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Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine Best in Beer 2016: Critics' Choice

We asked some of our most trusted beer critics for their favorite beers, breweries, trends, and more for 2016.

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine Best in Beer 2016: Critics' Choice Primary Image

C1-Critics Choice Stan H

The author of For the Love of Hops and the recently released Brewing Local: American-Grown Beer offers his personal list of 2016 bests.

Top New Breweries (less than 3 years old)

Right Proper Brewing (Washington, D.C.): Your choice: the brewpub or the production brewery that opened two years later. If an American Primitive beer is on, drink that. And as Brewer Nathan Zeender says, “Ornithology teaches us that beer can have a soulfulness.”

Creature Comforts Brewing (Athens, Georgia): I discovered this brewery from a distance, one beer at a time. If Athena (a Berliner weisse) on a hot day in Yakima, Washington, hadn’t already convinced me how much I wanted to visit the brewery, then more recently Athena Paradiso with passion fruit and guava certainly did.

Forbidden Root Brewing (Chicago, Illinois): The premise sounds simple: make a beer that tastes like root beer without using sassafras (the “forbidden root”). But if there is an interesting-tasting botanical anywhere in the world, alchemist Randy Mosher will probably find a way to use it in beer.

Zebulon Artisan Ales (Weaverville, North Carolina): I can’t wait for the 4-pack of forgotten/neglected beer styles Co-owner/Brewer Mike Karnowski is releasing. And I am influenced by the fact that Co-owner Gabe Pickard-Karnowski’s business card reads: “Factotum and Ebullient Conspirator in the Leavening Arts.”

Casey Blending & Brewing (Glenwood Springs, Colorado): I’m not going to be the one who leaves Troy Casey off the list. When the people who drive hundreds of miles and other tickers quit drinking these beers, locals will still be scribbling drinking notes along the lines of “fresh and balanced.”

Most Underrated Regional or National Brewery

Wisconsin Brewing Company (Verona, Wisconsin) is committed to using only Wisconsin-grown hops. “Underrated” is tough to define, and Wisconsin Brewing is barely regional size. There are several breweries—bigger and getting a lot of love, so not underrated—also supporting local ingredients. Like Allagash, Ommegang, New Glarus, Summit, etc.

Top Beers of the Year

The Blue Jacket (Washington, D.C.) and Brasserie De La Senne (Brussels, Belgium) collab, Gray Jacket.

2nd Shift Brewing (New Haven, Missouri) Katy is my favorite saison that I can get outside of The Side Project Cellar, but for 20 minutes on a hot D.C. day, the combination of funk and spicy/citrusy hops flavor in Gray Jacket surpassed it.

4 Hands Brewing City Wide (St. Louis, Missouri): A creatively hopped pale ale brewed just for St. Louis to benefit the city where it is made.

Marble Brewery Pilsner (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and Urban Chestnut Brewing Stammtisch (St. Louis, Missouri): Old friends of mine; not each other. They taste of Germany because of the ingredients, but once you get to know them, one is definitely New Mexican, the other St. Louisan.

Side Project Brewing Bière du Pays (St. Louis, Missouri): More specifically Blend #4, because it is on as I write this. The Cellar is full of beers with the hype they deserve, but this one represents the soulfulness (to borrow from Nathan Zeender) of the place as well as any.

New Glarus Brewing 2016 Oud Bruin (New Glarus, Wisconsin): If I’m going to complain about brewers misunderstanding acidity (see my least favorite trend), it makes sense to point to one that is perfectly balanced. Great fruit flavors without fruit, sweet, and tart, and complex without being demanding.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Chico, California) and Mahr’s Bräu (Bamberg, Germany) Oktoberfest: I was shocked to enjoy Sierra Nevada’s 2016 collaboration with a German brewery even more than I liked the previous one, which was my favorite 2015 Oktoberfest. It’s full of rich malt and spicy/floral hops flavors.

Perennial Artisan Ales Suburban Beverage (St. Louis, Missouri): In the summer that would not end this year in St. Louis, this Gose defined refreshing.

Favorite Beer Trend

Corn is being acknowledged as a suitable beer ingredient after years of shame. It may have been an accomplice in the dumbing down of American pale lagers, but it was not the true villain.

Least Favorite Beer Trend

pH becoming the new IBU. Instead of bragging about the bittering units in their beers (even though their calculations are often wrong), too many brewers have begun crowing about how low the pH is. Those are just as likely to suck as badly hopped beers.

Favorite New Hops

Mistral. Bred in France, bolder than Strisselspalt, and suitable for dry hopping, but still delicate. Floral, citrusy, and subtly fruity (peach and mango).

Best Beer-Related Experience of the Year

“Ales Through the Ages” in Colonial Williamsburg in March. It totally lived up to this hype: “We will explore ancient ales and indigenous beers of the past, examine the origins and consequences of industrial brewing, discover the ingredients brewers have used through time, and share a toast to brewers past!”

C2-Critics Choice John Verive

From his outpost in Los Angeles, beer writer John Verive covers the Southern California beer scene for his own Beer of Tomorrow blog as well as Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and a handful of other publications. This self-avowed Pilsner fanatic and aspiring Master Cicerone® offers up his high points of the year.

Top New Breweries (less than 3 years old)

Chicago’s Off Color Brewing got started in 2013, but not a lot of their beer made it to the West Coast until 2016, when 4-packs of the tart Gose, Troublesome, started showing up in the coolers of my favorite beer shop. The staff at Sunset Beer Co. quickly turned me on to the complex and delightful Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale, and my infatuation with the brand only deepened when I visited Chicago in the spring. I drank with brewery Cofounder John Laffler (though I didn’t realize it at the time) and enjoyed Off Color beers at many bars and restaurants around Chicago, including a very memorable pint of Tooth and Claw—a beer brewed specially for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History—in the shadow of Sue, the museum’s towering T-Rex skeleton.

One of the best breweries in Southern California, Beachwood Brewery (Long Beach, California), had a big 2016. They purchased a nearby production brewery to make more of their flagship IPAs, and they opened a dedicated wild ale–aging facility that’s packed full of barrels and features a stand-alone tasting room. The Beachwood Blendery is now releasing a steady stream of “lambic-inspired” ales, fruited sour beers, and experimentations with Brett fermentations and some uncommon ingredients. The beers are already worth hunting down, and they’ll only get better as The Blendery perfects their techniques.

I love a great brewpub, and one of my new favorites is Chicago’s Forbidden Root. The brewery is focused on botanic beers infused with everything from cherry stems (Cherrytree Amaro Ale) to wildflowers (Wildflower Pale Ale), but the whole lineup is delicate and drinkable, not gimmicky. The kitchen turns out inventive and ingredient- driven dishes, from the seasonal and fresh to the fermented and funky, and the bar snacks in particular are crave-worthy. Add a lively and attractive ambience, and you have a neighborhood joint that I would love to visit more often.

Most Underrated Regional or National Brewery

Unlike so many of the regional breweries working to expand their territory and earn new fans, Firestone Walker (Paso Robles, California) resisted the easy-money fruit-flavored IPA trend. It would have been trivial for the brewers to mar the off-dry and classically hoppy Union Jack with grapefruit or lychee or melon, but Brewmaster Matt Brynildson instead opted for a new spin on the West Coast IPA. Luponic Distortion is a light-bodied and dry IPA with a heavy dose of late-kettle hops and a judicious dry hop. Nothing revolutionary, except that the specific blend of hops varieties changes about four times a year. Each “Revolution” of Luponic Distortion is numbered (up to 003 at press time) and uses the same base beer but shows off different hops aromas. They just keep getting better.

Top Beers of the Year

Garage Project Sauvin Nouveau (Wellington, New Zealand): The creative and skilled brewers from New Zealand began exporting beer to America in 2016, and one of the best bottles to land stateside defies classification. Sauvin Nouveau is Pilsner wort blended with freshly pressed Sauvignon Blanc juice and dry hopped with New Zealand’s signature, characterful Nelson Sauvin hops. The beer is brimming with pungent hops aromas underpinned by the vinous bite of fermented grapes, but the rich Pils malt character still shines through. It’s my new favorite beer.

Half Acre Beer Company, Gin Barrel Aged Pony Pilsner (Chicago, Illinois): The Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival is one of the year’s most exciting beer events, and the brewers all bring out the big guns. But it wasn’t a rare fruited sour ale or a potent imperial stout (or even whatever inventive brew the guys from Garage Project were pouring) that best captured my imagination this year. It was a Pilsner from Chicago’s Half Acre Brewing. The beer is a blend of fresh Pony and a portion of Pilsner aged in botanically infused gin barrels. The result was fresh and bright with an intense juniper aroma and pine needle bitterness. On a day pushing 100°F (38°C), the blend was more refreshing than a gin and tonic.

Pipeworks Brewing Co., Lizard King (Chicago, Illinois): From Chicago’s up-and-coming Pipeworks Brewing, Lizard King matches a crisp and crushable American pale ale with the complex fruit explosion of Mosaic hops. Starting off bright and clean, the danker passion-fruit flavors of the Mo’ hops creep into a finish with just enough bitterness to send you back for another sip. I won’t soon forget my first taste of the brew on the patio of Logan Square’s Longman and Eagle gastropub as the first days of spring invaded Chicago.

Craftsman Brewing Co., Cuvee de Masumoto (Pasadena, California): Long story short, Masumoto Family Farms is a famed peach orchard that grows organic, heirloom varieties of stone fruit in Central California. At Pasadena’s Craftsman Brewing, Founder Mark Jilg brews five batches of a sour blonde ale and re-ferments each with a different variety of peach or nectarine from the farm before blending the components together and finishing in oak foeders. Fresh, tart, earthy, and funky—the beer captures the essence of the orchard in a glass.

Eagle Rock Brewery, 3056 Berliner Rye (Los Angeles, California): Years ago, Eagle Rock Brewery made a collaboration beer for L.A. Beer Week. Unity 2012 was a kettle-soured Berliner Weisse with a big dose of rye grain and a couple hundred pounds of prickly pear cactus fruit (all hand de-pricked by brewers from around Los Angeles—and a couple “lucky” beer writers). The light and bright beer that resulted packed more flavor into a sub-four percent ABV than anything I’d ever tasted, and it became an instant personal favorite. This year ERB re-brewed a version of the beer, this time leaving the prickly pears on the cactus and adding more rye. Berliner Rye was an unbeatable restorative during this summer’s most sweltering afternoons.

Favorite Beer Trend

What’s the difference between a trend and a fad? A fad comes on quickly and disappears just as fast, but a trend has legs. I’m happy to see that the rise of lagers made at American craft breweries is more trend than fad, and I hope it will continue to gain momentum. From the misunderstood Pilsner to the mysterious Schwarz bier, flavorful lager styles offer an exciting jumping-off point for creative brewers, and I’m excited to see the new hybrids and styles that may develop as lagers gain acceptance and popularity with drinkers.

Best Beer-Related Experience of the Year

My best beer experience of 2016 was defined by failure. After nearly a year of intensive preparations, in April I traveled to Chicago to sit for the Master Cicerone® exam. The two-day test was grueling, brutally difficult, and emotionally draining. I failed, as did the other seventeen hopefuls who took the exam with me, but despite the pressure, hand cramps (from hand-writing more than forty-two pages of essays), and self-doubt, it was actually kind of fun. I made some new friends and learned a tremendous amount, and I tacked a four-day mini-vacation in the Windy City to the end of the trip. I fell in love with Chicago. After months of stressing about the exam, the elation I felt to be finished—even knowing I did not pass—left me bewildered and easily enchanted by the incredible city and its mature and inspiring beer culture.

C3-Critics Choice DDB

In a move sure to disappoint his hardened fans who expect unbridled (and hilarious) critique, the blogger behind DontDrinkBeer.com instead offers up positivity with his favorite breweries, beers, and trends of the past year.

Top New Breweries (less than 3 years old)

Holy Mountain Brewing (Seattle, Washington): The Pacific Northwest has been silently pumping out world-class gems, and Holy Mountain can be seen as a standard bearer of the highest quality. This relative newcomer has dazzled with its wild-ale program, with the likes of Clarette, and shown depth with nuanced barrel bombs such as barrel-aged Midnight Still (Coffee/Vanilla). You would be remiss to overlook this fantastic upstart.

Highland Park Brewing (Los Angeles, California): Brewing out of the parking lot of a former dive bar, Bob Kunz and his crew have pumped a gristy saison life into the Los Angeles beer scene with complex foeder-fermented and barrel-fermented ales. Caps must be doffed for beers such as the phenomenal second batch of Barrel-aged Griffith J. Griffth, a testament of darker treats to come.

Casey Brewing & Blending (Glenwood Springs, Colorado): Located in the remote peaks of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Casey has overhauled the wild-ale game with their delicate, focused farmhouse program and fruited wild ales. With tiny yields and a remote location, their attention to detail is meticulous, and the sourcing of the produce is unparalleled. One sip of the peach masterpiece, Leaner, is all the confirmation one needs to confirm that Troy and the Casey crew have the game on lock.

Creature Comforts (Athens, Georgia): This brewery recently took Georgia by storm and continues to improve with every release. Existence demonstrated that they could shine outside the adjunct realm, Automatic is one of the finest pale ales this side of Hill Farmstead Edward, and Curious Six is perhaps the most flawlessly executed stone-fruit wild ale of 2016.

Funk Factory Geuzeria (Madison, Wisconsin): Levi Funk has spent years honing his blending skills to present the most authentic analogues to Senne Valley counterparts available on this side of the Atlantic. Gueuzey offerings such as White Lodge raise an eyebrow at the Pajottenland, if only because a North American equivalent has never come this close to their Belgian brethren.

Most Underrated Regional or National Brewery

Live Oak Brewing (Austin, Texas) has been an exceptional Austin-area crowd pleaser for years. Their inimitable Live Oak HefeWeizen defined the genre and arguably improved upon the timeless German model for this often-dismissed style of wheat beer. In 2016, Live Oak began canning this world-class ale, improving portability and lending to dangerous crushability outside their doors. No longer were the salty masses forced to swing arduous glass growlers on Eliminator boats. Live Oak gave Texans the session beer that they want and deserve, in a can.

Top Beers of the Year

Cycle Brewing Company Scooop (Saint Petersburg, Florida): In a stereotypically Floridian move, Cycle made a massive, complex stout replete with sticky adjuncts, completely mirroring a scoop of Neapolitan ice cream. However, the sheer complexity of fruit and decadent confectioner’s notes, coupled with the barrel presence, produces a beer that is absolutely outstanding and without comparable analogue.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Aged Raspberry Eisbock (Warren, Michigan): The colossal 15.5 percent beast spent more than a year in a bourbon barrel and emerged greater than the sum of its parts: boozy, massive, and malt-forward with fruity underpinnings. Read: incomparable.

Brasserie Fantôme Forest Ghost (Belgium): Dany Prignon, the timeless purveyor of god-tier saisons, outdid himself to make an attenuated, classic saison that has a Telecaster strain of Brett claussenii and herbal interplay.

Side Project Brewing Saison du Blé (St. Louis, Missouri): These St. Louis boys are no strangers to saisons, but the extended rest in oak made this creamy, lightly acidic gem nothing short of a farmhouse masterpiece.

Central Waters Brewing Ardea Insignis (Amherst, Wisconsin): While these Wisconsin hucksters usually pump out graceful, attenuated offerings, this massive ultra-casked stout spread its dark chocolate wingspan to allow the staves underneath to breathe.

Voodoo Brewing Company ManBearPig (Meadville, Pennsylvania): People in Pennsylvania have watched Voodoo’s barrel program evolve into a thing of legend, and MBP might be their finest product since Pappy Van Winkle Black Majick. Maple, bourbon, roast, and a long caramel brownie finish leave this in a class all its own.

Fremont Brewing Ancient One Bourbon Barrel Aged Abominable (Seattle, Washington): Fremont already set the bar incredibly high for the strong ale world with 2015’s flawless Brew 1000, but Ancient One takes the thirty-month casking to dizzying new heights. At $30 for a 12 fl oz (355 ml) bottle, this beer justifies every cent of its asking price with waves of lacquer, oak, crème brûlée shell, and toasted mallow foam.

Tree House Brewing Company Very Hazy (Monson, Massachusetts): The turbidity and unfiltered haze put New England IPAs on the map, but Tree House perfected that model with creamy panache. This beer is a masterpiece of silky carb, floral, and tropical notes and intense drinkability.

Great Notion Brewing Juice Box (Portland, Oregon): Proving that not only the New England IPA can turn out silky late addition–hopped gems, this 7 bbl brewery knocked it out of the park with this DIPA brimming with orange pith and apricot.

Hill Farmstead Brewery Barrel-Aged Dorothy (Greensboro, Vermont): While Shaun Hill is no stranger to inimitable saisons, Barrel-Aged Dorothy reconciled the elegance of barrel aging with a flawless integrated hops profile. The rest of their canon is already without reproach, so to stand out amongst their own wares, Hill Farmstead accomplished something remarkable.

Favorite Beer Trend

One of the greatest things to develop in 2016 is the ubiquitous use of canning lines in craft beer. While the likes of The Alchemist (Waterbury, Vermont) and others have been embracing the aluminum overlords for half a decade, it is de rigeur to package nearly every style in cans at this point, and the result is glorious. I knew we were within the Age of Aquarius when East End Brewing Company (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) put barrel-aged Gratitude in a can. Oskar Blues (Longmont, Colorado) crowlered up their massive barrel-aged Ten FIDY. Sebago Brewing Company (Gorham, Maine) even canned their exceptional barrel-aged Barleywine for malty beachside enjoyment. No one can dispute that this is a step in the right direction for so many reasons.

Best Beer-Related Experience of the Year

While the Firestone Walker Invitational and The Bruery’s (Placentia, California) anniversary party were exceptional, there is nothing comparable to driving up to Kern River Brewing Company (Kernville, California) and camping during a Citra release. The elevation, the air, the food, the hikes, and the new brewery buildout offer up something beyond the tired, leaky industrial park. The beer is world class, and the owners, Eric and Rebecca Giddens, welcome guests in a genial way that only mountain waffle fries can augment.

When Will the Craft-Beer Bubble Burst?

Market saturation is the natural ebb and flow of any industry and, at a certain point, there will simply not be enough livers to detoxify all of the wares fermenting in the marketplace. I do not foresee the bottom falling out in a baseball card, 1983 video game industry–type of abandonment. The true burst will be more insidious and internally malignant, due to silent ownership alterations or outright acquisitions. The counterbalance to this will be the 7 bbl systems of the world who will continue to silently turn out incredible products and improve the state of beer as a whole. The death and decay of innumerable breweries doing tired five tap handle riffs on a California Ale strain is counterbalanced by those who will buy their equipment in bankruptcy liquidation and brew beer that sets the bar higher and higher for everyone. If the bubble is set to burst, there’s another generation of undulating culture below the airlock increasing efficiency with evermore forthcoming bubbles.

Least Favorite Beer Trend

Universal canning spawned a cesspool in the shadow of canned releases: absurd lines at canned IPA releases. While it pangs of being a style elitist, if you told someone five years ago that people would line up for hours to walk away with two 4-packs of IPA, they would drop their Charlie Papazian primer into the mash tun. Given the ever-increasing number of DMV-style releases, this will likely extend past the back dumpsters into 2017.

C4-Critics Choice Jackie Dodd

Author of TheBeeroness.com blog as well as several books on cooking with beer, Dodd calls Seattle, Washington, home and offers a PNW-centric take on 2016 bests.

Top New Breweries (less than 3 years old)

Culmination Brewing (Portland, Oregon): For a brewery that opened its doors last year, this place brews like they’ve been doing it for centuries. The beer has a beautiful old-soul quality to it, and there is not a style they haven’t perfected. It’s no surprise that just months after they opened, the awards started to pile up.

Holy Mountain (Seattle, Washington): It’s hard to stand out in a craft-beer scene like Seattle, but Holy Mountain is at the top of the game. Just two years old, they’re already one of the best in town. Keep an eye on them—this is only the beginning.

pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River, Oregon): A gorgeous location on Hood River, coupled with a beautiful tap list, makes this the perfect place to settle in for a pint. Their Pilsner is absolutely world class—there isn’t a disappointing beer on the menu—and their family ownership is reflected in the welcoming hospitality of their staff. They’re well on their way to Oregon mainstay.

Most Underrated National Brewery

For years I’ve felt that Odell Brewing (Fort Collins, Colorado) is one of the nation’s most underrated breweries. This year, their wild ale releases such as Piña Agria and Friek single-handedly changed my mind about sour beers. So incredible.

Top Beers of the Year

Ghostfish Watchstander Stout (Seattle, Washington): It’s one the best stouts I’ve had all year, it’s brewed with gluten-free grains, and it’s incredible. Stouts are already a challenging style to brew well, but add in the difficulty of brewing without barley, and it’s shockingly impressive.

pFriem Pilsner (Hood River, Oregon): It’s hard to make noise with a Pilsner, but pFriem has done it, and it’s on point. It’s a memorable beer among a style that’s not known for individual standouts.

Holy Mountain Transfiguration (Seattle, Washington): I was blown away by how this saison is simultaneously packed with flavor and insanely drinkable.

Widmer Innovation Brewery El Injerto (Portland, Oregon): I’ve been really impressed with what Widmer is doing with their innovation brewery, and I hope they start to bottle the beers they produce because they’re awesome. The El Injerto Coffee Pale Ale was a collaboration with Stumptown, and it was incredibly good.

Culmination Brewing Phaedrus IPA (Portland, Oregon): I think we are all a little weary of IPAs right now, so it takes an outstanding one to get my attention. This one is more than memorable, and perfectly dry hopped with Citra and Mosaic hops—an easy way to get me to fall in love with a beer. I’d drive across town for another pint of this.

Favorite Beer Trend

Crowlers: So much easier to travel with, store, and gift. You don’t have the ticking clock that comes along with a traditional growler or the expense of a pressurized C02 growler. I hope to see more and more in the next year.

Least Favorite Beer Trend

Nitro IPAs: It’s like drinking beer with a head cold; everything is dull and overly mellow. C02 produces superior aromatics, and the carbonic bite complements the bitterness of most IPAs. Nitro is fantastic for some styles, but beer drinkers need to stop treating it like it’s inherently superior to C02.

Best Beer-Related Destination

Bend, Oregon: What Napa did for U.S. wine tourism, Bend is doing for beer tourism. It’s a destination town on its own, but it’s infused with a gluttonous amount of incredible breweries.

Favorite Food/Beer Pairing of the Year?

My favorite pairing of the year was Thai and a Saison. Thai can be tricky to pair with, but a saison that’s a little floral and lightly hopped is fantastic.

C5-Critics Choice Josh Weikert

The founder of beer-simple.com (and BJCP Grand Master beer judge) has a hard time deciding which he enjoys more—brewing beer or helping you get better at making and enjoying it.

Top New Breweries (less than 3 years old)

Burial Beer Co. (Asheville, North Carolina): There’s no shortage of great beer coming out of North Carolina these days, but Burial Beer’s Shadowclock Pilsner was my runaway favorite. The dark, Gothic theme of their brewery’s artwork is eye-catching, but it’s the beer itself that’s (pardon the pun) really killing it.

Slack Tide Brewing Co. (Cape May, New Jersey): So new it almost squeaks, Slack Tide won the Philadelphia Inquirer “Brew-vitational” competition (I was lucky to be a judge!) with a Belgian Blonde, and subsequent tastings have convinced me they’re for real. New Jersey is coming along as a craft-beer–friendly state, and several new breweries there are worth a visit.

Conshohocken Brewing Co. (Conshohocken, Pennsylvania): I approach new breweries with appropriate skepticism, and when I first tried CBC 2 years ago, I wasn’t expecting much. But I saw a local ESB on the tap list, tried it, and I’m glad I did. I tried three others that night, and since then they’ve never disappointed. In addition to the taproom at the brewery, they’ve also opened a brewpub in nearby Bridgeport, Pennsylvania.

Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. (Portland, Maine): Great beer, if you can get it. It’s worth the hunt, though. Releases are rare, and vendors usually sell out in just a few hours, but if you’re in the Portland, Maine, area, call around and you might get lucky. Their LUX rye is one of the best beers I’ve ever had.

Most Underrated National Brewery

I know many have come home from the new Sierra Nevada facility in Asheville, North Carolina, with tales of its astounding beauty and breadth—and I’m not disputing that. But just down the road from us in Philadelphia, **Victory Brewing Co has opened a new brewery and brewpub in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania, that is really impressive in its own right. It’s 140,000 square feet, accommodates hundreds of people in its 30-tap brewpub, and is situated on more than 40 acres of rolling countryside (which include its own hops acreage)—definitely worth the trip.

Top Beers of the Year

Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. Kleinevriend (Croydon, Pennsylvania): I’d never heard of a kettle-soured saison before, and when NCBC dared to bring this beer to pour at Homebrew Con in Baltimore, I thought it was pretty brave (it’s a highly critical crowd). It earned rave reviews, and very well-deserved. Bright, fruity, briskly sour, and easy to drink. It was a hit, and I wish they’d turn it into a year-round offering.

Goose Island Fulton Street Blend (Chicago, Illinois): We are rightly cautious when considering beers from craft breweries that have been incorporated into the big-beer family, but my second-favorite beer of the past 12 months came from Goose Island. A blonde coffee ale is a tough needle to thread, but this one was refreshing, tasty, and I had three almost before I could blink.

Maine Beer Company Beer V (Freeport, Maine): A pale, hoppy lager that made me as happy as I’ve ever been with a beer. This was a test batch that was on offer at the brewery one windy summer day, as was a food truck (Fire & Co. Wood Fired Catering) offering a smoked brisket pizza. It was blissful (the beer, the food, the weather, and the day).

Tree House Brewing Julius (Monson, Massachusetts): A pretty solid IPA. I think this brewery has a future. Y’all should check them out!

Stoudts Brewing Company American Pale Ale (Adamstown, Pennsylvania): We make this stuff too complicated sometimes. This is still just about the best all-around beer on the market, which is easy to forget when you go long stretches without revisiting your old favorites. A beer anyone can drink, and most will love.

Great Divide Brewing Company Espresso Yeti (Denver, Colorado): I’m usually pretty wary of beers that are over-modified (oaked, spiked, soured, etc.) but this one just works. It helps that Great Divide has a pretty high “floor” on the quality of its beers, and when they get it right, they really get it right! Rich, roasty, warm—an ideal beer for winter.

Favorite Beer Trend

Rediscovering lagers. It seems like every brewery around me was recently reminded that lagers—everything from Helles to Eisbock—can be just as marketable and delicious as the hops-forward ales that seem to pay the bills in most places! One, Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. in Croydon, Pennsylvania, released five lagers in five weeks.

Least Favorite Beer Trend

Every brewery thinking it needs a sour/barrel program. I’m assuming there must be a strong profit motive here because I would think the time and effort involved would make it pretty unattractive. For every brewery large and small that gets this right, there are five that are (in my humble opinion) wasting their time. Maybe sours and barrel-aged beers are just that taste-specific that we need a huge array of them to hit everyone’s palate sweet spots, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. This applies to “regular” sours, too—does every brewery really need a Gose? Especially when most of them are just Berliner Weisse? Why isn’t everyone chasing the hand-pumped English Bitter bandwagon?

Favorite Trend in Homebrewing

Homebrewers are starting to more aggressively break free from the dogmatic rules and practices of the past and the pros. Aided by sites such as brulosophy.com (and, dare I say, my own beer-simple.com), homebrewers are questioning like never before. Best practices in homebrewing seem to be evolving, which carries some risks but ultimately should make us all better brewers for it. What’s right for the pro brewery is not automatically right for the home brewery!

Biggest Challenge for Homebrewing

Maintaining interest and enthusiasm without becoming exclusive and elitist. Some information suggests homebrewing is plateauing, and without a welcoming and fun community, those numbers may start to dip after years of growth. Some slowdown is inevitable, of course, but we need to avoid being too “clubbish” and isolated.

Biggest Opportunity for Homebrewing

The incorporation and application of technology into the homebrewing process. Everything from probes, tools, and even automated brewing systems are now commonly available—but in many ways prohibitively expensive. I expect that prices will begin to come down, and usage will begin to ramp up.

Favorite New Homebrewing Gear

New to me? My Thermapen thermometer. That thing is fast, and as a German-American homebrewer, I appreciate speed and precision.

New in general? I’m hearing a lot of reports from people who are love, love, loving their digital refractometers. I’m sure they’ve been around for quite a while, but I’m now seeing them pop up on brewers’ Christmas Wish lists!

C6-Critics Choice Jamie Bogner

The cofounder and editorial director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® shares some personal favorites for the year, beers of note, and thoughts on the dreaded craft-beer “bubble.”

What Do You Drink the Most?

For me, 2016 was the year of the New England IPA. Between the launch of WeldWerks Juicy Bits in March, a trip to Boston and Portland over the summer with visits to Trillium and Bissell Brothers, the launch of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project’s clean beers (including their Sourless IPA), and cans of Odd 13 Codename Superfan on shelves in my local liquor stores, I had no trouble finding and drinking these fruity, less bitter, deliciously crushable IPAs.

Mixed-fermentation saisons are next on my list of most-consumed beers. We’re lucky here in Colorado to have ready access to superb renditions from Casey Brewing & Blending and Crooked Stave, but it’s not uncommon to find me stocking up on bottles on my travels—Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Saison Bernice and Cellarman are favorites, along with de Garde Oude Desay, Side Project Saison du Blé, Grisette, and Bière du Pays, Almanac Saison de Brettaville, Hill Farmstead Anna and Arthur, and more.

Pilsner also claimed a significant spot on my style list this year, and I’m particularly enamored with the creative renditions I’m seeing from breweries around the country. Urban Chestnut Hopfen Pils is a creative, contemporary, and very American take on the classic style. Sudwerk Bike Party Pils was similarly entertaining. Jack’s Abby’s stellar lineup of non-traditional Pilsners was a special treat when visiting the brewery earlier this year. And closer to home, local lager fanatics, Zwei Brewing (only a mile and a half from my home in Fort Collins), make a stellar Hopfen Pils that subtly and artfully marries tradition with today’s hops flavors.

In addition to these big categories, I drink a significant amount of beer from hometown favorites Odell Brewing as well as West Coast stalwarts Firestone Walker. Odell IPA and Union Jack IPA are go-to beers, and I never find myself tired of them.

Most Interesting Beers This Year

Hands-down, I have to give it to Scratch Brewing foraged beers. What I love most about them is that they’re not just weird experiments or proofs of concept—they’re drinkable, engaging beers that taste like beers but get there through alternate means.

Great Notion Brewing Blueberry Muffin kettle sour had some of the wildest flavors I’ve tasted in a beer in 2016—I expected blueberry, of course, but the slightly sweet baked muffin character was incredible. It scored a 93, but I still think our blind-panel judges should have scored it higher!

“Whalez” of the Year

Editing a beer magazine has its perks, and I was privileged to drink everything from Cantillon Loerik and Blåbær to Toppling Goliath Morning Delight, Cigar City Double Barrel Hunahpu, de Garde Broken Truck, and a whole lot more this year. But one that particularly stood out was FiftyFifty Brewing Masterpiece Eclipse. Gifted to me on a visit to the brewery in 2015, I finally found a special occasion to open it and loved the rich roast and very light touch of smoke that balance out the sweetness and rich Pappy barrel character in this very special beer.

Most Sought-After Beers

One beer I can never have enough of in my cellar is Jester King Atrial Rubicite. While their Le Petit Prince is one of my favorite “crushable table beers” and the perfect thing to drink outside on a warm summer day, Atrial Rubicite is a thinking person’s beer—incredibly dry while remaining rich in raspberry flavor and beautifully balanced in its approach to acidity, body, and fruit. I can’t get enough and was thrilled to see Founder Jeff Stuffings pouring it at the Great American Beer Festival this year.

Most Underrated National Brewery

One of my favorite beers of all time, hands down, is New Belgium Le Terroir dry-hopped sour. This bright and pale sour ale is complemented by gorgeous dry hopping with New School hops, and the result is a beer that tastes as good, if not better, than similar sour beers from more hyped breweries. I love it.

While not a “national” brewer per se, I was very impressed with the American release of Lindeman Oude Kriek Cuvée René. While the brewery is better known for its overly back-sweetened and cloying lambics, their traditional Oude Gueuze Cuvée René is every bit as good as (and much more accessible than) more hyped Gueuzes, and the kriek (cherry) version of the beer is wonderful as well—musty, funky, dry, rich, only slightly sweet, and available on store shelves without having to trade your first born for a bottle or wait in line for hours.

Favorite Beer Trend

The end of the IBU wars. The best thing to come from 2016 is the realization that craft beer is not about being tougher than others—not about drinking something that other people just can’t stomach. It’s not a macho thing, and it’s not a competition. Beers, generally speaking, grew less bitter. Fruit made IPAs less bitter and more palatable for more people. Brewers stopped brewing 120+ IBU bitter hops bombs because they just don’t sell that well. Other brewers reformulated their double IPAs down to the 8 percent range instead of 9–10 percent due to consumer demand.

Now, along with that came some inevitable braggadocio—brewers one-upping each other on pounds of hops added per barrel of beer (competing on flavor, not bitterness), and others talking about pounds of fruit added per barrel or how low the pH is on their sour beer. I hope this doesn’t foreshadow yet another cycle of useless competition, and thankfully consumers are more savvy than they’ve ever been—searching out and valuing those brewers who achieve balance.

Least Favorite Beer Trend

Industry complaining about the opening of new breweries or the bursting of the so-called craft-beer “bubble.” This tired trope about how new brewery openings are unsustainable and how the industry is headed for a sharp consolidation misses the bigger statistics entirely. All seem to ignore corollary stats like the fact that more than 1,000 neighborhood bars have closed every year on average for the past ten years. What we are seeing in the beer world mirrors generally that in the rest of the food world—consumers are increasingly attracted to venues where they can connect with the creators of the things they consume. Breweries with local-first business plans will continue to find success (as long as they make good beer, of course), and while growth will remain difficult for the larger national craft-beer brands due to increasing pressure from the bottom up, that’s not a reflection of the health of the craft-beer segment; it’s simply a shifting dynamic in the business of beer that the companies need to manage. Craft beer will be fine, craft-beer drinkers have better options than they ever have had before in the history of beer, and none of that is going away any time soon.

The first annual Best of Beer 2016 issue of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® (December/January 2017) is available now. It features reader, contributor, and editor selections for Best Beers of the Year, Best Breweries of the Year, Best Homebrew Gear of the Year, and much more! Plus, we explore New England–style IPAs and introduce more up-and-coming breakout brewers. Subscribe today or order your single copy.

MATT GRAVES

Have you brewed this recipe? What did you think?