DBR Beer Year in Review (Part 1 – The Beers)

dbr 3Ah 2014, a year of much stuff, many things, and plenty of beer. It is the year that I transitioned from a purely video beer blog to a Web site featuring beer and brewery reviews, taking on a major commitment to the beverage that I love. This commitment will continue into the new year with plans for more brewery and event reports/reviews, plenty of thoughts on brews both new and aged, and a few new features I hope to get off the ground.

But now is the time to reflect on the beers of drinking past, and to that end I’ve compiled the list of my favorite beers of 2014. These are beers that not only impressed me with their quality over all other beers I had last year, but are the ones that I will be looking forward to in 2015 as well.

My Top Beers of 2014

DinnerImperial/IPA/Pale
1. Maine – Dinner (Review)
2. Stone – Enjoy By 02.14.14 (Review)
3. Tired Hands – All of it (Brewery Visit and Review)

This is the toughest style for me to rank as IPAs are lousy with hard to get and super-hyped beers. On any given day, 2 and 3 could be a completely different, but my number 1 was an easy choice. I haven’t always been impressed with Maine beers, but this one surprised me. Excellent, toasty dank New England IPA that I’ve been thinking about ever since I had it.

My personal surprises continue as I found Enjoy By landing in the two spot. I think the availability, cost, and commitment to a fresh, quality hop experience make it one of the best all around IPAs on the market. I appreciate the “for the people” attitude and how it flies in the face of current hype/exclusivity trends. Enjoy By is the anti-hype beer and a great one at that.

In complete contrast, I had Pliny the Younger last year and enjoyed it as a truly great IPA, but the bullshit surrounding it makes this a one and done. An hour and a half drive, an hour wait in line followed by another hour wait for a 5oz pour make it a situation that would sink any beer drinking experience (and not really the fault of Russian River). If I somehow find it randomly on tap, I’m absolutely going for it. Otherwise, it’s an easy decision to skip it in 2015.

Honorable Mentions: Russian River – Pliny the Younger, Bear Republic – Racer-X, The Alchemist – Heady Topper, DC Brau – Wings of Armageddon, Great Lakes – Chillwave, Victory – Dirt Wolf

3 Fonteinen Old GeuezeSours – Gose/Gueuze/Lambic/Wild
1. 3 Fonteinen – Oude Geuze (Review)
2. Cantillon – Lou Pepe Kriek (Black Friday Untappening)
3. Cantillon – Fou Foune (Black Friday Untappening)

This was the year  I really embraced these tangy, bacteria-laden taste sensations. I was lucky enough to have some of the best in the world all within a short period of time. While I have a lot of respect for the output of Russian River and many others, it’s hard to top the refined sours of Belgium.

Honorable Mentions: Avery – Rufus Corvus, Westbrook – Gose, Russian River – Consecration, Thirsty Dog – Cerasus, OEC – Exillis, Mikkeller – Spontanframboos

Sucaba 2014Barleywine/Strong Ale/Wee Heavy
1. Firestone Walker – Sucaba (2014) (Black Friday Untappening)
2. Firestone  Walker – 17th Anniversary
3. Thirsty Dog – Wulver (Review)

Once styles I deemed “sugared booze”, I have come to appreciate these malted alcohol bombs as nice cappers to an evening of sampling. Firestone does these boozy big beers right and ended up as 1 and 2 on this list, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you’ve had either. Thirsty Dog’s Wulver is less showy, but impressed for its balanced flavors and traditional representation of the style. Much to admire here.

Honorable Mentions: Bourbon County – Barleywine, Dieu du Ceil – Soltice d’hiver, Thornbridge – Bracia, Bruery – Sucre

Stickee MonkeeBelgian – Strong/Dark/IPA/Quad
1. Firestone Walker – Stickee Monkee
2. Anchorage Brewing – Bitter Monk (Review)
3. Avery Brewing – 5 Monks (Review)

When I first started into craft beer, Belgians were my drink of choice as I shunned those conical, tongue murdering bitter daggers called hops. I’ve worked through all the trappist (other than Westy) and a chunk of abbey beers on my way to 2014. But now that I’ve fallen for hops and bourbon barrels like a lonely woman writing love letters to a death row inmate, I haven’t found the time to indulge the non-sour Belgians. It seems like part of me has moved on even though I thoroughly enjoy the style. Perhaps a trip out to Cafe Bruge can turn this around for me in 2015.

Honorable Mentions: Spencer – Trappist Ale, Foundation – Blaze, Bruery – 7 Swans-a-Swimming

Lilikoi KepoloSaison/Wit
1. Avery – Lilikoi Kepolo (Untappd Check-In)
2. Saison Dupont – Cuvee Dry Hopping
3. BFM Square Root 225 – Zymatore

Saisons and Wits are woefully underrepresented on my Web site. There, I admitted it. While I enjoy me some dank, haybale in the rain Saisons and light, refreshing, (i.e. boring) Wits, they rarely make an impression. This is probably why a Wit as flavorful and passion fruit delicious as Lilikoi Kepolo came out of nowhere to give my tastebuds a thorough rogering. A real achievement for a Wit in my book. I had the Saisons earlier in the year and don’t remember much about them other than they were quite enjoyable.

Honorable Mentions: Bullfrog/Hunger N Thirst – Saison Collant, Deschutes – Zarabanda

Good GourdPumpkin/Yam
1. Cigar City – Good Gourd (Untappd Check-In)
2. Southern Tier – Pumking (Rum Barrel) (Review)
3. Great Pumpkin – Iron Hill

I enjoy a timid dip into the flood of pumpkin beers that are released every Fall (and Summer), but I find many of them to be pretty same-y, with an abundance of boring malt tucked under a blanket of similar spices. The ones on this list find a balance of a rich, full-bodied beer with some pumpkin, appropriate spicing, and vanilla/graham. Good Gourd also tosses in an a earthy squash quality that rounds it out to a perfect balance of warm brown sugar spice, vanilla  and malty goodness.

Honorable Mention: Saucony Creek – Maple Mistress

Prairie BombImperial/Stout/Porter
1. Prairie Artisan Ale – Prairie Bomb
2. Sinebrychoff – Sinebrychoff Porter
3. Russian Imperial Stout – Iron Hill

Ah stouts and porters. This was actually tough to determine as I tend to gravitate towards the heavy beer bombs. Without a barrel to blend flavors and impart character, it can be hard to find ones that truly stand out. Prairie Bomb swept in right before the end of the year to be one of the best chili spiced beers I’ve had, even if it is only one of many delicious layers. It’s success also owes more to use of vanilla bean, my favorite-est of beans, rather than the chili peppers, but it’s a great beer that drinks lighter than the 13% ABV suggests.

Speaking of layers, Sinebrychoff is one of the most layered things I’ve put in my body, and I’ve eaten seven layer dip.  For what tends to be a simple style, Sinebrychoff adds complexity in ways I didn’t know were possible for a porter. This Baltic porter is not to be missed and really is a masterclass on what a porter can be.

Honorable Mentions: Dieu du Ciel – Aphrodisiaque, Emilesse – Creme Brulee

ParabolaBarrel-Aged Stout/Porter
1. Firestone – Parabola (2014) (Review)
2. BCB Coffee Stout (2014) – (Bourbon County Event and Review)
3. Dark Horse – Plead the 5th (Bourbon Aged) – (Review)

Really, the order here is almost arbitrary as all of these are spectacular stouts, but Parabola has been my number 1 ever since I first had it in 2012. BCB Coffee Stout is the first to challenge it for the top spot in my heart, but the delicious aroma and perfect balance of beer and bourbon barreling make Parabola a winner. However, BCB Coffee really blew me away and quickly became one of my all-time favorites. I have a 2013 bottle that could set the bar for 2015 should I choose to drink it this year.

Another favorite, Plead the 5th, was made even better with the bourbon aging. It was a close call between this and Black Note, but I had to go with that chocolaty core of Plead as the tie-breaker. I look forward to tracking down the 2015 versions as the results may change based on the vintage. 2015 KBS may also enter the fray after a disappointing 2014, but I’m not holding my breath.

Honorable Mentions: Bell’s – Black Note, BrewDog – Paradox Jura, Bourbon County – Vanilla Rye, Avery – Uncle Jacobs

Wrap Up

That’s it for 2014. I’m sure I didn’t include some very deserving beers, but recalling 12 months of drinking was harder than drinking my way through them. Next up is Part 2, where I look at what PA beer events and beer bars that floated my proverbial boat in the year that’s past on. Let me know in the comments what your top beers were from last year. I always love recommendations on what to try next, so why not hunt down the best. Cheers to 2015!

Coming Up in 2015 – Beer Reviews:
Neshimany Creek – Shape of Things to Come
Deschutes – Abyss (2014)
Element – Altoberfest
Fantome – Saison

DBR Beer Year in Review (Part 2 – Bars and Events) – Coming Soon

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