Friday, January 1, 2016

Top 10 Best Beers of 2015

Last year (2015 that is) was the statistically best year in beer for me. Believe it or not, I reviewed more beers in 2015 than any other year and the average grade was also the highest of the eight years I’ve been doing Chad’z Beer Reviews with a median rating of 7.24 (out of 10). That might be due to the fact that I’ve reviewed pretty much every macro on the market by now so there weren’t as many of them to review and thus not bringing down the average. Though I will say I am surprised – perplexed actually – that my average rating went up since I made a conscience effort to be stricter with my grades in 2015. I’m going to try to be even stricter in 2016.

Of the 289 beers I reviewed, only 16 of them scored a perfect 10 out of 10. And out of those sixteen, one brewery had THREE beers on the list, and another four breweries had two beers each! That’s really amazing. It also makes it difficult to actually narrow the list down to the ten best since I have a rule of only one entry allowed per brewery.
Speaking of rules, here are the qualifications a beer must meet for it to make this list:
  • It must be a beer that I reviewed for the first time in 2015.
    • It doesn’t matter if it’s been around for years or debuted in 2015, just as long as this was the first calendar year in which I reviewed it.
    • It doesn’t matter if I’ve sampled or drank it before, just that I never have reviewed it until now.
  • Re-reviews don’t count no matter how much the beer has improved.
  • Reviews of a different vintage or different edition of a previously-reviewed beer don’t count.
  • Macros and “crafty beers” are eligible.
  • Only one entry per brewery.
BREWERY OF THE YEAR: Shmaltz Brewing Company
You might think I’m being a homer by bestowing this title upon what is (or had been until November) a local brewery. That’s only partially true. Sure, the folks at Shmaltz have been really nice to me over the years, but the real reason they win this award is because they put out so much great beer. You’ll see several examples below, and – spoilers – they’re the brewery with three beers that I rated a 10 (as well as plenty of 9s and 8s). I admire their willingness to make big, bold and experimental beers; plus their marketing and branding is always catchy, funny and memorable. And let’s not forget their regular events such as the anniversary party in the late spring and the “King Kirby” party in August (comics and beer – what a great combination!). I will definitely miss them now that I’m down in Florida.

NOTE: These descriptions are all excerpts from my text reviews. Click the link to review the full review and/or watch the video review.

    Two Roads Road 2 Ruin Double IPA 001
  1. Two Roads Road 2 Ruin
There’s definitely a “New England-style Double IPA” bandwagon that every brewery in the Northeast has been jumping on in the last few years. I don’t mind the derivativeness of these beers since most of them tend to be somewhere between good and excellent. Once in a while you encounter an outstanding example of the style, like Two Roads Road 2 Ruin Double IPA. This has pretty much everything I want in the style: great taste, amazing drinkability, affordably priced and it’s available in a can. It’s a great substitute for Heady Topper.

Another great 2015 beer from this brewery: Lil’ Heaven Session IPA.

    Boulevard Dark Truth Stout 001
  1. Boulevard Dark Truth Stout
When I think imperial stout, I think of a palette just like the one here. There’s a lot going on: it’s both sweet and remarkably bitter. Strong dark chocolate flavors throughout; akin to German chocolate cake. Roasted malt is prominent as well and it helps bridge the gap between the sweet dark maltiness and the fairly intense bitterness that emerges on the apex. There’s a slightly burnt toast flavor, though more of a spicy bitterness likely due to the hops. On the finish I get a lovely dark fruit sensation as only then does the Belgian yeast become apparent in the palette. The alcohol adds a light vanilla sensation and is not distracting at all.

  1. Peak Organic Super FreshPeak Organic Super Fresh 005
I don’t get too hung up on styles unless I’m judging a BJCP-sanctioned event. I’m not sure this beer really qualifies as a “pilsner” considering how it’s a big beer at 7.6% ABV and also a hop bomb. It’s probably better considered an IPL or DIPL; though I’ll let the style nerds debate that. What it is, is a highly-hopped, extremely tasty and delectable brew. Slight grassy notes to open the palette with a subtle juicy flavor lurking underneath. At the peak of the swig there’s a spicy/herbal note with mild flavors of oregano or basil. The back end is remarkably sweet with a taste akin to an energy drink. The aftertaste has all the spice rack flavors: grassy, spicy, herbal and a dry bitterness that lingers. Obviously, the hops are the star here, and I don’t get much in the way of malt distinctiveness. I’ll bet some rye would complement the palette perfectly.

Another great 2015 beer from this brewery: Peak Organic Winter Session Ale

  1. New England 668: The Neighbor of the BeastNew England 668 Neighbor of the Beast 001
Sometimes I think American breweries actually out-Belgian Belgian breweries. Meaning: they take all the things that make a Belgian beer great and go even further with it. This beer definitely has a familiar palette akin to Duvel, La Chouffe or plenty other beers of the general style. Though not a tripel per se, it does have a lot of spiciness to the taste. The yeast esters give it a sweet banana flavor in the front and finish with a strong peppery sensation akin to white peppercorn or even table black pepper. Other spices and fruits can be found lingering in the background from start to finish (especially peach and coriander). The palette never gets old or tired – it’s as delectable on the last sip as it is on the first swig. That’s what I call a great-tasting beer.

  1. Night Shift WhirlpoolNight Shift Whirlpool 001
Now that the Session IPA style has taken the world by storm, there are a lot of “extra pale ales” which are attempting to be the pale ale equivalent – lots of hops, but not ridiculously bitter. This beer is a great example of where and how to draw the line. Hops absolutely do dominate everything here, but they’re so tasty I don’t mind. Just like the aroma, the taste begins with a lush tropical fruit juice sensation. It transitions almost on a dime into dank, grassy/herbal hops – a common characteristic found in New England-style IPAs (I guess this is a New England-style pale ale). A gentle, but firm bitterness due mostly to the dry/spicy nature of the hops rather than raw alpha acids. Not much in the way of malt character, which I don’t mind because the hop flavors are so delectable. You could almost consider this a novelty brew, but I think it’s pretty amazing.

Another great 2015 beer from this brewery: Night Shift Morph (Batch 05/05/15) (thanks to Jason T. for both of those beers!)

    Fuller’s Vintage Ale (2014 edition) 001
  1. Fuller’s Vintage Ale (2014 edition)
Strong British ales tend to have many of the same flavors as strong Belgian ales, but somehow they’re different. Consider that the palette here consists of nuanced fruit notes of cherry, plum, prune and even strawberry notes it’d be easy to compare that to a Belgian Quad. Yet the British yeast gives it a completely different character than the Belgian yeast. Instead of being spicy, it’s more refined, calm, and confectionery-like. Notes of caramel and treacle can be found, though I would not describe it as a sickly sweet beer at all. Even the hops are rather prominent – imparting a slight citrusy flavor with significant bitterness to match. For such a strong beer, the alcohol is nearly invisible and does not distract from the base brew.

    Tree House Green 004
  1. Tree House Green
Tree House Brewing out of Monson, Massachusetts seems to be the “it” brewery of the moment around here. Based on this beer alone I can see why, as it’s brewed very much in the “New England-style” IPA, which is trendy and popular now. I don’t mind if a beer is trendy just as long as it’s good, and in the case of “Green” it most definitely is good (much more than good, actually).

There definitely is a difference between a highly-hopped beer and a beer that’s hopped with finesse and style and this is a great example of that. The citrusy/tropical fruit aromas carry over to the palette perfectly. Almost sweet or even tart at first with pineapple and orange flavors. But it’s also significantly bitter. Juicy up front, but more grassy and herbal spiciness on the finish. The ability to make that transition is what separates the good IPAs from the great ones. Not much in the way of distinct malt character other than a general pale base. That’s okay, because the final product is so delicious and enjoyable I don’t mind that it’s not perfectly balanced.

Another great 2015 beer from this brewery: Tree House Sap (thanks to Jason T. for both of those beers!)

    Founders Backwoods Bastard 005
  1. Founders Backwoods Bastard
Scotch Ales tend to be big, but Founders Backwoods Bastard may be the biggest of them all. Weighing in at 11.6% ABV (the 2015 edition, that is) and aged in bourbon barrels; it’s safe to say this is a beastly brew. Though for such a behemoth, it’s remarkably tame. The palette is delicious and the delivery is smooth and warming. In a world obsessed with imperial stouts and IPAs, this is a hidden gem in your beer store.

The palette is simply delicious: sweet to be sure, but nothing artificial or even remotely cloying about it. Much like the nose, the taste is largely dark fruit: rum-soaked raisins, cherries and figs along with confectionery sweetness of caramel and toffee. The bourbon emerges on the finish in the form of both a sweet, oak vanilla sensation as well as alcohol. Though not especially bitter, it doesn’t come off as unbalanced or hot. This may be the best Scotch Ale I’ve ever had. You might even consider it an Old Ale since it’s aged in bourbon barrels. Perhaps it’s the best of both worlds?

Other great 2015 beers from this brewery: Founders KBS (2015 edition); Founders Black Rye

  1. He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. on RyeHe'Brew Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. on Rye 004
Barrel-aging is something usually associated with stouts and other dark brews, but this shows a strong IPA can be benefited from the technique just as well. Though I’m not sure you’d know this was an IIPA, as the rich malty sweetness and spiciness from the rye dominate the palette. They create for a delicious blend of fruity flavors such as cherry and pomegranate but also classy spirits of brandy and cognac. There’s a significant taste of wood and vanilla in the middle which complements the malt base perfectly. The rye lingers in the background to deliver subtle – yet noticeable – spicy pings on the tongue. It finishes with a fairly strong hop bite, especially of citrus and pine. The Chinook hops are the most dominate. This is what I would consider a perfect-tasting beer.

Other great 2015 beers from this brewery: She’Brew Triple IPA; Shmaltz Bock Bock; He’Brew Funky Jewbelation (2015 edition).

  1. Cigar City Caffè Americano Double StoutCigar City Caffè Americano Double Stout 003
I don’t know what it is about imperial stouts and coffee (and chocolate), but they seem to be a winning combination. There are only a select few beers I can think of that I like better than Cigar City Caffè Americano Double Stout, and that’s probably because they’re barrel-aged. In fact, you might consider this beer the equivalent of Founders KBS without the barrel component, and yet it’s just as good of a beer. Huge flavors; gorgeous appearance, amazingly drinkable – it’s an outstanding beer for sure.

You know a beer is awesome when, after every swig, you find yourself saying “mmmmm!” Some beers that only lasts for the first few sips, but in the case of this I found myself saying it constantly. The palette is that of a familiar, but exemplary, imperial stout. Up front there’s a rich sweetness of dark fruit. Raisin, sour grape, plum, and a general vinous character show up immediately. Once it hits the apex it becomes strongly bitter with hops, Espresso, and dark chocolate. It’s the liquid equivalent of a chocolate-covered espresso bean (a treat I’ve had recently). There’s even a subtle citrusy flavor from the hops; it’s muted at first, but really emerges once it warms. Alcohol is a player as well, but it’s such a vital part of the taste makeup that I can’t imagine this brew would taste as good without it. So yeah, it’s complex, robust and delicious.

Another great 2015 beer from this brewery: Cigar City Florida Cracker

See also:
Top 10 Best Beers of 2014
Top 10 Best Beers of 2013
Top 10 Best Beers of 2012
Top 10 Best Beers of 2011
Top 10 Best Beers of 2010
Top 10 Best Beers of 2009

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