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Critic's List: Kate Bernot’s Best in 2021

Our contributing editor is one of the most respected voices in beer journalism today. Here are highlights from her past year in beer.

Kate Bernot Dec 4, 2021 - 7 min read

Critic's List: Kate Bernot’s Best in 2021 Primary Image

Top 10 Beers of the Year

Societe Good of the Public (San Diego) This “San Diego–style IPA” represents the best-of-all-possible-worlds. New England? West Coast? How about a little from column A, a little from column B, all in one delicious package? It delivers tons of peach skin and mandarin-orange pulp, wrapping up with succinct, tidy bitterness. I don’t care what it’s called, it’s fantastic.

Grist House Continental Breakfast (Pittsburgh) Pittsburgh breweries bring the heat when it comes to coffee beers. This exemplary version—a coffee milk porter—is brewed with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Bali Blue Moon, and India Mysore beans, which retain their bright blueberry notes while the roast provides a comforting base. The lactose smooths it all out. Not one drop feels out of place.

Good Word For the Cold Days in Hell (Duluth, Georgia) This dry-hopped pale lager collab with Saint Somewhere, Bhramari, and Pontoon makes exceptional use of rye and spelt, giving the beer a rustic rye prickle and some almond-skin nuttiness without husky grain flavor. The Saphir hops are herbal and a bit like ripe papaya, gentle in their combination of fruit and herbs. Has a lot of character but finishes squeaky-clean.

New Belgium La Folie Grand Reserve: Fernandito (Fort Collins, Colorado) “Matured in Leopold Bros. fernet and bourbon barrels, then infused with single-origin Ghana cocoa husks”—ssshh, you had me at fernet. The aroma promises an herbal, not-too-sweet blend of licorice, Tootsie Roll, star anise, gingerbread, and dark cocoa, while the flavor delivers bigger fruit that lends a cherry-cordial and Black Forest–cake impression. It’s like dessert and digestif in one. Gorgeous.

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Floodland Inevitably It Ends (Seattle) I adore this saison’s expertly restrained acidity, presenting as grapefruit tartness that yields to juicy ginger and honeysuckle botanicals. The English pale-ale character is in its oakiness, rather than the hop bitterness, which is barely present in a wash of rustic barley, wheat, and oats, with a grains-of-paradise spicy-citrus character.

Drie Fonteinen Schaarbeekse Kriek (Beersel, Belgium) There’s a pronounced minerality to the aroma and flavor, while the nose suggests blackberry fuzz and (naturally) cherries, but with an earthy, petrichor aspect. All the red fruit hits the palate up front with supporting marzipan notes underneath, while light funk expresses as a wet-stone, slate-like note. Can a beer taste poetic?

Cohesion Polotmavý Ležák 12º (Denver) One of the best discoveries of my recent trip to Colorado was Cohesion’s taproom—a sunny, welcoming temple to Czech-style lagers. Just three house beers were on draft, so they all needed to stick their landings—and did. The amber lager was most impressive, occupying the cozy space between pale and dark Czech styles with a slightly sweet-nutty malt base, earthy hops, and a perfectly clean finish.

Hanabi Lager #89: Summer 2021 (Napa, California) Whatever others think of Hanabi’s “pretentious” brewer (another journalist’s word to describe him), I have no basis on which to judge him—except this quirky, exceptional, “Francin helles–style lager.” I can’t quite pin down its delicate, perfumy smoke note—rosewood? palo santo? frankincense?—but it keeps me coming back. You could drink this quickly and consider it impeccable and refreshing, or pore over its finer points—the mark of a great beer, in my opinion.

Reuben’s Brews Stay Frosty (Seattle) To me, cold IPAs feel like what brut IPAs shot for but never quite achieved: a straightforward hop delivery system with firm bitterness that doesn’t taste watery. In this one, flaked rice lightens the texture but doesn’t leave the avalanche of Simcoe, Centennial, Cascade, Columbus hops unsupported. There are aspects of West Coast IPA here, but in a new format. Old school meets new school in a great way.

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Oskar Blues Oskar’s Lager (Longmont, Colorado) More flawless light lagers from craft breweries, please. This surprising new release became a fridge staple for me, offering a smidge more Cheerio-esque malt flavor than other domestic light lagers, while keeping the ABV (4.2 percent) and texture highly sessionable. There’s not one detail that I’d change.

Today’s Drinkers Should Pay Attention to…

ABV. As beer styles evolve and drinks categories blur—i.e., liquor-based seltzers, wine-based cocktails—I’ve been surprised by alcoholic strengths that aren’t even close to my assumptions. These can sneak up on unsuspecting drinkers; I’ve become more diligent about checking labels.

Today’s Brewers Should Pay Attention to…

People who aren’t drinking their beers. It’s tempting to listen only to your supporters, but it’s important for breweries to honestly assess who isn’t drinking their beer and why. If there are groups of people consistently missing from your taproom, there are reasons why. Soliciting their feedback can only make you stronger.

A Beer-Related Thing I Can’t Wait to Experience Again Post-COVID

Pitchers. No one would argue that a pitcher is the ideal way to serve beer, but it’s an egalitarian, communal experience that I’ve greatly missed over the past two years of drinking only in very small groups. Plus, nothing is better alongside a huge order of chicken wings.

One Beer That Deserves More Attention Than It Gets

Firestone Walker DBA (Paso Robles, California) DBA turned 25 this year, and the anniversary made me wonder why it isn’t often included on the rhetorical Mount Rushmore of pioneering American craft beers, alongside Allagash White and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

What’s the Most Promising New Brewery that Opened in Your Neighborhood This Year?

Any brewery that opens during a pandemic deserves a round of applause (and a vacation). I was especially proud of Missoula, Montana’s OddPitch, which opened in August with an admirably diverse draft list of well-made beers that included everything from an American light lager to a hazy pale ale to a saison to a dark mild—and that was just my first visit. Plus, pinball.

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