25 all-star brews includes sours, barrel-aged beers and more from U.S. and Belgium
By Alan J. Wax
What a year it’s been!
As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to take stock of what’s gone down my gullet—or the sink drain. To be sure, I sampled and rated hundreds of beers. Many of them were excellent, a great many more bordered on excellence and some less so. There also were a few drain pours.
These were beers I’d sampled at home, at breweries, brew pubs, bars, restaurants and beer festivals. Mea culpa. I failed to take notes on many of the beers sampled at the Great American Beer Festival and at local fests due to the tasting experience, except for a few true standouts.
To my surprise, so many of my top picks for this year were American craft brews, including a couple produced by a brewery owned by AB-InBev (Chicago’s Goose Island and several from breweries in South Florida, where I have a second home and where new breweries seem to open almost monthly and several from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. A few Belgian brews also stood out.
Sour beers, of which we’re seeing more and more, are well represented.
Of the hundreds of beers tasted over the past 12 months, I rated only 25 at five stars on Untappd.com (You can follow me there under corkscapsandtaps). A handful of brewers made the list more than once, Here are my picks (listed alphabetically):
2011 Vintage Oak Aged Ale (Barrel No 95) by Belgium’s Brouwerij Rodenbach. Murky brown with a nose that suggests leather oak. On the palate there was a fruit bowl of flavors including dried prunes, raspberries, grapes and cherry along with hints of Brett. Simply amazing stuff.
Barrel-aged Project (Blonde Ale): No. 6 Porto by Belgium’s Brouwerij Hof Ten Dormaal. This deep copper colored brew is part of importer B United International’s ambitious barrel aging project. The nose suggested Port wine nose and its incredibly complex palate weaves notes of bread, honey, plum and oak. It finishes quite tart.
Bourbon County Stout Vanilla Rye (2014) by Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago. Hard to find, but worth the effort to search it out for its silky smoothness and intense vanilla and spice character.
Collaboration No. 3 – Stingo by Boulevard Brewing in collaboration with Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project. A deep copper, traditional English strong ale with a tan head and a nose of roasty grain. Notes of cocoa and toffee and some hints of black pepper accompany its chewy, but silky, texture.
Common Good, a deep brown, American wild ale by Fullsteam Brewing of Durham, North Carolina, It’s brewed with locally sources agricultural products including a corn mash, apples, rye and barley. Just luscious with notes of corns, apples, nutty malt and bready yeast.
Dark Truth Stout, also by Boulevard Brewing. Ebony colored, this double stout is thick and richly flavored with notes of chocolate, caramel and spices.
Halia (2015), also by Goose Island. A hazy golden brew that erupts with its Brett nose and lots of sharp, lacto tartness and finishes with notes of juicy peaches.
Imperial Stout (2014) by Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, Missouri. Ebony hued with a vanilla nose the notes of whisky from barrel aging are well integrated. A chewy, oily brew, it offers notes of dark molasses and finishes bitter.
Last Snow (2015), also by Funky Buddha Brewery. An imperial coconut-coffee porter that shows off an incredible mélange of chocolate and coconut notes and more.
More Moro, a blood orange IPA from Funky Buddha Brewery, is deep gold and offers a huge citrus nose. Juicy orange/citrus flavors cut through hop bitterness. It finishes up spicy dry and orangey. Both delicious and drinkable.
Rye Saison by Wynkoop Brewing Co., Denver, Colorado This reddish brown ale is malty sweet. With notes of yeast, spices snd black pepper. It’s rich and velvety.
Once Upon A Time 1955 Double Brown Ale by the soon to be or, perhaps, now-shuttered quirky Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, of Somerville, Massachusetts. Colored deep mahogany with a dense, foamy head this beer as the Brit’s like to say is quite “moreish,” meaning when you finish one, you’ll want another. Its nose proffers rich notes of malt and cocoa nose. It’s smooth on the palate with notes of bread and caramel malt notes and a pleasant roasty finish. An homage to the beers of Merry Old England.
Parade of Souls Belgian Imperial Stout by Barrel Of Monks Brewing, Boca Raton, Florida. A rich, ebony-hued brew with a nose of chocolate liquor with notes of dried fruits and chocolate and a finish that won’t quit.
Porter by Founders Brewing Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A mouth-filling brew with an opaque deep brown hue and a mocha-colored head, it has a nose of concentrated chocolate with hints of licorice. There’s more chocolate along with roasted grain and sultana raisins on the palate and a finish of bittersweet chocolate.
St. Bretta (Gold Nugget Mandarin) by Denver’s Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project. A cloudy light orange-hued Brett brew with a short head. There’s tart orange on the nose. Ditto for the palate. It finishes dry. It’s lip-smacking delicious.
Saaz Matters by Funky Buddha Brewery, Oakland Park, Florida. There’s an immediate hit to the nose and palate of Saaz hops in this golden brew that danced all over my tongue. Could easy pass for a Czech Pilsner with its balance malt and crispness. Well done.
Stay Puft Marshmallow Porter by J. Wakefield Brewing, of Miami. This was an incredibly rich and delicious sweet stout redolent of creamy vanilla notes and chocolate.
Timmermans Oude Gueuze by Brewery John Martin & Brewery Timmermans of Belgium. A hazy gold brew with a lactic nose, this was a big time pucker, a beer to savor with tart lemony and dry notes that went on forever. This is what a sour beer should be.
Trébuchet Golden Farmhouse Ale by Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie of Agora Hills, California. This golden brew wowed me at GABF with its tart nose and an intense, dry tart hit on the palate accompanied by a tasty Brett character.