What a year it has been for me and my favorite beverage. On top of all my usual drinking shenanigans I went to Tulsa, OK to check out Prairie’s brewpub and see what they are doing over at American Solera. I crossed going to Shelton Brothers Fest off my bucket list and got to experience the magic of Good Beer Hunting’s annual Olly Olly “camping” trip. Speaking of GBH I also joined that crew as community manager and it has been the highlight of my year for sure. The Fervent Few is the best group of people I have ever got to chat with, meet in real life, and talk to for our podcast.
So with another year of life and imbibing under my belt here are some of my favorite breweries, places to drink, and my top 50 beers and top 10 ciders lists. I hope that you got to drink some amazing beers this year. Cheers and here’s to an even better 2018! I mean for beer and cider and stuff. It was a rough year for everything else. Could it be worse? Whoooo boy….
Best Place to Drink Beer: Saved By The Max
Allow me to explain why the now closed Chicago pop-up restaurant modeled after the diner from Saved by the Bell was the best place I drank in 2017. It is because right before they closed they hosted a Goose Island beer dinner. It was reasonably priced and they promised some special beers. So knowing that I could con my wife into going because she was obsessed with this place I bought two tickets. What the dinner ended up being was an eight beer tasting led by John and Greg Hall. It was a magical night that I felt very fortunate to be at. Hearing the story of Pere Jacques told by the Halls is something I will never forget. Tasting the beers wasn’t so bad either.
Best Brewery: Mikerphone Brewing
This is the first and probably last year I will name Mikerphone my brewery of the year. Why? Because their new brewery is less than a mile from my house and I am most likely moving. I have spent at least one day a week here since it has opened and I think at most I have been disappointed by two of their beers. So there is no argument that Mikerphone is my brewery of the year. But since we’re on the topic they did open an incredible tap room, produce a ton of incredible beers (I believe they are already on batch 100), make waves with their releases, and continually improve everything from their recipes to how they handle said releases. So I can’t think of another brewery that comes close to deserving this honor from me.
Top 10 Ciders of 2017
10. Shacksbury Ginger Spritz
9. The Northman House Cider
8. 2 Fools Tart Cherry
7. 2 Fools Cranberry Ginger
6. Cider Riot 1763 West Country
5. Angry Orchard First Flora
4. Angry Orchard Understood in Motion #1
3. Virtue Cider Michigan Brut
The best cider I consistently drank all year was Virtue Cider’s Michigan Brut. It is so dry it leaves your palate before you even realize it’s there. But leaves behind a whisper of slightly tart apples and some barrel aged funkiness. And it didn’t hurt that it went from four pack bottles to six pack cans.
2. Virtue Cider The Mitten Reserve
I could not find an official picture of The Mitten Reserve but this is a special bottling of Virtue’s bourbon barrel-aged cider. Instead of being blended with fresh juice like regular mitten this goes from barrel to bottle. This cider isn’t even carbonated. And it is the best representation of bourbon in a barrel aged beverage that I have ever had. The stillness helps carry massive caramel and oak flavors that is only slightly rounded out by the apple flavors. It’s like drinking a caramel apple.
1. E.Z. Orchards Roman Beauty
I had waited a long time to try E.Z. Orchards cider and this year I grabbed a few bottles of their stuff. Roman Beauty was the best one by far. It is truly a beautiful cider. The aroma is funky but with tons of luscious almost buttery apple and the flavor is mostly sweet but cut by a bit of tartness. This is what a Woodchuck cider wishes it could grow up to be.
Top 50 Beers of 2017
50. Pipeworks Lizard King Pale Ale
49. American Solera Terroir Study Farmhouse Ale
48. Ballast Point Unfiltered Sculpin IPA
47. Goose Island Halia Wild Ale with Peaches
46. Central State Barrel Aged Gute Nacht Farmhouse Stout
45. Jester King Omniscience & Proselytism Blend 1 Wild Ale with Strawberries
44. Central Waters Cassian Sunset Barrel-Aged Stout with Coffee, Vanilla, and Cinnamon
43. Funk Factory Cherry Meerts
42. Trillium PM Dawn Coffee Stout
41. Modern Times Funky Bourbon Barrel Aged Monster’s Park Stout
40. Mikerphone/Saint Errant Get It Together Double IPA with Mango
39. Mikerphone Ode to my Family Berliner Weiss with Cinnamon, Cranberries, and Orange Peels
38. Founder’s Doom Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial IPA
37. Moody Tongue Bourbon Barrel-Aged Chocolate Barley Wine (2016)
36. Une Annee Peche Wild Ale with Peaches
35. Almanac Strawberry Basil Wild Ale
34. Brewery Bhavana Grove Double IPA
33. Pipeworks The Jones Dog Barrel-Aged Milk Stout
32. Revolution Straight Jacket Barrel-Aged Barleywine
31. Founders CBS Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels that held Maple Syrup
30. Soundgrowler Orange Haze IPA
29. Devil’s Trumpet Captain’s Quarters Wine Barrel-Aged Sour with Tart Cherries and Vanilla Beans
28. Goose Island Bourbon County Vanilla Rye Stout (2014)
27. AleSmith Vietnamese Speedway Stout with Vietnamese Coffee
26. New Belgium La Folie Grand Reserve: Geisha
25. Modern Times Monster’s Park Rum Barrel-Aged Stout with Cherry and Vanilla
24. Perennial Abraxas Imperial Stout with Cinnamon, Chiles, Cacao, and Vanilla
23. Revolution Straight Jacket Barrel-Aged Barley Wine (several vintages)
22. Mikerphone Brewing Teleport Massive Brambleberry Berliner Weiss
21. Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout (2015)
20. Pipeworks Barrel-Aged Cherry Abduction Imperial Stout with Cherries
19. Solemn Oath Patin Chocolate Porter with Rum Soaked Raisins and Pecan Praline
18. Three Floyds Dark Lord Ronaldo Imperial Stout aged in Madeira Barrels with Tart Cherries
17. Revolution Brewing VSOD Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels for Two Years
16. Founders Backwoods Bastard Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale
15. WeldWerks Medianoche Reserve Imperial Stout aged in Whiskey Barrels
14. Odd Side Ales Hazel’s Nuts Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels with Coffee and Hazelnuts
13. Ballast Point High West Victory at Sea Imperial Porter aged in Whiskey Barrels with Coffee and Vanilla
12. Praire Artisan Ales Birthday Bomb Imperial Stout with Chiles, Coffee, Cacao, Caramel, and Vanilla
11. Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels with Coffee (several vintages)
10. Mikerphone Brewing Mikerphone Check 1, 2 Double Dry Hopped Double IPA
I had at least two dozen IPAs made by Mikerphone Brewing this year but the one that stood out to me the most was the one they brewed first. If every other IPA Mikerphone brewed went away but this one I would be ok with that. Mikerphone Check 1,2 perfectly showcases the odd aroma of Citra hops while bringing out their huge citrus character. Citra might be not be as en vogue as it once was but that’s ok send all those leftover hops to the crew at Mikerphone.
9. The Bruery PB & Thursday Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels with Peanut Flour
If you read this list last year you know that I am a big fan of The Bruery’s outrageous bourbon barrel-aged Stout Black Tuesday. So when I heard there was going to be a new variant I got pretty excited. Unfortunately it was going to be a hard bottle to track down since it was only available to members of the Hoarders Society, The Bruery’s most elite reservation club. At my annual bottle share a good friend tracked down and offered up a bottle. People I know had gone to The Bruery and had it on draft and said it wasn’t all that great so my expectations were pretty low. But out of the bottle everyone agreed it was one of the highlights of the day. The peanut taste cut through the chocolate and barrel to make something that tasted genuinely like a great Stout and not just some sticky sweet candy bar. I hear this beer will be getting a wider release this year or next and it is worth tracking down.
8. Transient Artisan Ales Bad Hombre Imperial Vanilla Cream Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels
Transient was my last stop out of Michigan for this year’s KBS Week. I was sipping on a pale ale when the person next to me’s jaw dropped so hard I could hear it. Next thing I knew a glass was thrust into my hand with a terse “you have to try this”. I took a sip and was transported to an island ofchocolate covered marshmallows sitting in glasses of bourbon. It also helped that this beer was on nitro at the time adding to its creaminess. I ran up to the front and ordered a pour and bought a bottle. Fifteen minutes later there was a line out the door. Apparently we had squeaked in to a quiet release for this beer which had been posted to Facebook less than an hour before we got there. We watched as case after case walked out the door. I wondered if buying one lonely bottle was going to be enough. It wasn’t as I brought my bottle to a bottle share and didn’t even get to drink any. In the end the pour I had that day was still so memorable that it is number eight on this list. Here’s to hoping Transient makes this one again some day.
7. The Bruery Mash & French Toast Barleywine aged in Bourbon Barrels with Vanilla, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Maple Syrup
And its back to The Bruery for this just incredibly delicious Barleywine. Every component played with each other so well it was kind of hard to believe I could actually taste each addition to this beer. Did it taste like French toast? Of course not but in a year where I had lots of beers with lots of ingredients that ended up tasting like an unbalanced mess Mash & French Toast was perfect.
6. Dogfish Head Oak Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout Imperial Stout aged on Oak with Vanilla.
I was fortunate enough to go on Good Beer Hunting’s annual camping trip and at camp on the first night was a keg of this. So, what did I do? Filled my 16oz glass multiple times with it. There was no better beer that night for sitting outside in the slightly chilly, misty evening. The ABV kept me warm and the smooth oak and vanilla kept me drinking. The flavors here may be more subtle than say a Bourbon County Vanilla Rye but when you want to drink a bunch of delicious over-the-top Stout this is your beer.
5. Revolution Brewing Ryeway to Heaven Imperial Ryewine aged in Rye Barrels
Before I talk about why I think this beer is so amazing I just wanted to say this. If you combined all of Revolution’s barrel-aged offerings into one thing they would probably be my number one beer of the year. However, I’m going to single out just one. And that is Ryeway to Heaven. This beer came out the same week as Founder’s CBS a beer that everyone wanted to be a huge maple syrup bomb and instead it was very balanced and very delicious. Ryeway to Heaven tastes like barrel-aged maple syrup. Just through the mastery of aging, brewing, blending, etc Revolution created a flavor profile that many drinkers crave and it is mind bending. I would pour this over pancakes if I could. In a year where Revolution came out swinging with barrel-aged beers (including an incredible 2-year aged version of Deth’s Tar) Ryeway stands above them all. Do everything you can to get your hands on this beer.
4. Side Project Fuzzy (Blend 2) Foedre-Aged Wild Ale with Peaches
Higher up on this list is Peche by Une Anee the most delicious peach beer I have ever had. Until I had this peach beer. Fuzzy is delicate, with a funk that could only come from Side Project. And while it is of course sour it is also amazingly juicy. Fuzzy lives up to every idea you could possibly have in your head about a Peach Wild Ale made by Side Project.
3. Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels (several vintages)
Of course I drank a lot of different Bourbon County Stouts this year and a lot of vintages and they were great as always but lets focus on 2017 BCBS. The complexity of Bourbon County this year reminded me of the first Bourbon County’s I ever had. And instead of the flavor being different with each sip the flavors unfolded across your palate with each swallow. 2017 Bourbon County starts with chocolate, then caramel, followed by roast, oak, and it finally dries out like shoe leather. For this year no “you’re not going to believe it’s good” caveat is required. It is fucking delicious and you owe it to yourself to go get a bottle because I don’t know where you live but here it’s still sitting on the shelf ready to be purchased the next time you want to open something really special.
2. Trillium Brewing Company Dialed In Double IPA with Sauvignon Blanc Grape Juice
I was very fortunate to get to try TWO DOZEN different beers by Trillium this year. And they pretty much all lived up to the hype that surrounds them. But nothing knocked my socks off like this. I didn’t know a NE-style Double IPA needed grape juice but guess what? I’m pouring Welch’s into everything from now on. Ok, I’m only half joking but this juicy, haze bomb got the perfect compliment from the grape juice. The grapes round things out a bit adding a white wine like finish and a grape-y sweetness to polish off any rough edges the base beer may have had. Adding fruit to an IPA is one thing but carefully blending in wine grapes is a trend I hope we see continue in 2018.
1. Perennial Artisan Ales Barrel-Aged 17 Imperial Stout with Cacao and Mint aged in Rye Barrels
Here we are at number 1. Perennial Artisan Ales one of my favorite Stout brewers took one of my favorite beers and put it in a barrel. The result is an oak and caramel covered York Peppermint pattie. And you know what? That’s it. I just fucking loved this beer. I’m happy they didn’t ruin one of my favorite beers as the mint (my favorite part) is definitely still present but the boozy whiskey burn makes it more of a comforting presence than the main flavor. Now how do I get a keg of this?