As 2017 shows itself out the door like a houseguest that’s overstayed it’s welcome, it’s time for one of my favorite exercises of the year. I have to say, last year’s list was much easier to compile. I definitely drank a ton of good beers this year, so I can’t really tell if the average quality of the beers I drank went up to the point that there were no standouts, or if 2016 was just a whale-hunting type of year. I did manage to get to some high-profile breweries this year again, including but not limited to: Cigar City, J. Wakefield, Bearded Iris, and the holy grail… Hill Farmstead, who honestly could have all 5 spots on this list if I was lazy (luckily I’m not). Either way, it was fun going through photos, jotting down names, being reminded of a certain beer or experience or hangout session or bottle share, and putting it into words. Here goes.
5) Equilibrium MC2
8.5% Double IPA
My introduction to Equilibrium beers, a buddy cracked a can of this open with me to try and I am forever grateful. I found it very hard to put an IPA on my Top 5 list, but while going through the list of beers, I kept coming back to this one remembering my reaction. I know hazy, milkshake IPAs are not new (and the latest rage that many wish would go away), but this beer was smooth as silk. Excellent citrus flavor, little bitterness and a sweet finish that takes away any bite whatsoever. Equilibrium makes incredible beer, from their TABA sour series to their General Relativity imperial stout and all their other hoppy offerings, but I have yet to have any that remind me of why I fell in love with the style to begin with all those years ago. I will definitely be stopping up there on my Vermont 2018 trip.
4) Cantillon Iris
6.5% Spontaneous fermentation beer
I know, I know. Cantillon is the king of all things Lambic, and to put a non-lambic on here is disingenuous. I love this beer. I have had it twice more since my initial taste of it on Thanksgiving Day, and it just gets better and better every time. Acidic, sweet, tart, sparkling, there are a million words that could describe it. You just have to try it for yourself. Cantillon can do no wrong. Hoping to get my hands on some more of their bottles very soon.
3) Cape May Brewing Coastal Evacuation w/ Brett
8.8% Imperial IPA fermented with Brettanomyces
Two IPAs on the list?! BLASPHEMY! But not really, because this one has some funk to it. Coastal Evac is a criminally underrated IPA from Cape May Brewing Company. I could drink it all day. They took their amazing IPA recipe, and added a second fermentation to it with brett. The result is a sour IPA unlike any others. Some breweries in the country are doing some amazing Sour IPAs, like Hudson Valley, Burley Oak, and Burial to name a few. And those milky/sour ones are delicious. But this one was something completely different. Bright, crisp, refreshing, yet still sharp and bitter all at once. I visited the brewery for my birthday weekend, and after trying everything they had to offer in a flight, this was my favorite by a nautical mile. Of course, it was the only one they wouldn’t let you fill a growler of. I’ll just have to go back next year ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
2) Lickinghole Creek Heir Apparent
11.5% Imperial Stout w/ Mexican peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and cocoa nibs
The story of how I tried this beer is pretty wild. The weekend of my birthday, one of my favorite bands was playing a show in NYC. That same day just so happened to be Cantillon’s Zwanze Day 2017. A bar not far from the concert venue called Fool’s Gold was the Manhattan host for New York, and had an unreal tap list going on all day for the occasion. The obvious play here is to pregame for the concert at said bar and try all the Cantillon and other crazy local drafts available, and that’s exactly what me and two buddies did. Apparently, around 2:30p.m. is too late to show up for a Zwanze Day event, because we walked in to an absolute shit show. The doors to the bar opened at 7a.m. so there were definitely some hammered people there by early afternoon time. We walked in, got 3 pours of Zwanze, and proceeded to get a spot at a high-top table. But not just any high-top table. The table next to us was in the midst of a MONSTER bottle share, clearly all trying to one-up each other with the rarest and best beers possible. Once we sat next to them, they not only offered, but pleaded with us to finish their bottles. “When I leave I want all of these bottles empty” is an exact quote from the ringleader. We gladly obliged to help them out, polishing off healthy pours from bottles like Jester King’s Boxer’s Revenge, a 2012 AleSmith Speedway Stout, and an odd-looking bottle from the tongue-in-cheek Lickinghole Creek called Heir Apparent. You don’t have to fight too hard to get me to try a Mexican-Spiced Imperial Stout, but this beer was everything you’d want from the style and more. Thick, velvety mouthfeel, chocolate to the heavens, and the perfect amount of spice to let you know you’re alive but not kill you. I bogarted the rest of the bottle and I’m not even ashamed to say it. I did it with a smile on my face. In what was a great day full of great times and great beer, that was by far the best.
1) Hill Farmstead Brother Soigne aged in Tequila Barrels
Farmstead Ale w/ blood orange & lime, aged in tequila barrels
There’s good, there’s great, and then there’s Hill Farmstead. My first trip ever to the pinnacle of brewing took place February 10, 2017 while on a ski trip in Vermont. The drive to the brewery is rough in the winter, particularly in sub-zero temperatures. The journey is more than worth it, though. The brewery itself is absolutely breathtaking, especially when the surrounding farmlands are all covered in blanket-white snow. I don’t know what god I pleased, but upon our arrival we found out that they were opening up their cellar for the day for some special on-site samplings. Those offerings included Leaves of Grass, Genealogy of Morals, Beyond Good and Evil, and my #1 beer of 2017, Brother Soigne aged in Tequila Barrels. Mind-blowing flavor. The base beer is a saison/farmstead ale that they make with blood oranges and limes (some versions have hibiscus as well, but I don’t believe this one did). That combo alone is enough to make this beer exceptional; the addition of tequila barrels made this beer absolutely incredible. And I am someone who can NOT drink tequila at all (one too many rough nights). Zero tequila heat, with all the flavor. It was sweet, it was spicy in the best way possible, and it was as crisp as Vermont winter air. I had a lot of good beers that trip, and this year, but this is a Top 5 beer of my life.
Honorable Mentions that made this list a bitch:
Hill Farmstead Beyond Good and Evil 2014 – BBA Imperial Stout w/ Maple Syrup
Hudson Valley Sky Thing – DDH IPA
Arizona Wilderness American Presidential – Russian Imperial Stout
Plan Bee Pepper – Oak-aged wild ale with hot peppers
Aslin Cocoa Mapalm – Imperial Stout with cocoa, maple, and vanilla