Top 10 Beers of the Year
Tilquin Draft Gueuze (Rebecq, Belgium) At my new favorite beer bar in Las Vegas, The Silver Stamp, it felt like a new experience with a familiar beer—vivid cucumber, watermelon, honeydew, and strawberry notes supplanted the expected citrus tones, while a light, bright, background mineral note was softened by a light dose of caramel malt and balanced by a just-right lemon-peel bitterness. I went back to the same bar the following night, just to drink this beer again.
Cervejaria Leopoldina Italian Grape Ale (Garibaldi, Brazil) A gift from a friend who traveled to Brazil, this was taut and refined, with a vaguely creamy chardonnay nose and faint hints of tannin. Light and playful in the sip, with an intense effervescence, it beautifully captured the dry, spritely pop of carbonated white wine, with faint sweetness around the edges. A beautifully expressed hybrid.
Wayfinder Fresh Hop Keller Pils + Strata (Portland, Oregon) West Coast pils today often feels like pale ale in different garb, but here the light grassy aroma from freshly harvested hops plays in the subtlest way with the pils framework, while the softest Strata-peach notes wind their way through the knee-high grasses. Simultaneously classic and creative, in full measure.
Societe The Pupil (San Diego) Fresh on draft in their taproom in June, this struck me with its polish—such a smooth surface despite the rambunctious energy of the modern hops that underpin it. Earlier this year we posed a question: What will IPA look like when thiols are a tool to complement flavor and not simply a focus? And The Pupil answers that question with confidence, deftly weaving new-school riffs into its classic rhythm, shifting modes in an effortless glissade.
Schramm’s The Statement (Ferndale, Michigan) I made a point to visit Schramm’s earlier this year, despite a nagging ambivalence about mead in general. I could do without the numerous copycat ultra-sweet iterations that seem to crowd the field, but Schramm’s approach to quality—making meads with longevity in mind, using best-quality fruit, and privileging depth of flavor over sucrose and fructose dopamine hits—resonates with me. The Statement’s tart cherries have an earthy-anise dimension, pinot noir–like but a bit sweeter, dark and rich yet surprisingly nimble. If only more mead had such lofty ambitions.
Supermoon Saison Bay View (Milwaukee) Saison on side pull? It works for every reason you’d think it might. Here, thoughtful beer design considers the serving method, with high carbonation that withstands the faucet’s CO2 breakout, for a pour with stunning foam. A soft, woody earthiness with bright, hay-like warmth is braced by light floral notes and a touch of Noble-ish bitterness, while the pour activates every visual and aromatic pleasure center.
Cedar Springs Küsterer Modern Weißbier (Grand Rapids, Michigan) It was the right beer at the right time to remind me that German brewing tradition is broader than lager, no matter what current trends may suggest. This pale golden, properly structured wheat beer reinvigorated my excitement for the style, foregoing fermentation-driven clichés for a focus on tight drinkability, half-liter after half-liter.
Cohesion Dva 12° (Denver) This beer felt as if it were made with me in mind. After visiting Czechia in March, I became insufferable—demanding that the bartenders at my local beer bar, Tap and Handle, pour from the side pull with just the right amount of foam and urging Cohesion founder Eric Larkin to take his 12° pale into slightly sweeter, bolder territory. Their second anniversary beer did exactly that, amping up malt and hops for a fuller body that nailed my sense of pitelnost. Na zdraví!
Spezial Rauchbier Lager (Bamberg, Germany) In my 36 hours in Bamberg, I had many inspiring beers, smoked and otherwise—everything from Griess Kellerbier to Schlenkerla Märzen and Fastenbier to Fässla Gold-Pils, and of course Mönchsambacher Lagerbier. However, fresh Spezial Rauchbier at the brewery’s pub was the right beer, at the right time, in the right place. That pale amber, vaguely fruity, lightly grainy, easy-to-drink but layered-in-flavor approach to smoked beer was revelatory in that “I could drink this without ever getting tired of it” kind of way.
Pioneer Rezident 11° (Zateč, Czechia) I was a bit apprehensive when we walked into this small craft brewery in Zateč—they had cold and hazy IPAs on the menu, after all. Joe drank the 12°, Rockwell Beer’s Jon Moxey and I drank the 11°—and before I knew it, I’d had three. Clean but rich with a surprising malt heft despite its size, no diacetyl, and deceptively simple on the surface, with a particularly fine bitterness that you’d expect from a brewery smack dab in the heartland of Saaz.
My Perfect Beer Bar
This question was inspired by Samer Khudairi, who sent us George Orwell’s famous essay on “The Moon under Water,” the fictional pub of his dreams—a worthy thought experiment. If it’s the place I’d love to own and run someday, it’s a study in Japanese-style minimalism, dark with a well-spotlighted bar and no more than 12 or 15 seats, no tables. Service would be precise, gracious, extraordinarily proper, and accompanied by the perfect amount of storytelling and engagement. There would be no ordering at this omakase beer experience—you’d be along for the ride that I present you—but it would be one you’d not soon forget.
However, the bar at which I’d love to drink? It’s got warm and friendly locals; a soundtrack of quirky tunes that span from my formative ’90s years to current deep-cut gems; beautiful glassware that showcases hefty foam pours; a perfectly dialed draft system that allows presentation at the correct temperatures; a long bar that prioritizes the social act of communal drinking, and small, flexible tables that allow for shifting and expansion as new friends join throughout the session; beertenders who suggest and anticipate with casual familiarity; and a thoughtful selection that spans styles and geography without feeling overly precious. There are few things I love more than sitting at a bar and drinking great beer, and I harbor a deep love and appreciation for the publicans who create these beautiful spaces for us all to enjoy. That love of draft beer is encapsulated in this very list, as I look back on it—eight of my top ten beers are ones I experienced on tap.