Critic’s List: Samer Khudairi’s Best in 2020

What’s up in New England? We asked Samer Khudairi. This Boston-based freelance journalist is a savvy beer enthusiast and contributor to DigBoston, Good Beer Hunting, Pellicle, and more. Here are his beery highlights of the year.

Samer Khudairi Nov 6, 2020 - 8 min read

Critic’s List: Samer Khudairi’s Best in 2020 Primary Image

Top 10 Beers of the Year

Allagash River Trip (Portland, Maine) I have purchased and consumed more Allagash White in the past six months than in the past few years combined. I’ve had other beers in Allagash’s portfolio but was shocked it took this long to get around to this Belgian-style session ale. I found a new favorite. I’m always impressed by Allagash’s clean balance and notable house yeast. It has the slightest citrus-rind kick and just the right amount of spicy phenolic character—an effortless introduction beer for those not familiar with Belgian styles or for those who are looking for something on the lower ABV side of these beers.

Night Shift Sombra (Everett, Massachusetts) For me, dark lager is a manifestation of hygge—the not-quite-translatable Danish term for the feeling of coziness. I kept returning to this “comfy beer” during a New England winter where we still had snowfall in April. It poured chestnut in color, with a deep brown base and a tan head. The rich toastiness complemented with a crisp finish made it a great evening treat.

Oxbow Luppolo (Newcastle, Maine) Luppolo has a precise aesthetic topped with a gold lid, and any time I see this beer, I feel the urge to get a four-pack. I’m always drawn to the packaging and product—equally. This Italian-style dry-hopped pilsner became somewhat of a flagship lager, distinguishing it from many of the mixed-fermentation offerings for which Oxbow is generally known. It is a crushable lager that you don’t want to crush. Rather, it’s one to appreciate more slowly, noticing the subtle hops and drier finish.

Bissell Brothers/Vitamin Sea Tre Flip (Portland, Maine) Imperial cream ale is not a style that stokes enthusiastic desire for most. But when it is done by two leading New England breweries, known to push boundaries and acclaimed for their NEIPAs, the fervor tends to follow. I jumped aboard this haze train: Visually and aromatically stunning out of the can—immediate floral nose of rose, pine, ripe mango—the radiant and opaquely orange beer has an oat milk–like mouthfeel and taste. Tre Flip cranks up the “cream ale” with a velvety hop-forward character more analogous to a NEIPA juice bomb.

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Dovetail Vienna-Style Lager (Chicago) The best beers are ones that you can drink a liter of. At 5.1 percent ABV, this märzen skirts just above session-strength, a textbook example of a lager you want more of. Can’t go wrong with 100 percent Vienna malt and Styrian Golding hops—bread crust with a little caramel-sweet backing after each sip. You get a beautiful amber color and a great Noble-hop showcase. What more can you ask for?

Trillium Wonderful Complex Individual (Boston) This stout, brewed in collaboration with Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham and the Urban Farming Institute, was inspired by the #iamcraftbeer movement. They released it in February, and for me, the flavor of sweet potato, cinnamon, and vanilla was like a warm baked good. Unlike a hot, higher-alcohol pastry stout, this medium-bodied beer was deliciously drinkable at 7 percent ABV.

Hill Farmstead Nordic Saison (Greensboro Bend, Vermont) Excellence, delivered again and again. Not to sound like a car ad, but this foeder-aged saison with nods to Nordic vernacular, developed by a collective team of masterminds, is damn near perfection—and great to share with company due to its packaging format (750 ml) and splendor. You and your guest can compare notes of honey, yeast, and an herbaceousness that make Hill Farmstead beers so succinct.

Halfway Crooks Farina (Atlanta) “Top-fermenting lager” is a very Halfway Crooks description of this Kölsch-style beer. Stan Hieronymus listed the brewery in his 2019 Critic’s List, and certainly with good reason. You’re sure to hear more from this brewery (or at least see more of their distinctive merch around) in the next few years. A knockout crisp, clear, clean beer.

Southern Heights It’s Probably Awesome … 10 (Austin, Texas) I really enjoyed this hop-rotating beer from a smaller brewery out of East Austin, Texas. It included the classics: El Dorado, Citra, Cryo Mosaic, and Vic Secret. Drinking this beer made me reminisce about how quickly our palates can change and the tolerance we now accept in hop profiles. This is a great new-age but no-nonsense India Pale Ale: huge tangerine taste without any pith; candy-like, but not saccharine sweet. A party like it’s 1999—well, maybe 2015—on my tongue.

Tree House On the Fly (Charlton, Massachusetts) Tree House’s contactless pickup is impressive in its safety measures and efficiency. On the Fly is a hazy double IPA named in honor of that service model. I’ll be honest: I took full advantage of Tree House being more accessible, and I have no complaints about that... or this beer. Drawing inspiration from Tree House’s own Very Hazy and Very Green, one can expect the hoppy, pillowy softness of those double IPAs—but with more of a fruit-cocktail melody.

Today’s Drinkers Should Pay Attention to…

Open dialogue. Online communication is becoming more prevalent these days for marketing and other purposes. Discourse and accountability are important, but please remember to be kind to the social media managers (and each other), as there are human beings behind these accounts, too.

Today’s Brewers Should Pay Attention to…

Sabro. Okay, I’m certain that brewers are aware of Sabro. However, this highly anticipated hop is becoming more divisive to consumers. I have heard comparisons to sandalwood and suntan lotion. Some enjoy the tropical coconut taste, but it may not hold up as a featured hop for others.

Promising Thing that Has Come out of this Year of COVID-19?

The industry banded together in more ways than one. I saw larger regional breweries offer aid to smaller ones with production materials and general support. I have seen people use their platforms to help elevate each other, rather than tear people apart. Global collaborative efforts have shown that we are all in this together, even when the future doesn’t feel as promising. There has been a lot more digital engagement, too. We might not be able to visit some of these taprooms, but giving a “like,” “comment,” or “share” is an excellent way to be encouraging. That kindness costs nothing and goes a long way.

What’s Your Guilty Pleasure Beer?

The Veil NeverMore³ (Richmond, Virginia) The Veil demonstrates experimentation and iteration in this blackberry gose. It is a heavily fruited beer with pureé, and that’s what I like about it. Tart, sweet, and jammy.

Who Else to Pay Attention to?

Stephanie Grant, Toni Boyce, Latiesha Cook, Stephanie Gravalese, Marverine Cole, Chalonda White, Annie Johnson, Eugenia Brown, Beny Ashburn, Teo Hunter, Jamaal Lemon, Eric Jackson, Aristotle Green, Arch Bernard, Brandon Montgomery, Marcus Baskerville, Jamal Robinson, Marcus Adams, Mike Dixon… This list is not exhaustive. Black Lives Matter.

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