Top 10 Beers of the Year
Enegren/Bierstadt American Reinheitsgebot Pilsner (Moorpark, California) A regular old pilsner celebrating the 504th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot doesn’t seem that salacious on paper. However, when it is made by two of the most celebrated pilsner masters in America, the result is a crisp crusher: matzo meets raked fescue clippings and a soft honey-biscuit finish. It is a master course in simplicity.
Phase Three Eunoia (Lake Zurich, Illinois) The Chicago populace waited with bated breath to see what their golden boy Shaun Berns would turn out for Phase Three’s first barrel-aged beer, and it is a peanut-butter tour de force. There is no subtlety to it, and the masses who clamor for Smucker’s Uncrustables and spent Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs Cereal milk found an idol in this salty gem. Despite the allergens and Butterfinger goodness, the barrel profile is expertly massaged to temper the Peter Pan excesses without cutting off the crusts.
Southern Grist/DSSOLVR Wooden Teeth (Nashville, Tennessee) Nashville came in spicy hot with this malty stunner. This beer delivers on every barleywine promise and exceeds expectation in every way: Riesling candy, SKOR bar, and bar mitzvah caramel fondue fountain. The custard-and-bananas- Foster sweetness is tempered with a lightly bitter aspect from the grain bill, combining to form a waffle-cone-and-Werther’s Original Voltron: No dental insurance needed.
Parish Brewing DDH Ghost in the Machine (Broussard, Louisiana) This beer was champion of the Malt Couture Hazy Cup. It fought against the absolute best contenders in the NEIPA segment and came out on top. It is the pinnacle of the haze game, uniting both soft orange sherbet and clementines with aserose and split firewood. The boil and the dry hopping reached across the aisle to pass some bitter, citrusy, bi-palate legislation, and Louisiana was all the better for it.
Bissell Brothers Group Therapy, Blend 2 (Portland, Maine) Bissell Brothers are masters at distracting people with their excellent NEIPA game, then sliding in farmhouse masterpieces on the back end. This blended saison unites the simplicity of oat, Brett, oak, and Maine pilsner malt into a deceptively complex saison that eschews acidity for a gristy, frothy, pear-juice swallow that is incredible.
Cantillon Blåbær 2019 (Brussels, Belgium) Blåbær is often stuck in perpetual trade stasis: too valuable to open, but those who have had it will never share their bottles. Enter the 2019 Blåbær, with a new raspberry remix that pushes the already great bilberry lambic to jammy new heights. It has Brett B. complexity with musk, acidity, construction paper, and blueberry preserves. Now, suddenly, the guys trying to flip the bottles can actually open and enjoy them with a clear conscience. Pshew, Pajottenland crisis averted.
Revolution V.S.O.R. (Chicago) After the runaway success that was V.S.O.J., Revolution Brewing put a spicy rye spin on things with their ultra-casked V.S.O.R. This is intensely saturated with an oak profile busting at the staves, presenting bruised plum, Sazerac notes, allspice, and crumbled pralines. You feel worse having had this beer. While V.S.O.R. does equestrian on a caramel Hanoverian, you’re acutely aware that your family steals cable.
Boneyard/Altamont Lupulin Advisory (Bend, Oregon) Time travel is not yet possible, but Boneyard and Altamont have crafted a West Coast IPA so perfect that you will feel like you are living through the mid-2000s all over again. Hang onto your puka shell necklace: This blasts you with waves of alpha acids—the usual cast of dry-hopping characters Cashmere, Simcoe, El Dorado, and Citra, but leveraged for bitter power. This beer presents the dry resinous notes of the George W. Bush first term and a clingy drag of pre-smartphone romances.
Anchorage Blessed (Anchorage, Alaska) Adding coconut and vanilla bean to a barrel-aged stout is not the pinnacle of innovation in 2020, but doing it so well that you shatter expectations is something else altogether. Despite the crushing price tag of $50-plus per 12-ounces, this beer captured sticky confectionary hearts and livers by bathing the public in brownie batter, macaroons, madeleines, and black-and-white cookies straight from the deli case. In Alaska, moose roam the streets drunk on fermented crabapples, and this will give you the courage to try to ride one.
Side Project/Private Press Maple in the Wood (St. Louis, Missouri) Take the excess and barrel mastery of Side Project’s Cory King, couple it with the subtle restraint of Private Press’ Brad Clark, and you have the Aristotelean mean of malty goodness. Not quite an old ale, yet not a stout, this feathers the clutch of maple sweetness and provides casky Caramello depth to an intensely drinkable wheatwine. By uniting the best aspects of both brewers, this gem of complexity and sticky IHOP sublimity demonstrated both experimentation and adherence to classic form. Plato is in the cave, reeking of pancakes.
Today’s Drinkers Should Pay Attention to…
How breweries treat their employees. Take notice of how many hospitality people they employ, how frequent their turnover is, and how the servers and keg-washers feel about where they work. The same degree of care that goes into the beer itself must go into the goodwill of the employment structure. Brewery margins are small, but the hearts are big. Give your money to companies that exude that degree of care for their workers—from brew deck to packaging to front of house. It is telling of far more than what goes into your glass.
Today’s Brewers Should Pay Attention to…
Overlooked consumers. For years, minorities and women have been marketed to in a blunt and obtuse way that classified them as an “other” demographic. Women will drink grisettes and old ales; people of color will crush zwickels and eisbocks. Beer culture is rapidly changing, and brewers who cannot adapt will be glaringly out of step within the scope of five years.
Promising Thing that Has Come out of this Year of COVID-19?
An enhanced examination of beer and shipping laws. Beer has long been subject to antiquated restrictions, with each state contributing its own absurd terroir. The pandemic has extended leniency toward shipping, container laws, and consumer relations in some instances, and has created absurd new laws in others. The shakeup may compel lawmakers to reexamine beer within the realities of the modern context.
What’s Your Guilty Pleasure Beer?
The biggest cliché is to respond, “High Life.” I really enjoy Coors Banquet in a completely non-ironic way. The marketing in the stubby bottles has this haptic satisfaction, gripping nostalgia. It has the crisp qualities of the riparian Coors Light, but with corn chips and Ritz-cracker sweetness. It makes me want to fix a Trans Am in my yard.
What Is Your Favorite Food To Eat while Drunk?
Cold raviolis straight from the bag, and it isn’t even close.