I’m not sure I can sustain making this list for too much longer. I try way too many different beers and refuse to document most of them (if ONLY some sort of app existed to make documenting beers easy and efficient). This list was by far the toughest to compile yet. I know, I know, I say that every year; but as Larry Miller exclaimed in his classic bit… this time, I mean it. This year saw me travel to some great new breweries (Jester King, Suarez, Alchemist, Foam, and Aruba’s very own Fireson!), as well as venture back to some old favorites (J. Wakefield, Hill Farmstead, Cape May).
It’s worth noting that next year’s list could look vastly different. For one, I have a child due any day now. I am not sure about much, but I think that fatherhood will make me severely cut back on brewery visits (and maybe drinking in general, like Larry Miller suggested?). But also… I think 2018 is finally the year that I became a Crispy Boi. Suarez Family was mind-bendingly good, and despite the rest of the list not really “qualifying” as this style, I can definitely see why palates get fatigued. In the sprinting world of craft beer, dare to be a marathoner.
5) Suarez Family Qualify Pils
5.5% German Pilsner
My first trip to Suarez Family Brewery was eye-opening. Wayyy up in NY State, I stopped on my way up to Vermont for my yearly snowboard trip. The brewery itself is a very nice, quaint space with a few tables and not much else. Out of all the beers I’ve tried by them, Qualify Pilsner is my favorite. Usually a style that beer “fans” skip, pilsner is more of a brewer’s beer. The sweetness it imparts on you pairs perfectly with the crispness of the finish. If there were ever a pool or beach beer, Qualify is it. There is no limit to the amount of cans I could drink of this beer.
4) Hudson Valley Apple Cider Donut Silhouette
5% Brunch-style sour IPA with raw wheat, malted oat, apple purée and cinnamon
This was just a fun one, no two ways about it. I did not get to stop by this brewery on the way up to VT, but I wish I had. Sour IPA is a weird style to do, but Hudson Valley gets them so incredibly right that it hurts. Their Silhouette series places adjuncts and lactose and all the goodies that make a Sour IPA palatable to my taste buds, and the Apple Cider Donut variant was the best (see: my favorite) by a Thruway mile. If Qualify is the perfect summer beer, the apples and cinnamon loaded into this beer make it the perfect fall treat. Pairs well with pumpkin or apple picking, hay rides, and mischief night.
3) Plan Bee Tulsi Blue
6% New York wild ale aged in oak on blueberries and holy basil
On the way HOME from my Vermont trip (that I’m not sure I can even refer to as a snowboarding anymore trip given how much it also revolved around beer/breweries), I made it a point to stop at Plan Bee in Poughkeepsie, NY to pick up some to-go bottles. Their brewery wasn’t open to the public as they were going through a huge renovation, but co-owner Emily Watson was very gracious with her time, emailing and texting to make sure she was around when I would be by to purchase. I tried to buy as much as possible that they had to offer, and managed to get the last bottle of Tulsi Blue that they had. A wild ale aged in oak with blueberries and holy basil, this beer rocked my socks off. The color is incredible, the nose is all basil, and the beer is sweet, prickly, and fuzzy, if those last two make any sense. All future VT trips will include a stop at Plan Bee, that much I know. What an offering.
2) Referend The Blue Book
6% Spontaneously fermented witbier with oranges and chamomile aged in a wine puncheon with blueberries
Here’s a little tip for any of you aspiring brewers out there: if you want Steve Esparra to try/buy a beer, make a spontaneous beer with blueberries. I am legally obligated to try it. This beer, released by possibly the best brewery in NJ, was extremely sought after due to its limited yield. I had to trade a VERY rare (and very tasty) Cigar City bottle to acquire one. But I am so glad I did. Sour but not too sour, sweet but not too sweet, a little sizzle from chamomile, it is the benchmark any and all future sours I taste will try to attain. Hoping beyond hope that they do this one again, I will drop everything to get there.
1) Kane Barrel-Aged Sunday Brunch
11.8% Imperial milk porter with coffee, cinnamon and maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels
Call me a homer, call me a fanboy, call me what you will; Kane has been my ride or die since the beginning. I would constantly switch back and forth between Sunday Brunch (their imperial milk porter with coffee, cinnamon, and maple syrup) and Mexican Brunch (the same beer but with cacao and ancho chiles added) as to which was my favorite that they made. As of recent batches, Sunday Brunch took the edge, as the chile and chocolate from Mexican Brunch didn’t pack the punch they once did. But all this back and forth came to a screeching halt on Mother’s Day, when I opened one of my bottles of Barrel-Aged Sunday Brunch. The addition of the bourbon barrel brought this beer to heights I did not think were possible. It amped up the ABV from 9.2% to 11.8%, yet toned down every flavor to a perfect mesh of maple/cinnamony goodness. Absolute balanced perfection.
Honorable mentions that made this list a bitch to make:
Carton St. Kitts Coffee – Imperial Cream Ale with coffee and coconut aged in rum barrels
Kane Blue Hotel – Straightforward IPA with Galaxy
Jester King Demitone – Farmhouse ale with blueberries
Hill Farmstead Flora 2013 – 5 year old Farmstead Wheat Ale aged in wine barrels
Icarus Kalashnikoffee – Russian Imperial Stout with Coffee