The Best 20 Beers in 2021

Amid the ups and downs and gradual, stutter-step return to social life, we experienced some transcendent beers—beers that shone, beers that enlightened, beers that made us stop and remember what it’s all about. Here are the pinnacles of the craft.

Jamie Bogner , Joe Stange Nov 11, 2021 - 35 min read

The Best 20 Beers in 2021 Primary Image

This was going to be the year that life got back to normal. Maybe it did—we’re not sure what normal means anymore. Amid the ups and down and variants and gradual, stutter-step return to social life, we experienced some transcendent beers—beers that shone, beers that enlightened, beers that made us stop and remember what it’s all about. Here are the pinnacles of the craft.

To hear more about all 20 beers and your Readers’ Choice picks too, be sure to check out this special episode of the Craft Beer & Brewing Podcast.

Green Cheek It Just Works

(Orange, California)
For the second year in a row, a cold IPA has made our top 20. Does this portend some alternate future for West Coast IPA? Maybe. But there’s no denying how compelling these beers are to those of us who love a crisp yet expressively hop-forward beer.

Conceptually, it makes sense—today’s hops are pretty incredible, and pushing those to the forefront while minimizing other impacts from fermentation or malt is an elegant way to tell those hops’ stories. Yet those tools, in the hand of a visionary brewer such as Green Cheek’s Evan Price, can make real art.

One of just a few 100-point beers this year, It Just Works is a master class in subtlety and expression. It doesn’t shy away from bitterness, but it’s sculpted just-so with a tropical tinge that draws it together with the prominent tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Glimpses of grassy grapefruit and pine are there, but flash through without dominating the conversation. Taken together, there’s a feeling of precision on display. It does exactly what it intends to do, and nothing more or less. Despite that precision, it hasn’t lost the “soul and spark” that take a beer from something we respect to something we love.

WeldWerks Starry Noche

(Greeley, Colorado)
We choose beers for this annual list in a few different ways. First, we consider the top scorers in each of our issues throughout the year. Next, we solicit new submissions from breweries, and we taste through them just for this issue. Finally, we consider the beers we’ve tasted all year, outside of the review process. When tasting submissions for the issue, we don’t go through the typical blind-panel scoring process. But to add some gravitas to this year’s Best in Beer, we invited contributing editor Kate Bernot and noted author Stan Hieronymus to the Craft Beer & Brewing office in Fort Collins for a few days of marathon blind-tasting.

Because we give primacy to the scores from our blind-review panel, it’s exceedingly difficult for a beer in a style that we’ve reviewed earlier in the year to make the list from the Best in Beer tasting. More often than not, we find beers in styles we haven’t reviewed earlier in the year. This year‚ WeldWerks Starry Noche is an outlier.

After tasting this beer—again, blindly—Stan stood up and informed the room that if this beer were not added to the Best Beers of 2021, he would no longer write for Craft Beer & Brewing. In a fit of judging bravado, Stan put it all on the line … for a dessert stout. Imagine just how delicious a barrel-aged, adjuncted, very sweet stout would have to be to move Stan to such a definitive gesture.

Flavor notes? It captures the expected macaroon notes and Samoa cookie, while layered threads of caramel bridge the sweeter top-notes and roasty low-notes. It knits together these intense but real flavors that evoke nostalgic moments for all of us, yet it does so without losing sight of the beer underneath. It’s a beer of intentional excess, yet surprisingly refined balance—a beer worth Stan’s grand gesture.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 2 Breakside and Triple Crossing-1

Triple Crossing One and the Same

(Richmond, Virginia)
Looks can be deceiving, as one whiff of this pale mixed-fermentation farmhouse beer can attest. Amid the Brettanomyces lambicus mineral funk are intriguing plum and raspberry notes with a light tannic backing, painted over with brighter apricot tones and highlighted with a lemony sheen. From the aroma, you might expect an acid-forward dive into wild ale, but One and the Same doesn’t succumb. Instead, light stone fruit mingles with berry, while wood-tannin offers a touch of herbal spice that’s more sensation than flavor.

Subtle white floral notes evolve and develop as it sits, offering Sacch structure within the broader mixed-fermentation chorus. But that red-wine barrel keeps adding the perfect twist; any time it appears, the flavor may shift to more conventional tones.

Creating a beer with this much depth but such light acidity is a gamble. But it suggests a beautiful future for mixed-culture beers that can (and should) be considered in the same conversation as wine when paired with a fine meal. This beer is one that should be on every sommelier’s list—it has the potential to change opinions about what sour or mixed-fermentation beer can be. Delicate yet sturdy, understated, and intriguing, it’s one of the most compelling mixed-culture beers we’ve tasted this year.

Breakside True Gold

(Portland, Oregon)
Our February-March 2021 issue was a chance for us to revisit “craft classics”—those styles that beer drinkers profess to love yet which rarely enjoy the hype or flashy qualities that can spur high Untappd scores. One of the standouts from that issue—Breakside’s True Gold—fits that bill perfectly. Our judges scored it a 96—a far cry from the 3.63 aggregate Untappd rating it holds at press time.

There’s a place for crowd-sourced ratings, but this beer is proof that expert reviews with an understanding of context, subtlety, and nuance are still valuable in the craft-beer world. The structure is elegantly understated but distinctly modern, with gentle stone-fruit notes that whisper rather than scream, and an understated yet defined bitterness. The lightness is a virtue, but in less-deft hands it would be easy for this Mosaic-Galaxy golden ale to become IPA-light or some other iteration of hop-driven beer. Instead, it’s a thoughtful take that embraces the classic style with a modern energy.

It is not the highest-scoring Breakside beer we’ve reviewed this year—that honor belongs to Wanderlust IPA (98), an absolute stunner of a West Coast IPA. But True Gold moves the needle for us in another way, as it prizes subtlety and history with a clever contemporary twist.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 3 Resident Culture WIld Provisions Oxbow

Resident Culture Static God

(Charlotte, North Carolina) One of the beautiful things about the craft lager surge is that it lifts all lager ships, including one of our favorite things in the whole wide world: a well-executed India pale lager—or hoppy lager, cold IPA, whatever you want you call it, we don’t care. What we care about in this context are those twin drives pushing for ample hop aroma and flavor alongside that lean, clean body and drier finish. You don’t have to brew it as a hit-the-numbers lager to get there, but doing so certainly seems to encourage delicious results. That’s especially true in the hands of skilled, flavor-forward brewers, such as those at Resident Culture.

In Static God, the intensity and the complexity of the hops are crystal-clear and ponderous—they didn’t dial any of that back just because this is a lager. The nose is decidedly tropical, with notes of guava, pomelo, and pineapple along with a slight diesel whiff that reminds you that this is hop-stuff and probably not a tiki drink. On the palate, more flavors emerge and express themselves, including a range of melons, grapefruit, and a hint of lime; tight, smooth bitterness and sweetness are evident and balanced, carried via a surprisingly pillowy mouthfeel. Bold, remarkable, delicious, and docked at a port only reachable by the unique route they took to get here.

Wild Provisions Metes & Bounds: Red Globe Peach

(Boulder, Colorado) It’s a peculiarity of the English language, but we have a spectacular dearth of vocabulary when it comes to describing fruit. An orange is orange and tastes like … orange. How do you describe a peach—peachy? Or do you use close relatives, such as apricot or the more generic “stone fruit?” Rather than draw comparisons between an object and a quality it might have in common with other objects, we associate the character with the fruit itself, making nuanced appreciation of the delicate differences that much more difficult.

For a beer such as Metes and Bounds: Red Globe Peach, that more descriptive language would come in handy. The broader terms do little justice to the nuance at play, and comparisons to other fruits seem lackluster at best. Yes, there are glints of lemon-and-lime acidity. In her notes, Kate describes the nose as a mix of dandelion, honey, and green grape; Stan describes it as peach pit and funk. We find elements of wood and a light minerality, a touch of fresh-baked bread in the nose, and a misty fruit tempo at the start of the sip, relative to sharper iterations. Taken together, it’s a quiet storm; the soft fruit pulls you in and oscillates between tart and sour. A touch of overripe funk adds fatter mid-tones, and the acidity lingers into the finish with a propulsive twang. Here’s another word for it: stimulating.

Oxbow Crossfade

(Newcastle, Maine) This compelling blend of saison crispness and light tropical fruitiness stood out through our Best in Beer tasting—not because of its intensity, but because of its restraint. As mixed-culture beers increasingly push into acid-forward, wild-ale territory, Crossfade reminds us of the subtle energy that Brett convey in skilled intersection with hops and a light malt frame.

The framework of yeast character is there—crisp, light floral tones with a fresh edge, softened by light yeast-spice and palest-malt approach. In his notes, Stan hails the perfect integration of hops with the light lemon, citrus, dried fruit, and pineapple notes. That hop character is firm, bolstered by a Brett Brux-like bitter edge, highlighting funkier fermentation notes. Yet despite the subtle machinations of rustic complexity, it’s just as easy to enjoy it without overthinking. Crossfade is a beautiful beer for pairing with food; the crisp body with its tight bitterness supports flavors. It doesn’t steal attention.

There was a time when such Brett beers carried more currency, before the push into extended wood-aging morphed our perception of farmhouse-style beer. As our collective excitement over acidity wanes, Crossfade is proof that such an approach is worth renewed attention today.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 4 Green Bench Vitamin Sea Maplewood

Green Bench Postcard Pils

(St. Petersburg, Florida)
We’ll be frank about a semantic issue that has little or nothing to do with how tasty this beer is: As shoppers, we find the phrase “American-style pilsner” to be uniquely unhelpful. Sometimes it means a sweetish, lightly flavored adjunct lager akin to Budweiser; at other times it might mean something more brusque, pumped up with fruity-dank American hops. If everyone were to somehow agree that from now on, this is what it means—“you know, like Postcard Pils”—we’d be cool with that.

Postcard has its own strut. Embracing Noble-esque Mt. Hood and bittering to the tune of 35 IBUs, while employing a decoction mash with corn and German Barke Pilsner malt—these are hints that the brewers want to show us what they can really do … and/or, they are hard at work on perfecting their “shifty.” We reckon this is the beer they want to drink after work. If so, we’d like to join them. The yellow-gold color is bright and brilliant, while the aroma has an unassuming confidence: herbal-floral hops that hint at citrus zest melding with light, sweet bread in a familiar gestalt. The flavor is similarly integrated, with even-keeled, spicy-herbal bitterness locked in a balanced embrace with delicate malt to wind up harmoniously bittersweet. We love beers like this—the kind that hold up beautifully to sensory scrutiny, or else they fade without complaint into the background of great conversation, there to taste great whenever you bother to pay attention.

Vitamin Sea Tropical Envy (Collaboration with Civil Society Brewing)

(East Weymouth, Massachusetts)
Apologies to those who might expect us to turn our noses up at the thought of triple IPA, but while we appreciate (and drink) plenty of small beers, we have developed quite the crush on these 10-plus percent ABV IPAs—or as Joe likes to call them, “hopwines.” There’s just something about the intensity, alcohol, and sweetness that heightens the experience of today’s new hops.

Tropical Envy was top of the triple IPA charts for our blind-review panel this year, and for good reason—this intricate machine made of many moving hop-parts evokes tropical-fruit juice with orange, pineapple, papaya, and mango, and it does so with light, funky tropical notes in tow—those light sulfur and phenol notes that add the beloved spicy foil to the more obvious sweet-fruit elements. A beer so excessively hopped could easily become a train wreck of muddled flavors and hop burn, but Tropical Envy lives up to its billing with cleanly expressed fruit flavors and just a touch of creaminess to highlight them. It’s definitely dessert-ish, but “hopwines” are generally our last beers of the night, and none satisfied us this year quite as much as this one.

Maplewood Barrel Aged Cuppa Vanilla Rye

Vanilla rye barrel–aged stout isn’t new territory—Goose Island’s 2010 and 2014 releases of Vanilla Rye Bourbon County Stout are legendary—so it takes a bit of swagger for a fellow Chicagoland brewery to tread that same ground. Maplewood’s barrel program has been on the upswing for the past few years, driven by Cuppa coffee stout, and this 2021 release of Barrel Aged Cuppa Vanilla Rye finds them coming into their own with a maturity and spark.

Three varieties of vanilla do the heavy lifting, adding sweet floral layers over the woody whiskey heat and accentuating the very light sweetness in the body without excessive or flabby heft. The coffee adds a subtle roast and additional dark fruit notes. The expected rye spice is there, but it’s defined by a smoothness that works that spice into a consistent flow. Chocolate notes help cut the sweetness with some darker cacao, while a touch of boozy heat also cuts through.

What makes it great? Decadence, without excess. It’s relatively easy to make a 20°P finishing stout with a huge body that’s syrupy sweet. It’s harder to orchestrate all these competing forces—malt body, barrel heat, coffee roast and fruitiness, lactose, vanilla herbal notes and fruitiness, malt caramel mid-layers—into something cohesive. Add in the component of time in the barrel, and the complexity increases further. It takes a particular vision matched with technical skill to produce a beer this compelling, and Maplewood has it dialed in.

Roaring Table Tuba Solo

(Lake Zurich, Illinois)
It doesn’t matter how many recipes and tips and tricks we publish—and we have published many—it remains really difficult to brew a great hazy IPA. Those of you who pull it off regularly, at home or in a professional setting, have our utmost respect. Because even before you get into process and fine-tuning and balance, it’s a style that is incredibly dependent on raw materials—and the slightest misstep leads to any number of subtle annoyances that hinder drinkability. Yet the ones that pull off all the acrobatics then really stick their landings can convince even the most crotchety skeptics.

Tuba Solo is one of those that delighted our seasoned judges and editors alike. The heady aroma delivers a beachy mix of pineapple, orange, mango, guava, and lime, with softer floral notes like the lei received upon arriving at the island. On the palate, the fruity hop flavor bursts with exuberance, pulling off some rare tricks: It’s sweet but doesn’t cloy; it’s smooth, without a trace of hop burn; and there is an earthy quality that keeps it interesting and different. The all-around softness continues into the finish, drying out just enough to compel more sips, and another glass, and then we’ll just see where the day leads.

Smooj Strawberry Banana

(Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Hey, we know: This is not a beer. So, what’s a hard seltzer doing on a list of 20 beers of the year? Well, it’s hard to imagine a drink that’s been more impactful to the fermented-beverage landscape than Smooj. Love the trend or hate it, none can deny that Smooj has inspired many others to pursue similarly pulpy paths. It’s been fascinating to watch hard seltzer push in so many different directions so quickly.

Most importantly, however, Smooj is delicious. Yes, it’s primarily fruit puree with the addition of a neutral fermented seltzer base. But the devil is in the details, and the details are where Smooj shines. From the tightly considered balance of fruit acidity and sweetness to the touch of funkier fruit flavors that add depth, there’s a culinary mind at work behind it.

A few months ago, when we were blind-reviewing tart fruit beers, we threw Smooj Piña Colada and Smooj Strawberry Banana into the lineups just to see how they might score. We haven’t published the reviews in the magazine, but we can say this: Our judges—including some who’ve been judging beer for the better part of a few decades—found it remarkable. With scores of 96 and 97, Smooj has the honor of being the highest-scoring hard seltzer our panel has tasted to date.

It’s not for everyone—that smoothie-thick body and creamy consistency is more frozen daiquiri than beer. Yet when a package of Smooj arrives in our Craft Beer & Brewing office, it elicits a certain buzz as everyone clamors to try some. As jaded as we might get at times, Smooj is a reminder that there can be joy in embracing the pure pleasure of delicious fruit, carefully crafted.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 6 Roaring Table Smooj ABGB

The ABGB Industry Pilsner

If you already know this beer, you don’t need us to tell you it’s great. Besides whatever rewarding personal relationship you may have developed with it over time, it did win a gold medal at GABF in 2016. This year, it appeared incognito in front of our blind-review panel, who awarded it a perfect 100 score.

Weeks before the judges tasted it, we spent the end of a February evening actually drinking it. We got stuck into Industry at the Austin Beer Garden Brewery itself, just a few days before a freak ice storm paralyzed the city. It was chilly, but we sat outside (these were the pre-vaccine days). Despite the cold, we found it hard to leave. The beer had hooked us—there is a winning formula at work here, and it’s surprising that more breweries don’t fully embrace it. (And if they did, how many would be this consistently excellent?) That formula is an embrace of sharp bitterness—about 40 IBUs—combined with bright, leafy Hallertauer hops and enough malt to balance that bitterness without dulling its edge; it also provides the light sweetness that draws out that herbaceous flavor and gives it some depth.

However, those are only the kinds of words that might emerge when compelled to slow down and zoom in to the details. This beer doesn’t mind at all if you just enjoy it while passing time and talking about anything else, or nothing. Either way, you’ll want another.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 5 Kros Strain-1

Kros Strain Batch 625

(La Vista, Nebraska)
These days, we talk and write a lot about how beers can evoke specific memories—such as how dessert stouts and fruit beers can trigger nostalgic pangs of favorite candies or Grandma’s blackberry cobbler. However, those taste-memories seem crude, literal, and childish compared to what a terrific saison can do—that is, transport you to a place you might never have been.

We haven’t yet asked Bobby Kros what happened to the other 624 batches, but that must have been a rewarding journey because we know we love this one. For a mixed-culture, foeder-fermented beer with multiple Brett strains, it never strays too far from the classic Hainaut-inspired path. It presents beautifully, with a sturdy, meringue-like cap of foam that is happy to accompany you to the bottom of the glass. The complex and enticing aroma suggests lemongrass, bread flour, clove, chamomile, and stone fruit, with light earthy-lemon Brett notes. The beer is lively yet soft on the palate, minimal and elegant, conveying peppery cracker, just a bit of that stone fruit, and a refreshing herbal bitterness before a dry finish.

With eyes closed, you’re in a rustic Wallonian café, about to tuck into a pâté, or perhaps sweating in a barley field more than 100 years ago, ready to rehydrate. If that’s too fantastic, maybe it simply reminds you of some of the finer farmhouse ales you’ve ever tasted.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 7 Westbound Duvel Cloudburst

Cloudburst Aqua Seafoam Shame

Here is some transparency: Four of us had four totally different Cloudburst beers as likely picks in our critic’s lists, and all had compelling arguments. Given that showing, we agreed that we had to promote only one to the Big List, thus making room for other deserving breweries in our own picks. We don’t think hop-wizard Steve Luke and his team will mind.

As for which Cloudburst beer to raise above the others—not an easy choice—we went with Kate Bernot’s pick: one of their wet-hopped IPAs from the 2021 early harvest, enjoyed just days after it was canned. Curiously, rather than making the two-hour drive from Seattle to Yakima, Luke and crew sourced green Strata hops from Oregon’s Goschie Farm. “This beer tastes so fresh, it’s aquatic,” Kate writes. “It’s a challenge to make IPAs memorable these days—but this one creates a hop expression I can’t say I’ve had before: eucalyptus, spruce, mint, green split wood, and lemongrass. Plus, there’s something creamy, almost lactic about the texture and flavor. It’s a stunner.”

Fresh-hopped beers provide a once-a-year opportunity to ride IPAs into realms we don’t normally get to go. They are ethereal moments, and there is nothing quite like experiencing the ones shaped by the masters at the top of their craft.

Westbound & Down 5 Years Strong

(Idaho Springs, Colorado)
Over the past year or two, we’ve watched a developing trend: brewers with deep barrel stocks blending across styles—stout and barleywine, for example—to create deeply complex hybrids. We’ve tasted a number of compelling beers that employ the same strategy; Side Project’s Continuance series was a particular standout. We’ll always admire the creative drive to color outside the lines and find new ways to build intriguing, satisfying flavor.

The beer that moved us the most, however, was this mashup from the world-class barrel program of Westbound & Down in Idaho Springs, Colorado. This didn’t exactly come as a shock, considering how their singular barrel-aged offerings have independently impressed our blind-review panel. Westbound & Down’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout scored a standout 99 in our October-November 2021 issue. This 50/50 blend of barrel-aged stout with barrel-aged Louie barleywine shows that blends can, in the right hands, become much more than the sum of their parts.

What ignites our curiosity is its layered approach to flavor, building on very light roast notes with layers of burnt sugar, brown sugar, dark caramel, and punchier light-caramel notes. There’s a slight fermentation fruitiness that’s subtle and not distracting, lending a toffee-apple edge. Warming chocolate-caramel pushes forward in the sip, neatly expressed without excessive sweetness and amplified by the aged leather note in the nose. Wood is ever-present but never overwhelms, as light tannin mingles with a bit of birch syrup.

Like the old commercial slogan, barrel-aged barleywine and barrel-aged stout are two great tastes that taste great together. This expression from the cellars and blenders of Westbound & Down is one to hunt.

Duvel Tripel Hop Cashmere

(Breendonk, Antwerp, Belgium)
We’ve heard longtime Belgophiles complain that the classic Duvel isn’t as hop-forward or bitter as it used to be. We’re skeptical; we reckon that our taste thresholds shift over time and that the goalposts of bitterness have moved. Meanwhile, a few of those old-timers tell us they now prefer Duvel Tripel Hop—because it reminds them of how Duvel “used to taste.” Fair enough. However, nobody needs Kodachrome-hued memories of 1980s Belgium to appreciate what an extra kick of hops can do to the already-dangerous elegance of a glass of Duvel.

These days, the Citra version is ubiquitous in better bottle shops around the world—so, inevitably, it’s overlooked and underrated. That beer may be just as deserving, but it was a chance encounter with the Cashmere version that took us aback this year. It inspired a flurry of notes, some rumination on all the infinite directions that hops can take us, and some confusion about why so many brewers are intent on dragging us all to the same place, where we’re forced to sip from fruity tiki drinks and Rupert Holmes is forever on repeat.

Nose into the tulip: This is more minty than Noble, but also with notes of lime juice, lemon peel, absinthe, and woodruff—incredibly complex, as Cashmere melds with esters and becomes a hybrid creature with its own properties. On the palate, the prickle of carbonation makes the bitterness seem spikier than it really is, while the kiss of alcohol gives a similar boost to the slender malt sweetness; with the aromatics, the combined effect is an herbal mojito dusted with lemon zest then super-sparkled like champagne. It’s delicious, compelling, perilous at 9.5 percent ABV, and full of class—there is a lesson there, too, in how they’ve sacrificed none of Duvel’s careful refinements just to experiment with hops.

Best 2021-Ed Picks 8 Spindletap Chuckanut Our Mutual Friend

Chuckanut Bohemian Pilsner

(Burlington, Washington)
What does precision taste like? Maybe it’s something like the Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography—we know it when we drink it. It’s a quality that runs through each of Chuckanut’s thoughtful beers. Yet it takes far more than precision to win as many accolades as Will and Mari Kemper’s brewery has collected over the years. It takes many smart choices guided by taste; each Chuckanut beer brings plentiful character, finely tuned, with the addictive finishing quality that is a hallmark of the greats. Visiting the Bellingham brewery in May (months before they moved all operations to South Nut in the Skagit Valley), we were thrilled by a series of beers—especially the pinpoint Kölsch, lush Maibock, and Bohemian-Style Pilsner. All three would have been strong candidates for this list, but our blind-review panel took that tough choice out of our hands when they reviewed the Pilsner and scored it 99/100.

It’s a vision in the glass—creamy froth atop a bright, golden, sparkling jewel. The zippy, hop-herbal nose evokes sweet woodruff, mint, lemongrass, and white flowers, with a soft tone of lightest-honey malt and just a matchstick-kiss of reassuring lager-sulfur. That aroma sets the tone perfectly for the elegant, structured, clear-as-a-bell herbal bitterness; its slender malt sweetness stitches seamlessly into that hop flavor while simultaneously illuminating it. Then it all evaporates into an immaculate, utterly dry finish, leaving you with a feeling of austerity; consciously or otherwise, it compels you to back in search of that fleeting indulgence, gulp after delicious gulp, glass after lace-striped glass.

Our Mutual Friend Time’s Arrow

Time has a way of smoothing rough edges, and this 7.7 percent ABV just-barely-double-IPA from Denver’s Our Mutual Friend is an example of how disciplined and consistent brewing over years and years, combined with thoughtful ingredient choices, can result in a beer polished to a mirror sheen. While it feels like a modern take on West Coast IPA, it’s a beer that Denver’s OMF has been brewing for many years, relatively unchanged. Of course, “unchanged” is relative—ingredients, palates, and techniques aren’t static, but forever evolve.

Still, Time’s Arrow captures what we love about modern West Coast IPA—the beauty of subtle tropical-fruit notes paired with a firm bitterness that’s so finely integrated into the whole that it’s difficult to tease it out as a separate thing. Hiding in plain sight, that tropically tinged bitterness provides a perfect foil to the light, spicy mango top-notes. Together, they pull off the unexpected—a beer that feels more expansive than it is, reinforcing subtle tropical fruit with the perception of sweetness, while the dry body maintains a crisp structure for everything to hang on. It feels like a bit of a magic trick, packing so much into something that feels so tight, but there’s no magic involved—just the application of experience over time.

SpindleTap Aceite Crudo

Barrel-aged stouts tend to command the attention of drinkers these days, which means that there are plenty of non-barreled stouts out there that get less fanfare than they deserve. When this one crossed our palates, the spark was undeniable. While tasting and reviewing beers, we hit a certain groove—context drives a midline expectation, with most beers hovering slightly above or below that average. When we tasted Aceite Crudo, it was if a palpable energy had entered the room. Discussing it afterward, our blind-review panel and our staff had felt that this was more than above-average. It could redefine the standard.

The first thing you notice is just how coherent it is. Roasted bass notes don’t stand out as separate from caramel mid-layers or sharper top-notes from dark malt—everything hangs together, impeccably integrated. It feels deliberate—firmly planted in an understanding of modern palates, yet triangulating that understanding with the classical roots of imperial stout. It’s roasty, with a smooth espresso boldness that’s more endearing than challenging. A light hop bitterness gives it a touch of structure and balances the malt sweetness, but it never distracts.

The temptation is to cast this as one that reminds us of how beer “used to be,” but that’s not it. This is a beer that conjures those earlier memories of exploring imperial stout, but it executes with a polish and creaminess that none of those early beers captured. Like a Mitchell & Ness throwback, every note is perfect, and yet the quality of material and construction is far better than the original.

Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].