Top 10 Beers of the Year
Wesley American Pale Ale (San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina) I had to return to this brewery three times to make sure it wasn’t just the gorgeous Patagonian surroundings that made this beer special. Those helped, but this pale ale was captivating on its own merits: Huge orange-blossom and honeysuckle aromas mingled with white peach and canned pineapple juice, while the flavor ever-so-softly wove clementine, apricot, peach skin, and dried pineapple with supportive Wonder Bread malt. Any North American brewery would be proud to brew this.
Keeping Together A Mutual Surrender (Santa Fe, New Mexico) Averie Swanson’s beers taste like she’s inviting me to be part of her memories. I don’t know what place or time inspired this “saison rosé” for her, but I want to live it: It’s basically the spritzer of wine beers, all electric watermelon fizziness and high jammy-plum notes. It’s brewed with second-use cabernet franc and merlot grapes from Walla Walla, but their reduced tannic presence makes this a warm-weather refresher.
Bale Breaker Frenz IPA (Yakima, Washington) In this collab with Sierra Nevada, the marriage of New Zealand and American hops is so prismatic: The aroma integrates Nelson Sauvin and Nectaron’s vinous and stone-fruit tones alongside lush, green lemongrass and candied orange. The malt support deserves its own callout: The honey-on-bread impression is smooth as silk, paving the way for a parade of honeysuckle and fruit-smoothie flavors—strawberry, apricot, nectarine—that taste like biting into real fruit.
Rhythm Unfiltered Lager (New Haven, Connecticut) It’s a good sign when I drink a beer during the Craft Brewers Conference—one of the most beer-soaked weeks of the year—and still can’t resist slipping two cans of it into my purse for later tasting. I loved this lager’s comforting malt character: It’s a touch sweet but with wonderful, robust carbonation that cleans it right up. I’m all for dryness in a pilsner, but it’s a great change of pace to taste something just a little sweeter. The retronasal effect was 100 percent Cheerios.
Seventh Son Pineapple Express (Columbus, Ohio) Once you get a whiff of this beer, you understand why the brewery has to say explicitly that it contains no THC. This pineapple sour is brewed with cannabis terpenes that are, yes, pungent, but they’re also thoughtfully integrated with the fruit and acidity. There’s a pineapple-core earthiness that passes the baton directly to the minty terpenes before the two elements dance back and forth across the tongue. I’ve never tasted a beer like it.
Perennial Colourant (St. Louis) Cinnamon isn’t the most prominent flavor in this Phase Three collab—an over-the-top imperial stout also brewed with coconut, Comoros and Vanuatu vanillas, and aged 17 months in Old Fitzgerald wheated bourbon barrels—but it does really tie the whole together. The cinnamon-coconut interplay evokes macaroon cookies and the milk left in the bowl after eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch, yet there’s just enough of a chocolate, whiskey, and dark cherry baseline to keep the confectionary train from going off the rails.
Jester King Fantôme del Rey (Austin) There’s a real mushroominess to this beer, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It’s hard to tell where the rich beet-skin earthiness of the truffle honey ends and the wet-concrete minerality of the mixed culture begins, creating waves of umami that somehow don’t clash with the acidity or heavy oak influence—but I loved this beer as a mind-bending journey of savoriness and, frankly, weirdness that we’d expect from this brewery as well as the one in Soy.
Wynkoop Kurt’s Mile High Malt (Denver) Like the brewery itself, this coffee Vienna lager has been around since before some younger beer drinkers were born, but Wynkoop’s head brewer tweaked and modernized the recipe to great effect. The Ethiopian beans’ dried fruit connects with Vienna malt’s inherent nuttiness for a multifaceted, coffee-meets–trail mix richness. A few weeks after I tasted the beer, I wasn’t surprised when it won silver at GABF in the Coffee Beer category.
Russian River DDH Pliny the Elder (Santa Rosa, California) When this is poured alongside standard Pliny, the double dry-hopped aroma exhibits a lot more orange blossom and mimosa, Creamsicle, and tangerine marmalade; there are bouquets of citrus flowers to go alongside the pine and dank. This translates to the sip, too, where sweet chive, soft cilantro, and dried mango skin bubble up. It might not supplant OG Pliny in my heart, but I have room for both.
Time & Materials Boulevard of Imperial Creams (Reading, Massachusetts) Another collab—this with the Lost Shoe brewery and coffee roastery—inspires an unlikely opinion: Lighter base beer provides a more successful canvas for coffee than stout. Here, rum barrel intersects with corn sweetness and Guatemalan cold brew’s chocolate-covered cherry and bright orange peel. Madagascar vanilla and lactose are judiciously applied, providing only the needed dollop of sweetness. There’s plenty going on, but it’s expertly melded and harmonious.
Most Memorable Beer-Drinking Experience of the Past Year
Drinking Kunstmann Lager at the Chela Cabur soccer bar in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Amid the relentless Atacama Desert, this bar was like the Mos Eisley cantina: a million languages swirling around the dusty room, dogs lazing in the warm air, and travelers picking up advice (and other, um, trade goods) from locals. A wild place, and the best example I found this year of the bar as a true commons.
Most Encouraging Thing Happening in Craft Beer Lately
The un-hyping of craft. In almost every way, craft beer has achieved its early vision: Drinkers nationwide assume that they can find flavorful beer of every style in gas stations, airports, and bodegas. There are philosophical implications—commoditization, homogeny, etc.—but for sheer accessibility and ubiquity, this is an immensely positive development.
A Beer Topic that Fascinated Me This Year
Thiols. Maybe it’s because I reported on them extensively for this magazine, but it was incredible to watch how quickly scientific research would interact with brewing practice, commercially available products, and drinkers’ flavor expectations. Thiol-boosting products are moving quickly through the Gartner hype cycle, and their future in beer is nuanced and exciting.
Top of My Beer Bucket List
To backpack through Germany’s Black Forest and visit Rothaus while I’m at it. My Oma grew up in this region, and I’ve plotted an entire backpacking and beer-drinking itinerary along the Westweg trail that has yet to be realized.
A Brewery More People Should Be Talking About
Chuckanut. Amid the flood of affection for lager-specific breweries—for real, this year!—the consistently world-class beers coming out of this Pacific Northwest icon deserve to be on the tips of every crispy boi drinker’s tongue.