Top 10 Beers of the Year
AltBrau Sorry About That (Santa Rosa, California) Tim Decker’s emphasis on local agriculture finds its way into most AltBrau beers, and this “happy accident” packed with cherries and pluots—brewed at Shady Oak Barrel House—is no different. A saison aged on oak for 18 months got two and a half pounds of fruit per gallon. It’s rich, bright, and tart, with funk that separates it from cherry-based contemporaries.
Austin Beerworks Pils Vs Pils B (Austin) It was A versus B for the Pils Vs Pils project, which let drinkers decide which they preferred. Later they revealed that B was the “old-school” pils, brewed with floor-malted Czech malt and a decoction mash while A was “new-school” with Weyermann pilsner and a single infusion. Opinions and guesses were evenly split, but I liked what I liked.
Bissell Brothers DBL LUX (Portland, Maine) I adore LUX, Bissel Brothers’ rye pale ale hopped with Mosaic. This take is a charged-up double IPA iteration with Chinook, respecting the original pilot recipe from 2014. It’s juicy New England meets piney West Coast but stacked like a club sandwich or something from a McDonald’s celebrity meal. Dense, decadent, luxurious.
2nd Shift Harvest Skies (St. Louis) Brett beer isn’t my go-to, but this one from Missouri’s finest has me rethinking that. This cuveé uses barrels from their also-fantastic Katy, aged two years, blended with beer aged more than three years in Don’s Dirty Dozen barrels. The complexity from 10-plus forms of Brett just sparkles and makes me wish this Crider Collective membership beer would return.
Redemption Rock Three Decker (Worcester, Massachusetts) I was shocked to learn that the ABV for this year-round helles was only 4.2 percent ABV; it is so filling and fulfilling. Slightly turbid, with sweet malty aroma, great mouthfeel, and balance—approachable and refreshing, satiating and mouthwatering. If only macro lager tasted as good as it looks on TV, it could be this taste. Impeccable.
Highland Park DDH Sugar on My Tongue (Los Angeles) I think I found my new favorite hop because of the brilliant use of Strata here. I’m a regular fan of Highland Park’s lagers, but this attention-grabbing, bright orange, hazy IPA has that overripe pineapple-sponge-cake character—like drinking candy. The name is an apt Talking Heads reference since the soft, pillowy taste of Creamsicle fulfilled its promise.
Jester King Recentered (Austin) I was ecstatic to cross a visit to Jester King off my beer-bucket list. Among the spontaneous and mixed-culture beers, this was a standout, combining elements of grisette and hazy IPA. Farmhouse crispness is elevated by tropical-fruit hop notes from about six different varieties. Kiwi flavor cuts the Texas heat and pairs perfectly with pizza. The artistic label collab is noteworthy, too.
Widowmaker Soul Maker (Braintree, Massachusetts) Brewed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and released for Black History Month in collaboration with black-owned Brockton Beer, this classically citrus-forward quintessential New England IPA blends Citra, Southern Passion, and African Queen hops, with a striking golden color and exemplary smoothness.
_Remnant Diamond Lake (Somerville, Massachusetts) _Another worthy New England IPA, this one hopped with Mosaic, Wakatu, and Rakau. It’s opaque in the glass, with that saffron traffic-cone color that should be a patented hazy-IPA Pantone swatch. Bitterness isn’t over the top, with New Zealand hop notes of sweet peaches, cantaloupe, and everything bagel.
New Belgium Dominga (Fort Collins, Colorado) This one is an excellent showcase of where the industry could be heading, with a beer heavily based on an experience. Dominga is an exceptionally drinkable “mimosa sour,” even at 6 percent ABV. It’s a clean and crisp blend of wheat beer, foeder-aged ale, and calamansi citrus. Maybe meant for brunch, but certainly enjoyed any time.
Today’s Drinkers should pay attention to…
People. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. J Nikol Jackson-Beckham that people are the future of beer, its “next frontier.” I interpret this as seeing more types of people leading in media, marketing, education, labor practices—exemplified in someone like myself and others whose voices are beginning to be heard over the past few years.
Today’s Brewers should pay attention to…
Looking inward. What got you into this industry? How can you contribute to its impact—environmentally, socially, politically, developmentally? The possibilities are overwhelming, and I don’t feel comfortable giving advice to brewers; I’ve never brewed commercially, and my experience homebrewing is in the single digits. What I can suggest is to pay attention to what you want, with the attention and focus for which your profession is known. What are your proud of? What do you want to improve?
Beer-related thing you can’t wait to experience again post-COVID
Drinking in German beer halls, eating German food, and late-night kebab. Since it opened, I drink a lot of Notch’s 3.3 percent ABV Grodziskie at their Brighton, Massachusetts, location. It’s a Polish style, but it makes me long for that immersive experience. At the age of 22, I spent the night in Düsseldorf and had dinner at Brauerei Schumacher. I didn’t realize at that time how formative that experience was. Now all I want to do is go back.
One beer that deserves more attention than it gets
Zero Gravity Oktoberfest (Burlington, Vermont) This seasonal is worthy of carrying a Sierra Nevada–like torch. The can art is gorgeous, too. Their Green State Lager is great, but this beer is next-level.
How does it feel to have launched your beer writing career during a pandemic?
I am grateful, and I am trying my best.