Critic's List: Kate Bernot's Best in 2019

The reporter, certified beer judge, and former beer editor at DRAFT Magazine shares her highlights from the year spent tasting and covering the wide world of craft beer.

Kate Bernot Dec 31, 2019 - 7 min read

Critic's List: Kate Bernot's Best in 2019 Primary Image

Top Three Breweries

Reuben’s Brews (Seattle, Washington) Have I ever had a bad beer from Reuben’s Brews? No. No, I haven’t. This prolific Seattle brewery seems to brew every style under the sun, without making a misstep or losing its point of view. It’s the rare brewery that can brew with such mastery across diverse styles, yet still keep me in thrall of a robust porter.

Allagash Brewing (Portland, Maine) This Maine stalwart is another brewery that heeded the Greek command to “know thyself.” A quarter century after its founding, Allagash remains not just relevant but cutting edge in terms of its coolship program, its reverent treatment of local ingredients, and its hospitality. (Plus, name a brewery with a more gorgeous Instagram account. I’ll wait.).

pFriem Family Brewers (Hood River, Oregon) We all love pFriem’s Pilsner, but have you had its Kölsch through a gravity-fed keg? Other breweries would tremble to serve such a delicate style this way—in the heat of a California summer, for acclaimed international brewers at the Firestone Walker Invitational, no less—but pFriem knew its beer was just that good. Ditto pretty much every other beer on its roster.

Top Five Beers of the Year.

Middle Brow Bungalow (Chicago, Illinois) This hopped Pilsner so perfectly encapsulates the brewery that makes it and the space it’s served in. Like Middle Brow’s physical taproom, this “bright American lager”—the brewery describes it as falling between a Modelo Especial and a Dortmunder—is inviting, easy-going, but refined. I’d buy it by the case.


Firestone Walker/Cigar City Los Leñadores (Paso Robles, California) It drinks like a master class in wood aging, from the choice of the base beer style itself to its thoughtful barrel and wood components. The imperial brown ale offers up toasted macadamia-nut tones that only grow deeper thanks to time spent on African Padauk and Brazilian Amburana wood spirals, while a high rye–content bourbon barrel contributes restrained spice on the finish.

Threes Passing Time Grisette (Brooklyn, New York) I’ve been beating the grisette drum for a bit now, and this beer reminds me why. The unmalted wheat component makes for a beautiful head and bright citrus-lemongrass character, which the wild yeast and bacteria complement with restrained acidity and only a touch of hay and earth. Nothing about this beer is out of place.

Karl Strauss/Russian River New California IPA (San Diego, California) Supremely clean with fascinating berry-orange-pine hops character, its flavors ricochet between raspberry, tangerine, spruce, and just keep lighting up the retronasal system like a pinball machine. Both breweries were really flexing here.

New Belgium La Folie Grand Reserve PX (Fort Collins, Colorado) La Folie needs no frills—or so I thought. Sherry barrel–aging plays up the beer’s tart raspberry highlights while Tahitian vanilla beans strum the sour brown ale’s dry cocoa baseline and add a warm richness. Unforgettable.


Honorable mention Sweetwater 420 Strain Chocolate Stout: Of all the beers in Sweetwater’s 420 Strain series, this chocolate stout brewed with terpenes from the G13 cannabis strain upended my expectations. An IPA that replicates weed’s flavors, sure, but a chocolate stout? This earthy-roasty-lush stout is no gimmick, though, and fell easily into my regular drinking rotation.

Today’s Drinkers Ought to Pay More Attention to…

Texture. With so many delicious beers out there, I find the most memorable ones nail not only aroma and flavor but texture and body as well. (Conversely, a cloying, flabby finish can sink an otherwise decent beer.) Too often, we overlook texture as hops flavor or malt intensity commands our attention—let’s not overlook what carbonation, astringency, dextrin, and protein levels all bring to our experience of a beer.

Today’s Brewers Ought to Pay More Attention to…

Dry stouts. Nothing against the fluffernutter/Cap’n Crunch/barrel-aged Twix stouts that brewers have pulled out of the candy aisle, but I miss dry stouts as counterprogramming. From early fall until the spring thaw, those roasty, dusty cocoa, deep-toast notes are as comforting as a wool blanket. I worry that oatmeal stouts and Irish stouts have become endangered species.

Top Beer Destination, Foreign or Domestic

Because it’s probably a cop out to name Montana, the state where I live, as my favorite beer destination (even though it is), I’ll choose a place I don’t live (anymore): Chicago. The city boasts revered lager breweries, a high concentration of award-winning IPAs, some of my favorite beer bars on earth, and fantastic restaurants whose menus give beer its due. I’ll never pass up a chance to go back.

Favorite Thing that Ought to Be a Trend

Recycling. Bayern Brewing, one of my favorite local breweries, recycles its own glass bottles. This means drinkers can use one of the brewery’s Eco Packs to bring in qualifying bottles—not just Bayern bottles, either—and get a refund good for beer or taproom merch. Better yet, drinkers actually take advantage of this program, and some local grocery stores have also begun to serve as drop-off points for these Eco Packs.

Favorite Beer Accessory, Gadget or Glass

I’m pretty firmly anti-beer gadget, as most seem to make the simple process of opening, serving, and drinking a beer unnecessarily complicated. This year, though, I made the investment in a dedicated beer fridge—a small, dorm-sized one that means the regular fridge finally has room for actual food. No more IPAs withering away behind the salsa jars!

What beer did you “rediscover” this year?

Stephen Beaumont’s Flagship February campaign reunited me with a few of my old favorites, but none felt as necessary for 2019 as Bell’s Amber. A good amber isn’t easy to come by these days, and yet it’s an endlessly drinkable fridge staple—after work, with food, and especially as a palate respite from all the hops, acidity, and barrel-aging out there.