Food & Wine

From Firestone Walker to Lost Abbey, a personal list of California's best beers

Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram
The Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale gets custom-blended in a new form each year.

In honor of my 25th column for the Town Crier, I thought it would be fun to share my top 25 California-brewed beers.

As with any such list, it’s quite personal, and I will likely leave off many readers’ favorites. For one, my tastes skew more toward dark, barrel-aged beers and sour brews than toward IPAs. There are a few hoppy beers on the list, but world-famous Pliny the Elder does not make my top 25, though other Russian River brews do. Most of these beers are released at least once per year.

I’ve provided the dates of past columns that mention some of my chosen beers. All 24 of my previous columns, including discussion of more than 70 California-brewed beers, are searchable on the Town Crier website at and are linked from the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club website at Perhaps the remainder of the brews on the list will serve as inspiration for future columns.

Firestone Walker dominates the list with five beers, while Russian River, Lost Abbey and Ballast Point also have multiple entries. A whopping eight of 25 beers are brewed in San Diego County, while three (Mission Creek, Clandestine and Santa Clara Valley) are brewed right here in Santa Clara County.

The top beer on my list is Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale, an annual release of a blend of the brewery’s other beers. The series began in 2006 on Firestone Walker’s 10th anniversary, so the most recent release is XVIII from 2014, a blend of nine brews (including Parabola, Velvet Merkin and Wookey Jack from the list below) created by a panel of more than a dozen brewmasters. The beer pours deep brown with ruby highlights and a dense tan head, and the aroma is a complex blend of bourbon, vanilla, dark cocoa, black currant and toasted oak. Even with a year of aging, the booziness of the 13 percent ABV brew is still prominent. Dark fruit and roasted malts stand out on the palate, followed by a bright hint of citrusy hops before the bourbon notes return for a smooth, long-lasting, warming finish. XIX Anniversary Ale is scheduled to be released on Halloween.

I hope you enjoy the list, and feel free to let me know your favorites at [email protected]

1. Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale

2. Russian River Framboise for a Cure

3. Lost Abbey Angel’s Share Bourbon Barrel Aged

4. Fifty Fifty Eclipse Imperial Stout (I like all the varieties but the Evan Williams barrel-aged version is my favorite)

5. The Bruery Smoking Wood Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged

6. Russian River Consecration (June 2013)

7. Firestone Walker Double DBA (February 2015)

8. Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa (September 2014)

9. Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Bigfoot Barleywine

10. Moylan’s Hop Craic XXXX IPA

11. Stone Fyodor’s Classic Imperial Russian Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels

12. Port Brewing Shark Attack Double Red Ale (January 2014)

13. Russian River Row 2, Hill 56 Pale Ale

14. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA

15. Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA

16. Russian River Supplication (April 2014)

17. Monkey Paw Brewing I5 Black IPA with toasted coconut and Himalayan sea salt

18. Firestone Walker Parabola

19. Mission Creek Solely Citra Pale Ale (July 2015)

20. Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter with coffee & vanilla

21. Santa Clara Valley Electric Tower IPA (September 2013)

22. Clandestine Murph’s Shenanigans Brown Ale with coffee & vanilla (July 2014)

23. Knee Deep Brewing Citra Extra Pale Ale (June 2013)

24. Alesmith Old Numbskull Barleywine

25. Firestone Walker Velvet Merkin (February 2015)

Derek Wolfgram is chief operating officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which welcomes new and experienced beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit

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