Here we are, yet another calendar year has passed. In it, many nights that I drank too much. Chased porpoises with shaker pints of water. Laughed jovially with friends, colleagues, and enemies. Pulled up a rickety bar stool at a dimly lit drinking establishment to revisit an old favorite or branch out and try something new. A year filled with ups, downs, sideways, and slantways. Moments captured behind a tulip glass, whether clear or foggy. Times were had, good and bad.
Truth be told, I’m not quite sure why I develop this end of year best-of list. Think of how many beers I *didn’t* try? Maybe I write these to see how my tastes change over time, or maybe to reflect on trends or styles that made a comeback or got lost in the shuffle. Perhaps it’s to remind myself that beer actually CAN be fun, when you strip down all the bullshit involving price gauging, the 3 tier system, never-ending beer releases and limits, barrel-aged waxed idols that are a complete letdown, etc etc. This is coming off pessimistic, and that’s alright. Maybe that’s the current state of my beer world.
20) Barley John’s Old 8 (Porter. Can, 8%) Not sure why I hadn’t heard of them until this year, but goddamn if this non-traditional mega porter isn’t the perfect blend of sweet and roasty. A thick, viscious black pour with heaps of bakers chocolate and notes of coffee. Great on draft and even better in the 16oz tallboy. I know virtually nothing about these guys, but I do know this is a beer you should try if you haven’t yet. Brewed in northwest Wisconsin too.
19) Funky Buddha Wide Awake It’s Morning (Adjunct porter. Bottle, 10%) My favorite adjunct Floridian brewers returned with this monstrosity. A beefed up version of their Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, Wide Awake Its Morning was similar to drinking an Americano with a shot of 5 hour energy dumped in for good measure. There’s just so much going on here – chocolate, coffee, bacon smoke (?), salty pork rinds (?), molasses (?), syrup (?) Throwing the kitchen sink at the base beer helped. Normally I don’t go for massively sweet abominations, but for some reason this worked for me. I actually enjoyed this version over the barrel-aged version I had last week. Weird, who am I? I’m just a pig in the mud, sipping on this…
18) Veil Daddy’s Home (‘Triple’ IPA. Can, 10.6%) Al Bundy would hate this beer. And I thought I would too. I’ve been a somewhat harsh critic on this new ridiculous fad that is the ‘Northeast IPA’ or ‘Milkshake IPAs’ or whateverthefuck people are calling them nowadays. Purposely cloudy unfiltered disasters quickly canned and sold at many a brewery in the northeastern corner of our lovely country. It’s a bit overboard, and I’m over it. But, of course I had to try them to see what the hype was about. Some are good, others are not. This one, in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Other Half, was a giant IPA that was juicy (2016 buzzword that needs to die) without being incredibly sweet. If that makes sense. Huge hop aroma, flowers and resin bathe in a tub of lupulin. This beer is on this list probably for the fantastic package design, let’s be honest. But really the beer was good. The beer was good. I promise.
17) Anchor Dry-Hopped Steam (Steam beer. Bottle, 5.4%) Absolutely. How do you innovate a classic without completely bastardizing it? You dry hop it with some experimental hops, of course. This new edition cuts the malty sweetness of Steam with some hoppy undertones while still staying true to the original. Yet another beer that will most likely get completely overlooked from perhaps America’s most iconic brewery. Speaking of, I could go for a Cali Lager too…
16) Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Wet Hop IPA (IPA. Bottle & tap, 6.7%) So Sierra Nevada went bananas this year with the IPA releases. I couldn’t keep track of the majority of them – wet hops, fresh hops, harvest, estate, celebration, experimental, select. Pump the brakes, let me catch up! First, a distinction, from the SN website for a refresher course:
Over recent years, there has been some confusion about the difference between fresh and wet hops. While it may seem like semantics, to us it’s an important distinction.
Wet Hops are un-dried hops, picked and shipped from the growing fields within 24 hours.
Fresh Hops are the freshest dried hops to come from the fields, typically within seven days of harvest.
Now that we’ve covered hops, I’d like to explain how much I enjoyed this beer. Sticky green Yakima valley freshie that was oh-so satisfying. Easily my favorite Harvest beer of the year, the parrying of bitter vs balance on this was perfection. Lagunitas’ Born Yesterday coming in 2nd and Founders Harvest in a distant 3rd for those keeping score at home. One of my favorite seasons, that way-too-short harvest time of year.
15) Blackrocks 51k (IPA. Can, 7%) Marquette, MI based standard IPA that’s anything but. Citrusy and a twinge of hop bitterness. There’s something good in that Marquette water. I crushed a 6er of this in a day and felt the need to go to the U.P.
14) Lagunitas High Westified Imperial Coffee Stout (Imperial Stout. Bottle, 12.2%) Oh just your average run-of-the-mill imperial stout aged in High West Bourbon Barrels. And in 6packs, my God, SIX PACKS! He’s returned, albeit in scarcer quantities than I was expecting, a couple weeks ago. Disappeared quickly, to be ingested by a few lucky folks. I love coffee beers, and I don’t see that changing. Just like I don’t see this beer ever leaving the best-of list as long as they continue to brew it. Overseas conglomerate stake purchase or not, if the beer is good – I’ll drink it.
13) Toppling Goliath Double Dry-Hopped Citra Pseudo Sue (Pale Ale. Bottle, 5.8%) A prime example of a big-bodied pale ale injected with a double dose of Citra hops. Massive notes of tangerine and orange, with a gorgeous brilliant golden body. The love affair with this Iowa brewery continues. Sosus might be in this spot had I got a chance to imbibe it this year.
12) Sierra Nevada Celebration (IPA. Bottle & Tap, 6.8%) Commercially available, well, everywhere, this beer is the opposite of a whale. You take this beer for granted. Hell, we all do. A wonderful representation of a fresh hop beer at a great price. You know how cost ineffective it is to use whole-cone hops in every beer you make? Sierra could cut corners, but they don’t. All they do is continue to make fantastic beers at great prices for beer lovers of all types. It’s always great, and it’ll always be there for you come November with it’s big flowery bouquet, perfectly balanced bitterness, and it’s benchmark flavor. I had this beer many different ways in 2016 – on draft, on cask, from the tank at the source(!), and in the bottle. It’s just so good every time. Like a loyal family dog, that Celebration.
11) Bells Barrel-Aged 30th Anniversary (Imperial Stout. Tap, 14.1%) – Commemorating their 30th anniversary (wait what?), Bell’s developed a hearty Russian imperial stout. Then they said, “Hey let’s let this age for 10 months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels”. And all was right in the world. Lucky to be one of the folks who enjoyed a pour on draft at Benno’s. Divine in every sense of the word – rich, complex, oaky chocolate. No barrel burn – just supreme confidence in a glass.
10) Saison DuPont (Saison. Bottle, 6.5%) Fight me.
9) Central Waters Cassian Sunset (Barrel aged/spiced stout. Bottle & tap, 10.5%) It’s seems like this beer came out years ago. Really just 11 months ago. This new offering from Wisconsin’s best barrel-aging program featured local coffee tangoing with cinnamon and vanilla beans. Scary drinkable, given the fact that it was 10+%. A wonderful blend that didn’t have any one element dominate the brew. Heavy on the roast, coffee, and a touch of vanilla sweetness and cinnamon spice. Think of Abraxas’ younger 12oz brother. Great beer, one that I hope they continue to make every year.
8) Central Waters Eighteen (Barrel aged Stout. Bottle & tap, 11%) Amherst’s Central Waters anniversary stout bombers are the only reason I leave Milwaukee county in January.
7) Bruery Terreux Les Ronces (Wild ale. Bottle, 6%) So at the beginning of the year, a couple of guys and I went in on a Reserve Society membership. It was costly. I didn’t even buy that many bottles, so it could have been much, much worse. This brew in particular made the membership completely worthwhile. Let’s go to the label to get your tastebuds tapdancin’:
Loosely translated as “The Brambles”, Les Ronces is rooted in Southern California charm. The juicy fruit was commercially brought to life near Bruery Terreux at Knott’s farm in Buena Park, California in the early 1930s. Since their peak in popularity, the berries have become more scarce and elusive, and at the same time, an ideal cohort for our wildly traditional bière. In Les Ronces, the boysenberries impart a reddish-purple hue to the oak-aged ale, with their sweet-tart flavor profile complementing the sour blonde base in a light jammy, puckering and refreshing fashion.
Yeah, it was incredible.
6) Arclight Soursmith Kriek (Wild ale. Draft, 4%) FOBAB, you were a highlight of 2016. You mean to tell me EVERYTHING is barrel aged? Sure, I’ll attend. I know nothing about Arclight besides that they reside in Michigan and that they make tasty beers. I’ve never been to Belgium, but I have a feeling this tastes like the krieks they make over yonder. Simply put: American sour ale aged in wine barrels on cherries and fermented with wild yeast and bacteria harvested from local orchards in SW Michigan. Utterly stunning on draft. Jam.
5) Toppling Goliath Imperial Golden Nugget (Double IPA. Bottle, 8%) This 100IBU double IPA featured an emperor penguin in royalty garb on its badass label. The brilliant yellow-golden hue invited every sip to be cherished and praised. Everything about it was great and I’m angry I don’t have more.
4) Jester King Nocturn Chrysalis (Barrel aged wild ale. Draft, 5.2%) Yeah, I know, this list is getting preposterous at this point. My favorite at FOBAB was this Smuckers-jelly approved beverage. Purple-drank in a glass packed full of blackberries and a sour, oaky backbone. I feel as this is what ascending into heaven tastes like.
3) Lindemanns Oude Kriek Cuvee Rene (Kriek lambic. Bottle, 7%) I don’t know a lot about beer, but what I do know is this one is most likely my favorite lambic I’ve ever had. I just continued to buy it throughout the year. Beer share? Get it. Friend’s birthday? I’ll bring one. New puppy? Here let’s open this. Flag day? Better go pick one up. Seek this out if you haven’t had a chance to try it yet. I’m sure there are some high end stores in WI that still have this collecting dust.
2) Perennial Abraxas (Imperial Stout. Bottle, tap. 10%) Shocker, I know. The way Perennial seems to effortlessly blend all the ingredients in this beer deserves a Nobel prize. I dislike spicy beers, yet love this one. My love affair with it continues.
1) Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight (Imperial coffee stout. Bottle, 12%) For the love of God, the hunt for this beer is absolutely worth it. I don’t even care anymore. I’m usually one to make fun of folks that are willing to give up their cellar/wedding ring/first born to get their hands on a beverage that you’re just gonna piss out of your body in the end, but sweet Jesus this beer might be worth it. Are we POSITIVE this isn’t barrel aged? A mega stout packed with coffee with little hugs of maple and vanilla. A brew so complex, I want to punch myself in the face for trying to determine what’s happening with it. Stands up to the hype and spits down on the peasants below it. Price points be damned, this is my favorite beer of the year. (Thanks Ben P!)
Thanks for reading this thing. I don’t have pictures this time because WordPress isn’t working properly. I’ll add some later.