2013 is gone. It’s never coming back. And sadly, neither are some of the following beers on my best of the year list. I’ve had a lot of good ones, but here are the great ones. (* denotes that the beer is/was available in Wisconsin)
20) Ommegang Fleur de Houblon* (Belgian pale ale/Summer ale. Bottle, 6.8%) A golden-colored brew that smelled exactly like fresh-picked flowers. A huge herbal note was ever-present in this hoppy, highly-carbonated Summer ale. Very easy to drink with a hint of that Belgian yeast that’s common in Ommegang liquid.
19) Firestone Walker Parabola (Russian Imperial stout. Bottle, 13%) Still the best tasting stout on the market for the price tag, without question. A viscous black beer that sucks you in and keeps you there. An intriguing, perfectly balanced stout overall. Consistently awesome. Rumored to be coming to Wisconsin soon…
18) Fremont Bourbon Abominable (Bourbon barrel-aged winter ale. Bottle, 11%) Fremont Brewing became my favorite west coast brewery in 2013. Every offering I tried from them was absolutely stellar. My Seattle hookup really came through for me this year, that’s for sure. Chocolate, oak, and a touch of vanilla with some bourbon warmth noticeable throughout this one. A gem of a bourbon winter ale, without being overly sugary.
17) Beachwood BBQ & Brewing Amalgamator (American IPA. Tap, 7%) Enjoyed on draught from the show floor of the Great American Beer Fest in October. Yet another west coast-derived beer makes the list. A complex, juicy citrus zest with just the right amount of malt backbone made this a big winner for me. Everything an American IPA should be.
16) Half Acre Akari Shogun (Wheat ale. Can, 5.5%) Described as an American Pale Wheat Ale, this is simply a cloudy wheat beer meant for consuming in shockingly large amounts. Finishing a 16oz can comes as natural as blinking and/or breathing. This hazy, medium-bodied brew has a touch of lemongrass and a bit of sweetness, but neither was off-putting. Half Acre makes another winner.
15) Fremont The 1st Nail (Imperial stout. Bottle, 11.5%) A massive oatmeal stout packed with possibly the most discernible flavors in one beer ever. Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, licorice, cinnamon – this beer takes your senses on a rollercoaster ride to enlightenment. As the bottle states: “Pale barley, smoked barley, brewer’s licorice, cinnamon bark, oh my my.”
Indeed. Brewed in honor of a Seattle beer bar called The Pine Box. In a strange twist of coincidences, I met the owner of the Pine Box at Star Bar in Denver during GABF. Best wishes of prosperity to the Pine Box owners in 2014.
14) Bruery Humulus Lager* (Pilsner. Tap, 7.2%) A “double pilsner” – a style that sounds completely ridiculous and should be mocked. However, this imperial bubbly brew was crisp, clean, and showcased what a lager can and should be. Ended with a stellar grassy finish that begged for another sip. Very nice and easy-going on the palate. Bruery has a lot of hits (and some bad misses…), but this was my favorite beer of the year from them.
13) AleSmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout* (Imperial stout. Tap, ?%) When I developed this list, I tried to pick a variety of brews that people would know, were generally available in their respective markets, and not completely obscure. This beer fits zero of the above categories. Thrown on tap at the Rumpus Room in downtown Milwaukee during their initial rollout into our market, this extremely rare brew showcased the dedication of AleSmith’s award-winning brewers to a T. Gigantic coffee-forward aroma. A perfect velvety swirl of chocolate flavor paired with an impeccable roast quality. Ended with a frolic of hops to balance the thick, decadent body. Painstakingly produced by adding cold-brewed exotic Vietnamese coffee during the brewing process (at which point – I forget) – a single 1/6bbl takes an entire day to make correctly. A meticulous, perfect beer that I’d kill a kitten just to have another 10oz pour. And I like kittens.
12) New Glarus Berliner Weiss* (Berliner Weiss. Bottle, ~4%) Finally, a Wisconsin beer makes the list. Is Dan Carey the best brewer in Wisconsin? Yes, yes he is. In America? Maybe. New Glarus Berliner Weiss was my go-to beer this summer, as I probably consumed a case of this sweet, carbonated nectar. A little tart, a little sour, but overall just a great representation of a style that seems to be gaining popularity. No need to pour syrup in this one – it’s perfect as is. Refreshing is an understatement.
11) O’Dell Myrcenary (Double IPA. Bottle, 9.3%) Hops on hops on hops. As I’ve stated previously, this beer is a sticky, resinous grapefruit punch to the face. Myrcene (which I’ll name my daughter, if I ever have one) oil is extracted from the hop to give this brew it’s hopped-up nose and flavor. Finishes clean and the alcohol is very well-hidden. Has always been a favorite of mine, and thus deserves a spot on the list.
10) Saint Arnold Pumpkinator (Pumpkin ale. Tap, 11%) What the hell is a pumpkin/spice/stout concoction doing on this list? Normally I find pumpkin stouts to be a poor idea, but Saint Arnold’s version proved to be pretty good. Sweet without being overly cloying, this brown sugar & cinnamon brew had rich pumpkin flavors paired with a toffee/chocolate note of a big stout. Slightly unbalanced overall, but a fun take on a style I don’t normally find appealing. Had this on tap @ GABF, so I’m struggling to rehash my description of it here. (For what it’s worth, Cigar City’s Good Gourd is still my all-time favorite vegetable beer).
9) Boulevard Tank 7 (Saison. Tap/Bottle, 8.5%) Pours a billowy, foamy white head. Belgian yeast apparent in the aroma. Medium mouthfeel, a bit prickly on the tongue. Golden in color and finishes very dry. Simply put: A perfect farmhouse ale. If you haven’t had this yet, stop reading and figure out how you can procure one immediately.
8) Olde Hickory Event Horizon (Imperial stout. Tap, 8.5%) An extremely rich stout from North Carolina. Had @ GABF – big bourbon wood notes abound in this. Heavy, a bit oily, but very fun. Would eventually like to land a bottle of this to age to see how it changes.
7) Summit Union Series Rebellion Stout* (Foreign Export style stout. Bottle/Tap, 8.5%) Truth be told I don’t normally find Summit to be an exciting brewery. My thoughts on them changed dramatically when I had their new Rebellion stout. A foreign export style double stout that was packed full of molasses, licorice, and some dark fruit notes thrown in for good measure. The beer uses English hops yet somehow ends almost Belgian-y. The brew finishes with a slight hop bite and some astringency, but overall this full-bodied brew is one to seek out if you haven’t yet. You might be pleasantly surprised.
6) Goose Island Gillian* (Wild ale. Bottle, 9.5%) The wild/sour ale craze continues. Described as an ale with strawberries, honey, and white pepper aged in wine barrels, Gillian definitely produced a myriad of flavors. One could easily pick out the strawberry sweetness, touch of honey, and dry pepper finish within the brew. A big saison/champagne-like quality in this one, due to the liquid sleeping in wine barrels for some time. The price tag was difficult to stomach, but the beer itself was worth it. I’d be very interested to see how this one changes over time.
5) Sixpoint 3Beans* (Baltic porter. Can/Tap, 10%) An imperial porter that used 3 different beans (cacao, coffee, and romano) to create a massive, full-bodied brew. A great concept for sure – using an old brewers ingredient in the romano bean to add a bigger mouthfeel to the beer. It was incredible when fresh (early 2013), and the 10% abv was virtually unnoticeable. A beer that almost didn’t happen due to Hurricane Sandy. I’m glad that it did though – loved this one. A labor of love indeed – if you have 15 minutes, watch how it was made: http://youtu.be/vKLRG-eMXgM
4) New Glarus Wild Sour* (Sour. Bottle, 5%) I’ll let the bottle do the talking for me here: Naturally soured by farm valley winds blowing wild yeast into our oak casks. Finally, after a year and a half of patient coaxing Wisconsin dark malts whirl in a kaleidoscope of cedar, caramel, and tart green plum exuberance. Available to the exclusive few who travel off the beaten paths, this is authentic Wisconsin sour brown ale. Truly unique this Sour Ale is brewed for those who live on the wild side and is suitable for laying down or consuming immediately, serve at 40-45 degrees F.
I’ve consumed plenty. As with many New Glarus products, it’s hard to lay them down at all because they taste so perfect immediately.
3) Goose Island Bramble Rye Bourbon County Stout* (Imperial stout. Bottle, 12.7%) Bourbon county stout aged in rye whiskey barrels with added raspberries and blackberries from Michigan. Heavy on the fruit in aroma, with a slight rye dryness in the finish. Earthy and viscous, this beer was perfect. Say what you want about the AB takeover – if the Goose keeps on putting out beers like this, I don’t care if Enron owns them. Drink the beer. It is good.
2) Central Waters Fifteen* (Imperial stout. Bottle, 11%) We’re seeing a trend here with Central Waters anniversary stouts! A colossal, roast-forward stout made with care in little Amherst, Wisconsin. Label notes that Fifteen aged for 28 months in Old Heaven Hill 14 year-old bourbon barrels for their 15th anniversary celebration. Haters like to say that Central Waters stouts have a thin body & don’t stack up to bigger stouts, to which I disrespectfully disagree. Don’t you talk ill of my favorite Wisconsin brewery. I will verbally throw insults at you like a hungry, rabid marmoset. Anxiously awaiting my first trip to CW for their 16th anniversary party in less than 24 days…
1) New Glarus R&D Very Sour Blackberry* (Sour/Lambic. Bottle, 5%) From the handwritten-style label on the 16oz pint bottle:
Fermented and aged in oak barrels – on yeast lies – with Oregon Marion Blackberries. Refermented in this bottle – open with care. This is a Wild, Funky Sour Beer! Brewed Nov. 2010 Bottled Aug. 2013.
Beer pours a brilliant purple hue with a delicate pink head. Aroma is blackberry jam – you can smell it from 20 feet away, no joke. Taste is tongue-curling sour – you can really feel it in your tonsils. Tart as hell & moderately carbonated. This was a clear choice for my favorite beer of the year. Lives up to the hype and then some. Unfortunately for…well, everybody – this beer was only sold at the brewery during Great Taste of the Midwest weekend. Two thousand bottles total, I think? Regardless, be prepared to roll out some heavy hitters to attain one of these. If you do, you’re in for a rare treat.
Ommegang Fleur de Houblon – A Summer favorite
Fremont’s The 1st Nail alongside some yams. Why not?
One of the many Odell Myrcenary’s I had this year.
Summit Rebellion Stout. My surprise beer of the year.
The last New Glarus Wild Sour of my collection. Currently on deck in the fridge
New Glarus R&D Very Sour Blackberry shared at a tasting in November 2013. Pushing the limits of what beer can be.