Top New Breweries
Bierstadt Lagerhaus (Denver, Colorado) and Dovetail Brewery (Chicago, Illinois): This is how silly it has become trying to keep up with all the breweries that hit the ground running—we are left arguing about which is the best new lager operation. These two breweries pay almost terrifying respect to traditional processes, turning what could be described as “old” flavors into lively twenty-first century ones, proving crisp and nuanced can taste as new as dank and juicy.
Birds Fly South Ale Project (Greenville, South Carolina): Cofounder/Brewer Shawn Johnson describes his beers perfectly—“progressively Old School.” That’s why Rustic Sunday seems like the perfect name for one of his many saisons, a constant blend of old and new. Its spicy, earthy, grapey aroma arrives in waves, perfectly layered atop a classic funky base.
Most Underrated Brewery
Summit Brewing Company (St. Paul, Minnesota) has actually been brewing since 1986. It has become a backhanded compliment to call their beers flawless, while overlooking abundant flavor delivered with finesse.
Top Beers of the Year
Blind Pig IPA, Russian River Brewing (Santa Rose, California) and Two Hearted Ale, Bell’s Brewery (Kalamazoo, Michigan): You might have missed the news that Two Hearted dethroned Russian River’s Pliny the Elder after Pliny—a Double IPA— had been voted No. 1 by American Homebrewers Association members for eight years. On the other hand, I missed the announcement when these two classic IPAs were declared Old School.
Stacks on Stacks, Other Half Brewing (Brooklyn, New York): New School. Plenty of the expected haze, juice, and tropical aromas; delightfully complex.
Grande Rouge Reserve, de Garde Brewing (Tillamook, Oregon): Like all these beers, chosen for the moment—a Sunday afternoon picnic at the brewery with friends—as well as what was in the glass. In this case, an astonishing expression of oak, bold grapes, and bright acidity.
Grodziskie, Live Oak Brewing (Austin, Texas): Exactly what it should be—smoky Polish champagne.
Köld & Wet Kölsch, Forbidden Root Restaurant and Brewery (Chicago, Illinois): The beer to have after impressing friends on Untappd with the more exotic choices there. Crisp and delicate, but sturdy enough to hold its own.
Minnesota Lagers: August Schell Brewing organized an all-lager mini-festival at a Minneapolis restaurant on the eve of Homebrew Con in June. There are plenty of examples that prove the lager tide does not lift all boats, but something is working in these parts.
Best Beer-Related Experience of the Year
Riding on a bus with Brazilian homebrewers to visit Cervejaria Unika, located on a hillside with spectacular views in every direction. There was a Romancing the Stone moment when the bus couldn’t get up a hill (it had been raining and the road was muddy), so we backed down and waited for cars from the brewery to carry us the last mile.
Favorite Beer Trend
Lager beers that taste of lager malt with lager fermentation character.
Least Favorite Beer Trend
Lager beers without lager malt or fermentation flavor.
Favorite Beer and Music Pairing
(With a nod to Pete Brown for his ongoing research into how our music and beer interact in our brains); Cherokee St. by Son Volt and just about any beer at Earthbound Brewing (located on Cherokee Street in St. Louis). “But I’ve seen the smile/Of a Cherokee Street girl/and I know/What it feels like to fly.”