Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: My year in beer, part 1

Well, 2013 has come to a close. I had a lot of memorable beers and beer-related experiences this year. I thought I’d recap them for this week’s blog, along with some interesting statistics, fun factoids, and some general observations I had this year. I originally intended to do it all in a single post, but I seem to have gotten carried away, so we’ll divide it up over a few entries. For now, please enjoy part 1 which is all about breweries of note.
New Breweries I Discovered
Beer Diviner Got Your Back
  

There were quite a few breweries I tried for the first time in 2013 to great satisfaction, including:
 
The Beer Diviner: One of the Capital District’s nanobreweries has been putting out a lot of product after recently starting up. I liked nearly every beer made by Dr. Jonathon Post, especially the “Got Your Back” imperial coffee stout, along with the pale ale and red ale. I also tried several draft-only releases at both their grand opening and harvest festival that were great (he makes a hefeweizen that could give Weihenstephaner a run for their money). Two new bottled beers have recently hit store shelves that I plan on reviewing in 2014. Kudos to our own Greg Back for representing this innovative brewer.Lawson's Finest Liquids Big Hoppy 002

Lawson’s Finest Liquids: It seems like 2013 was the Year of Vermont beer. Everyone was raving about several new breweries from our neighbors to the northeast, and for good reason. I found Lawson’s Finest Liquids to be the best of the Vermont farm breweries. Though their beer is a tad pricey, everything I had bearing an LFL label was great, especially the Double Sunshine IPA, Big Hoppy Black IPA, and the Maple Wheat Ale.

Hill Farmstead: This is currently the hottest brewery in the country according to all the beer hipsters. I’ve heard many stories of people making 8-hour roundtrip drives in all kinds of weather just to get a chance to buy this brewery’s beer. I’ve only formally reviewed their “Abner” – a double IPA, which was excellent. But I’ve sampled a few others at bottleshares and they were all really good. I’m not sure I’m sold on them being God’s Gift to Beer, though.

New England Brewing: Best known for their “Gandi-Bot” double IPA and their “Imperial Stout Trooper,” this Connecticut-based brewery is on par with the two aforementioned Vermont breweries. The major difference being you can actually buy their products in stores here! I love that they can a lot of their brews and the prices are reasonable. Can’t wait to see what they do next year.

Rushing Duck: Though I didn’t actually review any of their beers, I have had several of them on tap at The Ruck and The Bier Abbey and all have been great. This brewery has been getting a lot of word-of-mouth exposure and I’ve never heard a single complaint. They even gave my friend a homebrew recipe for one of their beers – how cool is that?!

Honorable mentions: Maine Beer Company; Jack’s Abby Brewing; Hangar 24 Craft Brewery; Brouwerij van Steenberge; Anderson Valley Brewing Company; Cantillon.

Brewery of the Year: Stone Brewing Company

Stone R&R Coconut IPA 001
Stone is one of the biggest names in the American craft beer scene, and for good reason – they make great stuff! They brewed a lot of one-off releases in 2013 that were well-received. I was especially enamored with the “R&R Coconut IPA,” not only because it was a delicious beer, but also due to the fact that it was made by a friend of mine – Ryan Reschan – who vlogs on YouTube as “San Diego Beer Vlog.” Ryan’s been one of my internet beer buddies for years. I’ve traded with him several times and have tried many of his homebrews. The guy definitely has the talent to go pro if he wanted. He brewed the R&R Coconut IPA with his friend Robert (hence the name) for a homebrew competition sponsored by Stone. Needless to say, they won and they brewed the beer on Stone’s system for national distribution. It’s too bad it was a one-time-only release since it was an excellent beer.

Stone also wins Brewery of the Year for several other reasons, mostly for their pioneering spirit. They of course earned brownie points with me due to the fact Greg Koch himself made a vlog responding to my 2009 video beer review of Arrogant Bastard Ale. I hope to get out to San Diego someday and meet him and the rest of the crew in person. I’m told they’re great people and the brewery is supposed to be amazing.

Brewery of the Year Runner-up: Southern Tier Brewing Company
Southern Tier Live

If you know me, you know Southern Tier is my personal favorite brewery. I’ve never had a beer from them I didn’t like. I find their Blackwater Series to be excellent across the board and I appreciate that they’re constantly experimenting and releasing quality products. They put out several new beers in 2013 that I really enjoyed, especially the “Live” pale ale and the “Compass” imperial IPA. Southern Tier Live is a great summer beer, though it’s good enough to appreciate year-round. Compass is a bit of a strange brew as it’s a San Diego-style double IPA brewed with rose hips to give it a spicy, herbal flair. I thought it was great, but it seemed to fly under everyone’s radar because quantities were limited.

Most drinkers I know raved over their new pumpkin stout – “Warlock” – which is intended to be the stout equivalent of “Pumking”. While it was good, I found it to be derivative and kind of gimmicky since it’s essentially just Pumking made with black patent malt. I wasn’t too crazy about the “Plum Noir” or the “2X Steam,” though. Not bad beers, I just don’t see the point. They also gave all their labels a makeover (what was wrong with the old labels!?). Still, Southern Tier is a great brewery and I know I’ll try anything they release.

New[ish] Local[ish] Breweries to Watch in 2014:
Steadfast Pumpkin Spice Ale 003

Steadfast Beer Company: An Albany-based company that only makes gluten-free beers. They released their flagship pale ale in 2012, but released a Belgian blonde and a pumpkin beer in 2013 – both of which were excellent for sorghum-based brews. They’ve got an oatmeal stout on deck for 2014. You don’t have to be Celiac to enjoy their beers.

Upstate Brewing: They’re not available in Albany just yet, but this Elmira-based brewery is interesting to watch. Taking a page from Sixpoint’s playbook, they only release their beers in 16oz cans. Their “Common Sense Ale” is a sessionable pre-prohibition recipe that is similar to Albany Ale.

Newburgh Brewing: Much like Rushing Duck, their beers have been on tap in the Capital District and have been well-received. Not sure if bottles or cans are in the future, but keep an eye on taps around town for their tasty, low-ABV brews.

Additionally, we saw four new farm breweries and brewpubs announce their arrival here in the Capital District, including: Green Wolf Brewing; Honey Hollow Brewery; Rare Form Brewing; and Ravens Head Brewing. We’ll definitely highlight them in 2014 once they’re open for business.
This concludes part 1 of my “Year in Beer” summation. In part 2 I’ll discuss events, brewpubs, homebrewing, trends and other miscellany.