This year has definitely been my biggest beer year yet. I visited a TON of new, high quality breweries; including, but not limited to Crooked Stave, TRVE, and Maui. I ventured to the biggest beer festival in the country. I even started a beer podcast. I went all in on beer in 2016. And while I am not sure what 2017 will have in store for me, I know that it will most likely include some good beer and breweries as well. I wanted to task myself with sitting down and thinking about what were the best beers I had this year, and why. It might have to do with experience, or it might just be that the beer tasted better. All that factors into what makes a beer great. Beer is an experience. Well, it can be an experience. Of all the new beers and breweries I was able to try in 2016, below are my Top 5 and why. If you can get your hands on any or all of these… I would say do it.
5) Creature Comforts – Koko Buni
6.8% Milk Porter with toasted coconut, cocoa nibs, and coffee
The people of the greater Atlanta area are extremely lucky to have this beer on the shelf. Creature Comforts is my breakout brewery of 2016, and this beer is the main reason why. I had a few of their beers sent up to me from a cousin who lives close to the brewery, and from their flagship Tropicalia to the tarty-fresh Athena Paradiso, every beer was nail-on-the-head solid. But this beer, muled up by my brother after New Year’s Day, completely blew my mind. At just under 7%, it is the perfect flavorful dessert-style sweet porter that won’t get you drunk or give you too much of a headache. It’s silky smooth mouthfeel is more milkshake than beer, and the 12oz can format leaves you wanting another instead of struggling to finish one by yourself. I was lucky enough to get a 4 pack of this in New Jersey, and it wasn’t nearly enough.
4) Wicked Weed – Garcon de Ferme
6.2% Brettanomyces farmhouse ale fermented with peaches
Above all else, this year really taught me to appreciate sour beer. Up until late 2015, I considered myself a hop head with a sweet tooth (translation: I like hoppy IPAs and sweet stouts). It wasn’t until I started having decent sours that I realized how much fun they are to drink. Wicked Weed, arguably the best sour brewery in the country, knocks pretty much every sour they make out of the park. One of my favorite memories of GABF was lapping the Wicked Weed line to try every single one of their Angel series. The reason I knew we had to do that was because I tried this beer in early September, while brewing my wedding favor beer at a local brewing facility. Me, my brother and our brewing assistant split a bottle of this, and all 3 of us were so blown away by the beer that the kettle actually boiled over because we were talking about it so much. Just phenomenal balance of tartness, sweetness, fruity flavors and a crisp, dry, champagne-like finish. If you like funk in your beer, this one is a must try. I have to get down to Asheville and visit their Funkatorium in 2017. I have to.
3) Other Half – Passiflora
4.5% Foudre fermented saison with 3 strains of brett, passionfruit & pink peppercorn
Wow. Just wow. This beer was actually brewed in 2015, but I held onto a bottle for a while to see how it would be a year later. I drank it early June of 2016 while in AC for a bachelor party/weekend-long bender. While much of that weekend is a blur, what I won’t forget for a long time is my reaction when I first tried a pour from this bottle. An AMAZING mix of spice and fruit, light and drinkable for a hot summer day, this beer was about as close to perfection as I can imagine. The tang of the passionfruit and brett mixed with the peppercorn heat made for a beer unlike any other I had this year. A collaboration between Other Half and Morada, which is apparently a brewery based in Brazil, odds are this beer will never be made again. It’s times like those, sitting on the deck of a beach house with 10 of my best friends, drinking a one-of-a-kind beer that makes for a once in a lifetime experience. Maybe it’s my palate maturing, but for all the love Other Half gets for their IPAs, I don’t think I’ve had a better beer by them than this 4.5% saison.
2) Upland – Revive
6% Sour Ale aged in oak barrels with pineapple and chamomile
Is there anything better than those moments when you think you know everything you can know about a subject, only to get taught something completely new about it that you had no idea even existed? That was this beer to me. You could argue two things about Revive and you would probably be right on both: 1) That this was actually my top beer of 2016, and 2) that I may be a bit biased because a good buddy of mine actually brews at Upland. Keeping with the sour theme of 2016, you would think that adding pineapple (one of my favorite fruits) to an oak-aged sour ale would be enough to pique my interest. Then the geniuses over at the Upland Wood Shop thought “why don’t we throw in some whole chamomile flowers?” and BAM! It is so hard to describe what the mouthfeel on this beer is; it’s kind of like a subtle fizz more than anything. It starts off tart and sour, then the chamomile gets to work and takes away any harshness, finishing a tad sweet, with fuzzy pineapple coating your mouth throughout. Absolutely insane. Every time, and I mean every time, my buddy comes back to NJ and asks me if I want anything, I ask for a Revive. I try to share it with as many beer friends as possible, just so I can see the reaction on their face after the first sip. That, my friends, is the joy of beer.
1) Great Divide – Red Wine Barrel-Aged Yeti
12.5% Imperial Stout aged in red wine barrels
I know with the way this list has been going that putting a whale-y, 12% imperial stout in the #1 spot is a total blind side, but I can’t honestly rank any beer I drank this year higher than this. Drank during GABF week in Denver, the first night of my bachelor party saw me and my crew of 17 take a $10 Lyft ride to and from the Great Divide Barrel Bar for dinner and drinks before the evening’s festivities got under way. And while the night did include some great selections, including Whiskey Barrel-Aged Hibernation and their 22nd Anniversary Dark Sour ale, the highlight of the night, the trip (including all GABF tasters and every other brewery I visited), and my year was a perfectly executed lesson in barrel aging. The smell on it from what I remember was all booze, but at best it drank at about 9% heat. No adjuncts, no frills, just their base Yeti stout thrown into some red wine barrels for an unknown amount of time (I know someone knows, but when I asked the bartender, he didn’t). Yeti by itself is an impressive flagship stout full of roasty chocolate notes, and the addition of wood and red wine just took it to another level of deliciousness. Each sip had multiple layers of flavor, fruit and wood from the barrel, but still a ton of chocolate sweetness and enough backbone to hold it all together. An unbelievable blend that will definitely go down as one of the best beers of my life. If I ever get word that Great Divide decides to bottle this, a round-trip ticket from EWR to DEN will soon follow. I could use a trip back anyway.
Honorable Mentions that made this list even tougher to compile:
Carton Sakura – 4.5% Cherry blossom salted sour ale
Crooked Stave & Volume 3 Chapter 1 – 7.5% Golden sour botanical ale aged in Ransom Old Tom gin barrels
Kane Fifth – 11.6% Anniversary porter/stout blend
Carton Cafe y Churro – 12% Cream ale with coffee, vanilla, and cinnamon
Maui Brewing Suck ‘Em Up – 4.8% Session IPA