Top 10 Beers of the Year
Alvarado Street Calculator Crazy (Monterey and Salinas, California) Sometimes you don’t realize how much you really love a beer until you count how many times you’ve enjoyed it. The blend of Riwaka and Citra in a 5.7 percent ABV hazy pale ale was like catnip—irresistible and endlessly amusing. The perfect mix of fruity and dank, with expressive hops in a tight package that was just sweet enough.
Various Artists You’ve Got Pale! (Various) This five-way collaboration among Cloudburst, Pinthouse, Highland Park, Cellarmaker, and Green Cheek was an incredibly fun experiment—five beers of the same base recipe, but each with its own distinct character. We tasted four of the five blind, and Cloudburst’s was the consensus favorite, but expressive hops in the hands of all these brewers are destined for entertaining beers.
3 Fonteinen Zenne y Frontera Blend No. 92 (Lot, Belgium) Every Zenne y Frontera bottle I’ve tasted has been a knockout, and blend No. 92 this year was no exception. The nut-and-orange-peel tones of the Oloroso barrels give 3 Fonteinen’s lambic a golden-hour glow without sacrificing the funky definition for which they’re known. This is a beer I’ve continued to seek out for my own cellar.
Brew Gentlemen Table Beer (Braddock, Pennsylvania) An unexpected surprise, this low-key table beer from Brew Gentlemen hit the perfect note between mixed-culture personality and subtle drinkability. Maintaining that delicate balance in such a small beer is hard, but everything from malt presence to funk and acidity was finely gauged.
New Anthem Simply Stares Upward (Wilmington, North Carolina) Here’s another beer that I didn’t realize I liked as much as I did—but looking back, I drank every can the brewery sent. Galaxy funk, Citra sweetness, and Simcoe dankess in a dryish hazy IPA that showcases New Anthem’s expertise with hops.
Figueroa Mountain Danish Red Lager (Buellton, California) A reminder that lager brewing isn’t just about crispy, this light embrace of characterful malt is the ultimate game-day beer—pristine quality, clearly presented malt, and a tight lager fermentation that never distracts. Perfect as a single beer, or as six in a row.
Live Oak Hell Bock (Austin) Earlier this year: We’re drinking smoked lagers in Live Oak’s taproom with owner Chip McElroy and head brewer Dusan Kwiatkowski. After every beer except one, Chip says, “It could use more smoke.” Hell Bock is the one that was perfect as-is, nailing that smoke-sweet balance. Sometimes, less is more—but in this case, more is more.
Fremont Brew 5000 (Seattle) Fremont’s barrel-aged barleywines are perennial favorites, and this year’s Brew 5K maintains that storied tradition. Bright bourbon notes layer on crisp brown-sugar malt with an energy that defies the time spent aging. Time and oxidation bring it together in the best possible way.
Side Project Rye Beer : Barrel : Time (Maplewood, Missouri) Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to outdo Beer : Barrel : Time, Side Project went and released this rye-barrel version and one-upped themselves. Decadent and intense, yet velvety in its mix of gentle roast and dark chocolate, it’s everything I want barrel-aged stout to be.
Cantillon Saint Lamvinus 2020 (Brussels) The place and people can make a great beer even better. In this case, it was a bottle from the menu at the phenomenal Sovereign in Washington, D.C., shared with my brother-in-law after a heartbreaking funeral for a beloved family member. The bar’s service was impeccable, the beer memorable for its spritely funk and jammy fruit—these Cantillon grape lambics change so profoundly over time—and it was just what I needed at a very emotional moment.
Today’s Drinkers Should Pay Attention to…
The impacts of their choices. Don’t take what we have right now, in terms of beer quality and choice, for granted. It may not always be the way it is today, and it surely won’t be if beer consumers don’t support those breweries, retailers, and drinking establishments that they value. If you love something, support it, and support it often.
Today’s Brewers Should Pay Attention to…
Sustainability in the face of climate change. From forest fires and crippling heat to drought and freak storms, it’s been a tough decade to be on the agricultural side of beer, and the forecasts suggest it will only get tougher. From processing waste to conserving water and using renewable energy, many brewers have shown what’s possible when you set your mind to it—more like them, please!
A Beer-Related Thing I Can’t Wait to Experience Again Post-COVID
The Great American Beer Festival. There’s nothing quite like Thursday night or Saturday afternoon at the GABF. The excitement of running into old friends and acquaintances on Thursday night, the exuberance of brewers wearing their newly won medals around the floor on Saturday afternoon—I miss that convivial joy fed by the energy of a room of 12,000-plus beer fans. Sure, it’s insane, but when the bagpipes start blaring and the rush is about to begin, there’s nothing like it.
One Beer That Deserves More Attention Than It Gets
New Belgium 1554 (Fort Collins, Colorado). The subtly retooled recipe is better than it’s ever been, but 1554 often gets overlooked in the NB lineup. Don’t sleep on it.