Top 10 Beers of the Year
Jester King Gin Barrel–Aged Nocturn Chrysalis (Austin) Fruited American wild ales can easily become nautical hull solvent—but when done flawlessly, they achieve new levels of juicy nuance. The blackberries here aren’t so jammy; instead, they manifest more as a tannic, drying, brackish pop of pomegranate and syrah that melds seamlessly with the Aperol-and-eucalyptus gin-barrel character. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and those goat rustlers in Hill Country crushed it.
Revolution Double Barrel VSOJ (Chicago) In the world of bourbon gimmicks, secondary casking often props up immature or flawed product. This is the exact opposite, taking what is already the pinnacle of barrel-aged barleywine and pushing its limits in quality and complexity. The second racking adds layers of baklava, Heath bar, and Luxardo cherry underpinned by velvety spirit. It’s almost impossible to improve upon VSOJ, but Marty and the boys pulled it off amiably.
White Bay Sequoia Country (Sydney) The IPA boat got lost on its way to India, and this tremendous offering from Sydney hop masters White Bay Beer shows that clear, resinous, pine water still has a valid presence worldwide. Aserose and tangelo join forces for this Comet-Mosaic-Citra offering that is concurrently pith, sap, and clementine. Australia is staying bitter for the better.
Toppling Goliath Rye Double Barrel Assassin (Decorah, Iowa) The entire town of Decorah is practically underwritten by migratory dudes in cargo shorts who arrive in Iowa to flip Toppling Goliath’s stouts. Thankfully, this stout checks almost every box and delivers on its promise of cask depth, with lava cake, halva, and Sazerac herbal dryness with a brownie burned-corner piece. I hate reinforcing hype, but it’s impossible not to bask in this roast-malt masterpiece.
Barrique Baltic Porter (Nashville, Tennessee) The often-overlooked Baltic porter style pays huge dividends when executed this well. In Barrique’s all-barrel-aged program, this has all the fun and complexity of European anise and black patent, as American restraint pulls the roast-and-bitter reins to allow subtle oak to shine. You get a lager-powered, bottom-fermenting workhorse that is drinkable, with flawless carbonation delivering Good & Plenty candies coupled with Espresso-martini panache.
Ghost Town Hammer Smashed Citra (Oakland, California) With endless iterations of single IPA, these Bay Area newcomers scramble to the top of a mountain of empty sixtels and shred out Citra-conifer goodness in Mixolydian scales on a Gibson SG. The floral aspects call out to hyacinth, sandalwood, zested blood orange, and a refreshingly clean swallow that pops with Eureka lemon rind. Even Too Short blows the whistle on this bitter Oaktown gem.
Rochefort Triple Extra (Rochefort, Belgium) Imagine if AMC were reborn and released an incredible Pacer EV today—that’s how this Trappist brewery merges decades of tradition with modern innovation, uniting progress with heritage. The gold body and Jazz apple make you think “classic tripel,” then the estery VTEC kicks in, and you get that clove craved by your monastic loins. The closer goes apple fritter–cardamom, with truly incredible lacing and retention. A classic is reborn.
Wax Wings Heights (Kalamazoo, Michigan) This double-mashed, single-barreled stout is enough to get Michigan beer nerds to rally harder than an autoworkers’ strike. The sheeting and luxurious body of this coats like ganache Robitussin, elevating the tater cask of Weller 12 to incredible levels of Toll House cookie. The swallow provides some figs and dates to slobs who never visit the produce aisle. It warms and fulfills, like charging your Motorola Razr, or like bothering old hookups.
Eredità PapaPils (North Haven, Connecticut) Embracing pilsner is borderline pandering at this point, but when an unfiltered yet focused, clean-as–Davidoff Cool Water lager lands in your glass, praise is warranted. These newcomers open with a classic salvo that doesn’t lean into the insecure IPL-cum-Italian-style pils overhopping. This stands on its own biscuity merits, as fresh fescue and Ritz cracker provide first-day-of-school vibes. It excels in graceful challah-bread tact.
Mikerphone Double LP: Side B (Elk Grove Village, Illinois) Mikerphone teamed up with Goose Island to produce what is perhaps the best beer they’ve ever made, a director’s cut Criterion classic of an English-style barleywine. The intense saturation of 18 months of casking provides Almond Roca, Madeira, and currant, making this a complex spicy banger for the ages.
If You Could Share a Beer with One Figure in Brewing…
I would love to have a pint with Håge Wiktorsson, founder of Närke Kulturbryggeri. His legacy not only paved the way for Scandinavian greatness in craft beer, but it also built the framework for American barrel-aged stouts. His focus on tightly fermented, classically executed styles is inspiring. I never was able to meet him; cancer took him in 2020. But our beer scene is forever changed by his influence.
If You Could Bring a Beer Back from the Grave…
Rolling Rock, the way it tasted before the 2006 AB InBev buyout. That classic lager fueled so many nights of craven goblin-mode activities.
Favorite Underrated Ingredient
Spelt. Many brewers are already wise to this saison Konami cheat code. It increases foam-party thickness and lacing, it boosts the olfactory, and it leaves lingering almond skin and faint acidity in the mouthfeel. Sure, you can go for incredible new examples such as Sante Adairius Silent Spaces. Or, you can pay homage to the OG, the inimitable Blaugies Saison d’Epeautre.
Most Encouraging Thing Happening in Craft Beer Lately
The cratering of the secondary beer market. People are now compelled to drink what they buy, and there isn’t a false scarcity that profiteers leverage for their own gain. This also decreases gatekeeping, encouraging more casual normies to buy local releases.
The Beer the Craft Beer & Brewing Editors Should Have Added to Their 2023 Editors’ Picks
Pulpit Rock Vennskap (Decorah, Iowa). It’s easy to dismiss pastry stout as a childish endeavor until you face the pinnacle of the genre. Coconut, vanilla, and hazelnut sound like the Coffee-Mate shelf, but here they blend together seamlessly with double-barrel aging of 26 and 36 months. The result is a drying bourbon backbone that tempers the German chocolate, devil’s food cake, and Nutella crepes into something that feels cohesive and magnificent, beyond just mirroring confectionary delights.