Top Three Breweries
The Eighth State (Greenville, South Carolina) This plucky South Carolina upstart has taken the secondary-sale world by storm, largely due to its indulgent stouts and strong ales. With 50 bottle releases and peanut-butter stouts, it feels like a page straight from the Floridian playbook, albeit executed flawlessly. Their catalog is diverse, and the initial showings from this brewery have been consistently well done.
Calusa (Sarasota, Florida) The thing that sets this silent master apart from its Florida contemporaries is the staggering breadth of styles that they brew and do so well. This Sarasota hit factory has made everything from ESBs to coffee barleywines to crushable Pilsners, and I can only imagine that a Happoshu (sparkling low-malt beverage) is in the works at this point. Very rarely do you get a brewery that not only attempts so many styles, but so consistently knocks them out of the industrial park.
Barreled Souls (Saco, Maine) With this Maine darling, you couldn’t find a more nonstandard brewery portfolio this side of OEC. Every single one of Barreled Souls’ iconic genie bottles bears a laughably tiny bottle count and a wildly original beer made masterfully. While known for their stouts, this New England gem turns out consistently impressive strong ales, barleywines, wheatwines, and everything in between.
Top Five Beers of the Year
Cycle Rare SCOOOP F/O This rum-barrel–aged Neapolitan ice cream stout made by Cycle, Three Sons, and Evil Twin Brewing sounds absurdly excessive on paper. Oh, and it is, in the best way. Never too saccharine or reliant on that trite residual lactose taste, this beer delivers on every promise. The vanilla is a lipid structure to the sweet/roasty baker’s chocolate, and the strawberry fondant provides this cordial underpinning to a beer that never crosses the line; it just covers it in decadent batter.
Cantillon La Vie Est Solidaire I am not hipster enough to actually enjoy musty, oxidized Jura wines. With this masterpiece, Cantillon once again shows its incredible penchant for nuance and captures the minerality and depth within the tight lines of this staggeringly complex lambic. Never too sour nor too bitter, it is a testament to the pinnacle of Belgian beermaking that could floor even the most recalcitrant sommelier.
Side Project Beer:Barrel:Time, Batch 2 Improving upon an already fantastic first batch, Side Project married their finest barrels to demonstrate exactly what they are capable of: cask-driven stouts devoid of adjunctive additives. The result is arguably the finest expression of barrel-aged imperial stouts ever made. It coats aggressively but never feels saccharine or flabby. The oaky presence froths and crackles in undulating stavey waves upon cocoa Willett shores. I’m not even mad.
Baladin Xyauyù Kioke Teo Musso is a master of oxidized beer massaging, and the Xyauyù line is a unique demonstration of just how far you can take the style of barleywine. Not content to leave their staggeringly complex base beer alone, Baladin aged this beer for 18 months in an open-air Kioke barrel. The traditional Japanese soy-sauce method imparts confounding layers of umami, potpourri, smashed saplings, and a brackish toffee finish. The adjectives sound hyperbolic, but this beer is seriously bonkers.
Hill Farmstead Samuel Shaun Hill made another god-tier farmhouse ale. At a certain point, the quality of these Hill Farmstead saisons enters a realm where they are only ranked against their own canon. That is an enviable position for any brewer, and those Greensboro boys have once again sought to outdo themselves. The creamy grist provides a platform for Jazz apple, refined acidity, brie rind meets Brett b. musk, and endless drinkability. It’s so good that you are worse off having tried it.
Today’s Drinkers Ought to Pay More Attention to…
The intentions of their local breweries. In the modern climate of outright buyouts, soft sales to multinational conglomerates, or even sales of minority stakes, people should focus on who is making their beer and why. Now more than ever you can spot a garbage brewery that doesn’t care about the community and wants to scale as fast as possible and posture themselves for acquisition. With 7,000+ breweries, those places don’t deserve your money. Look at who is brewing your beer, what they actually care about, and why.
Today’s Brewers Ought to Pay More Attention to…
Yeast diversity. I don’t mean “we have a Dupont strain and a California Ale strain on tap!” I mean originality in fermentation to stand apart. The best modern breweries have a Sacchro fingerprint that makes them unique to thousands of other places. Experiment with house cultures and create something that tastes distinct from cookie cutter White Labs or a tired kettle sour. Enduring cultures and experimentation on the fermentation side will bring consumers back in a way that they can’t describe and in a way that can’t be taken from the brewery.
Favorite Beer Accessory, Gadget, or Glass
The Bubbly Blaster. This device attaches to the top of a 750ml and turns it into a gun that shoots beer. This device is ridiculous. Depending on how carbonated the bottle is, the stream may be tepid or fierce. It is absurd, expensive, needless, and I got mine in rose gold.
Top Beer Destination, Foreign or Domestic
Jester King (Austin, Texas). This farmhouse brewery set on a literal farm has continued to push the envelope and set a new standard for not only American saisons/wild ales, but beer as a whole. The bucolic Texas countryside, goats, and an unmistakable pastoral authenticity present a milieu that other brewers toiling in industrial facilities can only dream of. As a bonus, the beer is world-class as well, and that’s pretty okay.
Favorite Thing that Ought to Be a Trend
Employee-owned breweries. In the time of high-profile acquisitions, it is incredible to see breweries offer their employees equity in the places that they work. Modern Times demonstrated that you can sell a ton of great beer and have your employees invested in the success of the company at the same time. Beer-industry jobs can be underpaying, exhausting, and involve hours of toil, but providing brewers and front-of-house employees a sense of stakes and value in the efforts is something that should absolutely be replicated.
What Can You Do to Make People More Interested in Craft Beer?
Don’t be condescending, keep a throttle on your unsolicited beer facts. Maybe reign in gauche statements about how much a beer resells for. Listen more to your non-beer friends and let them tell you what they are tasting. If they ask you a question, elaborate but don’t dominate the conversation with beer-nerd jargon. You’re going to get made fun of, relentlessly. Accept that many people will not enjoy what you like, that it took you time to get to the point where you thought drinking a 14 percent ABV coconut stout was socially acceptable. If you let them find what they like, everyone wins because then their discovery feels organic, and they can find what other things they enjoy, even if you look down upon them for being haze-guzzling normies. If you’re drinking a beer, your mouth is occupied so you can’t ruin things for everyone else.