Top 10 Beers of the Year
Fifth Hammer Five by Five (Long Island City, New York) Step One: Brew a collaboration farmhouse beer to celebrate mutual five-year anniversaries with Fifth Frame, and call it Between Two Fifths. Step Two: Transfer a portion of that beer into sauvignon blanc barrels with Fifth Hammer’s house mixed culture and age. Step Three: Bottle with New York wildflower honey to naturally condition. The honey unifies a bounty of tropical fruit flavors—a reminder that the Fifth Hammer honey game is strong.
Garage Project Four Legs Good (Wellington, New Zealand) The label says 2.5 percent ABV. My tongue says there must be more. Easier to drink than make, it is fermented with a mixed culture, dry hopped with New Zealand cultivars, and aged in oak. Brimming with bright citrus character, it is tart and full of how-do-they-do-that flavors.
Urban Chestnut Stammtisch (St. Louis) Twice in the past year, I exited a Southwest flight with 10 minutes to spare before I needed to stand in line for the next—just enough time for a Stammtisch. Plastic cup? No problem. It’s 8:30 a.m.? No problem. Enough bitterness to last me until the second flight was 10,000 feet in the air? No problem. The only thing missing was Joe Stange to enjoy it with.
Benedictine Pinot Barrel Aged Dark Night (Mount Angel, Oregon) Talk about monastic patience. This strong dark ale was aged six years in a pinot barrel. Imagine pinot noir grapes covered in a sauce made from melted dark chocolate, molasses, raisins, and stewed prunes. As the monks say, “Taste and believe.”
Primitive Meadville Formal (Longmont, Colorado) This collaboration with Voodoo Brewing is an homage to cherries. The Montmorency aroma leaps from the glass, with spontaneously fermented flavors joined on the tongue by more stone fruit—everything a cherry-brandy barrel has to offer, plus trademark Primitive acidity.
Wheatland Spring Return Estate Piedmont Pilsner (Waterford, Virginia) The easiest way to understand what they mean here by “land beer” is to taste this one. Brewed with grain grown in a field you can see from the brew deck, it immediately connects beer and agriculture. It has a fresh-out-of-the-oven aroma that joins bready malt flavors seamlessly, all perfectly balanced by earthy, spicy hops.
Narrow Path A Better Burden (Loveland, Ohio) Here’s another that’s as much an “offering from the land as it is from the brewer,” according to brewer Chad Powers. Pilsner and smoked-alderwood malts come from Sugar Creek in Indiana; he harvests Eastern red cedar branches in Kentucky; and they ferment the beer with rehydrated kviek sourced from Norway. The smoke is incessant, but if you are a fan, then the way it interplays with the cedar is sublime.
Cohesion Dva 12° (Denver) Cohesion’s second anniversary beer was not flashy—not unless you consider a hladinka pour to be showing off. Dva 12° riffs on the flagship Cohesion 12° by using a little richer pilsner base from the same Colorado maltster along with a very early dose of experimental Czech hops. A little sweeter, a little spicier, and still a 4.5 percent ABV beer with which to celebrate—modestly, of course.
Casey Grisette Wet Hopped (Glenwood Springs, Colorado) Not all beers spiced with unkilned hops need be consumed immediately—case in point, this generously hopped, gentle-on-the-palate, mixed-culture delight. We need to invent new adjectives to describe the citrus flavors that freshly picked Colorado Cascades add to an already complex blend. Somewhere inside there must be one of those guava-pulp-meets-tart-lime-rind Brazilian fruits, the name of which you can never remember.
Cloudburst Actual Poison (Seattle) If West Coast IPA is the future, I am on board with one that doesn’t entirely abandon the past. Citra, Mosaic, and Ekuanot hops deliver 21st century flavors—tangelo, anyone?—but another star here is Chinook. Released in 1985, the same year as Back to the Future, that hop gets the credit for the unrelenting bitterness and resinous finish.
On Top of My Beer Bucket List
Drinking and learning about pito in its native West Africa. Not only would I like to know more about how sorghum and other grains are used to make the drink, I also want to talk to locals about its cultural history, as well as what they see for the future of indigenous fermented drinks up and down Africa.
Favorite Underrated Ingredient
Time. “Unlike our other ingredients, I view time as more of an undeniable force of nature, like gravity,” Perennial founder Phil Wymore once told me. “Time is just so damn consistent.” We could be talking about fermentation time, lagering time, time in a barrel, whatever. Evidence submitted for your approval: Bierstadt Helles.
If I Could Bring One Beer Back from the Grave…
The tiswin batch brewed by Heurea, one of Geronimo’s trusted advisors and the wife of an Apache leader. Geronimo and about 35 warriors and 100 women broke away from a reservation in 1885 after troops told them they could no longer make or drink the fermented maize beer that Native Americans had been drinking for centuries.
If I Could Share a Beer with One Figure in Brewing…
E.S. Salmon. At the risk of being too on-brand, I have to go with a hops guy. The modern age of hop breeding began in 1906 when Salmon took over the program at Wye College in Kent, England. What would he think about hops such as Citra, the offspring of cultivars he created?
My Perfect Beer Bar
It is a classic “corner bar,” with several nooks. Smallish, probably no more than a dozen beers on tap, always fresh. The selection changes often, with only one representative of a style available at a time; the bottles and cans are equally diverse. No TV. The people who work here make a fair wage with proper benefits. The customers look like the surrounding community.