Top 10 Beers of the Year
Cannonball Creek Project Alpha (Golden, Colorado)
When Cannonball Creek has a new Project Alpha beer on, that’s what I’m drinking. It will be bright and perfectly hoppy, meaning it is refreshingly bitter and a showcase for the aromas and flavors of the hop of choice. I remember #50 fondly—as I was ordering, the person to my left asked for “the best hazy” on tap. The bar person replied, “No hazies, no fruit, no pastry stouts here.”
Senne Taras Boulba (Brussels)
Per our family tradition, before entering the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, we stop at a nearby grocery store to buy beer to drink while standing in line before entering the fairgrounds. Not sure whether I was more shocked to see this on the shelf or that it was in code. Best Jazzfest beer ever—herbal, dry, bitter, refreshing. Perfect for NOLA.
Ex Novo Where the Mild Things Are (Corrales, New Mexico) If they’d built the brewery when we lived a mile up the hill, it would have been harder to move from this village with no stoplights. There’s lot of flavor here for a 4 percent ABV beer, the caramel and dark fruit flavors within pairing perfectly with spicy sweet-potato tots smothered in a combination of peppers from Umami Moto’s food truck, enriching those flavors and balancing the heat.
Hogshead Chin Wag (Denver)
An always wonderful ESB on cask at the brewery in Denver became something else during the Hot Bierfest & Holiday Marketplace at Primitive Beer in Longmont. A quick poke and swirl with a hot iron rod, and foam smelling of toasted marshmallows filled my glass. The bready and caramel flavors became richer, and the finish was as pleasantly bitter as always.
Hop Farm Brewing with Friends: Zachary (Pittsburgh)
A reminder that no beer can be as simultaneously subtle and full of zest as a saison. Tropical-fruit aromas, including pineapple, jump from the glass when the beer is poured, giving way to a whiff of wet hay as the head settles. Pleasantly grainy and lightly tart throughout, always fresh. Distinct notes of pepper—black at one moment and green the next—add complexity
Tropel ¿Qué Hay de Postre? Volumen IV (Lujan, Argentina)
We need more truly imperial stouts—intense, rich, black licorice, roasted malt—aged in barrels that were first used to make single-malt whiskey in Scotland before being re-toasted for aging the first single malt from EM&C distillery in Argentina. An addition of Tanzanian vanilla beans refreshes the barrel character, perfectly integrated with additional notes of whiskey malt and a dash of peat.
Joyride Ice Cutter Kölsch (Edgewater, Colorado)
On a Friday afternoon on the rooftop patio with a view of Sloan’s Lake, where it seems like every other customer has a custom-made kölsch glass in hand, this obviously is the beer to order. Hints of honey, of pears, and of flowers covered with dew glide quickly across the tongue. It finishes soft, dry, and much too quickly.
Live Oak Grodziskie (Austin)
I once promised to include this beer every year, but then the pandemic kept us apart. We were reunited after 876 days—on New Year’s Eve, appropriately enough for a beer known as Polish champagne. Still a perfectly balanced combination of smoke and hops.
Quiteña Chicha Vieja (Quito, Ecuador)
Forget everything you’ve read about chewing and spitting to make chicha beer or the idea that it will taste somehow ancient. Andean corn and spices, mixed fermentation, and a year in oak barrels produce “a modern way to tell the story of who we are.” Or, as Farmhouse Ales author and Two Roads Brewing cofounder Phil Markowski said over a bottle at the brewery, it would have been easy to imagine we were in Belgium drinking gueuze.
Scratch Maypop (Ava, Illinois)
The fruit (maypop, or Passiflora incarnata) is not as sweet or tart as passion fruit from South America. Yet when fermented with the same wild culture used to make Scratch’s house sourdough bread, it comes to life, subtly tropical. Simple but not-simple, with a how-do-I-describe-this fruit flavor moderated by elusive “wheaty” character, more tart than sour.
A beer trope, cliché, or dubious history that we should correct or eliminate
Too many things about the Reinheitsgebot because when it is equated with “beer purity,” it limits what we think beer can be. Beer has long been shaped by what we know about its history, by our culture, and even by what we choose to call beer.
One personal hot take
“Wet hop” beers are at their best when they are brewed with multiple varieties and dry hopped.
A beer style I’m excited to see growing
A beer experience everyone should add to their bucket list
The public tour at Pilsner Urquell.
My best beer experience of the year
When I was back in the Atlanta area early in the year for an event with Ron Pattinson at Good Word Brewing, he and I spent one day exploring local breweries. Our last stop was at Atlantucky Brewing, which had opened the weekend before. Founders Fish Scales and Skinny DeVille of Nappy Roots fame were at work in the tiny brewhouse. Among only a handful of books, we spotted Ron’s The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, which he calls his “proper homebrew book.” Group photos were taken.