Top 10 Beers of the Year
Slice Mac Salad (Lincoln, California) Clarity in color and clarity in aroma and flavor are the hallmarks of Slice’s West Coast IPAs, and Mac Salad represents everything good about the style. Light yet wry, with a playful tension between sweet citrus and zesty-bitter tropical fruit, the slender body lets every element of the hop character shine. Direct and present, with an unmistakable verve.
Primitive Cursed Heirloom: Irish Whiskey (Longmont, Colorado)
A bottle shared over a podcast always results in the question, “Was it as good as I remember, or was I just enjoying the moment?” In this case, revisiting it with our blind-review panel (and their score of 98) reminded me just how much I loved the smoky take on soft stone-fruit acidity.
Xül Lost to History (Knoxville, Tennessee)
No surprise, it’s Nelson Sauvin again, but wrapped in a delicate off-dry package, with a soft, creamy thiol-citrus expression and an illusion of sweetness that feels more decadent than it is. This was my first experience of this brewery, and I look forward to more.
Alesong Raindrops on Roses (Eugene, Oregon)
Berry skin, lavender, cotton-candy grape, and wet forest floor in the nose set up a beautiful sip that’s part expressive Oregon pinot noir, part bright citrus acidity. The quality and freshness of the fruit are matched only by their expert touch in fermentation.
Bull & Bush Black Friday (Denver)
Black IPA with Nelson Sauvin hops? There were only two potential outcomes—train wreck or transcendent experience—and it moved me so much that I finished the first and immediately ordered another. You wouldn’t think it would work, but the almost minty hop freshness shone a bright light through the dark malt, and the contrast was totally engaging.
Varietal Twine Climber (Sunnyside, Washington)
Light, softly citrus-forward, and structured with a pleasantly dank bitterness, Twine Climber was a standout last month as we rolled through the Yakima Valley. It’s thoroughly modern, ultra-pale, and I found myself ordering it over and over.
Superflux Icy Cool (Vancouver, British Columbia)
I popped into the taproom for a quick beer earlier this year, pulling my typical move: asking the bartender which one the brewers drink most often. I suspected it was going to be this clean, beautifully executed pale lager with an elegant herbal and floral hop note, and I was not wrong.
Hana Koa Ho-Yah! (Honolulu)
The table’s favorite (and mine) in our first round of judging at this year’s Alpha King. Vivid thiols contour through pineapple, yuzu, and guava waves, with a disciplined and tight but fluid bitter body. Boldly tropical yet firmly bitter, it embraces the modern IPA duality.
The Eighth State Broom (Greenville, South Carolina)
There’s something particularly compelling about how Cameron Owen structures culinary flavor in his beers. I tried to avoid drinking decadent dessert stouts at a festival this summer, but the clarity and creativity of expression here were undeniable. I couldn’t help going back for more.
Schönramer Hell (Schönram, Bavaria, Germany)
After the Firestone Walker Invitational in June, in the beer trailer in the brewer’s camp, I can’t tell you how many of these I consumed that evening with Eric Toft, Matt Brynildson, and every other brewer who knew exactly what was up. It might well be the perfect beer—but I’ll remember it for the experience as well as for its heightened bitterness, which plays so beautifully against the characterful malt.
A beer experience that everyone should add to their bucket list
Order a tripel from a cafe in Belgium, even if you think you don’t love the style. Order the bottle and enjoy the service as they pour it with a perfect head, in proper branded glassware, as the brisk fermentation aromatics combine with a light touch of hops for a beautifully fruit-forward, slightly sweet yet structured sip. You won’t understand tripel as a style until you experience it this way—and once you do, you’ll gain an entirely new appreciation for it.
A commonly repeated beer trope, cliché, or dubious history that we should correct or eliminate
Earlier this year, I was talking to a brewer who based their opposition to cold IPA on the idea that it confuses ale and lager; they feared it would confuse the customers whom they’ve worked so hard to educate. That got me thinking about why craft beer as a community has focused so tightly on this topic. Does the distinction really matter that much? Whose end does it serve? It mattered a bunch when craft defined itself against mainstream macro lagers, but anyone who brews knows that lager yeast isn’t all that different from many strains we’ve categorized as ale strains, and genre-bending brewers today are proving it. Now—as a few prominent IPA brewers ferment all of their IPAs with lager yeast, and no one notices—it’s probably time to put that false dichotomy to rest. Bury it with Greg Koch’s “fizzy yellow beer” comment, in craft beer’s catacombs of infamy.
One personal hot take
Stop trying to make your smoked beer “balanced” by underplaying the smoked malt. Give me the smoke. Make it smooth, bold, and unforgettable.
A beer style I’m excited to see growing
Cold IPA is the future of West Coast IPA, and I’m here for it. Its little sibling, West Coast pilsner, offers everything I loved about session IPA without any of the drawbacks. Together, they’re a potent pair, and I’m glad to see more brewers embracing both.
The trend that has surprised me most this year
Craft brewers expanding into winemaking. I wanted to hate the idea, but a few experiences this year completely changed my perspective. Visuals’ Sangiovese was the first, late last fall, and the richly structured wine from the folks at Burial started me down this road of exploring more wine offerings from brewers. This summer, Lester Koga at Barebottle in San Francisco insisted I try their take on pét-nat—and despite my protests, I loved it. While visiting Trevor and Matt at de Garde in Tillamook, Oregon, this summer, we (of course) ended up drinking some of their wine, and it was a beautiful expression of fruit and terroir.
It’s easy to dismiss brewers’ winemaking as a dalliance or distraction, but the quality is there, and it’s exciting to watch these thoughtful makers flex their creative fermentation muscles in new spaces.