Jessica Nash

In this column, we celebrate the best beers our writers have ever enjoyed. But it’s not just about the beer: it’s often just as much about the who, where, or when.

Heady Topper is a great beer. A damned great beer, even, as evidenced by the seemingly myriad lists and articles that have put it at or near the top of the craft beer heap. What makes The Alchemist’s renowned double IPA my favorite beer, though, isn’t even the liquid itself -- rather, it’s the circumstances surrounding my experience drinking the beverage for the first time.

I was back down in Knoxville, Tennessee, visiting a few friends with whom I’m close enough to call family. A buddy of theirs had brought back a couple of cans, and Joe -- one of the two whose house I was staying in -- had saved me one.

“I knew you’d appreciate this,” he said as he handed me the can, explaining its providence. “This is yours.”

I requested that he take first sip -- and though he tried to defer, eventually relented. We toasted; he tasted he passed it to me, before I passed it to the next person and so on, the beer making its way around the glass dining room table before us. Each sip was slow; measured. We all seemed to know --if only by reputation -- what was before us. We talked about it, sharing stories of other beers, of other fond memories.

There’s nothing that I can say about this imperial IPA that hasn’t been said before. Even at eight percent ABV, it’s incredibly smooth, and practically massages your taste buds with its beautiful citrusy flavors. The finish is clean, and leaves you wanting more. What made it special for me, though, were the people I shared it with.

Drinking, for me, is a social activity. Sure, the beer would’ve been great anywhere -- but it would’ve just been a great beer. Instead, the memory is imbued not just with the ephemeral flavors on my palate, but of the people I drank it with, the delicious food we tasted together, the jokes we cracked, and the stories we told that night.