Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top 10 Beers of 2014

The past year has been quite a ride in my ever-evolving passion for craft beer. None bigger than my decision to start this blog. I've never claimed to be a connoisseur in any way, shape, or form. I'm just a guy who loves his beer.

Over the last 12 months I've mainly stayed local to my new experiences with my first trips to Tree House Brewing as well as Trillium. Along the way I made my yearly pilgrimage to Vermont which I fully plan on doing in the coming months. I've gotten to share those experiences with friends which has given me the opportunity to drink some of the finest beers known to mankind.

That being said, how can you condense all of your experience into a simple list? Well fortunately I've made it easy on myself. I started this blog back in July and made it a point to release roughly three reviews per week. All things considered, I think I made a half decent dent. I reviewed 70 beers on this blog since its inception and those will be the beers I will choose from for my Top 10 of 2014.

If you are (lucky enough) to be friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Untappd (threwredbutter), then you obviously know I had way more than 70 different beers this year. However, I am only choosing to compile this list strictly from reviews on the blog since this is where I was able to sit down and get the full experience in order to properly review these beers.

Just to give a fair warning: with only 70 reviews and most of my endeavors being local, most of this list is populated by breweries from Massachusetts. Actually I'm not sorry. Maybe the rest of the country just needs to step their game up :).

So, now that we have that out of the way, I present the Top 10 Beers of 2014. Cheers!

10. Founders Dissenter
As I said in my review, living in Massachusetts with full access to Jack's Abby has opened my eyes to what you can do with a lager. When I heard that the next "Backstage Series" release would be an Imperial IPL, I was skeptical, especially since it had been over 12 years since Founders had brewed a lager. I'm happy to say they hit a home run.

Dissenter is both one of the juiciest and hoppiest lagers I've ever had. It's also so refreshing and crisp that it makes you forget that it supposed to be an Imperial IPL.The amount of hops and pine can make this compete with plenty of IPA's, but it's also very drinkable thanks to it's abundance of citrus-forward hops. Easily one of the best the Backstage Series has to offer.

9. Surly Darkness (2010 Vintage)
This once-a-year release has easily become one of the more sought-after non-barrel-aged Imperial Stouts in existence and for good reason. It combines all the characteristics of multiple stouts of the style into one sublime experience.

The beer is a wave of milk chocolate and cherry with an unexpected pop of hop bitterness. It's a chocolate-covered cherry in red wine with a thick and fluffy mouthfeel that coats your whole tongue.

8. Jack's Abby Bride Maker
When I heard Jack's Abby was doing a sequel to Baby Maker, I knew I had to have it. This version uses different malts in the recipe to produce more caramel and dark fruits while giving the beer a darker body. The end result is more like a world-class doppelbock than a lager wine, but I am not complaining.

The taste is huge fruitcake, raisins, and plum all soaked in delicious bourbon. It's also quite a malt bomb with toffee and caramel to round everything out. The bourbon barrel-aging smoothed all of the flavors out and combined them into a melting pot of a world-class beer.

7. Jack's Abby Cocoa-Nut Framinghammer
The month of December was big for me when I decided to roll out all of my Framinghammer reviews. The only one I didn't review was the Chipotle Framinghammer as it was a draught-only release (Sorry I'm not sorry). Hey, 6 out of 7 isn't bad, but the clear winner was Cocoa-Nut Framinghammer.

This is classified as a Baltic Porter, but in a blind taste test this would surpass most Imperial Stouts. Big chocolate syrup and coconut come together for a dessert-like delicacy worthy of an after-dinner meal. The bourbon barrel-aging combined with the chocolate, coconut, coffee, and oak produce a feast for the senses and a sweet beer lover's delight.

 6. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust
The best American Pale Ale out there? For my money I would say so. Reviewing such a highly-acclaimed beer is no small task, but when I received this in a trade, I was well aware of its reputation and I am proud to say that Zombie Dust has exceeded the hype.

You can tell it is made exclusively with citra hops with it's inviting aroma of oranges, mango, and pineapple. At the same time, a huge hop bitterness may lead you to believe this is a standard IPA. The hops don't linger and it is just a smooth, juicy ride with insane drinkability.

5. Tree House Julius
What else is there to say about Tree House's flagship beer? Combining the near-perfect balance of pungent hops and tropical juices, it's easy to see why Julius pleases both hopheads and those seeking a juicier IPA.

With it's fruity hops, it actually follows the same path as a lot of Vermont IPA's and that is some great company to be in. The hop taste isn't overly bitter, but more like fresh-squeezed hop juice combined with mango and orange. It's a highly drinkable and fruity IPA. Rumor has it that Tree House's expansion will include a canning line for Julius. Fingers crossed!!!

4. Trillium Heavy Mettle
The last beer I reviewed in 2014 was clearly one of the best. I remember missing out on the first release of this beer last August, but when it was announced another run was being done in December, you bet your ass I was going to be there on the release day to get my share.

This beer is a hop nuke with its strong presence of hop juice, resin, and fresh pine. At the same time, it retains all of the flavors that made the standard Mettle great with grapefruit, mango, orange, and even some lemon zest. It's everything great about an East Coast IPA ramped up to the max. Awesome.

3. Jack's Abby Lager Ness Monster
One day on Facebook, Jack's Abby posted a picture of Lager Ness Monster with a brief description. I knew it had to be mine from day one and I was not mistaken. This 15.00% (no pun intended) monster is comparable to Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. I made that statement before, and it still rings true today.

The sweet bourbon in addition to the dark fruits, coffee, charred oak, and vanilla make this one of the most complex beers I had last year. Throw in a viscous, velvety mouthfeel with flat-out ludicrous drinkability and you have easily the best Baltic Porter on the planet.

2. Tree House Good Morning
A sheer, blind luck, 1 in a million chance allowed me to be at Tree House the day they put this beer on tap. I missed out on the first batch due to recovery from surgery (cue pity applause), but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine would ever actually getting the chance to try this. The end result was easily the best Imperial Stout of 2014, and maybe ever.

Breakfast in a glass? Pretty damn close. Huge maple syrup, coffee,and chocolate will make you think you are eating a stack of chocolate chip pancakes and chasing them with a fresh-brewed cup of roasted coffee. Throw in massive vanilla and roasted malts with a thick, mouth-coating feel and the result is as close to a beergasm as you will ever have. I truly wish I could have this with breakfast every morning.

1. Jack's Abby Baby Maker
You always remember your first time and this is no exception. Where were you on January 18th, 2014? Me? After a day of drinking at my local bar, I had this beer sitting in the fridge for my nightcap. I didn't know what to expect considering the style it claims to be, a "Lager Wine", was something I had never tried. One smell and sip in, I immediately knew this was the best beer I ever had. When it came time for my formal review for the blog, I was unsure if it could live up to my previous expectations. Thankfully, it still retained all of the greatness I had remembered.

If I was to describe this as a toffee-caramel bomb, then I wouldn't be doing it justice. Not only are those flavors present, but there is massive bourbon, vanilla, oak, and even a hint of maple. I compare it to a wheatwine with its syrupy feel, but at the same time its high level of carbonation pushes that feel, and the 14.00% abv, along my palate to make this a dangerously drinkable beer. Baby Maker is complex, looks great, smells great, and is easy to drink. There's nothing else I could possibly want out of this beer. As I said in my review: drinking this is downright pornographic.

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