The 2nd Annual Jim Plachy Beer Awards!

It’s the end of another year, time to reflect on the favorites of my favorite things. Anyone who pays any attention knows that beer has become a major hobby of mine. Well, now it’s time to reward those who made this hobby so enjoyable for me. Now I’ll say best but of course you know that what that really means is my favorite. I didn’t get to try everything, and I don’t really travel much so this is exclusively what’s available in Chicago or what I was lucky enough to have someone bring to me. All these beers I DRANK in 2013 it doesn’t necessary mean they were released in 2013. Just to put things into perspective this year I tried over 240 unique beers. Lets find out what was the best of the best.

Best Beer Thing that isn’t a Beer: Goose Island 312 Urban Block Party 

312_block_party

For the last few years Goose Island has thrown a party on the street outside of their brewery. While I had not attended previous years this years was absolutely incredible. It featured a never ending supply of Bourbon County Stout variants, sours and wild ales, and while waiting in line for rare beers they even poured you samples of yet to be released beers. Throw in a low cost to enter, incredible live music, and fantastic food and the 312 Urban Block Party was the best of any beer festival I attended in 2013. It was also the best thing that wasn’t a beer in 2013.

Best Place to Drink Beer: HopScotch Beer and Whisky Bar

Hopscotch

My favorite place to drink beer in 2013 was HopScotch in Franklin Park. An incredible tap list, meets a great selection of whisky, and now an incredible food program all across the street from one of my train stops. Throw in the fact that the owner and bartenders are all great and one of my friends lives down the street and you have the makings of a bar I never want to leave. Some of the best beers I’ve had this year were served to me on tap at HopScotch. Its a hidden gem that part of me wants to stay hidden but at the same time I want everyone to know how incredible this place is. HopScotch is located at 9743 Franklin ave in Franklin Park, IL www.hopscotch-bar.com

Best Spring Beer: 5 Rabbit Huitzi

product-title_huitzi

5 Rabbit calls this a “midwinter ale” I’m going to call it the best beer I drank this Spring. A Belgian strong brewed with Ginger, Honey, and Hibiscus it goes down insanely smooth. It isn’t until after you finish your glass that you realize that its 9% ABV has kicked your ass and warmed your heart. I’ll be grabbing 2 bottles of this next year.

Best Summer Beer: Revolution Brewing Rosa 

beer_full_rosa

Another Hibiscus ale makes my list of best beers in 2013. Rosa was an absolute delight out of a can, but boy did it shine on tap. Tart with hints of orange and even a little malty bread in the finish Rosa was one of my favorite beers to sit out on my deck and enjoy over the Summer. I could hardly find anyone who didn’t like this beer. Highly recommended on tap when it comes around again in the middle of next year.

Best Fall Beer: Founders Harvest Ale

Founders-Harvest-Ale-label

For the second year in a row I have to give best Fall beer to Founders Harvest Ale. I tried many Harvest Ales this year and again none come close to this perfect mix of malts and wet hops. Bursting with tropical aromas and taste and finished off with one of the best malt backends I’ve ever experienced in an IPA. Its such an incredible shame I can only find a 4 pack of this every year.

Best Winter Beer: Revolution Brewing Fistmas

78d3_b349

Another repeat win as once again the best Winter beer this year was Revolution’s Fistmas. NOW IN CANS! You cannot believe how excited I was when I heard the news that I wouldn’t have to pop open a bomber of this fantastic beer. Now I could have six little cans sitting in my fridge waiting to fill me with holiday delight. Its too bad it went so fast this year but at least that means people are enjoying it.

Best Fruit Beer: New Glarus Raspberry Tart 

new-glarus-raspberry-tartphoto credit: theperfectlyhappyman.com

I spent a week in Wisconsin and tried to jam as many New Glarus beers down my throat as I could. Known for their fruit beers I grabbed everything I found. The winner was Raspberry Tart. The name of the beer tells you everything you need to know about it. Tart, yet slightly sweet with the taste of fresh ripe raspberries. Might be wroth a trek across the border every once in a while just to grab some more of their refreshing fruit beers.

Best Double IPA: Bells Hopslam

bells-hopslam

The legend of Bell’s Hopslam eluded me for 2012 as I was too late to the game to try it. When word got out that it had hit the streets in 2013 I ran to the closest liquor store and literally tripped over a case. I took my six pack home waiting for a quiet night (10% ABV beers tend to make me think twice before drinking on a school night) popped the cap off and was instantly rolled over by the aroma of hops. Lots and lots of hops. This beer drinks incredibly smooth way smoother than a Double IPA should. There’s no fight with bitterness here just an amazing beer that will make you reach for a second but you probably shouldn’t.

Best IPA: Revolution Brewing Crystal Hero

beer_full_crystalhero

This beer was brewed for the annual C2E2 comic and pop culture convention in Chicago. I unfortunately wasn’t able to try it then, but I did get to drink it a month or so later at Goose Island’s 25th anniversary party. While it may be a super hero on the bottle the brewers at Rev are absolutely wizards with the Crystal hops. Incredible in your face tropical citrus blew me away from the aroma straight through to the after taste. I was not prepared for this beer and I crave it even now. Hopefully we get another fresh batch for next year’s convention.

Best Stout (Non-Barrel Aged): Goose Island Big John

big john

Goose Island is of course known for those other stouts, you know the barrel aged ones. But with Big John they prove they don’t need barrels to make an excellent stout. Just a great tasting imperial stout base combined with some fantastic dark chocolate. This beer is a chocolate lover’s dream come true. Other chocolate beers claim to be great and to satisfy your sweet tooth but none come close to Big John.

Best Belgian Beer (any style): Solemn Oath Famine 

label-famine

Belgian style beers are something I’m just starting to feel out, but judging by my Untappd list I’ve definitely tried more than a few. So while I don’t feel comfortable handing out awards to specific styles of Belgian beer I do feel like there is one beer in particular worth highlighting. Solemn Oath is one of my favorite breweries on the planet and one of the reasons why is because the beers they brew are constantly changing. Like constantly. This year for Chicago Craft Beer Week they brewed up a Belgian Pale Ale called Famine and everyone who tried it with me said the same thing. It’s a Belgian style Zombie Dust. That description is not only accurate but tastes amazing. I’m hoping they brew up some more soon as I’m in desperate need of a growler of this stuff.

Best New Hard Cider: Anthem Hops

Anthemhopsphoto credit: Chris Lehault 

I blew away a bunch of hard cider skeptics this year with Anthem Hops. This cider is relatively new to the Chicago area but has been around for a bit. Dry-hopping ciders definitely became a fad this year and I tried a couple but Anthem stole the show. Hops is fantastically complex and drinks like a great dry white wine. A wine drinking co-worker even said that this is up there with some of the best white wines. The fact that craft beer is also causing hard cider makers to up their creativity is great and I hope we see more interesting, complex hard ciders in 2014.

Best Hard Cider: Crispin Prepare to Die 

Crispin-Prepare-to-Die-taphandle

I drank a lot of hard cider in 2013 but this red wine barrel aged cider was my overall favorite. Just narrowly beating out Virtue Cider’s Sidra de Nava. I admit the reason I loved it so much was because of the blood orange. I’m a sucker for blood orange. The tangy citrus of the blood orange compliments the red wine stained cider perfectly. The sweetness of the honey brings everything together. It’s only available on tap so if you see it don’t hesitate!

Best New Brewery: Off Color Brewing

Off Color

When it was announced late last year that Goose Island’s John Laffler and Two Brothers’ Dave Bleitner were starting Off Color Brewing it seemed pretty obvious that the results would be stunning. But what ended up happening defied my expectations. They started by collabing with some of craft beer’s biggest breweries. Then they launched their year round beers Scurry and Troublesome. Both are exceptional and it would be hard to believe these were the first beers out of a brand new brewery if it weren’t for John and Dave’s pedigrees. They then debuted some very well received barrel aged beers and even got Troublesome and Scurry into bottles and on store shelves. Not a bad first year and I have no reason to believe year two won’t be just as incredible.

Best Brewery: Goose Island 

gooseisland

2013 marked the 25th anniversary of Goose Island Beer Company and they absolutely destroyed it. They held not one but two incredible events outside their brewery, released their beer in all 50 states, bottled some of the most incredible sour ales I’ve ever had, people drove 100’s of miles to wait OVERNIGHT for this year’s Bourbon County Stout release, and even proved that Anheuser-Busch could brew up a tasty Pale Ale for them. All that stuff is just a small part of what made Goose Island the best brewery of 2013. They continue to engage with the local community, and the talent that comes out of Goose, my lord the talent. Even if next year AB-InBev decides to shut down production in Chicago I’d still have 312 Urban Wheat Ale to comfort me and remind me of all the good times. But here’s to another 25 incredible years in Chicago.

Best New Beer: Off Color Troublesome 

troublesome

I’ll admit, I had no idea what a Gose was before I drank Troublesome so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But basically the pitch is its a wheat beer mixed with a sour beer with salt added. It is insanely drinkable, pleasantly tart, just salty enough to make you take another sip, and quite frankly a revelation. In a landscape of barrel aged stouts and how high can you hop them IPAs Troublesome is refreshing in more ways than one.

Best Beer of 2013 (2nd Runner-up): Three Floyd’s Cabrito 

Cabrito

Photo Credit: Dan B. on Untappd

The base beer for Cabrito is a beer I don’t even like the scotch ale Robert the Bruce. This collaboration with Girl and the Goat’s Stephanie Izard sees the beer put in Templeton Rye barrels with sour cherries added. The result is mind bending. Robert the Bruce practically fades away as the beer has a huge chocolate covered cherry aroma and the taste follows suit. It was nothing like I was expecting and I savored every sip. Knowing that the batch we had yielded less than 500 bottles and that I could only get it at the hard to get a table for Girl and the Goat made it the beer I sipped the slowest in 2013. Here’s to hoping I can get another taste of this fantastic beer in 2014.

Best Beer of 2013(1st Runner-up): Revolution Brewing Coffee Eugene

Coffee Eugene

photo credit: www.rachelleb.com

The first time I visited Revolution’s sprawling tap room this was on tap. I love coffee, I love coffee beers so I knew what I had to order. I however had never had a coffee beer like this. It tastes like iced coffee but it can get you drunk. I could seriously drink a few of these in a sitting. There’s no alcohol presence just pure cold pressed coffee flavor. Maybe a hint of the chocolate from the base porter but this beer is as coffee as it gets. This more than any other beer I’ve ever had I wish was bottled and readily available.

Best Beer of 2013: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout Variants

Bourbon County

That’s right I couldn’t choose just one. Between just living in Chicago and frequenting bars and attending both of Goose Island’s big outdoor festivals in 2013 I was able to drink TWELVE different variants of Bourbon County Stout and some in multiple years. The craziest part? I didn’t even get to drink Coconut Rye or Backyard Rye yet. It could have easily been 14. What were the standouts? Trying the single origin Kenyan coffee variant, finally getting to try Rare, the incredibly well aged Bramble Rye, and the thick fudgey Baudoinia. However, if I had to choose one, just one, and clearly I can’t but the winner was Napa. Aged in wine barrels this variant took on a red wine sweetness that complimented the base stout in the most incredible way. I cross my fingers and wish as hard as I can that one day they will bottle or keg that variant for mass consumption. Absolutely incredible. Congratulations Goose Island you’ve received my beer of the year nod 2 years running. Can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeves for BCBS in 2014. Here is a list of all twelve BCBS variants I had this year.

  • Coffee
  • Barleywine
  • Cherry Rye
  • Baudoinia
  • Rare
  • Bramble Rye
  • Apple Brandy
  • Buffalo Trace
  • Blackberry
  • Napa
  • Coffee – Kenyan
  • Koval Lion’s Pride

Top 10 Albums of 2013

This was a great year for music, I felt like no one genre dominated. It also seems like the mainstream media and even some mainstream listeners were crossing boundaries and listening to musical styles they would typically ignore. There was so much music this year that even artists I really like I didn’t get a chance to fully listen to their albums. This top 10 evolved more than any top 10 I’ve ever worked on. I eventually had to remove albums with songs I really really loved because I didn’t love them as albums. There’s a lot of great stuff missing so at the end I’ll include an expanded honorable mention section.

After each entry I’ll include a Spotify link so you can listen to the album but if you’re lazy I also made a playlist of my 10 favorite songs from my top 10. I’ll leave that link at the end of the list. Feel free to leave some comments and share your favorite albums with me.

 

10. Venna – Third Generation Hymnal (Broken Cricles) 

Venna

Third Genration Hymnal blew 2013 wide open by releasing in the first couple weeks of January. It wasn’t going to take me much convincing to like an album made by ex-members of The Felix Culpa but I was enamored with this release even after the first listen. Venna know exactly when to let a song breathe and when to let it exhale. The songs shift from soft ballad to rollicking acoustic number effortlessly. Unfortunately the band hung it up in August but at least they left us with this incredible album.

Spotify Link: Venna – Third Generation Hymnal

9. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (Columbia/Tan Cressida/Odd Future Records)

Doris

We all know the story of Earl Sweatshirt and his hotly anticipated 2nd album Doris. The only real question was would it deliver. It did, without a doubt. Earl raps over the dark twisted beats that Odd Future was known for when they were just kids making music on their own terms. Doris is a completely unorthodox hip-hop album. He routinely lets the guests rap first, segues are bizarre dark interludes, and the content is often in the vein of traditional hip-hop. The result is kind of genius, like a fun house mirror version of mainstream rap. Hopefully we don’t have to wait 4 years for the next album from Earl Sweatshirt because he has a lot of game changing to do.

Spotify Link: Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

8. Defeater – Letters Home (Bridge 9)

Letters Home

Defeater’s last album featured a 4 song acoustic epilogue and dare I say it some catchy tunes. They could have gone soft, made something even more accessible instead they got more aggressive. Letters Home is a blistering love letter (pun intended) to the genre they came up in. Singer Derek Archambault’s vocals are set to full grit sandpaper and the band almost never relents. Your ears rarely get a chance to relax during the album’s quickly moving ten tracks. Don’t expect an acoustic epilogue, don’t expect a catchy chorus, just expect one of the best hardcore albums of 2013.

Spotify Link: Defeater – Letters Home

7. The Front Bottoms -Talon of the Hawk (Bar/None Records)

The Front Bottoms

Once you get passed their silly name, you’ll find their mostly silly music. Talon of the Hawk is 12 tracks of instantly unforgettable folk-dance-pop-punk. These songs bored their way into my head and never left for weeks. I spent whole train rides to and from work playing this album front to back. If you’re looking for an album that you can throw on and not think about too hard while the world passes you by you could do a lot worse than this.

Spotify Link: The Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk

6. Deafheaven – Sunbather (Deathwish) 

deafheaven-sunbather

No other album this year crosses genres harder than Sunbather. Do you like metal? Do you like instrumental post-rock? Do you like good music? Stop what you’re doing and give your ears the sonic treat that is Sunbather. Give yourself an hour and a good pair of headphones you’re about to take a trip and you don’t want any distractions. Deafheaven has crafted an absolute crowning achievement in whatever weird genre they have carved out for themselves. This album is absolutely worthy of all the accolades it has received from all across the music press.

Spotify Link: Deafheaven – Sunbather

5. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence (No Sleep Records)

Mixtapes

Last year Mixtapes put out my 4th favorite album “Even on the Worst Nights”. It was their debut album and was a fun giddy blast of male-female dual vocal pop-punk. Well, honestly that’s exactly what you get on their second album. But they have matured perfectly. The songs are better, the lyrics are better, the musicianship is great, the band has upped their game in every way. There’s no reason these guys shouldn’t be huge especially if they keep this up on their next album.

Spotify Link: Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence

4. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (Island-Def Jam) 

tumblr_mwwb43LBju1s589lho1_500

There was no way in a million years one of the biggest rock bands in the world was going to come back from a self-imposed hiatus and make a good record. Especially after putting out 2 messy albums. Anyone who listened to Folie a Deux could tell that Fall Out Boy was headed towards an implosion. The album tried to merge genres but it was clear this was due to infighting in the band. On Save Rock and Roll, Fall Out Boy sound like the most confident band in the world, like they were always supposed to be a dance-rock band. It may not sound like old Fall Out Boy, but it sounds like the best Fall Out Boy for the year 2013.

Spotify Link: Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll

3. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf (Odd Future Records) 

Wolf

You either love him or hate him, but Tyler, the Creator released the most creative hip-hop album of the year. That is as long as you went into this knowing it was the final part of the trilogy Tyler started with this 2009 debut “Bastard”. This is by far Tyler’s best work. His production work is at a point where I’m sure some rappers would just wish Tyler would quit rapping and produce beats for them. The lyrics range from his silliest to his most deadly serious. And of course Wolf is part of the overarching narrative that has permeated all 3 of Tyler’s albums. And when you get to the end of  Wolf and you realize exactly what has happened and where this album fits into the trilogy you kind of just have to sit down and shake your head. How did this kid get so smart?

Spotify Link: Tyler, The Creator – Wolf

2. The World is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die – Whenever, if Ever (Topshelf Records)

whenever if ever

It took these guys 3 years to create and release their debut album and every second of it feels like its been meticulously planned. Its nearly impossible for me to start at the first track and not listen all the way through to the end. This was very very nearly my album of the year because its just fucking perfect. While this isn’t my number 1 album I can’t recommend it highly enough. Call these guys indie rock, post-hardcore, emo revival whatever just give this album a chance. Whenever, if Ever is an emotional ride that hasn’t been attempted since emo rock’s heyday. It blows me away every time I listen to it. Every piano key tickle, every lyric, every drum beat is placed so deliberately I find myself listening with my jaw open. These guys are incredible and if it takes them 5 years to make another album I won’t care as long as they do.

Spotify Link: Whenever, If Ever

1. Touché Amoré – Is Survived By (Deathwish) 

Touche

Touche Amore is my favorite band. This was my most anticipated album all year. It lived up to all the hype and then some. While its not nearly as cohesive as “Whenever, if Ever” the lyrical content hit me in a perfect place at the right moment in my life. The band’s musicianship is at all time high. It’s produced and mixed perfectly. These guys could be a huge huge heavy rock band based on this album. Is Survived By is all at once sweeping, epic, aggressive, and emotional. No band is bending the hardcore genre to their will like Touche Amore and they are gaining fans by the thousands every day. See these guys on their next tour because next time it might be in an arena, or while standing in a huge field.

Spotify Link: Touché Amoré – Is Survived By

Honorable Mention:

Balance and Composure “The Things We Think We’re Missing”
Kanye West “Yeezus”
Dowsing “I Don’t Even Care Anymore”
Sainthood Reps “Headswell”
The Wonder Years “The Greatest Generation”
Justin Timberlake “The 20/20 Experience Parts 1 and 2”
Into It. Over It. “Intersections”
Shone “Heat Thing”
The Fold “Moving Past”

Top 10 Albums of 2013 Playlist: Top 10 of 2013

Predictions for the 2013 Spike VGX Awards

The Spike Video Game Awards are tomorrow (12/7/2013) and since Fish and I will be live tweeting the festivities I thought I should get my predictions for the winners down ahead of time. So, here are the list of nominees with my pick for winner italicized. I’ll bold the actual winners. HERE WE GO!

Game of the Year

  • BioShock Infinite
  • Grand Theft Auto 5
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • The Last of Us
  • Tomb Raider

Studio of the Year

  • Irrational Games
  • Naughty Dog
  • Rockstar North
  • The Fullbright Company

Best Shooter

  • Battlefield 4
  • BioShock Infinite
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts
  • Metro: Last Light

Best Action Adventure Game

  • Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
  • Grand Theft Auto 5
  • The Last of Us
  • Tomb Raider

Best Sports Game

  • FIFA 14
  • MLB 13: The Show
  • NBA 2K14
  • NHL 14

Best Independent Game

  • Gone Home
  • Kentucky Route Zero
  • Papers, Please
  • The Stanley Parable

Best RPG

  • Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
  • Pokemon X/Y

Best Fighting Game

  • Divekick
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us
  • Killer Instinct
  • Tekken Revolution

Best Driving Game

  • F1 2013
  • Grid 2
  • Forza Motorsport 5
  • Need for Speed Rivals

Best DLC

  • Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
  • Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Mass Effect 3: Citadel

Best Xbox Game

  • BioShock Infinite
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • Grand Theft Auto 5
  • Tomb Raider

Best PlayStation Game

  • Grand Theft Auto 5
  • Rayman Legends
  • The Last of Us
  • Tomb Raider

Best Nintendo Game

  • Pikmin 3
  • Rayman Legends
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • The Wonderful 101

Best PC Game

  • Battlefield 4
  • Gone Home
  • Papers, Please
  • The Stanley Parable

Best Handheld Game

  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf
  • Pokemon X/Y
  • Tearaway
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Best Casual Game

  • Animal Crossing: New Leaf
  • Disney Infinity
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time
  • Skylanders Swap Force

Best Voice Actor

  • Troy Baker as Joel in The Last of Us
  • Troy Baker as Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite
  • Steven Ogg as Trevor Philips in Grand Theft Auto 5
  • Willem Dafoe as Nathan Dawkins in Beyond: Two Souls

Best Voice Actress

  • Ashely Johnson as Ellie in The Last of Us
  • Courtnee Draper as Elizabeth in BioShock Infinite
  • Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider
  • Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes in Beyond: Two Souls

Best Soundtrack

  • BioShock Infinite
  • Grand Theft Auto 5
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
  • The Last of Us

Best Song in a Game

  • “ADHD” by Kendrick Lamar (Grand Theft Auto 5)
  • “Sleepwalking” by The Chain Gang of 1974 (Grand Theft Auto 5)
  • “Survival” by Eminem (Call of Duty: Ghosts)
  • “Will the Circle be Unbroken” by Courtnee Draper & Troy Baker (BioShock Infinite)

Most Anticipated Game

  • South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Destiny
  • Watch Dogs
  • Titanfall
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt