Anyone who was alive and sentient during the era will tell you the 1990s were a thrilling time for music. Electronic and hip-hop were experiencing their first groundswells of popularity and the Seattle-bred grunge scene was taking over MTV, with that genre ultimately giving way to ‘90s alternative, a style defined largely by straightforward guitars, intellectual inventiveness and a generally non-conformist spirit.
Naturally, alternative became one of the most popular genres of the decade, splintering off into a variety of styles and sounds, ranging from straightforward angsty guitar to computer-made beats to goofy surfer rock and punk pop jams.
Here we match nine beers to nine 90s alternative classics, for maximum listening/drinking pleasure.
Troegs Sunshine Pilsner (4.5% ABV)
Released in June of 1996, Beck’s sophomore LP Odelay had the perpetual sunshine of Beck Hanson’s hometown of Los Angeles all over it, from the iconic grunged out guitar riff from the album’s lead track “Devil’s Haircut” to the shambling organ-infused intro on slack rap classic “Where It’s At.” Critically beloved upon its release (it won the 1997 Grammy for Alternative Album of the year), Odelay remains both highly accessible and deceptively complex, with elements of hip-hop, rock, and more than two dozen samples all aggregated into final product that has been consistently listed as on of the best albums of the decade.
Troegs Sunshine Pilsner is also bright, light, and surprisingly complicated given its straightforward golden hue. Pennsylvania-based indie brewery Troegs incorporates a complex array of ingredients into their pils, from specially filtered water to malted barley and subtle, spicy noble hops. Troegs says a brewery is only as good as its pils, and Sunshine, like Odelay, is one to return to again and again.
Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (8.5% ABV)
Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
Alanis Morissette was 21 years old when her career-launching album Jagged Little Pill dropped in 1995. Combining a thick post-grunge guitar sound with an intellectual pop-sensibility, the album seethed with anger and angst, with Morissette spitting out lyrics like “every time I scratch my nails in someone else’s back I hope you feel it” on the hell hath no fury single “You Oughta Know.” Jagged Little Pill won the Grammy for Album Of the Year in 1996, although the man who inspired it all has never been revealed.
Given the lyrics, however, its safe to assume this guy was a total d-bag, which makes Founders Brewing’s Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale the perfect pairing. Made with seven varieties of imported malts, this ruby brown ale is – like so many bad relationships – thick, dark and complicated. With an 8.5% alcohol by volume, it’s also strong enough to ease away the pain of a broken heart.
Borg Brugghús Fjalar Mjöður Nr. 37 (9.6% AB)
When Homogenic dropped in 1997, most listeners were still trying to figure out what exactly Björk was. Forest sprite? Alien geisha? Art pop savant? All of them? The album, her third solo LP, was a sumptuous, intensely feminine aggregation of electronic beats, strings and trip-hop, with singles including “Hunter,” “Bachelorette” and “All Is Full of Love” all pulsing like organic matter under Björk’s alternatively delicate and soaring vocals.
Brewed in her home country of Iceland, Borg Brugghús Fjalar Mjöður Nr. 37 is also a lesson in elegant complexity. Made only in the winter months, this braggot style sparkling mead is a brightly effervescent brew made of honey and barley malt with earthy undertones of green grapes. Fun fact: The name “Fjalar” comes from Norse mythology, which says the dwarf Fjalar, along with his dwarf brother Galar, killed the wise being Kvasir and turned his blood into the mead of poetry, which has since inspired writers to assemble their words.
Revolution Brewing Bottom Up Wit (5% ABV)
No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom
No Doubt blasted out of Orange County, CA with their 1995 album Tragic Kingdom, so named as a take on the OC’s “magic kingdom” of Disneyland. Often credited with helping kick off the ‘90s ska revival, Tragic Kingdom incorporated shredding guitars, heavy drums, undeniable melodies, and Grew Stefani’s punk-inspired vocals into credible and massively popular rock/pop/punk hybrid. The album’s cover featured Stefani triumphantly holding an orange above her head while a few other fly-eaten citruses sit in the corner and the rest of the band hangs out in a fallow orange grove. In 2005, the red dress Stefani wore on this cover was stolen from an exhibition called "The Orange Groove: Orange County's Rock n' Roll History.”
Like Tragic Kingdom, Revolution Brewing’s Bottom Up Wit incorporates a spicy flavor profile and a heavy hit of orange. Running at an utterly drinkable 5% ABV, this beer, like Tragic Kingdom, is highly consumable and wouldn’t be what it is without the heavy citrus influence.
Karbach Big and Bright IPA (6.7% ABV)
Weezer, The Blue Album
Weezer emerged from grunge’s aftermath with an alternative rock sound defined by pop melodies and an intellectually playful sensibility. Produced by The Cars’ Ric Ocasik, The Blue Album was formidably heavy, but traded the darkness of grunge for Southern California-style brightness, loads of surf rock flourishes and huge hooks as heard on singles including “Undone – The Sweater Song” and “Say It Ain’t So.”
Coming out of Houston, Texas, Karbach’s Big and Bright IPA is basically the “Buddy Holly” guitar solo in beverage form. Made from Jester, Citra, and Simcoe hops, a dose of grapefruit rounds out the powerful (yet drinkable!) taste and add an extra punch to a flavor profile that shimmers like the sun on the Pacific. Big and Bright comes in a can too, making it easy to transport to the beach.
Cerebral Brewing Dreamy Thing (6.9% ABV)
Air, Moon Safari
Released in January of 1998, the debut album from French electronic duo air floated in on a cloud of ethereal bass, layers of synth and spatial sound effects. Moon Safari — featuring standout singles “Kelly Watch the Stars,” “All I Need” and its seven minute slow-burn lead track “Le femme d’argent” — was altogether sexy, deep and dreamy, setting the template for the downtempo trend on the musical horizon.
Match this one with Dreamy Thing, from Colorado’s aptly named Cerebral Brewing. This 6.9% ABV saison is fermented in stainless for two months then dry-hopped with Citra, Centennial, and Sterling hops, for a complex and evocative flavor profile that, like its album pairing, is at once light, pleasurable and full of astral depth.
To drink like a true Englishmen,, you have to find an unfussy beer that can be consumed in large quantities while down at the pub with your mates.”
Brouwerij De Dolle Brouwers Stille Nacht (12% ABV)
Fiona Apple, Tidal
There is nothing explicitly nocturnal about Fiona Apple’s 1996 debut album Tidal, but in its heavy mood and mercurial emotions, this one plays like an album for after dark, hours during which one can reflect on all the ways they’ve been wronged and the lovers they’d like to meet. Apple was 20 years old when Tidal was released, although her age defied the thematic and compositional complexity of the work, which included moody hits including “Shadowboxer” and “Criminal,” the latter of which won the 1998 Grammy for Best Female Rock Performance.
Although explicitly a holiday beer, Still Nacht from Belgium’s De Dolle Brouwers, maintains both this nocturnal theme (the name translates to “silent night”) and complex nature. (To wit, Apple also did this lovely cover of “Frosty the Snowman.”) This sweet, dense beer is also similarly heavy, coming in at a whopping 12% ABV.
Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale (5% ABV)
Oasis, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Released in the fall of 1995, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? catapulted Oasis and its Manchester-born and often feuding brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher from indie act to worldwide rock sensation. A masterpiece of the Britpop era, the album is best known best for enduring singles “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” but is a true long player, filled out from start to finish with raucous rock guitar and massive anthems that found arena audiences around the world triumphantly singing along with their lighters raised high.
To drink like a true Englishmen, (the Gallagher brothers were legendarily boozy), you have to find an unfussy beer that can be consumed in large quantities while down at the pub with your mates. For this there’s Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, which also comes out of Manchester. Drink up.
Spoetzl Brewery Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager (4.9% ABV)
Pearl Jam, Ten
Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut album Ten was released in the groundswell of grunge, helping set off a musical and cultural revolution that dealt in heavy guitar riffs, flannel and angst. With hit singles including “Even Flow,” “Jeremy” and “Black,” the album was instrumental in popularizing alternative rock in the mainstream while also exploring sensitive themes including depression, suicide, loneliness, and homelessness. In the last 26 years, the album has sold a cool ten million copies and remains Pearl Jam’s most commercially successful album.
Like Ten, Spoetzl Brewery Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager maintains both a dark complexity and mass appeal. While pitch black in color, a taste of the lager reveals its sweet essence, with flavors of coffee, malt and chocolate. At 4.9% ABV, it’s also deceptively light given its dark color.