2016 was certainly a beer to remember. If you’ve been reading my ramblings for a while now you’re probably wondering where the Jim Plachy Beer Awards are. Well, for some reason no brewery ever came to pick up their award and quite frankly while they were a fun idea I felt like a lot of the beers I really enjoyed got left out because it didn’t win an award. I thought about doing honorable mentions in each category but instead I came up with this brilliant idea. A list. What if I made a list of my favorite beers I drank? So here we are. I’ve made a list of my top 50 beers, my top 10 ciders, and some other assorted things I wanted to highlight. So, what are waiting for? Grab a beer, or a cider, or you know whatever you were already drinking because odds are you didn’t set aside time to read this, you’ll just skim and shrug.
A NOTE ABOUT NE-STYLE IPAs: If there was one hot trend in beer this past year it was the New England style IPA. And while I didn’t drink nearly all of them the ones I did drink I very much enjoyed. Some people have turned their nose up at the style because it removes the bitter element from the India Pale Ale but I have to be honest with you guys. After years of drinking and enjoying very bitter IPAs I found these to be refreshing in more ways than one. So, you’ll see a bunch of them in the top 50. Are they a fad? Who knows? But it’s my list and there are quite a few on there. It’ll be interesting to see how many stick around next year.
Best Place to Drink Beer: Link’s Taproom
For the third year in a row Link’s Taproom in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago is my favorite place to drink beer. The comfortable atmosphere, never ending parade of delicious beers, good food, and friendly staff make this a place that I honestly never want to leave once I’m inside.
Best Brewery: Hoof Hearted Brewing
In my short time drinking craft beer I don’t think I’ve ever seen a brewery with as much momentum as Hoof Hearted. I started to read about them on BeerAdvocate earlier this year and the next thing I knew I kept hearing about Konkey Dong. Every where I went, dong this and dong that. After doing some trading we were able to acquire about 15 of their beers. Each one was excellent. The NE style stuff tasted true to the style, the stouts were great, and the off kilter stuff never disappointed. They even opened a brewpub this year that is high on my list of must visit places in 2017. I hope to see them soon.
Top 10 Ciders of 2016
You’ve heard this from me a hundred times by now but if it wasn’t for hard cider I wouldn’t be drinking craft beer. It was embarrassing how many great ciders I had this year. I actually went up to Michigan this past Spring to visit Vander Mill and Virtue, had almost every cider at this year’s FoBAB, and even made it to the years in the making Chicago cider bar The Northman. Not to mention I held my second annual cider bottle share which was a ton of fun. So without further ado here are the ten best ciders I had this year.
10. The Northman House Cider
9. Virtue Cider Cherry Mitten
8. Prima Most
7. Angry Orchard Understood in Motion #1
6. Vander Mill Barrel-Aged Totally Roasted
5. Virtue Cider Michigan Brut
4. E.Z. Orchards Semi-Dry Cidre
3. Domaine Dupont Cidre Reserve
We saved this to be the grand finale of our second annual cider bottle share and it did not disappoint. You get some great funk in the aroma and the taste is calvados barrel and sweet apple. I was very sad when this bottle was empty. Because it meant our bottle share was over and I couldn’t have any more of this magnificent cider.
2. Seattle Cider Co. Wild Fermented Heirloom
No picture of this cider really exists so here’s the Seattle Cider Co. team showing off their medal at this year’s FoBAB which is exactly where I had this funky, dry cider. It was the best cider I drank at the event and also one of the stand outs of the whole session. Seattle Cider Co. impresses me more and more as time goes on and this wild barrel aged version of their Heirloom limited release cider is the best thing I’ve had from them.
1. Vander Mill Barrel-Aged Mango with Citra
Another cider that has no photo taken of it. I had this at the tap room and I’m not sure it made it very far out of the tap room. I see lots of people check in to a Vander Mill Mango Citra cider but this was a barrel aged version. Is this cider traditional? Not even close. It tasted like mango puree but somehow even more citrusy. Then there was a little bit of flavor from the barrel but honestly not much. Not that I cared because I could drink this cider just for the intense mango flavor for the rest of my life. Vander Mill expanded big time this year and I hope we get to see more unique stuff like this make its way out of the tap room and into stores and then into my mouth.
Top 50 Beers of 2016
Here it is my first ever top beers list. I won’t be providing descriptions for every beer just the top 10. Mostly because 11-50 is not what I would call an exact order. You could interchange spots between a few of these beers. My top 10 though is definitely my 10 favorite beers in order. So, I’d love for you to read this, give me some feedback, let me know what you think. Beers to a great 2017!
50. Revolution Fistmas Holiday Ale
49. Great Lakes Alberta Clipper Porter
48. New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red
47. Half Acre Maple Orin
46. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
45. Half Acre Beer Hates Astronauts
44. Central State Table
43. Surly Todd the Axe Man
42. Solemn Oath Ravaged by Vikings
41. Pipeworks The Lizard King
40. Bell’s Hopslam
39. Trillium Double Dry Hopped Congress Street
38. Founder’s Backwoods Bastard
37. Modern Times Aztec Mummy with Guava and Mango
36. Goose Island Bourbon County Koval Cuvee
35. Ballast Point Single Malt Whiskey Victory at Sea
34. Pipeworks The Jones Dog
33. The Bruery Ride That Goat
32. Perennial Sump
31. Perennial 17
30. Half Acre Galactic Double Daisy Cutter
29. Central State Polyjuice Potion
28. Perennial Maman
27. Ram Schaumburg Side Note S’more Luv
26. Trinity Brewing President’s Club
25. Half Acre Deep Space
24. Central Waters Seventeen
23. Almanac Grand Cru
22. Perrin No Rules
21. Three Floyds Red Death
20. Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout
19. Jester King Nocturn Chrysalis Blend 4
18. Toppling Goliath Golden Nugget with Mosaic
17. Prairie Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb!
16. Alesmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout
15. Lagunitas Born Yesterday Unfiltered
14. Hoof Hearted Konkey Dong
13. Perennial Abraxas
12. Destihl Dosvidanya Vanilla Rye
11. Central Waters Cassian Sunset
10. Cantillon Kriek
After years of Cantillon alluding me I finally got to try some of their beer. A couple of friends spent some time in Belgium and brought back Rose de Gambrinus, Gueuze, and Kriek. While all 3 beers were delicious, delicate, and some other word that starts with “d” it was the Kriek that impressed me the most. I’m going to come off real dumb saying this but I finally understood why New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red is named what it is. I’ve always loved that beer but after drinking the real thing I now fully appreciate it.
9. Tree House Brewing Julius
All that really needs to be said about Julius at this point is that it lives up to the hype. A beer that is supposed to look and taste like orange juice. And that’s exactly what it tastes like.
8. Prairie Artisan Ales Birthday Bomb!
There’s no reason to mess with the near perfection that is Bomb! but Prairie feels they have to do it anyway and I’m so glad they do. The addition of sweet caramel to the spicy, roasty flavors of Bomb! elevates the beer to a whole other level. It was great having something cut the heat just a bit. Adding caramel didn’t make much sense to me but after I drank it I knew it was perfect.
7. Off Color Barrel-Aged Dino’Smores
When John Laffler says he’s going to release a barrel-aged stout you show up and go get that barrel-aged stout. After spending 18 months in rye whiskey barrels Dino’Smores transformed into a spicy, whiskey soaked chocolate covered marshmallow. It was the perfect dessert beer.
6. Hoof Hearted Everybody Wants Some Citra
As mentioned above I was fortunate to not have to live in Ohio but also drink a lot of Hoof Hearted. This was the best of them. EWS: Citra was a pillowy soft tropical fruit salad hop bomb. This was my first foray into the NE-Style IPA and I sat there for a while just staring out the window wondering if I’d ever be able to go back to bitter IPAs. This beer tilted my whole perspective on things and was the best IPA I had in 2016.
5. Odd Side Ales Hazel’s Nuts
There’s something about getting a pour at FoBAB late in the show when your palate is at its most fatigued and the beer cuts through all the bullshit and makes you take notice. At FoBAB 2016 that beer was Hazel’s Nuts. Barrel-Aged Nutella is a lazy way to describe it but I can’t think of a better one. I’m a sucker for hazelnut flavored beers and I fell hard for this one.
4. Goose Island Bourbon County Rare (2015)
While this beer has been mired in controversy lately there’s no denying how much I love it. That chocolate covered butterscotch flavor from last year has faded giving way to tons of oaky goodness. No other barrel-aged beer truly shows off the magic of the barrel like Bourbon County Rare.
3. Goose Island Netflix & Chill
At the Goose Island 25th anniversary party in 2012 a beer called Bourbon County Napa was poured. It was BCBS aged in red wine barrels and I believe I said it was my favorite beer of 2012. The red wine mingled so well with the Bourbon County. The first time I went to the barrel warehouse I saw wine barrels marked “BCS NAPA”. I got very excited. However, the beer never materialized. Or did it? Back in January at Goose’s new taproom they poured Netflix & Chill. It was a red wine barrel-aged imperial stout. And some friends and I agreed that it was most likely BCS Napa. It just tasted too close to that beer we had four years ago.
2. The Bruery Rum Barrel-Aged Black Tuesday
Black Tuesday is a beer that ends parties. A 20% ABV barrel-aged stout that is so strong and so potent some people just leave. This one off Rum barrel-aged version smooths the edges a bit. The Rum gives the beer a more approachable profile lending that familiar Rum sweetness. This version of Black Tuesday went down almost too easy but I savored every sip of this rare beverage.
1. Prairie Artisan Ales Apple Brandy Barrel Noir
I don’t know how else to say it so I’ll just say it. This beer tasted like apple pie a la mode. That’s it. I loved it. I had no idea what apple brandy would do to a stout and I was blown away. It was perfect. It messed with my mind so hard that I never forgot about it all year. It was my beer of the year from the moment I took my first sip.