Like making a year-end list of best records, creating a list of one’s favorite is a silly yet necessary exercise. Silly because who really cares? Necessary because everybody’s doing it. In no particular order, here are beers that were either released this year, discovered by me this year, or finally made sense to me this year. I apologize upfront for the IPA-heavy list. I’m a hop head and have trouble remembering what I thought about most sours, stouts, Saisons, etc.
Trappist Westvleteren 12
I’ve had Westy before, but it was a small sample at the end of an evening of craft beer debauchery. My bother “won” one of those lottos just to get a chance to buy and $85 six pack. He shared as family is wont to do over the holiday. Half a bottle was more than enough for me to fully appreciate what many consider to be the best beer in the world. I don’t know about all of that or even if it’s the best Belgian quad, but it’s very very good.
Goose Island King Henry
This may have been released in 2011, but we never saw it locally. One evening in Lincoln, Nebraska at an excellent pizza joint offered me the opportunity to try this magnificent beast.
Bells Black Note Stout
I should not have had a glass of this beer, but I did. A sample was sneaked to me as I had to leave a Bells dinner. Imagine the molasses-fueled deliciousness of Expedition, mixed with the sweetness of a milk stout, and brewed in bourbon barrels. Even then, you can’t imagine how glorious this beer tasted.
Three Floyds Zombie Dust
I love me some APA’s but this one is on another level. So much Citra. So good.
Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA
Specially released IPA’s from Stone are all over my list. This one featured an amped-up version of what was my epiphany beer, if that was even possible… Of course it was! This was as good a tribute as any brewery has ever brewed.
Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA
I actually preferred this one to the September version. It’s possible this one was fresher, but both were consumed well before their best by dates. The idea of a ridiculously fresh IPA is nothing new, but this release made it a priority. There’s no way one of these will ever sit on shelves too long. I hope they continue to brew Best By IPA’s.
Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek (2008)
Obviously, this beer was not from this year, but I finally opened it and was glad I did. No one does lambics and sours like Cantillon. Probably no other more obvious sentence has ever been uttered regarding beer. Lou Pepe was no exception. I suspect the aging altered the beer, but I doubt I wouldn’t have loved it a couple of years ago.
This one is on the brain as I just picked up the latest release of this great Smokestack Series brew. I always liked this beer but never really got it until this year. I don’t know whether that’s trying so many inferior rye beers or just the ongoing development of my palate, but it’s so rich and so good. Aside from Boulevard’s Saison Brett (another all-time favorite that could make this list every year), this is one of the true Missouri craft beer treasures.
The Bruery 5 Golden Rings
I stumbled upon one of these at a Whole Paycheck the day before Xmas Eve and figured it would make the perfect Xmas dinner drink. And it did. No one outside of these guys and Stillwater consistently make beers that go better with food. I was lucky I paced myself of this one would have put me under the table.
Broadway Brewery Columbus Single Hop IPA
Never in my wildest dreams would I have figured a beer brewed here in Columbia, MO would make a list like this, but this one stacks up. I’m sure the freshness factor comes into play here, but I dragged a growler nine hours to Ohio, another three to Cleveland – all of it in a cooler that was probably not properly chilled and a growler that was not properly filled to the top – and the beer survived. Hell, it did better than survive. It was downright delicious.
Odell The Meddler Oud Bruin
I had nearly given up on Odell’s special releases, but this one was decently priced and I like to try anything new in this style. The beer was beautiful from appearance to aroma to the all-important flavors within. It paired well with whatever I was eating that night. This beer renewed my faith in Odell.
Schlafly Tasmanian IPA (TIPA)
Schlafly has been experimenting with different varieties of hops, mostly through special keg-only releases and cask ale. Still, this one was a nice little surprise. It’s one of those beers that nails the hoppiness hop heads are always after, causing us to want to drink one after the other.
Millstream Great Pumpkin Imperial Stout
This is how pumpkin ale should be done. Screw the pumpkin pie and sour varieties. Put your pumpkin in an imperial stout or Baltic porter! As an imperial stout, it’s not my favorite. However, it made me rethink pumpkin beers just as I was writing them off.
Treble Kicker Beer New Slang Saison
My own Saison is easily one of my favorites. I upped the ante with this year’s version for my partner’s tenure celebration. More lemon zest and rosemary = a punch in the face Saison that is not playing around. Add in some dry-hopped Sorachi Ace hops and you have a lemon bomb/balm that needs to brewed again and soon.
Stone 16th Anniversary IPA
This one was met with many mixed reviews, but I loved the twist this one offered some lemon verbena and rye-induced spice that made for one of the more interesting/surprising beers this year.
Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA
Why isn’t the white/wheat IPA more popular? Because no one wants to take on Deschutes’ hold on hoppy beers. No one hops a beer like Deschutes. No one.
Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale
This was my beer of the summer. Refreshingly hoppy goodness in a can carried me through record-setting heat, including a 30-mile bike ride.
Green Flash Rayon Vert
I’m not sure how long this beer has been around, but it made its first appearances in middle-Missouri earlier this year and I’m sure glad it did. Another twist on the IPA (this time with Belgian love), Rayon Vert became the “heavy” beer of summer.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said before about Stillwater’s excellence. I could put any of their beers on this list every year. Still, this one made its debut in 2012 and I for one welcome it to the best lineup of Saisons this side of Belgium.
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
The Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale continues to dig out a niche in craft beer and Firestone’s entry is no different than the best of the style.
Deschutes Chasin’ Freshies
Did I mention Deschutes’ mastery of the hop. This fresh-hopped IPA and its fresh-hopped APA cousin (Hop Trip) do what fresh/wet-hopped beers are supposed to: capture the essence of Dionysus’ underwear… or something like that.
Mikkeller Royal Rye Wine
Most of the Mikkeller releases I enjoyed this year were not all that new to me. However, the experience surrounding the Royal Rye Wine made this possibly the most memorable beer of the year. Read more about it here.
What did I forget? What would you add? Disagree or agree with any of these?
In no particular order, here are my ten favorite beers of the year. A few are new for 2011 and some were just new to the market in which I live (Missouri). What did I miss? Are there better examples from the following breweries or of the following styles? Discuss in the comments. Warning: There’s a whole lotta Miekkeller and Stillwater in this list.
Mikkeller Black Imperial Stout – I love the ultra-boozy, thick imperial stout. You know, the kind that is sold in 12 oz. (or Euro equvialent 11.2 oz.) that costs more than many six-packs and bombers. The ABV is obscene and they’re good now or after a couple of years in the cellar. This entry into the sub-style from Mikkeller is astoundingly good. It’s all I can do to keep myself from cleaning the shelves around town of the monster in a bottle. My bank account appreciates it, but my stomach and tongue glare at me with resentment.
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout – Another huge imperial stout that is maybe the most hyped beer of all-time. Hyperbole aside, this beer lived up to the hype. It’s a mouthful as the maple syrup, coffee, oak, and all the things one would expect from a Founders imperial stout are there. I feel lucky to have tried CBS on tap and still have a bottle to save for later.
The Bruery Black Tuesday – A glass of this fantastic beer crossed my lips at the same event that provided my portion of CBS. More in the vein of Mikkeller’s Black, Black Tuesday is a gigantic imperial stout. Howevern, unlike Black that comes in a bottle more appropriate for a single serving, this Goliath comes in 750 mL bottles, meant to be shared with a group. Still, I lucked out by being in the right place at the right time and got to try this beast next to the one above. Life’s good for the beer geek.
Anchorage Bitter Monk – Moving on from imperial stouts, a surprising arrival showed up in stores this year. Anchorage makes what is one of the more complexly interesting beers I’ve had in a long time. The huge hop presence of a DIPA is balanced with chardonnay barrel-aging and even Brettanomyces… basically a dream beer. Despite its relatively high price point, I’ve noticed this beer doesn’t hang out on shelves for long.
Stillwater/Mikkeller Two Gypsies Our Side – Another beer that finds a way to bring piney hops to the farmhouse, making this hybrid style a sure thing to be cloned over and over in the coming year. Where Bitter Monk relies more heavily on the barrel aging and Brett, this beer keeps it simple but still strikes a chord with the beer nerd in search of a complex, challenging experience.
New Belgium La Terroir – A third, less-intense version of the IPA/Saison hybrid is New Belgium’s La Terroir. Technically, none of these beers really fits a style, but they highlight the best of the Saison/Farmhouse/wild end as well as capitalizing on the resinous hoppiness we all love in our IPA’s. This third in the hybrid group of beers on my list is more of a barrel-aged wild ale with the peachy presence of an Amarillo and Cascade dry-hop.
Stillwater/Mikkeller Rauchstar – Second Stillwater/Mikkeller brew on my list is also another hybrid beer. This beer also happened to just slide into the top-10 as it was consumed the day after Xmas. Yes, it’s a smoked beer, but it’s also highly hopped and there’s that Stillwater tang that’s unmistakable. Really, this was a shockingly good beer that I wished I had more of. Plus, the label is pretty wicked.
Odell Friek – I’ve really learned to appreciate Kriek Lambics and the like over the last year, especially when paired with chocolate. This one delivered and has made a brief return to our market right at the end of the year. It’s very welcome. My previous experience with Odell’s Woodcut series did not end well and I have another of their beers I’ve been advised to wait out. Still, when they do it right, I still have to give them credit. Friek is a freak of a good beer.
Firestone Walker Double Jack DIPA – I realize that this is far from a new beer for most beer enthusiasts, but it was new to our little market this year and very welcome. While some will go more for the bigger, richer, oakier varieties of beer, but this DIPA is exceptional. The only thing that may challenge it is their Union Jack IPA which just arrived.
Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA – Another welcomed sight on the shelves and coolers here was Stone. Then, they came correct with their 15th anniversary ale, a big, hoppy double black IPA. Really, this beer was phenomenal and has extended the legend of the black IPA.
No, this is not a list of the twelve worst beers I’ve had this year. I won’t do that. What I will do is put together a cheap post, a list of my last twelve beers as a way to fill some space. Think of it as the twelve beers of this Christmas or something. Some of these I’ve had and might have reviewed somewhere, but I thought I’d look back and see what I’ve enjoyed recently*. Of course, most of these happened on Sunday at a beer geek holiday party, but they still count…
Parabola Russian imperial stout by Firestone Walker Brewing Company – Sycamore, a favorite place to get a beer and a fine meal was hosting a Firestone Walker beer dinner. I didn’t get tickets, but I was able to score a seat for my daughter and I. We ate pork belly sliders, their special salad (soft boiled egg, bacon, etc.), smoked trout belly, and their famous Parmesan fries. I washed all that down with this beer. At 13%, it was the only beer I could safely drink in order to get my kid home in time for bed. It’s a huge and intense flavor experience, but it’s plenty drinkable now and should be out of this world in a year or two.
Fuego del Otono by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales - We had guests over for dinner. My wife makes this pumpkin soup where she bakes it inside a Long Island cheese pumpkin and we scoop out pulp with the broth and melted Gruyere. Somehow the brown ale I chose to pair was not going to make the cut. So, I quickly chilled this Jolly Pumpkin. The nuttiness, spices, and slight tartness played well with the soup.
Double Bastard by Stone Brewing Company - This one was served before dinner for a couple of bastards (myself included). I’ve always had an interest in drinks named “bastard” ever since I had my first Miserable Bastard at the bar around the corner from my college apartment. I like to pretend when I drink this beer that it’s what the regular Arrogant Bastard used to taste like before we all became acclimated to such big beers.
Firestone 15 (XV) Anniversary Ale byFirestone Walker Brewing Company - I was lucky enough to get a nice sample of this beer which should age nicely. I still have several bottles in my possession at the moment, but one is promised to a friend. This means that I either have one to sell or trade or I’ll drink it over the holiday with friends and age another for the future. Either way, I feel pretty lucky to have any and to have tasted it already. Did I mention that it’s pretty incredible already?
N’Ice Chouffe by Brasserie d’Achouffe (Duvel Moortgat) - After a while, I feel all these great Belgian beers – seasonal or not – begin to all taste the same. Of course they don’t really and of course this is not a bad thing. My underdeveloped tongue for Belgian beers just struggles to differentiate. This one was nice. I don’t remember anything that set it apart particularly. Plus, it was in the midst of a decent haul for a Sunday afternoon.
4 Calling Birds by The Bruery - I love The Bruery. This one was interesting. Unlike the one above, it stuck out as a Belgian style beer. However, I sensed a lot more clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, you know, Christmas spices. Still, it didn’t quite stand up to the actual Belgian beer. Had I consumed it alone, I might think differently. Of course, I’d drink this over 97% of the holiday beers out there. So, there’s that. (On a side note, this holiday get-together included a Yankee Swap. I walked off with a Cuir from The Bruery. I can’t wait for the perfect occasion to crack this baby open.)
Wytchmaker Rye IPA by Jester King Craft Brewery - I was very excited to try this beer as I have been reading for months about all the cool beers they’re brewing. It didn’t disappoint. Some couldn’t get past the rye, but I thought the rye was almost an afterthought as the tartness and hoppy bitterness shared center stage. I have to find a way to try more of these beers.
Doodle Dubbel by Doodle Brewing - So, the great thing about craft beer – like punk rock 25-30 years ago – is that anyone can brew beer. The bad thing about craft beer – also like punk rock – is that anyone can brew beer. I’ll just leave it at that.
Harvest wheat wine (2009 vintage) by Boulevard Brewing Co. - This beer came out two year ago. I hated it two years ago, but I still had an unopened bottle. So, I cellared it. Time passed by and I couldn’t find the appropriate time to pull it out of the cellar until the holiday party happened. I was considering contributions and noticed that the best by date was 10/10. I figured we might as well open it now. There’s no shame in pouring a beer down the drain…but we didn’t have to. In fact, this beer mellowed a ton and was well worth the wait. Sweet and smooth, nothing like I remembered it. It makes me rethink my dislike of the wheat wine altogether.
Winter Ale by Petrus - OK.
Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Company - I don’t know about a pumpkin ale, but this tasted more like a huge barley wine. I didn’t really sense much pumpkin at all. It’s so malty and sweet. I wish I was able to get my hands on some for aging purposes. Oh well. Can’t win them all. Still, I got to try some and it’s a nice barley wine – forget the pumpkin angle.
*Honestly, since I started this post, I’ve had a couple of other beers. One was the Shmaltz/Terrapin collab Reunion ’11. It was better than I remembered. There are moments when it’s spicy and others when the chocolate hits. It’s a very nice beer that I wouldn’t turn down. The other was one of my 90 Minute IPA‘s I have lying around, but I want to say more about it in another post. So, it will have to wait.
So, Thursday was International Stout Day. I’ve been cutting back, so I had no stout (or any beer for that matter) on Thursday. However, as one blogger put it, I was “pre-loaded for the holiday.” Instead of having a stout on ISD, I enjoyed what might be the most hyped stout of the year: Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout.
Yes, I already have a bottle. There’s some debate out there as to when is the best time to crack open said bottle. I planned to open mine at some point before the end of the year. Now, I won’t have to as I’ve had a glass-worth of the beer and now I can age it away in my cellar. And there’s good reason…
Our best beer bar is located in a restaurant called Sycamore. Sycamore hosts the most incredible beer dinners. Wednesday’s affair featured Founders and their lineup of badass beers. The night featured a firkin of Harvest Ale and, more importantly, a keg of the highly sought after Canadian Breakfast Stout, or “CBS” as the beer nerds call it.
Anyway, for $10, I received a glass of CBS. It was too cold at first, so I warmed it as best I could while sipping slowly. There’s tons of bourbon, but I was surprised to taste so much coffee in this beer. Had it not been for the oak, bourbon, and thick, syrupy mouthfeel, I could have sworn it was Founders Breakfast Stout and not the CBS. Still, this was a sticky mess of a beer. The sweetness from the maple syrup was almost overwhelming. I felt my mouth and hands were sticky in the same way the are during a pancake dinner when I was a kid.
The beer was lot to handle with all that stickiness and the inevitable heat from all that alcohol. However, as is typical of the North American beer geek, this hot, sticky mess was a glorious drink to behold. So, we drank it all in one evening, picking apart what may be a top-5 beer for anyone.
Like I said, I’ll hold onto my bottle of the liquid gold. My wife wants me to sell on eBay for a $100, but I could never do that. First, I want to see what it tastes like after being aged a bit. Second, I don’t know that this beer – nor any beer – is really worth $100. It was good. I don’t regret the $10 I paid for my glass, but no one should have to pay $100 for a beer.
After we were all nearly done with the CBS, a beer club member pulled out a Black Tuesday from The Bruery. Now, that beer is a behemoth. Imagine a Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (if you’ve had one) with a huge bourbon and oak presence. Then, imagine that 18% slobber-knocker in a 750 mL bottle. Yeah. Let that sink in for a moment.
So, that’s how I prepped myself for International Stout Day.
I’m starting over with this Monday top-5 list feature. Instead of five random things, I’m going to do an actual top-5 list based on some theme or topic. Some will be beer focused; others will be primarily about music. There might even be room for something else, but every list will make sense.
Argue with me in the comments. However, be aware that these lists are based on my opinions and feelings at that very moment and could change tomorrow.
For this week’s list, I’m listing my top-5 session beers. A session beer, according to Beer Advocate, is a beer that registers at no higher than 5% ABV. This post isn’t intended to question the validity of this definition or to argue the finer points of a session beer. My intention is basically to list five beers that could be enjoyed throughout a period of time with drinking buddies. The idea that there is a huge difference between a 4% and 5% beer is ludicrous and somewhat arbitrary. For the purpose of my list, I’m drawing the line at 5%.
5. Schlafly Kölsch – Honestly, there were some hoppy pilsners and sweet bocks I wanted to include in this list so as to represent all the decent lager alternatives that are out there, but all my favorites don’t meet the 5% standard I set above. So, I’ll go with a Missouri beer in Schlafly’s Kölsch, the closest an ale can get to being summary and lager-like. The beer is a pleasantly crisp, clean drink during the hot Missouri summers.
4. Stone Leviatation Ale – If you want the hops and malt presence of an American IPA/DIPA without drinking yourself under the table, Levitation is the way to go. The bitterness and floral aroma we hopheads crave is there only in a much lighter package. I’m not one who likes to limit a beer to a style, but this one still manages to adhere to the boundaries for an amber without boring me to sleep. This is seriously one of the best hoppy beers you can drink while standing.
3. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere – It’s no secret that I love oddball breweries who tinker with style and fermentation processes to create lovely beers. Jolly Pumpkin is one of my favorite breweries and Bam Biere is a go-to whenever I can find it on tap. Even a 750 mL bottle won’t put me under when a beer like this measures at 4.5% ABV. It’s a dry, earthy Saison that also features a pleasant amount of bitterness. This is a fine example of a beer that can be low in alcohol and big on flavor.
2. The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse – I love what The Bruery does. Aside from Dogfish Head, I’m not sure another brewery makes beer that is more ideal for the dinner table than The Bruery. This beer is an example of the under-brewed style of Berliner Weisse. The Bruery adds lactobacillus and brettanomyces to the beer to attain a certain tartness, but it seems that this may be a departure from more traditional brewing methods of this style. Either way, it’s a beautiful beer and something one can enjoy all day long.
1. New Glarus Wisconsin Red – It’s funny to me to include a “Wisconsin Red” to the list after what transpired this weekend, but I would be an idiot not to include this beer on my list. In fact, Wisconsin Red has a permanent spot on my all-time-favorites list. From the first time I tasted it, I knew that I would always have to have a bottle of this nearly perfect beer in my cellar. Whenever someone heads to Wisconsin, I always ask them to bring me back a bottle. The tartness of the cherries is nailed without the overwhelming presence of cough syrup. It’s light and flavorful, pairs well with all kinds of food…I could go on and on about Wisconsin Red, but I’ll stop there. Maybe I’ll do a proper review when I finally open the bottle I have.
What are the session beers you like most? If you have an issue with my arbitrary definition of a session beer, let me have in the comments.
On a programming note, look for reviews of Eleanor Friedberger watching the World Series, Sebadoh battling me on the Twittersphere, and a post a day for the month of November.
For more on session beers, follow The Session Beer Project.