Saturday, December 22, 2012

Top 10 Best Beers of 2012

Welcome to the FOURTH ANNUAL "Top 10 BEST Beers" of the year as chosen by me, Chad. If you're new here, this is how it works: I choose the ten best beers that I reviewed for the first time in 2012 (re-reviews don't count). It's not the best beers that were released in 2012, just the best that I personally reviewed. Even though I retired from doing Chad'z Beer Reviews the YouTube show, I still write ~300 word reviews of beers almost daily on my website (as I have been since 2008).

This was the best year for beer for me as I actually gave 14 different beers my highest grade of 10 out of 10. So it was really difficult to narrow the list down to the 10 best and on top of that, put them in the proper order. Be sure to watch all the way to the end as I list the other beers that just barely missed the cut as well as all the many beers that scored a 9 as well (or just see the list below).

10. Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine (2011 vintage)
The barleywine style tends to be a bit of a double-edged sword. Great taste but low drinkability. That was my expectation going into Three Floyds Behemoth Barleywine (I mean it’s right there in the name). But one sip into it and I realized this wasn’t a beast after all. Much like the nose and appearance, the palate begins with a light tea-like sweetness. I’ve encountered this flavor in lighter beers before, but never in a barleywine.

Sweet, syrup-tasting flavors of caramel and toffee become very predominant through the middle. But riding shotgun throughout the entire palate is a distinct piney hop bitterness. Strong enough to let you know it’s there, but not to the point where this could be considered an imperial IPA. It’s much more of a sweet beer than it is bitter, but the inclusion of the hops without going overboard is pretty amazing. The absolute lack of alcohol is quite impressive as well. Mostly I enjoy the iced tea-like flavor throughout the entire swig. A delicious beer to say the least and unlike any other American barleywine I’ve ever had - and the best to date, by the way. 


9. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (2011 vintage)
There’s two ways to look at this beer: is it an imperial coffee stout or is it an imperial stout plus coffee? It may seem to be splitting hairs but there definitely is a difference. While this beer, GIBCBCS, is indeed robust in pretty much every way, I can honestly say I’ve had other beers with more pronounced coffee flavor - imperial or otherwise. This is more accurately described as Kahlua - the beer. There’s a strong sweetness throughout the entire palate, a simultaneous combination of vanilla extract and baker’s chocolate. Rich sweetness plus noticeable bitterness from coffee and chocolate.

There’s not much to describe in terms of the usual beer attributes of hops and malts. Well there definitely is a prominent roasted malt flavor, especially through the middle. Then as it finishes there’s a strong burst of gentle warmth, slight dryness and additional sweetness. What’s remarkable is how clean the beer finishes with very little aftertaste. The alcohol definitely works with the palate but upstages the genuine imperial stout quality a tad. Not that I mind because in the end you’re left with an absolutely delicious, complex and very satisfying beer. I can only see this improving with age. 


8. Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
As soon as this beer hit my tongue I was definitely "wowed." It’s a delicious taste of dark cherry, red (but not sour) grape, chocolate syrup, and some milky/creamy taste. A gentle sweetness up from with fruit and other natural sweet flavors, but never cloying for a second. There’s subtle citrusy bitterness underlying the entire time, but once the palate transitions to the finish it really comes out. A quick burst of grapefruit tartness followed by deeply roasted malt and coffee flavor and accompanying bitterness. There’s a very subtle vanilla and woody flavor right as it finishes, along with some alcohol warmth which actually accentuates the palate rather than distracting from it.

A delicious palate and an impressive one considering how well-balanced it is, plus its incorporation of its natural alcoholic strength. I’m glad I can get this beer easily. 


7. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron claims to be a very big brown ale, but there’s a lot of styles it would seem more aptly classified under. Stout, Belgian quad, imperial porter and barleywine all come to mind. It’s got the qualities of all these beers in one. Huge dark fruit flavors right up front, especially with a black cherry and plum taste dominating, but without any tartness.

As it starts its descent a noticeable hop bitterness kicks in. Similar to the taste of coffee or that of a stout. Slightly dry, slightly roasted. Bittersweet dark chocolate is also present, but the fruit flavors never go away. Chocolate-covered cherry is definitely a flavor to discover. There’s a noticeable kick of alcohol right as it finishes, followed by a sweet, confectionary flavor of toffee and vanilla plus cough syrup-like cherry again. The aftertaste is cleaner than you’d expect with just a slightly sweet presence, but nothing cloying or sticky. Quite simply this is one of the most complex and delectable palates I’ve ever encountered. 


6. Southern Tier Iniquity
I put off reviewing Southern Tier Iniquity for three years because I figured it was just another black IPA. I was even hesitant to review the bottle I had since it was four months old at the time. That all being said, one sip into this brew and I was shocked and awed. Huge hop character from beginning to end, and much like the nose, it’s not just pine or citrus or flowers - but all three in tandem.

It begins with a surprising amount of sweetness, almost of grape flavor or some kind of fruit-flavored syrup. Piney, resiny hops great the palate with a sticky bitterness. Through the middle comes a lighter bitterness of flowers, and then finishes with distinct orange citrus on the end. What’s interesting is that there’s only two types of malts in here according to the bottle, neither of which is roasted malt, so any kind of detectable stout qualities (and there are some) is almost a placebo effect. A subtle taste of sweet milk chocolate can be found somewhere towards the end, but the hops remain the star throughout. A remarkable incorporation of intense, sticky bitterness that’s never truly cloying.


5. Alpine Exponential Hoppiness
When a beer smells like liquid fruit candy it tends to taste the same. That’s the thing about hops - they smell so juicy that sometimes we forget hops are for bittering. As soon as Alpine Exponential Hoppiness hit my tongue the first flavor I got was intense hoppy bitterness. It’s slightly dry, but it’s quickly refreshed by the delicious, authentic fruitiness of the palate. A wave of sweet, sticky, almost syrup-like flavors of mango, guava and grapefruit saturate the palate.

The finish reverts back to the bitterness with a distinct resin-like flavor and aftertaste. It’s also somewhat gummy and a tad astringent (like burnt gum?). A light honey taste also appears alongside the tropical and citrus fruit flavors of the main palate. The only problem is it’s a tad too sweet, bordering on becoming cloying, although the strong hop presence helps to balance that out. I’m not sure of the IBU rating of this beer but would estimate it’s well over 100. So you get a lot of bitterness and a lot of sweetness simultaneously. This is one of those big IPAs that walks that fine line between intensely flavored and overly-flavored. 


4. Coney Island Barrel Aged Human Blockhead
Though technically a doppelbock, Coney Island Barrel Aged Human Blockhead drinks like a strong English-style barleywine in more ways than one. It has absolutely no qualities to it that you would find in most beers of the sort. Clearly, the bourbon barrels have had a massive affect on the palate here. Much like rare imperial stouts that use the method - the end result is absolutely delicious. To call it a "malt bomb" would be an understatement. This beer almost drinks like a higher end liqueur or spirit.

As soon as it hits the tongue the palate is enveloped in a melange of rich fruit flavors and confectionery sweetness. Cherry, vanilla, caramel, toffee, and butterscotch are all prominent - each individually distinguishable and they all work perfectly with each other. There’s little to no bitterness, though the alcohol is a major player as it imparts flavors of spiced rum and vanilla extract, plus its natural warmth (which is a bonus - not a distraction). I know some people will find this too intense "fresh," and while I’m sure it’ll age gracefully, I think it’s fantastic right off the shelf. Though it carries a high price tag, it’s still a good deal. 


3. Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter
I love it when beers not only taste great but keep changing up their palate throughout the drinking process. Ballast Point Victory at Sea starts out with a prominent, slightly dry bitterness. Then it turns on a dime into a melange of sweet, syrupy flavors. Iced coffee, vanilla, oak, bourbon and dark chocolate all show up in various stages of the second half. The beer finishes with a strong coffee and slightly roasted malt finale. It’s a perfect balance of confectionary sweetness and coffee and hop bitterness.

As I drink on the palate continues to evolve. Coffee actually takes a back seat to the vanilla and woody flavors. It’s not too far removed from rum. These flavors eventually are then superseded by a strong dark chocolate sweetness with slight coffee bitterness. It’s all very delectable, especially as a liquid dessert (which is how we drank it). 


2. Stone Ruination IPA Tenth Anniversary
I don’t know how, but Stone definitely has taken their classic Ruination double IPA and made it even bigger and bolder while remaining very true to the source material. There’s a very specific subset of West Coast double/imperial IPA styles that I love and this beer definitely falls within it. Strong bitterness throughout while at the same time remaining quite sweet with an authentic juicy taste. In fact, there’s even a moment in the palate where it’s as refreshing as tropical fruit juice. There’s few beers that can be simultaneously bitter and refreshing and this is one of them.

I might almost fault the beer for being too bitter, but considering the name, the brewery, and the target audience I think that’s rather illogical and perhaps a bit redundant. The juicy core is eventually enveloped by the intense dry bitterness of the hops. What starts out sweet and syrupy becomes remarkably dry through the bitterness. The hops don’t linger at first, but they do eventually and does saturate the palate. Still, an effect like that is what you’d expect of this beer and if paired with the proper food it would be a great combination. However, drinking it alone is a pleasurable enough experience. 


1. The Alchemist Heady Topper
The thing about India Pale Ales is that they don’t tend to be very complex - just very hoppy and that’s about it. But Heady Topper proves you can have genuine complexity even while being a hop monster. As soon as the beer hits the tongue I get intense bitterness - it’s slightly dry, but it’s impossible to ignore. It’s a massive hop bite that wakes your mouth up. It’s immediately quenched by a delicious palate of tropical fruit juices. Grapefruit, passion fruit, guava, mango and orange are all individually detectable and make for a very refreshing taste, ironically enough.

The second half changes on a dime to something much more dank. Intense resin and pine sap emerge to give the palate a whole new type of bitterness. Supposedly the beer is over 120 IBUs and between the sharp tartness of the citrus flavors and the almost burnt rubber-like astringency of the resin I can definitely see that. The aftertaste is slightly sticky - an odd combination of bitter hops and fruit nectar. It never stops being delectable, though. 


Honorable Mentions:
Blue Point White IPA
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace
Brown's Imperial Stout
Buxton Imperial Black IPA
Dieu Du Ciel Peche Mortel Bourbon Barrel Aged
Great Lakes Blackout Stout
Great Lakes The Doppelrock
Lagunitas Sucks Holiday Ale
Ommegang Three Philosophers (2009 vintage)
Oskar Blues Gubna
Sixpoint Resin
Sixpoint Righteous Ale
Southern Tier Gemini
Southern Tier Oak Aged Back Burner
Southern Tier Oak Aged Pumking (2011 vintage)
St. Ambroise Russian Imperial Stout
St. Bernardus Abt 12 (2010 vintage)
Stone 10.10.10. Vertical Epic
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
Three Floyds Alpha King
Three Heads Bromigo
Trappistes Rochefort 10
Uinta Dubhe Imperial Black IPA

Top 10 Best Beers of 2013
Top 10 Best Beers of 2011
Top 10 Best Beers of 2010
Top 10 Best Beers of 2009


  1. What made you decide to stop doing video reviews? ..I love the show.

  2. I'm sorry Chad, not sure how I missed that vid. Gonna miss the vids. I still read your text reviews.. Good luck in all you do.. Joshua

  3. I feel the you would love the Founders Imperial stout as well as Founders Breakfast stout.

    1. I've already reviewed both of those. Just not in 2012. Click on the Founders tag over there --->