did in 1972. And to add a bit of perspective, more Cascade was grown in 1976, when large breweries thought they’d be able to use it as an alternative to imported “noble” hops, than is grown today.

          • Stan, thanks, and I hope Martyn’s curiosity will preclude any concerns of “comment drift”, when I further wonder if home-brewing communities in California in particular had latched on to the hop by the mid-70′s from whence it spread to the commercial spheres. Could the brewers making beer at home and in garages, as Ken Grossman initially did, have evolved the style themselves before even Maytag made Liberty Ale with it? There would have been 3 years for this to happen, ’72-’75. A discussion for another day probably.

            Gary

            • Gary – Ken Grossman started making trips to the Yakima Valley from the time he opened his homebrew shop in 1976, bringing back samples of whatever dealers would sell him. That included Brewer’s Gold, Bullion, Cluster, hops with distinctive American character (not much later he got Cascade out of Oregon). He and Paul knew they wanted to use an American hop. He writes about this a little in the foreword of my book (sorry for the plug – not really) and we’ve talked about some other aspects, but I really hope that he goes into more detail when “Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.” comes out. [Sorry, Martyn, I'll quit now, but consider Grossman for that most influential list - will be happy to elaborate in email.]

    • I had the very last tour of Weinhard’s in July of 1999 from then-master brewer John Albin. Though it was a revolutionary beer at the time, I’m not sure it was influential in its own right, though it sure was tasty as a new keg on draft in the tap room that day. Thank you, John..that memory will live on till I die!

      • Sam I agree but together with Liberty Ale and New Albion it helped paved the way for the APA style (albeit the Weinhard was, or is, a lager). It was great to read New Albion is coming back soon but for those who want a very tangible example of (arguably) the first APA, and while not quite as widely available as Sierra Nevada, you can “get it at the corner store”, to wit, Liberty Ale. Thus, it would be on my list of influential beers without question.

        Gary

        Gary

  41. Sorry, I meant to write:

    “…but there were other [beers] around the same time that people tried which helped form the idea of a new style…”.

    By the way I understand Henry Weinhard Private Reserve is still available, brewed under contract I believe at a craft brewery in Oregon. I hope it still has a decent hit of Cascades, certainly it “tasted of the hop” when it first came out while still being a bridge to the craft era.

    Gary

      • One thing. Your question is influence “judged purely on the size of the effect they had on subsequent beer history” but the influence you are noting is all in the positive. Where there beers which were fantastically negative in their nature? Which led to the craft beer crash of the 1990s? Which crushed the tastier better priced competition?

        • “fantastically negative” to whom? I would consider the light beer influence to be fantastically negative… but it certainly wasn’t for many people (due to their popularity) or the brewers (at least those that survived).

        • As I think I said up-stream, I considered putting in Watney’s Red Barrel, for (a) its baleful influence and (b) influencing the Camra revolt against keg ale, but didn’t … it might have been included had the wind been in another direction

  42. Enjoyed this – tried the latest Utopia at the Boston brewery last week. There was a bit of a burn on it, but that’ll settle with time, I think.

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  44. Mendocino Brewing Company’s Red Tail Ale (used to be Hopland Brewery) was a major influence on the microbrewing scene, and my gateway into craft brews. I believe the Hopland brewpub was the first in CA (and 2nd in the US) to start back up after Prohibition. At least for US beers, it should definitely be on this list.

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  46. Schneider Weisse? You cannot be serious. I’m assuming you’ve never actually drunk the stuff in anger. It’s astonishing how, given Germany’s strict de-facto beer purity laws, they manage to produce such a toxic, hangover-inducing swill.

    Of all the Weizenbiere/Weissbiere you could have picked, you really plumped for the worst of the lot by far.

    Erdinger, Franziskaner, Maisel’s, even Warsteiner Weizen (and they only know how to make pilsner) are a million times better than the sick-making poison that is Schneider.

    Ask any German Weizenbier drinker (you know, the people who know what they’re talking about), and they’ll tell you that Schneider is disgusting piss. As far as I can tell, the only reason they actually manage to sell any beer (because no self-respecting Weizen drinker orders Schneider given a choice) is by making deals with other breweries to offer their Weizen at a discount in concert with the other brewery’s wares, leading cost-conscious landlords to sell it over decent Weizen, even though all their customers complain about it.

    Pro-tip: any pub that sells Schneider Weisse (at least in Germany) doesn’t give a fuck about the quality of their beer. If they did, they’d stock a good Weizen instead. And by extension, any pub that sells one of Schneider’s partner pilsners, but not Schneider, *does* care about quality.

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  49. I agree with Martyn, the First We Feast list is total crap. However, I do believe that Anchor Steam should have made the cut. Although not that influential in terms of style, Fritz Maytag was a true pioneer. He was the first to attempt the craft beer revival at a time when nobody else in the US was willing to take the risk against a landscape completely dominated by big industrial lager beer. Without Fritz there would be no Sam Adams, nor Sierra, nor Goose Island etc.

  50. Martyn, thank you for an excellent, thoughtful, and informed riposte to an interesting but flawed attempt to compile an ambitious list combining history with personal taste and logic (three fraught areas). I find your reasoning and choices more informed and persuasive, And thanks for providing a forum for many informed, motivated, and civil commentators to enrich this debate. Your posting and the comments that followed are a shining example of what can make the Web a wonderful place. Extra kudos to you for replying to so many of the posters in this thread, and thanks to many of them for sharing insights and knowledge.

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  52. Wow, what a great discussion. It got me thinking about San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing. Reviving the historic pioneer pre- refrigeration “Steam” style is a fascinating tale, and deciding to make it with generous Northern Brewer hop character was part of Fritz Magtag’s influence on the hoppy side of the new beer revolution. But it’s really not so much about one of their particular beers being influential on other beers, seems to me. It’s the overall audacity of Anchor, considered from the vantage point of the 1970s in America, rather than any particular beer they made, that contributed to the new breweries that followed.

    (Anchor made many beers that educated the palates and the imaginations of Northern California in the wake of the other social movements of the time — the intense hedonism represented bySan Francisco’s Summer of Love, and the the Whole Earth back to the land movement with its search for the tools and lore to make real breads, cheese and other old fashioned edibles. The gift of Anchor at the time was intense flavors: their annual Christmas ale was often lovingly described as tasting like “chewing on a wreath.” Many San Franciscans marked our calendars for the Thanksgiving weekend release of that always different annual winter beer. Their porter has been described as the only commercial robust porter in year round production worldwide at the time it was launched, (I have not seen anybody who does deep research on English brewing and the porter style verify or refute that claim, but it was clearly a dying if not dead style), and there’s that good old Liberty Ale — perhaps a new take on an historic English-inspired IPA, perhaps the first American pale ale. These beers may seem rather safe today, but they were mind-blowing in that context.)

    It was a body of work that had influence, and not just a body of brewing work. Another thread that ties Anchor to the new breweries of today was their early support of illegal homebrewers, whom they embraced and helped push California’s senator Cranston to advance the bill to legalize the hobby in America. A small beer operation making brews that were challenging to most of their audience and fighting for tap handles did not have to associate with lawbreakers and support the fight for the legalization of amateur brewing, and yet they did. Homebrewing was the backdrop to much of what has happened in this recent quarter century in America. Ken Grossman’s homebrew shop, the rise of those creative brewers in the Chicago area who homebrewed the very first bourbon barrel beer, (or so some of them have told me – that would be a good history to unravel, too), and much of the creative education that has fueled new directions in beer were all fueled by that legislative initiate that upstart Anchor supported because it was the right thing to do in 1978. Sometimes it’s an operation (and its leader) rather than just one innovative or commercially successful beer of theirs that has the lasting influence.

    • Anchor’s current website claims that in 1972 their Porter was “… first modern American porter…” (no ‘robust’ qualifier). At that time, there were a number of porters still being brewed by US brewers – Stegmaier, The Lion and Yuengling in Pennsylvania, and Falstaff in RI was still brewing Narragansett Porter and the draught-only Ballantine and Krueger Old Surrey Porters. There may have been a few other draught-only porters around, especially on the east coast. West End in Utica, NY , now known as F. X. Matt, had a number of “old” styles they still brewed for the local market. I recall a Sparkling Ale they made as a draught-only product, and have a vague memory that they also did a porter similarly.

      In Canada, the then-Big 3 all brewed porters- Molson and Labatt had namesake porters, Carling-O’Keefe brewed Champlain Porter.

    • “Robust porter” is a style invented by the BJCP with no historical justification behind it at all, so historians would sneer if that was the claim being made: there were several Scandinavian porters being made in the 1970s, eg Carlsberg had one under the Tuborg label, and Carnegie porter was being made in Sweden.

      • Not to mention that porter and stout essentially mean the same thing as you have shown beyond a doubt here. Thus, porter aka stout has never ceased to be made in a number of parts of the world including England.

        Steam beer in Maytag’s hands played its part but his Porter, Liberty Ale and the “our special ale” releases did even more to inspire craft brewers IMO. This is more the American sub-set of the story, since England had all these styles and never lost them.

        Gary

      • “Modern” and “Robust” are odd qualifiers, aren’t they? I’m thinking this wold be an interesting puzzle if we were digging it up 100 years from now. What was going on?

        Somehow that flavorful beer that was not at all like the Scandinavian porters, those lovely lager members of the extended stout family. Somehow it had an influence on brewers of the day, no matter what its name or the recipe history search that inspired it. Even if the style name “porter” does not work from some, the idea of going back to look at earlier beers and brewing them for a new public can be interesting, as it is for the more commercially important Wit beer example, of course.

        If the American revival is important to the history of beer, then the curious categories that the BJCP created to fit competition entries, defined as inspired by commercial examples, can be seen as reflections of what beers got those brewers excited.

        Nobody would say that Anchor Porter goes on the list, but it is part of the influence of a brewery that pointed the way for what happened and is happening in American brewing. The porter was part of what got pro and amateur brewers excited about flavor, in a particular time and place, just one example. It was intense. “Modern.” “Robust.” A stout of a different flavor, and name, if you want to look at it that way, but one that had influence.

        If the American revival has influenced more than just hoppy beers, then a body of work like that of Anchor’s may be more significant than a single beer. That’s the only reason I mentioned their porter, and their role in supporting the legalization of homebrewing.

        • It’s interesting about robust: I have no idea where that came from. It may well be that the term was intended to describe porter with flavor, or more flavor than many contemporary examples (say, Yuengling porter or the Canadian ones, although I understand Stegmaier’s was very flavorful). Scandinavia actually had, and still does, numerous examples of rich-tasting porter, an inheritance from the days when London sent fine porter to the cold dark northern lands. Carnegie porter is one, Sinebrychoff is another, and these (still made) are similar to many American craft stouts of today of similar gravity. It’s true probably that some porters in the area by then were made by a lager process or in any case had a mild taste. Anyway names are not that important really; taste profiles are. And Anchor Porter was a milestone on the path to craft beerdom, both in and outside the U.S. It is excellent in its native city on draft but I wish the company would put out an unfiltered version.

          Gary

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  58. Blind Pig was not the first double IPA because it’s not a double IPA. Pliny the Elder gets that credit. Blind Pig is an excellent IPA, but it is not and never was a double. Pliny the Elder, on the other hand, is deserving of the credit wrongly being attributed to its sister brew.

    • Hah! Well done on being the first person to spot that. TennAnt’s, of course. There’s a reasonably simple mnemonic to remember which is which – TennEnts from GlAsgow, TennAnts from ShEffiEld – but I still keep forgetting …

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  60. I agree with Martyn, the First We Feast list is total crap. However, I do believe that Anchor Steam should have made the cut. Although not that influential in terms of style, Fritz Maytag was a true pioneer. He was the first to attempt the craft beer revival at a time when nobody else in the US was willing to take the risk against a landscape completely dominated by big industrial lager beer. Without Fritz there would be no Sam Adams, nor Sierra, nor Goose Island etc.

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  65. First of all, I love the blog.

    While most of your choices seem on point, I think you’ve missed the mark when it comes to Belgian beer.

    You’re elevating Duvel’s influence above the Westmalle Tripel, but in fact Duvel was a dark colored beer until the 70′s, when its recipe was changed to more closely resemble the Westmalle. Westmalle Tripel is the original strong, golden, well-attenuated Belgian ale.

    Westmalle Dubbel absolutely needs to be on this list as well, as does Saison Dupont. Saisons can be all over the map, but to whatever degree it can be understood as a coherent style it is due to the defining influence of Dupont. Here in the states where saisons are the trend, they are always dry, light-colored, medium alcohol, yeast-driven beers in the dupont mold.

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