Saturday, January 2, 2016

Top 10 Beers of 2015

2015 marked the 2nd year of this blog and my first full 365 day commitment to it. I reviewed over 130 beers this time around and hopefully that number will be even higher for next year.

Instead of just doing a standard Top 10 best beers (don't worry we are still doing that), I want to add a couple of other categories and even toss in some honorable mentions. I do have some ground rules for the lists...
  • The beer had to be reviewed on the blog in 2015. If I had it at a bar, a bottle share, fest, etc, then it doesn't qualify.
  • No re-reviews. I think I only re-reviewed one beer that I had in 2014, but still, a re-review of a beer that has already been featured on here cannot make the list
  • Multiple beers from one brewery are allowed. Frankly, if the brewery makes that many good beers (in my opinion) then I'm not going to fault them for it. Is this foreshadowing? Maybe...
Other than that, is there anything else I'd like to say? Sure!

Plans for 2016

Ideally I'd like to get more reviews out. I will confess that I do get lazy sometimes and choose not to review a beer and just drink it instead. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I know if I want more content then I have to make more of an effort to review more of what I drink. I think a goal of 200 reviews is reachable if I stick with it.

Additionally, I want to do more than just reviews. Not that I don't like doing them all the time, but I want to diversify my content. I visit breweries regularly and it makes sense to do a write-up on them with photos. I also did one "Versus" review this year where I compare and contrast two different beers and I want to make sure to get more of those in too.

Now let's get to it!

Biggest Disappointments of 2015

When you think of a disappointment in the beer world it more often than not has to do with the failure to live up to the hype. I think that's what happened in this small list. Granted, I didn't build any of these items up in my own mind as the be-all/end-all of existence, but when you hear about a beer's reputation you expect something good.

3. Lawson's Finest Liquids/Tree House Shhhhhhh...!
This was the 2nd collaboration between these two breweries with the 1st being an awesome DIPA called YAHHHRRRGGG! which I waited over seven hours in line for with a buddy. Yes we are that stupid. At the end of the day it was what you'd expect from two of the biggest hop powerhouses in New England: a super juice and hop explosion. When word got around that these two were going for it again, I thought the result would be similar. While it was by no means a bad beer, it still left me wondering how they didn't catch lightning in a bottle twice.

The taste was surprisingly more tree sap resin and hop oils as opposed to big citrus juices both breweries are known for packing into their beers. It was at best a satisfying beer, but not the world-class effort each brewery has put forward both on their own and together.

2. Other Half Brewing
Other beer reviewers and Beer Tubers (YouTube Reviewers) have blazed a trail before me and often times I use their reviews as suggestions for what to seek out. I had never heard of Other Half Brewing out of New york until this year and some of the aforementioned beer reviewers were going apeshit over their hoppy beers. Since they are not available in my area I had to work out some trades to get them in my belly. I reviewed multiple OH beers (and one of their collaborations which may or may not be seen later in this post) and found that almost all of them failed to blow wind up my dress.

The overall impression I got from their IPA's was a resinous, garlic/onion taste that I associate more with the West Coast rather than something from the East. Maybe that is the style New York/New Jersey IPA's have taken on, but for me they don't drink as easy. While my sample size was relatively small (and maybe OH's many other hoppy beers are better), I was not impressed with what I was able to have.

1. The Founders Backstage Series

At what point do you just give up on a series? When Founders started their (formerly) highly acclaimed Backstage Series of unique beers back in 2011, they produced one of the highest-rated beers in the history of mankind: Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. Since then the series has put out a lot of pretty good to very good beers with a lot of "meh" thrown in. Last year one of the better ones I've ever had made my Best of List for 2014, but when it came to 2015, the series crapped out and frankly I don't think I care about it anymore.

There were three releases in 2015: Blushing Monk, ReDankulous, and Project Pam. Blushing Monk was actually a re-release of the first ever Backstage Series beer, but it was just a glass of raspberry juice. Re-Dankulous was a sticky malt bomb with no hop flavor, but most disappointing was Project Pam. This was supposed to be maple syrup and bourbon explosion over a base Imperial Black IPA. All it gave me was a sweet, thick, schnapps taste that left me crying myself to sleep. These releases used to be immediate "must haves", but now if I see them at my local stores, I will tread more lightly.

The Worst Beer of 2015

 I don't make it a point to seek out what are regarded as "bad beers". My thought process when I go into a store isn't to review something I'm sure I won't like in order to just give a low rating. Maybe I will review some of the more notorious macro beers (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc) in 2016, but for now I have to go with what I did review last year. Going through my reviews I didn't rate enough beers low enough to compile an entire "Worst of" list, so I decided to highlight just one, which got my lowest rating in 2015.

Miami Brewing Vice IPA
On a stupid side note, the photo for this beer has the best lighting of any photo I took in 2015. I have been unable to re-create the magic and its ironic the worst beer got the best photo. Ok, stupid rant over.

When I traded for some Funky Buddha beers last year this was thrown in as an extra. Miami Brewing was something I had never heard of and if I never have another beer from them again I won't complain. Vice IPA was possibly an infected can, but from what I read in other reviews, this is how the beer is supposed to taste. A chewy mouthfeel with odd flavors of stale Heath Bar, green beans, and V8, this was bordering on undrinkable, but I think the 12oz serving made it possible to finish. Any bigger and it might have gone down the drain.

There were some other beers I had that were flavored with fruits or poorly barrel-aged that almost were put in this spot, but Vice IPA was a standard IPA that was bad on its own. I only drank it because it was free of charge, but if you see it in a store or at a bar, do not spend your hard-earned money on it.

The Top 10 Beers of 2015

Before we get to the main course, here are some of the honorable mentions that just missed making the top 10.

Honorable Mentions


Cigar City Good Gourd
Pumpkin Ales get a bad rap among beer enthusiasts and I admit that 99% taste the same. Once in a while one comes along and blows your hair back. Enter Good Gourd by Cigar City - an imperial pumpkin ale with spices.

The genuine pumpkin taste combined with big cinnamon and vanilla will have you thinking of liquid pumpkin pie, but without the overly sugary sweetness that plague a lot of other examples of the style. I've also had the rum barrel-aged version of this beer, but the base beer wins out because the flavors shine brightly without the overpowering barrel character. Throw in easy drinkability and this pumpkin ale is at the top of the heap.

Trillium/Other Half Green Street
Previously I mentioned my underwhelming experiences with Other Half Brewing, but I guess they just needed Trillium to help them out.

Out of all the Trillium beers I had this year, this one stuck out due to it's incredibly sweeter demeanor as compared to other hoppy Trillium offerings. Lots of bubblegum taste with some lime and that notorious Trillium orange sherbet flavor had my mouth watering with each sip.

Collaborations are very hit-or-miss, but this one was stellar in all aspects.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (2015 Vintage)
When the smoke cleared from Black Friday and I had all of my Bourbon County reviews done, there was one that stood out from the pack.

The base BCBS is amazing enough, but the addition of that coffee helped replace the base beer's smokey char and tobacco with rich espresso, chocolate, and coffee. It's almost like bourbon-soaked, chocolate-covered coffee beans and yes, it is as good as it sounds.

Hopefully I can also find some next year because I am officially hooked on this beer.

Now for the main event. You're here to see the best of the best and I will not hold out any longer. Thank you for your continued support of the blog and here's to a stellar 2016. Don't forget to like the Facebook page, follow me on Twitter (@threwredbutter) & Untappd (threwredbutter), and share with friends. Cheers!

10. Foundation Epiphany
What the hell is a "Maine IPA"? When I first read that on the can of Foundation Epiphany, I didn't know what to expect. The hop lineup had me excited with promises of Cascade, Citra, Columbus, Ella, and Mosaic and the result was the best IPA I had from Maine in 2015.

An explosion of orange and pineapple hit the tongue first and creates a juicy, refreshing feeling on the first half. That is until the back end which switches to an earthy bite with some pine. The mouthfeel is never dry and it drinks like a single IPA rather than an Imperial. It's so juice-forward that at times you forget that you are drinking beer. Maine may be the "Pine Tree State", but thanks to Epipany, it should be the "Orange Tree State".

9. Trillium Artaic
I've had so many Trillium IPA's that it's hard to keep track. From their stellar "Street" IPA's to their one-off Imperials, it is hard to find one that isn't good, so when one manages to distance itself from the pack, then that is an accomplishment.

Artiac is a DIPA brewed exclusively with Mosaic hops with an addition of raw wildflower honey. A near sensory overload, Artaic provided juicy pineapple, black pepper, cedar, and sugary honey to form one of the more unique flavor profiles I have experienced in a DIPA. To me 2015 saw an explosion of breweries using Mosaic hops, but Trillium (not surprisingly) seemed to utilize its potential best.

8. Firestone Walker 18th Anniversary Ale
The universally acclaimed Anniversary Ales from Firestone Walker blend together multiple FW beers which are aged in numerous spirit barrels. I've had the chance to try every Anniversary Ale since FW 14, but this year marked my first official review of one of these bad boys and frankly I wasn't surprised when it received one of my highest scores.

Despite having Parabola as its biggest component, the dark fruits and other Quad and Doppelbock qualities stood out most, but I wasn't complaining. The big punch of milk chocolate, coffee, and roasted malts also came through loud and clear as did the juicy hops of the Double Jack and Wookey Jack. Taking the best parts of Imperial Stouts, Quads, Barleywines, and then barrel-aging them made for an orgasmic experience. I can't wait to crack open my 19th Anniversary!

7. Avery Fortuna
It's not that I am opposed to the Wild Ale style, it's just that I prefer others in favor. Avery has a reputation for these massive, barrel-aged beers which can come off as too hot right out of the gate. When I heard they were making a tequila-aged beer, I was apprehensive to say the least. But since the beer was given to me for free as a gift, I knew there was no harm in trying. After having it, it was something I definitely would have spent my own money on.

The equivalent of a tequila shot with full salt lick and lime wedge, Fortuna was one of the best sour ales I've ever had. High quality, top-shelf tequila never at any point had an alcohol taste or burn and it matched perfectly with the lime zest and Gose-esque saltiness. Amazingly the sourness of the bacteria and the salt did not make the beer hard to drink nor did it make my mouth dry up as this was surprisingly refreshing for the style and the ingredients used. This was tequila aging done right.

6. Tree House In Perpetuity
Much like Trillium, I have had the chance to try a lot of Tree House IPA's and at this point I expect a great beer. I luckily one day had the time to drive to the brewery on a weekday to get this one-off IPA and man was I one lucky duck.

Supposedly brewed with both Nelson and Citra hops, I (for the most part) only picked up on the Nelson's dominating flavors, but the result was so good I didn't care at all. Overpowering (in a good way) white grape and white wine made for a Nelson Nuke, but a small amount of citrus was detectable as was a Trillium-esque orange creme taste. If you get hard for Nelson hops then this is where you want to be. Very reminiscent of Alpine Nelson, I really hope they decide to brew this one again.

5. Night Shift Darkling
Before rolling out my Bourbon County reviews, I dubbed this beer the "Bourbon County Killer". Now that I had a chance to give a full review of BCBS, and had the chance to compare the two, I must say that my opinion hasn't changed one bit.

Darkling had all the usual flavors you expect from BA stouts with the sweet bourbon, oak, char, and dark chocolate, but it also added in vanilla and even some caramel and quad-like dark fruits. What set it apart from others was that mouthfeel. It was the thickest imperial stout I've ever had and almost had a barium-like thickness that slowly moved over the tongue and covered everything in its path like The Blob. Night Shift has become known for their hoppy beers lately, but their barrel-aging program seems to be on point as well.

4. The Bruery Grey Monday
I received this in a trade and felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I opened the box. I knew this was going to be amazing even before I opened it as the sheer smell of the beer resonated from just the outside of the bottle. I could have held it to my face and smelled it all day and I would have been perfectly satisfied.

I've had Black Tuesday and Chocolate Rain from The Bruery and they made their mark as big-ass Imperial Stouts. While they were big and flavorful, they did tend to lean on alcohol taste and booziness to help move the sweeter aspects along. Grey Monday was the first Black Tuesday variant I had that didn't weigh me down and was light on the booze and heat.

This variant is made with hazelnuts and they added a nutty taste which accented the base beer's chocolate. The hazelnuts and chocolate made for liquid, bourbon-soaked Nutella and the additional coffee and vanilla turned this into a superb dessert beer. I was surprised at how drinkable an 18.0% beer was, but those hazelnuts neutralized the overly sweet/sugary flavors and masked the alcohol beautifully.

3. Toppling Goliath King Sue 
Toppling Goliath IPA's have much hype surrounding them. In my experience I have found them be ok for the most part, but not load-blowing by any means. Most recently I found their all-Mosaic DIPA to be a major letdown, but when it comes Citra-hopped DIPAs, then I think King Sue might be at the head of its class.

A pure Juice Nuke if I've ever had one, King Sue's aroma of orange and citrus was bursting from the bottle before I even poured into the glass. When I did, the aroma filled the room like an air freshener, but the taste told the whole story. If Hi-C was a beer, then it would be King Sue. The Citra hops are unrelenting from start to finish and there is never even a moment where the beer transitions to anything bitter, grassy, herbal etc. It's a flood of Citra at every turn and is just plain refreshing. It's hard to believe that it's even beer, but King Sue has earned its royal moniker with an elite DIPA.

2. New England Brewing Fuzzy Baby Ducks
I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than with a beer like this. It was worth the effort to do the in-person trade down in Rhode Island because this Citra bomb has all of the Citra flavor as King Sue, but FBD is a single IPA and not a DIPA which makes it even more impressive.

I'd compare it to the aforementioned King Sue, but also Tree House Julius and Hill Farmstead Susan with its onslaught of orange, mango, and fresh-squeezed hop juice. The subtle addition of hop flavors gave it a little more complexity than any IPA on this list. In a blind test I'd swear this was a Citra DIPA considering the sheer amount of flavor, but when a Single IPA crams in this much flavor, then the result is a one-of-a-kind IPA that can't be missed.

1. Bottle Logic Fundamental Observation
One of the final beers I reviewed in 2015 was not only the best, but it was my only perfect score for the year.

Probably the best use of vanilla beans I've seen in a stout, Fundamental Observation was a melted s'more in a glass, but soaked in delicious bourbon. Massive chocolate and creamy marshmallow made me feel like I was having a hot fudge sundae, but covered in the contents of the four bourbon barrels the beer was aged in. The mouthfeel was also thick like hot fudge and the kicker was that there was no alcohol taste to be found out of that 14.0% abv. Very rarely will an Imperial Stout this big be this drinkable and dessert-like, but that is why it earned the perfect 10/10.

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