Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 Best Beers of 2013

Here’s the ten best beers I tried for the first time in 2013. That’s the only stipulation for a beer to make this list. Re-reviews don't count. It doesn’t matter if it’s been around for years or is brand new. Additionally, this isn’t meant to be in any way “objective” – I didn’t grade these to BJCP guidelines or on technical merit. It’s simply what I enjoyed the most. If you were surprised not to see a certain beer on the list, then check the Top 10 lists from previous years. Or it’s possible I’ve just never had it.

Stone R&R Coconut IPA 001#10 Stone R&R Coconut IPA

This is exactly what I love in an IPA: big, flavorful, juicy-type hops that don’t fatigue my palate. This a well-balanced, highly drinkable and delicious beer. The palette begins with a combination of tropical and stone fruits. They’re sweet, but authentically-flavored – nothing artificial or candy-like here. There’s a consistent bitterness throughout; though it’s slightly dry. Supposedly 90 IBUs, Stone R&R Coconut IPA  drinks like something in the 50-65 IBU range with no dank, syrupy or arid character.

I searched high and low for the coconut, but couldn’t find it. Perhaps it accounts for the smooth texture, or is just obscured by the base palette. Had it been more prominent I would’ve given it my highest rating and it would’ve been much higher up on this list. Regardless, this is exactly the kind of strong IPA I love to drink and is something I’d buy all the time if it were available.

Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout 002#9 Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout

Otter Creek is known for making mainstream stuff that you can buy in the supermarket. I’ve enjoyed a few of their beers, but some have been unimpressive. When I heard several people recommend I try their Russian Imperial Stout this summer I was surprised to hear it. Now that I’ve drank it myself I can see what they were talking about.

The first taste I notice is sweet milk chocolate. Beers of the style tend to have a strong red grape flavor, and while that taste is present here, it takes a backseat to deeply roasted malt and coffee flavor. There’s some alcohol warmth as it finishes, but it actually complements the palette quite well. I can’t believe there’s an RIS this good so readily available and affordable.

Imperial Stout Trooper#8 New England Brewing Imperial Stout Trooper

This is a delicious beer that’s as robust and complex as some of the highest-ranked stouts out there. Intense rich sweetness as soon as it hits the tongue; black licorice, chocolate-covered cherry, and a hint of vanilla or wood. Though not strongly bitter, there is a significant hop presence from beginning to end, complemented by roasted malt. A strong bitter bite at the crest of the swig, which quickly recedes and gives way to rich sweetness of milk chocolate, molasses, and just a hint of citrus. The aftertaste is akin to Kailua with a slightly milky character plus liqueur flavor and sweetness. Yet at no point is it boozy or cloying – now that’s a well-balanced beer. 
#7 Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s

Oskar Blues Deviant Dale'sA ton of malt character with perhaps some rye spiciness balanced with a dank hop bitterness make this beer amazingly balanced . The beer begins with a thud of bitterness across the tongue. Next is a combination of orange juice concentrate and sticky, resiny hop bitterness. It begins to dry up as it reaches the apex when the malt takes control and creates some cracker-like character. It climaxes with a spicy sensation, similar to rye or garlic. As it goes down, there’s a taste of orange popsicle, honey and pale malt. This is a pretty interesting brew to say the least.

#6 The Lost Abbey Judgment Day Ale

Lost Abbey Judgment Day AleThe traditional Belgian quad style tends to make for great beers, even when brewed exactly by the book. When a brewery can improve upon something like that, it’s pretty amazing. The Lost Abbey has done just that with their Judgment Day Ale. Brewed with raisins and chocolate malt, it has a delicious candy and confectionery sweetness that’s never cloying or too intense.

Strawberry, raspberry and blackberry are all quite prominent at the beginning of each swig. This is interesting considering the only fruit used in the brew is raisin. The Belgian yeast character probably accounts for a lot of that tasty fruit flavor, too. Only mild bitterness through the middle with a slightly roasty character of burnt toast and dark chocolate on the backend. Not quite stout-like, but it adds a complementary flavor without going so far as to become cloying. An immensely enjoyable brew for all the right reasons.

#5 Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale

Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Wild Ale 002This beer is brewed with Westmalle Trappist ale yeast, but it looks, smells and tastes just like a traditional West Coast-style IPA. There’s definitely some subtle Belgian qualities to this that are pleasant surprises as you find them, making it even more fun to drink.

The palette begins with big hop bitterness and a sweet taste of orange juice combined with a wildflower character. Hints of honey and wheat make are noticeable as well. It’s not until the finish when the Trappist yeast is noticeable as it imparts a bubblegum flavor and a hint of tartness. It’s a delicious combination to say the least. I’m not sure why more American breweries aren’t making beers of the style with Belgian yeast. It’s such a good combination.

Russian River Supplication 001#4 Russian River Supplication

Supplication starts out as a brown ale and is aged in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries. A cocktail of yeasts and bacteria are added for fermentation and the souring effect, respectfully. The result is a luscious, complex palette that has so much going on and it’s all wonderful. The cherries are present from start to finish – initially tart and sharp, but sweeter and more refined at the end. Confectionery flavors of caramel and toffee come through on the finish. This brew probably won’t be enjoyed by everyone, but those who have acquired the taste for it are in for something really special.

Hill Farmstead Abner#3 Hill Farmstead Abner

Abner is definitely a top notch double IPA. It’s exactly what I look for in beers of the style: intoxicating aroma; a delicious, well-balanced palette; and high drinkability. There’s a delectable tropical flavor that starts things off: grapefruit, guava, passion fruit, etc. There’s a slight sweetness and a juice-like taste across the tongue. It’s actually quite refreshing for a moment there, that is, until the bitterness comes in. It’s not quite as aggressive as some others of the style, though it’s noticeably strong for sure. I get a garlic and onion taste at the apex with a slight spiciness on the finish, but it fades away and leaves a pleasant aftertaste of hop bitterness.

Cigar City Good Gourd 002#2 Cigar City Good Gourd

It takes a lot for a pumpkin beer to wow me these days. Lately, I’ve been finding most tend to be pretty standard at best, so, for one to knock my socks off is practically a miracle. I guess that’s quite a buildup for Cigar City Good Gourd, since it’s not only a great pumpkin beer, but maybe the greatest pumpkin beer. And for good reason – it’s complex, delicious, looks great, smells great and is easy to drink. It’s pretty much perfect.

Right off the bat there’s a strong sensation of cinnamon, allspice and clove. They bristle across the palate, imparting an interesting sweet and spicy dynamic. On the second half it’s all pumpkin pie. The clove remains, followed by a confectionery-like taste of pumpkin puree and Crème Brûlée. This is a flavor palette I’ve never experienced before, which makes this beer all the more impressive when put into context.

#1 Deschutes The Abyss (2010 Reserve)
Deschutes The Abyss (2010 Reserve) 001I got this bottle in a trade with my friend Ryan Reschan of San Diego Beer Vlog back in January of 2011 (the same Ryan of Stone R&R Coconut IPA, coincidentally enough!). I cellared it and planned on drinking it later that year, but for whatever reason I kept putting it off.  Nearly three years after this beer was born I decided to drink it and I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. It’s everything I look for in a barrel-aged imperial stout, but without any of the heaviness or edginess of a fresh vintage.

There’s a lot going on in this beer, though that’s not surprising considering it’s brewed with licorice and molasses with 1/3rd of it aged in oak and bourbon barrels. It begins with a luscious, sweet flavor of dark cherry. It’s almost tart in a way, like raspberry. Some chocolate syrup flavors come through at the middle, then change to something more bitter on the backend. The Abyss is only 65 IBUs which gives it plenty of bitterness while keeping the hops in check. There’s a delicious woody/vanilla flavor on the finish, which I like to let linger on the tongue to savor. The alcohol has mellowed nicely and has faded into the background and probably accounts for the vanilla and woody character.

Imperial stouts of this caliber tend to be rare and expensive but this one definitely deserves all the merit it receives.

Honorable mentions:
The Beer Diviner Got Your Back
The Beer Diviner Original Pale Ale
Black Boss Porter
Black Diamond Brandy Barrel Grand Cru
Cigar City Cubano-Style Espresso Brown Ale
Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout
Clown Shoes Galactica IPA
Dogfish Head Hellhound on my Ale
Double Dose IPA
He’Brew Death of a Contract Brewer
Kasteel Rouge
Kulmbacher Eisbock
La Chouffe
Lagunitas Pale Ale
Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA
Lawson’s Finest Liquids Big Hoppy
Lawson’s Finest Liquids Spring Fever Session IPA
Ommegang Adoration
Otter Creek Black IPA
Russian River Sanctification
Sixpoint 3 Beans
Southern Tier Compass
Southern Tier Live
Stone Enjoy By 4.01.13
Stone Espresso Imperial Russian Stout
Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout
Surly Abrasive
SweetWater Happy Ending
Uinta Hop Notch IPA
Unibroue Maudite

Fun fact: I reviewed 275 beers in 2013 (a new record!), of which, 40 scored a 9 or 10. That’s about 15% of all the beers I reviewed this year.

ICYMI:
Top 10 Best Beers of 2012
Top 10 Best Beers of 2011
Top 10 Best Beers of 2010
Top 10 Best Beers of 2009