Gang Of 5

There are 2,697 beers on our walls--representing every conceivable flavor, style, and geographic region in the world. How do we winnow down 2,697 beers to the top ten across our entire 21 store chain? Enter American Idol, the reality TV show. Everyone wants to be a star but, let's face it, only a few make the cut. Same with beer. To discover the top ten beers and rate them one through ten we held auditions (or tastings). Beers from Boston to Belgium were invited onto our stage to perform, so to speak, as they were opened, poured, smelled, sipped, examined, debated, and ultimately voted on by The Gang of Five --an impartial tasting panel of five Binny's beer experts who share a passion for great beer . Our ratings are based on appearance, aroma, taste, mouth feel, drinkability, and value. The following list represents the best of the best, but with dozens of new beers coming in every week, expect changes every time you visit this blog. If you don't agree with our top ten list, stop crying in your beer. Tell us and fellow beer lovers across the country what makes your top ten list.

Bell's Hopslam
Brewed by: Bells Brewery, Inc.
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Style: Imperial/Double IPA, 10% ABV
Price: $15.99/6pk-12oz, $63.96/case of 4
Bell's Hopslam is the nectar of the Gods and, with all due respect to Budweiser, the true king of beers. This beer has the highest ABV (Alcohol by Volume) out of any beer in our top ten. Everyone had a sense of the moment, particularly Ted Sullivan, Binny's beer buyer and a tough guy to impress. When Katie Coggins, the beer manager of Binny's south loop, smelled and tasted a hint of strawberries, there were amens around the table. She also mentioned that the strawberries come through even more as the beer warms up. For Anthony Gerdt, beer manager of Binny's Glen Ellyn, the lack of a malt presence was disappointing, which caused the hop head in me to cast the evil eye. It's still a glorious celebration of hops without being overly bitter, according to Anthony. Dave Armanetti, the beer sommelier at the wine bar in Binny's south loop, pointed out that not many bittering hops were used in the beer. Dave also noted the oily nature of the beer and compared Hopslam to Dogfish head 90 minute IPA, but without the big residual sugar that the 90 minute IPA has. One thing we all seemed to agree on was the incredible drinkability this beer has for a 10% ABV double IPA. Ted called the beer scary because the alcohol was non-existentin fact, he thinks the beer may be too drinkable. Take my word for it, I have experienced this beer before, and Ted is on the money. Whether you are looking to be punched in the face by hops, or looking for a nice citrusy, floral beer, you will love this brew. Note: Many Binny's are starting to run out of Hopslamso get it while you can! To check on availability at a Binny's near you, please email me at

Ola Dubh (16 Year Old)
Brewed by: Harviestoun Brewery Ltd.
Alva, United Kingdom (Scotland)
Style: Old Ale, 8% ABV
Price: $7.99/ 11.2Z btl, $191.76/ case of 24
If you are a fan of scotch whiskey, then this beer is for you. It is the first ale to be aged in malt whiskey casks from a named distillery (Highland Park), and you can actually trace the casks from which your particular beer came because each bottle is numbered. Dave poured it up and immediately everyone agreed that it offered a smoky and chocolate bouquet. Anthony loves smoky beers, and Old Dubh has a distinctive Highland Park smokiness. I detected a delightful slight sweetness from the whiskey. Although this beer is complex, some of the flavors were pretty straightforward. Everyone tasted chocolate, figs, and smokeeven liquorish and caramel. There was something for everyonewith Dave not only picking up light whiskey but also smoked Gouda. Among the five of us, Dave has a sixth sense for exotic and unusual tastes and aromas. (You heard right.) Although Dave thought the beer and smoked Gouda cheese would have been a match made in heaven, for Ted, a cigar aficionado, the moment called for a big cigar. The bottom line: This is one of the best barrel aged beers available in the Midwest.

Thiriez Blonde
Brewed by: Brasserie Thiriez
Esquelbecq, France
Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale, 6% ABV
Price: $8.99/ 750ml btl, $107.88 case of 12

Next time you want to spend $120 on a bottle of Dom Perignon, save yourself $111 and give this beer a try! Thiriez Blonde is a stellar beer if you are searching for something carbonated and easy on the palate like great Champagne. Anthony raved about the beer's nose, calling it one of the best he's ever experienced, with its lemon grass, spicy and grassy hops, and a crisp green pepper quality. The taciturn Ted even gushed and asked for more. Katie correctly noted its above average and very seductive carbonation. The resident hop expert, Dave, claimed that noble hops were giving this beer its herbal tones, while saaz hops were providing the kick. As a food pairing, you can't do better. Ted touted cold cuts and cheese while Katie said it had been a big hit when she served this last Thanksgiving. The conversation turned to the aging of beers as Anthony pondered what impact aging would have on Thiriez Blonde. Anthony advocated aging on the grounds that it would mellow out some of the hops. He didnt find much support from the group though, as we were pretty skeptical about aging a 6% ABV beer of this style. This beer is the best example of the saison style that I have experienced. If you are a fan of pricey French Champagne, you need to uncork a bottle of Thiriez Blonde.

Hop Rod Rye
Brewed by: Bear Republic Brewing Co.
Healdsburg, California
Style: Imperial/Double IPA, 8% ABV
Price: $4.99/22oz btl, $57.99/case of 12

Dave poured this one up from a 22 oz bottle with a flashy hot rod on the label. Before there was any conversation from the group, I read the description on the side of the bottle. Hop Rod Rye is a high performance, turbo charged, alcohol burnin monster ale with dual overhead hop injection, made with 18% rye. How good does that sound? I asked as I read the description off the side of the bottle. Anthony said it smells like an American beer, while Dave agreed that is smells and tastes like a classic West Coast IPA. Ted mentioned that he didnt really taste the hops in this beer, and Anthony was quick to agree. The other three of us disagreed. I could definitely taste the hops, and they are the main reason why I think this beer is off the charts. Dave commented that the assertive hop bitterness is balanced by a rye spiciness and dark fruit, and mentioned that the finish is hop dominated. Katie agreed that the spice from the rye comes through, and the finish is all about the hops. Ted said he could barely detect the rye, but it was definitely there. I agreed with Ted; although it is faint, the rye is definitely in the taste. Anthony thinks this would be a nice change of pace if you like American IPAs. But he also noted that if your looking for a primarily rye beer, Founders Reds Rye, Two Brothers Cane & Ebel, or Goose Islands Mild Winter might be better suited for you. Ted mentioned that he would like to drink this beer aged, while I disagreed. Who thinks hoppy beers should be drunk as fresh as possible? I asked the group. Everyone raised their hands except Ted. Ted believes in aging hoppy beers because once the hops fade, the other ingredients shine through.

Boont Amber Ale
Brewed by: Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Boonville, California
Style: Amber Ale, 5.8% ABV
Price: $10.99/6pk-12oz, $42.99/ c