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
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
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
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
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
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
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
photo 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
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
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
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
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
photo 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
- Cherry Rye
- Bramble Rye
- Apple Brandy
- Buffalo Trace
- Coffee – Kenyan
- Koval Lion’s Pride