Monday, December 26, 2011

Top 10 Best Beers of 2011

Well here it is - the list you've all been waiting for: the Top 10 BEST Beers that I reviewed in 2011! And what a year it was! I gave out more 10's and more 9's this year than any other year! In fact, I gave out a record-breaking eight 10's! That made choosing the two best 9's rather difficult. I'm still not sure if I chose the best ones and put them in the "correct" order!

Only beers that were reviewed for the first time on an episode of "Chad'z Beer Reviews" during calender year 2011 were eligible. Re-reviews weren't eligible (which is why you won't see Pliny on this list). This isn't limited to beers released in 2011, either. Just, of all the beers I reviewed in 2011 (about 270 of them), these are the 10 best I had. For a better explanation of why these products are so good, please watch the entire reviews as these clips are only meant to be super succinct previews.

10. Ayinger Celebrator
Perhaps I should just "copy and paste" my tasting notes of certain Belgian Trappist beers since Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock seems to have many of the same flavors. As we noted in the aroma, dark fruits and confectionery flavors are strong here. Fruitcake, rum, raisin, and toffee syrup are all prominent from start to finish. It’s a rich, sweet beer to be sure, but it’s never cloying or sticky. It finishes with a subtle, semi-sweet chocolate aftertaste to impart some bitterness and let you know it’s still a beer.


9. Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
While it smells like an IPA, it definitely doesn’t taste like one since this isn’t a bitter beer at all, but a truly refreshing, juicy beer. Just like the aroma it’s tropical fruit and citrus from the beginning to middle. In the end and aftertaste I get a slight peppery, chalky spice - but it’s light and complements the fruit flavors very well. Very tasty and impressive.


8. Goose Island Christmas Ale (2009 vintage)
I honestly did not have much expectations for this beer considering it’s only 5.7% ABV and two years old. But I have to say I was shocked at just how tasty this beer is in the middle of the summer of 2011. Big notes of rich syrupy gooiness from start to finish. Caramel and toffee and extremely prominent with a refined sweetness that’s genuinely tasty and not cloying. There’s a distinct roasted peanut flavor on the finish with only mild bitterness somewhere in between.

What’s amazing is that the beer never wears out its welcome. Each swig is a robust as the one before it. The palate doesn’t grow that much more complex, but the sweetness never becomes sickly sweet, either.


7. Avery Maharaja 
The Maharaja hits the palate with a simultaneous attack of rich sweetness and sticky hop bitterness. Some beers rotate between sweetness and bitterness across the palate, but this beer has both simultaneously. The first thing I notice is a rich, tropical fruit juice flavor of the aforementioned fruit variety. It’s amazing how rich and sweet it is and for a moment it’s actually quite refreshing.

Although very noticeable up front, the bitterness is even more pronounced in the second half. The taste and sensation is that of pine sap filtered through wet hop cones. It’s a rich, thick, heavy bitterness that hits the palate with a thud, not a bang. This bitterness weighs in at 102 IBUs and it actually pairs amazingly well with the consistent rich juicy sweetness. It’s definitely delicious.


6. Founders CBS
Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout (or just "CBS" as the bottle indicates) is begins with the same or very similar base brew as Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS). It’s then aged in barrels that were previously used to age maple syrup which were previously used to age bourbon. Right off the bat that makes for a very interesting palate, and since I’ve already been fortunate enough to try the KBS, I couldn’t help but wonder how the CBS could possibly top its forefather.

But that’s the thing about this beer - I don’t think it’s meant to surpass the KBS as much as it’s meant to be a different approach to the same beer. Taste-wise, the palates are very similar. It begins with a sweet imperial stout taste, then coffee flavor and bitterness through the middle. The ending is the best part - huge vanilla and bourbon flavors appear out of nowhere and leave just a trace of smoke in their wake. This is a flavor and sensation commonly found in oak-aged imperial stouts, but I’ve never encountered so much vanilla before. It almost seems confectionery, as if it’s a vanilla flavoring or if the beer were aged in spiced rum barrels.

The energy level is high all around from beginning to end with a perfect balance of coffee taste and bitterness with vanilla and wood sweetness. It doesn’t have quite the roasty flavor as the KBS forbearer, making it seem actually kind of, dare I say, mild, in comparison. Whatever the case may be, Founders CBS is still a delicious brew.


5. Three Floyds Zombie Dust
It’s a beer like Zombie Dust that reminds me why I love hoppy beers so much. This is a palate full of delicious flavor combinations of juicy sweetness and hop bitterness. It begins with a lightly sharp, slightly dry hop bitterness. Then the palate opens up its juicy core and unleashes a cornucopia of tropical fruit and citrus. Not as tart and acidic as many West Coast IPAs, but does have the same amount of authentic juice flavors. Yet it’s not sticky, sappy, or syrupy either. From what I understand it’s a single-hop brew using the Citra variety and if that’s the case I think the hop definitely lives up to its name. Absolutely delectable palate with the bitterness to match but nothing absurd. 


4. Russian River Consecration
You know a beer is going to be great when, upon your first sip, you can’t think straight afterwards because you’ve just experienced so many different flavors at once! That’s what happened to me just a few seconds into Russian River Consecration. Wow! Where to begin? It’s like a Belgian quad that’s been soured and wood-aged with some roasted malts added and gone flat. I’ll break it down:

It begins with immediate sourness - the tasty kind you find in beers like this brewed with wild ales. Next comes dark, tart, acidic fruits like cherry, black cherry, currants, blackberries, and sour red grapes. It’s similar to sangria, but with an overt sourness to it. After all that comes the barrel-aged portion with strong vanilla and wood flavors - akin to a clean rum. I even detect a brief, subtle flavor of chocolate or dark roasted malts, although I doubt there’s any used in the brewing of the beer. It comes full circle back to the sourness, only stronger and drier, with a surprisingly clean aftertaste. It’s delicious and I want more! 


3. Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA
One of the reasons I’ve never been a big fan of black IPAs is because they literally mess with your head: your eyes see stout, but you tongue tastes imperial IPA and the brain often ends up confused. With Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Black IPA this is indeed the case, but it’s the only instance I can recall where such confusion was so lovely.

Up front the beer begins with intense bitterness, it follows with a juicy, sweet, almost refreshing taste of citrus acidity and juiciness. It finishes with a dry sensation and taste of lightly roasted malts and leaves a lingering aftertaste of coffee and dark chocolate. It wouldn’t seem that these flavor components would go so well together - citrus and chocolate? But they do. The IPA component is very West Coast style with an orange juice-like taste, but the stout component is soft, smooth, and slightly sweet. It’s the bitterness and accompanying dryness that accounts for the perfect transition and blend of the flavors. Maybe it’s a little drier than I’d prefer, but the great taste of the palate more than makes up for it.


2. Firestone Walker Parabola
Barrel-aged imperial stouts are all the rage these days, and for good reason: they’re delicious! Usually, these beers are aged in just one barrel for a year or more, but Firestone Walker Parabola is aged in multiple barrels, including spirits, wines, and previous beers. This creates for a very unique and equally complex palate. Of course, the base brew itself has a lot to do with it and you can tell they went out all on making an imperial stout of the highest quality.

Parabola hits the tongue with a massive amount of pure taste. Red grape, black licorice and toffee and caramel syrups are the most prominent flavors up front. It’s sweet and rich, but in that authentic, all-natural way - nothing candy-like or artificial in the least. The second half transitions to more traditional stout qualities with deeply roasted malt and a strong bitterness to balance out the palate. On the finish comes a rush of wood, vanilla and more whiskey. The aftertaste, however, is remarkable clean. Not lingering bitterness, no cloying or sticky sweetness, either. Interestingly enough, there’s little to no chocolate or coffee flavors in this palate, and instead more vinous and licorice qualities. That’s probably the only thing keeping me from considering it the best beer ever, but my friend Jay seemed to prefer it the other way around.


1. Founders KBS
There is so much going on with this beer it’s quite daunting a task to list the flavors coming from this beer and in the order they appear but I’ll try: vanilla, wood, deeply roasted malts, semi-sweet chocolate, coffee, bourbon sweetness and a residual coffee bitterness. Wow, just wow. Founders KBS is absolutely delicious - words really can’t do it justice, it’s a beer you have to experience for yourself.

I love the bourbon sweetness that is prominent throughout the palate. It imparts vanilla and a campfire smoky sweetness, but the genuine flavors of the stout are able to ride alongside it rather than underneath. It’s bitter from the roasted malts and the coffee-like flavors to create for perfect balance. 


Honorable Mentions:
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
Brooklyn Black Ops (2009 vintage)
Captain Lawrence 5 Years Later Ale
Cigar City Improvisación
Firestone Walker Double Jack Double IPA
Founders Centennial IPA
Founders Double Trouble
Founders Porter
Great Lakes Christmas Ale 
Ithaca Excelsior! Thirteen
Keegan Ales Joe Mama's Milk Stout
The Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA 
Mahrs Brau Christmas Bock
Michigan Brewing Screamin' Pumpkin Ale
Mikkeller Beer Geek Bacon
New Holland Dragon's Milk
North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Ommegang Aphrodite
Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale
River Horse Tripel Horse
Sixpoint Bengali Tiger
Surly Wet
Three Floyds/Brewdog Bitch Please
Troubadour Magma

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