Ah, 2014. The year brewers resurrected gose. The continued punch of the mislabeled “session” ale. The jowl-curling funk of endless sours. The hoppy lager. The menial task of barrel-aging everything. You were a strange year for beer, 2014, and the future looks just as weird. (* denotes beer is/was available in Wisconsin) Let’s get crazy:
21) Virtue Mitten* (Bourbon barrel-aged cider. Bottle, ?%) This is not a beer. This is a cider. I originally included it in the top 20, but that’s not fair. Because this is a list for beer…not ciders. However this semi-sweet cider from Michigan had an incredible balance of caramel and oak that blended supremely with the contents in the bottle. I rarely drink ciders, but if I’m in the mood, I prefer an English dry. American sweet ciders are the devil, but this one happened to be angelic.
20) Surly Cacao Bender (Brown Ale. Tap, 5%) My favorite brown ale on the planet due to a robust addition of cacao nibs, coffee, and vanilla. Surly makes a lot of great brews, but I keep finding myself fawning over this one every year. Now that the destination brewery is complete, a trip to the source is necessary. Until then, cross your fingers that they continue to bring it to Great Taste. Just missing the top 20 was 3 Sheeps ‘Hello My Name Is Joe’, also a coffee-induced brown ale. That one is good as well, but not quite Surly good.
19) Summit 3X Mild Ale* (English Mild Ale. Bottle/Tap, 7.2%) The Union series of beers from the St. Paul brewery continues to impress. Finding new, intriguing, different ingredients and pumping out stellar beers. Do not sleep on this one. I won’t even try pretending to know how these ingredients work so cohesively, I’ll let the brewer tell you in this informative piece here. Recently on draught and in bottles in WI.
18) Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Peche ‘N Brett (Saison. Bottle, 10%) A brettanomyces & sour peach explosion to the senses. Aged on oak and 10%abv. Quite the designated hitter, I enjoyed this in the parking lot of Miller Park before a ballgame. That makes no sense. Is it weird that I can’t remember what vintage release I had? Oregon, I love you, but you’re bringing me down (because I can’t get stuff from you easily).
17) Green Flash Road Warrior* (Double IPA. Bottle/Tap, 9%) Probably my surprise beer of the year. Would you guess that Green Flash would make something hoppy? Well they did, and they added a dump truck full-o-rye to the brew. Things escalated quickly with this one; whether fresh or with some age on it, this beer continued to impress me. Piney, resinous hops in the front with a biscuit-y, malty cradle in the end. Obvious GF hop bite paired with a tinge of spice, but the (crystal?) malt softened it overall. Green Flash is all hops, but this one offered just that little bit more. Still tasting good right now if you can find it, I think this was a late Summer release this year.
16) Westbrook Gozu (Gose. Bottle, 4%) Ah yes, the year of the Gose. A true session beer, this little delicacy was brewed with a special addition of Yuzu fruit. Lemon warhead candy flavor, eye-squinting sourness reminiscent of 5Alive soda, prickly bubbles in the back. Odds are you might have seen the canned Gose from the South Carolina brewers floating around; God knows I saw enough it around at friends houses & bottle shares. While I loved that beer, the Gozu took it a step further. It was just so damn good, the sourness was off the charts, but you could taste a hint of the sweet-salt seesaw too. Pleasant notes of malted wheat, coriander; finish was semi-dry and champagne-like. The style made famous by brewers in Leipzig, Germany saw a huge push due (in my opinion) to Anderson Valley’s Kimmie, Yink & Holy Gose cans earlier this year. Looks like the rise in popularity is here to stay, as Brewers seem to be toying with Gose recipes all the time now.
15) Sixpoint Hi-Res* (Double IPA. Bottle/Tap, 10.5%) This little golden canister of sex assaulted my tongue precinct during the early part of this year. An endorphin-morphing hop bunker-buster that ravaged my mouth. Not complete deforestation like Dogfish 120, which I still don’t know how people drink (authors note: Do not drink 120 if you’re already intoxicated). Hi-Res made Bell’s Hopslam its bitch in a blind taste test. Even better than Sixpoint’s popular Resin, Hi-Res is the older brother that only visits the family during holidays. Hopefully we can expect this one back in early 2015.
14) Founders Dissenter*(Imperial India Pale Lager. Bottle/Tap, 8.7%) I don’t even like TYPING the words ‘imperial india pale lager’. Alas, this beer worked wonderfully. The hoppy notes of an ipa with the clean, crisp finish of a pilsner lager. The two essences didn’t fight with each other, rather serenaded and danced, like Carlton Banks to Tom Jones. My only problem with this beer was the terrible label art which depicted Harry Potter pausing on a mid 18th century English cobblestone street. Someone in the Founders art department needs a swift strike to the septum.
13) New Glarus Moon Man* (American pale ale. Bottle/Tap, 5%) Yeah that’s right. Good ol’ no coast pale ale New Glarus Moon Man. When was the last time you were truly able to appreciate this Carey masterpiece? Have you ever had a bad Moon Man? Why do I keep finding myself seeking this beer? How can it always be so perfect? When was the last time YOU had this beer? Find yourself. Find this beer. Recreate the love.
12) New Glarus Berliner Weiss* (Berliner Weiss. Bottle, ?%) So there might have been an issue with bottle refermentation, but it doesn’t matter. They say good things come to those who wait. Well, if you still have any bottles laying around, you’ll be waiting awhile to sip it upon prying off the cap. Takes about 5-10 minutes for the oceans of billowy foam to recede. The taste is near perfection though. A poppy, carbonated shot of sour and tart. Here’s to hoping this can be an annual Summer release.
11) Black Husky Howler (Simcoe)* (Imperial pale ale. Bottle, 10.2%) – From the best nanobrewery in Pembine, WI comes Howler. A big, daunting double IPA that featured the simcoe hop. Later on the Equinox version was also released, and while I enjoyed both, I preferred this dog. Big mouthfeel, with the alcohol extremely well-hidden. Not sure where that 10% is hiding. Not overly bitter, but the piney hops are definitely there. Bark at the moon.
10) Karben4 Fantasy Factory* (IPA. Bottle/Tap, 6.3%) As I write this, Fantasy Factory is currently, slowly showing up on draught all over Milwaukee. And for good reason – it’s delicious. While the uninspired tap handle reminds me of the pipe weapon in the Clue board game, the bottles are exciting and showcases a kitten riding a unicorn with rainbows and other shit like that. The ADD child in me is squealing with delight! Anywho, the beer is sparked with orange zest, a darker hue, and a conifery, grapefruit-y finish alongside a medium body. I could drink this all day. A welcome addition to the Wisconsin brewing scene. Bottles in Madison only, it seems.
9) O’So Convenient Distraction* (Porter. Bottle/Tap, 10%) From the description: Imperial Porter masterfully blended with Aquacate coffee from the Narino region of Columbia and Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. Say what?! A pitch-black brew that held zero head retention. An ungodly amount of coffee grounds in the nose – you could smell it from a few feet away, either after opening the bottle or pouring from the tap. Coffee, cocoa, vanilla, caramel…all wonderfully molded together with ease. A solid step up from Night Train, which I also adore. Will be seeking this one out again. According to the internet, Bourbon Barrel Aged Convenient Distraction will be released January 23, 2015.
8) Almanac Heirloom Pumpkin (Barleywine. Bottle, 12%) I can’t even begin to describe what’s going on here, so I’ll let the brewery tell you. This beer was unbelievably delicious.
7) New Glarus Scream IIPA* (Double IPA. Bottle, 9%) What was once simply known as IIPA shifted into Scream. Apparently named after an eagle that circled the brewery at one time. Yeah, ‘MERICA! Hoppy talons stalked Wisconsinite taste buds early in the summer, and then more rapidly into the Fall and Winter. New Glarus kept on producing it, and we kept on drinking it. Quite possibly the best double ipa to come out of WI to date. Who wants to fight about it?
6) Central Waters Sixteen* (Imperial stout. Bottle/Tap, 11%). The anniversary imperial stout kept in 21 year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels for a few months. This beer somehow popped up at nearly every Central Waters beer dinner in the city, and I was elated every single time. A true gem of a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout. We’re a month away from their 17th anniversary party, and hopefully I’ll be there. Can’t get your hands on any Sixteen – the brewers reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout 4 packs are out now, but going quickly.
5) Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue* (Pale Ale. Bottle, 6%) Have you not had the citra-magnified Pseudo Sue yet? Well take your tiny T-Rex arms somewhere to drink it. When you get there, bask in the grapefruit flavors of Iowan heaven.
4) Avery Tweak (Imperial Stout. Tap, 18%) HEY SO I HAD AVERY TWEAK AT THE SUGAR MAPLE EVENT WHEN THEY CAME TO WISCONSIN OFFICIALLY IN JANUARY IT WAS VERY GOOD AND I COULDNT BELIEVE IT WAS 18% BUT IT WAS AND THERE WAS COFFEE IN IT IT TASTED LIKE COFFEE AND CHOCOLATE AND LIKE A STOUT SHOULD AND WAS ODDLY SATISFYING ARE WE SURE IT WAS 18% AND THEN I NOTICED IT WAS SMOOTH AND REAL GOOD TWEAK WAIT THE BREWERY NOW BOTTLED IT AND AGED IT IN BOURBON BARRELS OH THATS NEAT. TWEAK!
3) Perennial Abraxas* (Imperial Stout. Tap, 10%) Perhaps my most welcome addition to Wisconsin. St Louis’ Perennial Artisan Ales finally made me like a beer that had a little spice kick, something I don’t normally gravitate towards. Ancho chilis, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon provided a complex backdrop to this imperial stout. The bouquet is all cinnamon & red pepper flakes, the taste a luscious dark chocolate bar. I’d take Abraxas over Prairie Bomb! any day. Killer beer from the heart of the heartland. Haven’t had coffee or barrel-aged versions yet.
2) Side Project Blueberry Flanders (Flanders Red. Tap?, 7%) Sweet Heavenly Father I need more of this. On a bright sunny day in August during the Great Taste of the Midwest, Perennial brewer Cory King poured one of the greatest beers I’ve had to date in my little souvenir 4oz mug. A midnight purple hue, standard Flanders red balsamic sourness packed with blueberry fruit. The brew was fermented in Missouri oak Chambourcin (don’t ask me) barrels then aged atop Michigan-grown blueberries. The end result was perfection. Released in July of 2014, my dream is to one day hold my very own unicorn bottle.
1) Cigar City Forgotten Islands (Quadrupel. Bottle, 15%) Listen, I realize that in terms of being an actual beer, it fails. This is, legitimately, a Mai Thai in a beer. Orange curacao parading with Peychauds bitters, prunes & plums, and Goslings Black Seal rum. A beer cocktail, this delicious boozy mess was so off the wall, yet so perfect. A 15% quad aged in Jamaican Appleton Estate Rum barrels showcased an explosion of tropical fruit flavors from orange, guava, mango and papaya. The spices of cinnamon, clove, and even a hint of ginger were also present. This concoction was all over the place – one could probably subjectively pick out 20 different flavors and aromas in it with ease. It was complex, but not overbearing somehow. The alcohol finally came out as the liquid warmed, but it only made it more perfect. This beautiful disaster was chaotic, raw, silly, and sweet. I’ll never understand how Tampa, FL’s Cigar City brewed this, and now that I look back on it, I’m surprised they even released it. Makes me long for a drink with an umbrella in it right now.