Think you love craft beer? Think you could taste more than three dozen brews per week and separate the magical from the "meh"? That's exactly what Jon Richards, a Cicerone Certified Beer Server at The Growler Station in Greenville, S.C., does in order to educate others for a living.
Richards, who claims he eschewed beer until the age of 25, when he consumed his first pint of craft suds, told ABC News that the best part of his job is helping others discover something new.
"That moment, when you see someone's eyes light up, like, 'Hey, this is really good!' is one of the best feelings," he said.
In honor of National Beer Day, he offered to share 10 of the best beers you probably haven't heard of, but should definitely try. So take a gander at his list and see if you don't develop a thirst.
|Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout|
"Anderson Valley specializes in reasonable-strength beer, and they coaxed a boatload of flavor out of a beer which won't leave you wondering where your bedroom went," said Richards. "It has a huge oak-and-bourbon aroma, but don't be deceived; the flavor comes in with toffee, caramel and vanilla, and then dries out with wood and a touch of charcoal smokiness on the finish. Look for the turkey on the label."
|Thirsty Dog Wulver|
"This happens to be a leading candidate for the best BBA beer ever made," he said. "It lives in bourbon barrels for a solid 11 months, and the recipe is specifically made by Thirsty Dog for bourbon barrel aging. It doesn't do anything else, and it shouldn't. It has a big aroma full of molasses and bourbon, a big caramel-y, malty, sweet body with something more than a touch of vanilla, and a long, burnt, caramelized sugar finish. It's a very sweet beer, but manages to stay well shy of cloying. A masterpiece."
|Sierra Nevada/Russian River Brux|
"This one seems to bring everyone to tears," said Richards. "A collaboration between brewers of this auspiciousness ought to be magnificent, and it measures up to expectations. Hugely carbonated, and with the unmistakable funk of Brettanomyces yeast, it's hard to mistake it for anything but a wild yeast beer, but it has an array of flavors and aromas competing for, and often winning, your attention. Fresh pear and apple fruitiness; grassy, floral aromas like a spring meadow, and those signature barnyard aromas all play a part to complement a dry, effervescent, tart and light bodied brew. Substitute at will for champagne on New Year's Eve."
|Goose Island Pepe Nero|
Richards calls this one a "bit of a style-bender." According to him, it "looks like a stout, and it tastes a bit like a stout, but it doesn't feel like a stout. Nuts in the aroma and roasted malt on the palate finish with a peppery, dry finish and just enough earthiness to remind you that this is a saison at heart. It pairs magnificently with food. Lots of food. Red meat or pork off the grill is amazing here, but the revelation is with grilled or roasted vegetables. If you find a good baked -- or especially, fried -- Brussels sprouts salad, go for it!"
|Caldera Hopportunity Knocks|
"This beer is a revelation of hop aroma and flavor," he said. "At a respectable IPA strength of 6.8 percent, they managed to cram 100 IBUs into this beauty. Mingled floral and citrus aromas greet you, and the beer follows suit, adding a light-bodied but persistently sweet maltiness to keep the hops in check. This one brought a little tear to my eye, which is fairly rare these days."
"Maybe you've heard of Dugana, maybe you haven't. It seems to be Maharaja's less-well-known brother, but it's equally worth checking out," said Richards. "Much more pine, spruce and forest flavors than its big brother, and a big, earthy, dank, hop aroma to boot. A round, smooth maltiness does not overpower the dry, hoppy finish, and the earthiness lingers." He recommends paring it with big cheddars and earthy Swiss, and creamy pasta dishes with Italian sausage or pancetta.
|Dogfish Head Piercing Pilsner|
"For those who are still holding out against pilsners, stop it," said Richards. "Go get one of these ... now! The signature, fresh, floral aroma of Saaz hops, and the soft, clean, smooth maltiness of a Czech-style pilsner are all here on center stage, but playing around them and stealing the show like Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are the aroma and light touch of sweetness from the pear tea and juice. Light-bodied, and amazingly crisp and refreshing, let this beer help you through a warm spring day."
|Thomas Creek Conduplico Immundus Monachus (Latin for The Double Dirty Monk)|
This double Belgian-style porter is a rich, chocolate-y, "slightly fruity, Belgian dark with a fairly substantial hop backbone to keep the sweetness from getting out of order," said Richards. "Lighter drinking than you'd probably expect, but rich and satisfying enough for a cold night by a fire. If you can get your hands on a bottle, you won't be disappointed."
|Brewery 85 Sweet Tea Sour|
"The first sour offering for this brewery uses a South Yeast Labs wild saison yeast for fermentation, and it's quite a pleasant surprise," said Richards. "It really does taste like sweet tea with lemon. And I'm not talking about some of the cotton candy-sweet teas that show up in some of our diners or fast-food drive-thru lanes; I mean something much closer to an Arnold Palmer. The aroma from the centennial hops really sticks the landing on creating a tea aroma, as well."
|Quest Kermesse Pumpkin Saison|
"Quest has not disappointed with their offerings, and the brewmaster’s pumpkin recipes are legendary," he said. "This beer is no exception. A lightly sweet and meaty pumpkin flavor settles in first, followed by a dry, earthy, yeasty finish, but the pumpkin flavor manages to hold on into the aftertaste and leave nutmeg and pumpkin pie flavor before it's done with you. Naturally, only available near a pumpkin themed holiday of your choice."