Top 10 Beers of the Year
Pulpit Rock Forelsket (Decorah, Iowa) Iowa did not disappoint with this decadent almond-cookie endeavor. It was a trip down the bakery aisle—dripping with macaroon, Girl Scout Samoas, shortbread, and a hint of heat from the barrel to scorch the snickerdoodle dough. Somehow, through incredible excess, balance is achieved.
Firestone Walker Dreamwood (Paso Robles, California) Firestone Walker gets back to its roots with a “Parabola County Rare” of sorts—an adjunct-free stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle 15-Year barrels, then racked into Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year barrels. It has phenomenal body and balance, crushing depth in the oak-wood profile, a luxurious chocolate-ganache leather interior, and a long, hot sustain like a cinnamon note from a Telecaster.
McIlhenney Muntz (Alpine, California) The OG Alpine legend returns, with the McIlhenney team back at the helm brewing in the original space. This is a nod to the Alpine Nelson of its halcyon days, and it is every bit as good—West Coast IPA underpinnings with a light creaminess, Nelson Sauvin hops bursting with honeydew, fescue, tangelo, and raked underbrush. This beer singlehandedly undid all the damage that Green Flash wrought.
Fidens Gratitude & Progress (Colonie, New York) This hazy IPA powerhouse arrived out of nowhere, delivering on all the hype promised by the floccbois. Lines, limits, resold cans, Mosaic, Vic Secret—add some upstate New York dudes in North Face fleeces and New Balances, and you have a party. This is top-tier NEIPA in every way, reconciling pine with the creamy Orange Julius core. In an increasingly crowded segment, this one reigns supreme.
Zillicoah Helles (Woodfin, North Carolina) In a year (literally) exploding with seltzer and smoothie cans, subtlety carries the day. This gentle helles is endlessly drinkable—a smattering of Grands! biscuit, Ritz cracker, Spring Air Wick, and lemon zest on the swallow. Confinement marred the past year, but this beer exudes the outdoors—structuring experiences with beer and not letting beer be the only experience.
Good Word/Bluejacket Only Memories Remain (Duluth, Georgia) Imagine how good a dark Czech-style lager has to be to end up on a list like this. This beer is absolutely phenomenal in every way. It is all here: the depth and toasted sweet-rye complexity, moist bran muffin, burned crescent roll, lightly bitter swallow with silky microcarbonation. I cannot think of a way to improve upon this malty master class in Old World execution.
Private Press Electric Roads (Santa Cruz, California) Brad Clark spent 2020 furtively brewing and blending away, releasing a series of gems to his invitation-only Private Press reserve society. Electric Roads stands out above the already stellar lineup as a magnificent achievement in strict cask management and sumptuous toffee, currant, praline, pecan sandie, and wheated-bourbon depth.
Floodlands Inevitably It Ends (Seattle) To many, unfruited mixed-fermentation, barrel-aged saisons are the pinnacle of beer. Floodlands stands at the top of that pinnacle, consistently massaging a kaleidoscopic array of cantaloupe, lychee, rambutan, creamy oat-milk grist, and a lightly tart Odwalla swallow. They do this with just oats, wheat, barrels, and careful blending. This beer is a masterpiece that literally anyone can enjoy.
Live Oak Pre-War Pils (Austin) Last year saw a resurgence of pils poppers; these Austin veterans never strayed from their bottom-fermented passions. The Pre-War adds corn grits for a mealier, more substantial mouthfeel, as sourdough-meets-water-cracker refreshment provides a perfect base for the Bermuda trimmings/Saazy swallow. The result is sheer liability since you cannot stop drinking this beer. Your life is worse off having tried it because you are left wanting more ad infinitum.
_Fantôme Le Pöl De Öl (Soy, Belgium) _The ghost never reveals its secrets, but this time the Soy boys teamed up with beer podcast Ölpölen to brew a truly unique saison dripping in Swedish spices. This is everything that makes Old World saison so magnificent and fascinating: esters, dill, caraway, a merger of juniper and oxidation, intense bubbly crackle with a phenolic pink-peppercorn swallow. It feels so vintage, intimate, and intentional but personal, rustic, and valuable at the same time. A beer for serious knowers.
Today’s Drinkers Should Pay Attention to…
Who is telling them what to drink. Social-media platforms are rife with Tavour codes, backend deals, vapid endorsements, and questionable promoted content. Trust your palate and avoid captions that have more hashtags than adjectives. Those “content creators” care more about creating a brand for themselves than they do about creating something worthy of your attention.
Today’s Brewers Should Pay Attention to…
Creating a synergy between front-of-house and production. The more education and experience your team receives across the board, the better the beer will be, and the more that experience will resonate with customers. The best breweries have the lowest staff turnover; getting both sides invested in putting liquid in glasses makes for the most memorable tasting rooms.
A Beer-Related Thing I Can’t Wait to Experience Again Post-COVID
A classic, indulgent, “way too many beers to open” backyard-style bottle share with a filthy taster glass. This past year has demonstrated that company is the most important aspect of beer, and I want to drink deeply from that social brite tank.
One Beer That Deserves More Attention Than It Gets
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter (Cleveland). The flavor-to-weight ratio is off the charts. In any style, rarely can you name a world-class example that is brewed so consistently, distributed so widely, and overlooked by so many.
What Is the Best Post–Bottle Share Recovery Food?
Jewish deli food, all day. From corned-beef Reubens to pastrami with coleslaw to soothing matzo-ball soup, carved turkey with Russian dressing, bagel chips, white fish, rugelach, black and white cookies—these are instant cures for the malty excesses of the night before.