Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Top 10 Beers of 2016

It's time for the 3rd installment of the Top 10 Beers list and 2016 was a pretty darn good year (pardon my French).

Admittedly, I did not review as many beers as I wanted, but I guess my resolution for 2017 would be to buckle down and produce more content. In spite of that, I still have put together a top-notch Top 10 and have had fun going back and reminiscing about so many good beers.

As with the years past, I did set some parameters for compiling this list...
  • The beer had to be reviewed on the blog in 2016. If I had it at a bar, a bottle share, fest, etc, then it doesn't qualify.
  • No re-reviews. I typically don't re-review beers, but sometimes an occasion calls for it. So sorry, Trillium Headroom, you do not qualify for 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.
 As with last year, I will do Class-B categories before counting down the 10 best of the year. Thank you for your continued support and I hope to entertain you more in 2017.

Let's Go!

Most Disappointing Beers of 2016

Like last year, the following entries weren't necessarily bad, but to me, they fell below my expectations. We won't get into a philosophical argument over whether or not I (or anyone else) am entitled to expect nothing less than a great beer, but we all have those moments where you buy a beer and say "Oh, this sounds good", but then it doesn't knock your socks off. Again, not bad, but not what I personally expected.

3. Other Half 2nd Anniversary IPA

Other Half Brewing and I don't have a solid relationship. I have found almost all of their offerings to be middle-of-the-road, but I have remained hopeful. When I landed a can of their 2nd Anniversary IPA way back in February, I was hoping this would be the one to change my mind, but it didn't.

Like most of the others I have tried, this had a strong West Coast taste that leaned heavily on spicy, onion hops. The East Coast has built a reputation for hazy, juice bombs, but Other Half doesn't follow that lead. Granted, there's nothing wrong with trying to pay homage to classic West coast IPA's, but OH doesn't seem to please either side of the country.

2. Kern River Citra
 I got serious about craft beer about five years ago and one of the most sought-after DIPA's on the planet was Kern River Citra. I may be remembering this incorrectly, but back then (2012), this was a Top 10 beer on Beer Advocate (if not that, then a Top 20). Today the rating still holds steady thanks to years of high scores, but in a world today where everyone is producing hazy juice nukes, this West Coast offering doesn't stand out.

Those classic garlic and onion notes dominate throughout. I think with this all Citra DIPA, I was expecting pure juice, but this stayed true to its roots, which caught me off guard. It wasn't a bad beer, but its reputation preceded itself.

1. Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine
Now here's one I did not like (but not enough to get on the "Worst of" list).

I had this beer for the first time years and years ago and loved it...LOVED it. It was years ahead of a lot of the current Massachusetts breweries that have defined the typical "New England IPA". When I got my latest bottle this year, I was severely let down.

Gone were the tropical fruits and instead they were replaced with an odd assortment of butterscotch and burnt popcorn to go with dirty, grassy hops. The bottle I got was only a couple of weeks old, so freshness was not the issue. I don't know if the recipe had changed or something, but this was not the beer I once loved. It cost an arm and a leg to trade for, but I think I would have given them my other appendages (including "Death Proof") to take it back.

The Worst Beers of 2016

I've said it before, but I usually don't go out of my way to purposely review "bad" beers. I buy what I want and hope for the best with each beer review. Sadly, not everything goes as planned.

3. Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin
I love me the standard Sculpin (though I've never reviewed it). The variations out there on the market are all okay for the most part. I enjoy the Grapefruit Sculpin, and the Habanero, while not my ideal flavor, was okay. Pineapple on the other hand was a different story.

As opposed to the others, this one tasted particularly artificial. More reminiscent of a pineapple shandy with a metallic aftertaste, Pineapple Sculpin was easily the least favorite of the series.

2. Samuel Adams Nitro White Ale
Earlier this year, Sam Adams released a series of Nitro beers. I reviewed all three and found their Coffee Stout to be a decent offering, but the other two were nearly undrinkable.

The Nitro White, while bad, still had touches of familiar macro brews like Miller Lite, which still helped the beer maintain some form of drinkability. This one at least started off with subtle (VERY subtle) orange and lemon, but they still disappeared in a flash. This was basically Nitro Same Summer, and that's not something I'd dive back into.

1. Samuel Adams Nitro IPA
As opposed to it's Nitro White brother, the Nitro IPA had no redeeming qualities.

I think a forest fire had burned inside the can because the taste was heavy on roasted everything. Caramelized malts, wet tree bark, metal, and dirty dishwater were the best adjectives I could bestow upon this.

Leave it to Sam Adam to try and get in on a trend and just produce something most people don't want to drink.

Honorable Mentions

Compiling these lists is never easy and some unfortunate (but deserving) souls must be left behind. So, here are a few that JUST missed the cut for the Top 10 list.

3. Trillium Double Dry Hopped Scaled
Trillium seems to be a sure bet to produce a fantastic IPA and this was no different.

A one-two punch of El Dorado (a personal favorite) and Citra hops made for an explosion of peaches, oranges, sherbet, and even some dank hops. Trillium likes to put out DDH versions of all their IPA's and it wouldn't suck if they brewed this one more often.

2. Monkish Relax Your Mind

If you're heavy into the craft beer world, then you know Monkish has become as sought-after as Tree House beers. I was lucky enough to get a variety of Monkish beers in a trade, and they did not let me down.

Relax Your Mind was a near perfect combo of both juice and hop nuke with tropical goodness and hop flavors joining forces to combat evil. The creamy mouthfeel and familiar milkshake appearance were all gravy on this mound of mashed potatoes. I really hope I get to try more Monkish beers in 2017.

1. Bissell Brothers Swish
Much like the previously mentioned Relax Your Mind, BB Swish was another sublime combo of dankness and tropical fruits.

Swish is hard to come by in trade. As a MA resident, anything I usually have to trade is something that people from Maine buying the Swish have already had. So, I personally had to make the trip up North to wait in line and get this. It was actually a nice time talking beer with the other people and in the end I got a world class DIPA.

So, does that mean that personal touch elevated this above the Monkish beer? Maybe so, but those intangibles are what push it over the edge.

Now for the big show...

No, not that one!

As you read over the Top 10 list, you may find that they aren't necessarily ranked by overall rating. Beer A might be rated lower than Beer B, but Beer A is ranked higher on the list. When I went back and looked through all of my reviews, I had to not only take into account rating, but also whether or not the beer was memorable. Scrolling through page after page, some beers had me going "Oh, that one was good" and other outbursts of joy. So while some beers may have scored higher at the time, the lasting impression they left on me was also a huge factor. But hey, they were all great and that's why we're here.

Now here is what we've all been waiting for...The Top 10 Best Beers of 2016. Thank you for visiting the blog, the Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, and Untappd and showing your support (FYI...please like and share all of these!). Here's to a 2017 full of great beer. Cheers!

10. Small Town Not Your Father's Root Beer (10.7%)

Ok, Ok, Ok, OKAY!!!! I can hear all of you screaming at your computer screens right now. What would a good list be without a little controversy? Yes, I get it. It's not technically a beer, but you need to hear me out.

While NYFRB isn't a beer in  your typical sense and might as well be lumped in with your Smirnoff Ice and Twisted Tea, the fact is I can't deny how delicious this really is.

I've ranted about this before, but in short, everyone loved NYFRB before it hit nation-wide distribution. Only when you were able to find it at every store that sold PBR, people revolted. Well, motherf***ers, I don't care because the 10.7% bigger brother is an accomplishment. With such a high gravity beverage being able to make the alcohol smell and taste and tasting exactly like god damn root beer, this was as pleasant to drink as it was impressively made. You can lie to yourself when you say you don't like the series, but I know the truth.

9. Cigar City Hunahpu
It seems like everyone is getting on this Mexican Hot Chocolate or Mole craze. Chances are, even the casual consumer has come across a stout on their local shelves that was brewed with chili peppers, cinnamon, vanilla, and cacao. Hunahpu was one of the first and it has not gone out of style just yet.

I used to never like the style, but this vintage was delicious in all aspects. Hot chocolate, fudge, cinnamon, and a lot of chili flavor (without the heat) all blended perfectly to add a kick in the pants to an already superb imperial stout.

It's hyped for a reason. If only I could get my hands on the barrel aged variants.

8. Carton Regular Coffee
I'll be the first to admit that I am in no way, shape, or form an expert on beer. When it comes to Cream Ales, I am even more clueless as it is not a particular type of beer that I have regularly had in my fridge. When it comes to the Cream Ales, Carton Brewing seems to have dialed it in and Regular Coffee is easily the best I've had of the style.

While not only a great coffee beer, this also had unexpected notes of vanilla, cream, and chocolate to make for a complex offering from a style not known for its world class library. At an unbelievable 12%, this is dangerously drinkable and it's really just a fun beer to experience.

7. Trillium Double Dry Hopped Congress Street
Congress St is already a Galaxy hop overload and one my favorite Trillium IPA's. The DDH version is beloved by fans and tends to sell out quickly. So quickly in fact that the most recent release last month saw Trillium put a limit on 4-packs just to make sure they could spread it around and frankly, I can see the hype.

I keep saying that I prefer my IPA's to have a balance between the tropical juices and dank hops. Some of the other beers mentioned had that great combo, but DDH did it slightly better with the marriage of pure hop juice and wave after wave of peaches, lemons, apricots, and grapefruit. It truly is one of the best uses of Galaxy hops that I have ever experienced.

6. Barrel House Z Sunny & 79 (Tequila Barrel Aged)
Pilsner? Barely knew her!

Still here? Thank you.

Have I ever reviewed a pilsner before this? I'm too lazy to check, but my gut feeling is a big, fat no. BHZ is a new brewery to Massachusetts and they barrel age everything. A truly unique operation, but I don't think I could have expected to be blown away by their very first offering.

A pilsner aged in tequila barrels? Yes, it works, and does so masterfully. The crisp pilsner base followed by some awesome lime, salt, and oak from the barrel, but without any heat, made for a truly memorable beer. I actually pounded two full crowlers in one night it was so good. I paid for it the next morning at work, but it was worth it.

5. Stone Enjoy By Unfiltered 2/14/16
I think I say this every year, but I'm not a big fan of Stone IPA's. Their generic West Coast style has been a constant in their hoppy beers and I didn't think I'd see them attempt to change. Now with the "New England IPA" taking the country by storm, even Stone had to give it a shot by releasing an unfiltered version of their Enjoy By series. Again, I was not a big fan of that series and couldn't expect leaving the beer unfiltered to have that big of an effect. I was pleasantly disappointed.

Tangerines and peaches swimming in pure hop juice made for an orgasm in a glass (which I'll never try again). Some nice dank qualities and incredible drinkability for a near Triple IPA, and this was easily my favorite IPA made by Stone.

4. Alchemist Heady Topper
As I said in my review: What else needs to be said about Heady Topper?

A can full of hop juice, pine needles, grapefruit, and it's all encased in this wonderful bitter, dank quality. So many IPA's try to be either juice bombs or hop bombs, but Heady is an example of perfectly balancing out the two worlds. It's influence on the beer scene is undeniable and it still holds up to every new brewery that tries to imitate it.

3. Fremont Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Star
Easily the best BA Imperial Stout I had in 2016, Fremont BA Dark Star had everything you know and love about the style, but was also ahead of the competition.

Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, oak, vanilla, marshmallow, creme brulee, and the list goes on and on. Barrel complexity plus all of the dessert-like flavors made for a massive sipper that was a pleasure to imbibe on for hours and hours.

I recently reviewed the coffee version, but the straight BA Dark Star wins out big time and does so without needing any further flavors.

2. Tree House Very Hazy
I celebrated my birthday in 2016 with a trip to Tree House Brewing. Standing outside in line in the cold, February winter, I think the world imploded into itself when the employees announced that Very Hazy would be on the menu. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time to enjoy what is considered one of the best beers on the planet.

Taking the original Haze and cranking everything up 12 notches, Very Hazy is essentially a glass of orange juice and sherbet with a perfect bitter hop finish and no resinous aftertaste. Everything from the look, aroma, and taste was almost worthy of perfection. I'm not one to buy into hype, but one sip in and I understood why it had the reputation it did.

1. Castle Island Swipe Ripe
You can call it a homer pick all you want, but to that I will kindly say "Merry Christmas to all and to all shut the f**k up".

Beer trends come and go and 2016 saw an emergence of IPA's aged on or brewed with fruit. Seriously, I don't think a week goes by where you won't see a brewery's Facebook post that says something along the lines of: "Brewed with Galaxy, Citra (etc)...and a heapin' shitload of peaches, mangoes, apricots, etc etc etc" Instead of letting the hops do their work, we are seeing so many IPA's infused with tropical or stone fruits. A lot of the time the beer ends up more of a shandy than an IPA, but holy crap, when a beer comes along that uses the fruit to enhance rather than overpower, then you have found a gem. Swipe Ripe did it the best in 2016, and may stand alone for the foreseeable future.

One of my biggest factors in a great beer is: Would I buy it again? In this case, I bought my 4-pack, destroyed it, and went back to the brewery on three different occasions to get more. The sheer amount of apricots in this can was ludicrous, but not to be outdone, the overload of juicy and dank hops just added to the complexity. Swipe Ripe was part of Castle Island's rotating Imperial IPA series which produced so many complex DIPA's, but swipe Ripe was the clear winner for me not just for Castle Island beers, but for the best beer of 2016.

See you next time. Thank you for your support.

Memory Lane

2014 Top 10
2015 Top 10

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