Top 10 Beers of the Year
Benedict Světlý Ležák 12° (Prague)
Good friends are the ones who, when they happen to be in Prague the week before they visit you, are thoughtful enough to pack a couple of liter-sized PET bottles of your favorite Czech beer. Distinctive floral-hop notes—chamomile and elderflower—meld with sweet herbs; the sip careens from a quick malt hug through a bracing, addictive back-slap of bitterness and dry finish. I’d drink it every day if I could.
Burgh’ers Sword & Sorcery (Pittsburgh)
First, they wowed us with their lager-brewing acumen at the Homebrew Con kickoff reception in June. Afterward, we went straight to their taproom to get stuck into bigger glasses of the stuff. As much as I enjoyed the German-style pilsner and helles, the winner for me was this bitterish, bready, dry-hopped cream ale that tasted like a necessary American throwback.
Senne Saison du Meyboom (Brussels)
Not to discount the joy of drinking fresh Taras Boulba in its hometown, but this bottle I packed home electrified new zones of sensory synapses: resilient foam; a minty-herbal-floral nose evoking white wine, chalky stone, and roses; and a resolute bitterness just rounded by the slightest cereal sweetness. As an interplay of hops and fermentation, it’s incredibly complex and totally quenching.
Cloudburst Sorry for Partying (Seattle)
Does it annoy other brewers how good these folks are at whatever they try? They’re known best for their IPAs, but I put a Cloudburst stout here last year. This time, I can’t leave out this festbier—beautifully bright gold, solid foam, with a pure, sweet malt note running from nose to finish. The bitterness is a half-notch higher than usual, which I find totally endearing. It just never puts a foot wrong.
Bluewood Relic WC-00005 (St. Louis)
From the upstarts in the old Lemp Brewery stables comes this thick, enticing concoction smelling of figs, dark Belgian ganache, and toasted walnuts. It’s aged almost two years in Henry McKenna barrels, and the bourbon and wood are the soft backdrop for a lush malt-and-ester show full of dark fruit and chocolate; yet with evident bitterness and restrained warmth, this is a drink for grown-ups.
Gueuze Tilquin Draft (Bierghes, Belgium)
Given its usual price tag and the time and knowhow needed to make it, gueuze is precious—but it doesn’t have to be pretentious. I always take perverse joy in this lighter draft version, partially diluted with lower-strength meerts; it’s still full of lively citrus-funk, tart and dry. I dive into glass after glass and just let it quench.
Boneyard Hop-a-Wheelie (Bend, Oregon)
There is a randomness to the American beers that appear in Thailand, and this is called winning the lottery—a Boneyard IPA, on draft, at a hip bar in Bangkok. Just enough malt heft roundly balances no-bullshit bitterness, dovetailing with hop-driven citrus zest to dry the palate and confidently assert that you will need another gulp, then another glass. It’s everything I want in an IPA but so rarely get.
Fremont Baxter (Seattle)
I enjoyed several cold IPAs this year, but none were simultaneously as elegant and flavorful. Beyond a sunshine-bright nose of candied lemon peel, lime leaf, and soft pine, the sip delivers real bitterness, striking the perfect chord with a light sweetness, which in turn gives that candied lemon a welcome push on the palate before a dry finish. In some ways, this is what IPA used to taste like—but in more ways than that, it’s never been this good.
Amalgam Boysenberry Reduction (Denver)
The process here is arguably insane—take an oak-aged boysenberry beer, referment it with a lot more boysenberries, eisbock it, then take that super-juicy concentrate and bottle it like ice wine. Sweet yet tart, weighty yet bright, crammed full of jammy berry—like the best cobbler in midsummer after swimming all day—this blazes a fresh path for fruit-beer intensity.
Namton’s Ideal of IPA (Tha Kham, Thailand)
A confluence of flavor and moment: chilling on a Chiang Mai terrace while tuk tuks, songthaews, and fellow tourists cruised by, my attention grabbed by a bitter West Coast–like drop smacking of pine and canned mandarin slices—yet drinking as easily as any pils. Congrats to the first Thai craft beer to get a mention here, and well deserved.
A beer experience that everyone should add to their bucket list
Touring Belgium, anchored by time wallowing in Brussels—soaking in Cantillon, drinking fresh, hoppy Senne beer at the tap, eating fine bruxelloise cooking at Les Brigittines, and enjoying great neighborhood cafés such as Le Dillens, killing glasses of XX Bitter and Zinnebir and plate after plate of roast potatoes. An unoriginal pick, I know, but some experiences never get old.
A beer trope, cliché, or dubious history that we should correct or eliminate
The myth of the auteur-brewer-entrepreneur. It takes a team, and often it takes a family, and rarely do they get enough credit.
One personal hot take
Stop calling them “sours.” Most aren’t sour, anyway—not if they’re any good. Realistically, these days, it’s probably this: a fruit beer. And that’s a beautiful thing to be.
A beer style I’m excited to see growing
Serious (and seriously bitter) takes on German pilsner. Embrace some classic hop flavors, give them sharp edges, and I’ll be there for it.
An area where brewers and bars both need to step it up
Foam. We live in an age when everyone snaps photos of their food and drink. With great, sturdy foam in the glass, you’re not only giving us something to enjoy in the moment; you’re also giving us something to share visually. It inspires envy—and it sells beer.