Dark Lord Day Survival Guide – 2017 Edition

With less than one week to go until this year’s Dark Lord Day I thought I would re-write my survival guide to include some things that I learned last year.

First, remember how I said you should hydrate the week of Dark Lord Day? Well, that might be a bit much. While I do think that you should watch your alcohol, caffeine, and water levels the week of the event my body got so used to using water to flush my system that by the time I got corralled into the cattle pens I had to pee so bad I thought my bladder might actually rip open. So I’d say try not to overdue anything the week of and depending on how early you arrive increase your water intake once you are IN the festival.

Continue to do everything in your power to not get sick. Take Emergen-C, work from home every day this week, don’t go to the doctor, do not get sick. And if you do get sick DO NOT take anything for it on Dark Lord Day. You have no idea how the medicine you take is going to interact with alcohol. That’s probably the part that will fuck you up more than just being sick that day.

I stand by what I said about the Friday night bottle shares. Partake at your own risk. Do you really want to get so messed up on Friday that you miss your Group B call time? And on top of that possibly be so sick that you don’t drink anything on Saturday?

I think the Camelbak bladder thing is a real good idea. Mine broke before things even got started last year. Luckily, I had backup water bottles. Definitely bring one or the other. I haven’t bought a replacement bladder yet, I might just go with plenty of bottles.

As far as food goes I say skip the festival food. Bring Cliff bars with you. They will get you what you need to keep you going as soon as you need it. The worst thing would be waiting in line for food while still bottle sharing and now you’re drunk because you were drinking on an empty stomach.

I’m just going to quote myself about tasting glasses from last year: “Don’t bring a tasting glass larger than 5oz. I know. It sounds crazy, right? But you will be drinking high octane beers for upwards of 12 hours. Take a 3oz taste, move on to the next thing. By the time you hit beer number 15 your taste buds are going to be shot anyways. You aren’t going to remember half of what you drank so why take giant pours that will only end up with you being very sad the next day.

Taking an hour break in the middle of the day is still really good advice. If the weather is actually decent this year you’ll be able to walk around the festival grounds. See a band, buy some merch, soak it up. You’re at Dark Lord Day!

And finally, stop drinking. When it looks like the people you are with are ready to head out stop taking pours. Put your glass away and pat yourself on the back. You survived Dark Lord Day!

Thoughts on the Wicked Weed Acquisition

 

This morning, I opened Twitter and at the same time as everyone else I learned that Wicked Weed Brewing had been acquired by Anheuser-Busch. My social media feed was flooded with posts about Wicked Weed and ABInBev. My first thought was “wow, my social media is going to be a shit show today”. And it still is.

I wish Wicked Weed all the best.

However, if anyone brings Wicked Weed to a bottle share I attend from this moment forward I will have to say something. Probably something hilarious like “we better drink this before it turns into Bud Light” or “didn’t Anheuser Busch already make sour stouts in 2015” a very funny zing referring to the infected bottles of Bourbon County Stout.

Anheuser Busch wants to destroy craft beer. When they bought Goose Island in 2012 you couldn’t buy craft beer in Chicago any more. I’ve switched to spiked seltzers.

I wish everyone at Wicked Weed the best and I know they will continue to make great beers. It’s too bad they made beer so good that a lot of people want to drink it.

Sincerely,
Jim Plachy

2016: A Beer In Review

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.

Photo courtesy of http://peaksandpints.com/2016/11/14/seattle-cider-company-medals-festival-of-barrel-aged-beer/

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.

I Drank 8 Marzens and You Wont Belive What Happens Next!

EDIT: 9/5/9:51 PM There were pictures of each beer but on some devices they displayed sideway so I took them down for now. 

It’s almost time to set aside the session IPAs, the Pilsners, and the fruity over hopped ales and start thinking about warmer maltier beers. Yes, Fall is here and that means only one thing. Your beer store is full of 4 month old pumpkin beers already. Blech….its time to start drinking Marzens better known as Oktoberfest beers. But which ones are worth your time? Well, that’s almost impossible to answer. Untappd shows over 300 different beers identifying as Okotberfest/Marzen. So I grabbed 8 locally and nationally available ones and decided to give them a taste test. There’s another big caveat to this list and that is it’s missing Leinenkugel and Samuel Adams. I’ve had both before and Leinenkugel wasn’t very good but the Sam Adams Oktoberfest is outstanding. I would place it in the top 3 of this list but since I didn’t drink it yet this year I can’t say for sure if it holds up.

So here are 8 Marzens ranked from worst to best. Feel free to let me know what else I should try. I’m definitely a bit of a Marzen novice. Prost!

8. Ballast Point Dead Ringer

 

I’m just as surprised as you are. Ballast Point has been knocking it out of the park all year. Unfortunately their Oktoberfest has no aroma, a lackluster appearance, and a bland taste. At best I could drink one of these and where’s the Oktoberfest spirit in that?

 

7. Excel Brewing Company Oktoberfest

 

Excel is a brewery I’ve never heard of from a town in Illinois I’ve never heard of. So I thought I’d give this new to me brewery a shot. Unfortunately they did not deliver. The taste of a traditional Marzen was there but they stumbled on the aroma and mouthfeel. Again, I would probably only drink one of these.

 

6. Spoetzl Brewery Shiner Oktoberfest

 

The taste is there on Shiner Oktoberfest but it seemed more watered down than the other beers we drank. Nothing really wrong with it I just wanted more….flavor? It reminded me of Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest something you could drink a bunch of because it didn’t overwhelm your palate.

 

5. Metropolitan Afterburner 

 

I was expecting big things from the Kings and Queens of Chicago Lagers but what I got was a more flavorful version of the Shiner offering. They were tied in my mind. It was really the mouthfeel that pushed it over the edge. Afterburner had a weight to it that I liked. I could have a couple of these on a Fall night and be satisfied.

 

4. Baderbraü Oktoberfest

 

Baderbraü’s offering lands right in the middle. Nice toasty grains which I love but then the flavor just evaporated. It felt like I was chasing the ghost of an Oktoberfest beer. The flavor that I did taste was 100% what I want from a Marzen it’s too bad it couldn’t stick around.

 

3. Great Lakes Oktoberfest

 

Most people consider this the quintessential Oktoberfest beer and I could totally see that. I dinged it points on the aroma and the appearance but everything else was there. An absolutely solid beer there is no reason you shouldn’t pick this up if you’re interested in the style.

 

2. Revolution Brewing Oktoberfest

 

I’ve had Rev’s Oktoberfest before and thought it was a great example of the style. They said they had tweaked the recipe a bit and boy did they. There’s a nice hit of spice mixed in with the malty sweetness that is just what I wanted. If you live in an area where you can get this beer you absolutely should pick some up immediately. As soon as we get a nice crisp night in Chicago I can’t wait to throw a hoodie on and enjoy one of these.

 

1. Goose Island Oktoberfest

 

I really didn’t expect Goose Island to take number one. Figured this would be a decent attempt at the style brewed by Anheuser-Busch but I was wrong. It’s as good as Revolution’s but where it shines is a bit of toastyness and a mild fruitiness. This is a Marzen I could drink all night.

If I’m being completely honest all of these beers were solid except the Ballast Point I would never drink that again. They all had a great base flavor but since I scored them using the Beer Advocate scale some got dinged for their appearance or they were too carbonated. Goose Island and Revolution definitely are the best of the eight but the other ones aren’t going to kill you.

 

 

 

The Not Your Father’s Root Beer Drinking Game!

Don’t be fooled ladies and gentleman this is not a drinking game FOR Not Your Father’s Root Beer it is a drinking game ABOUT Not Your Father’s Root Beer. People’s reactions to this malternative beverage is hilarious. And the best place to check it out is Untappd. Here’s how you play the game. Go on Untappd. Type in Not Your Father’s Root Beer and search for the 5.9% version. Click on it and read people’s comments about it. Then follow along with this guide but be warned you are going to get very drunk very fast. This game IS DANGEROUS!!!

Start here: https://untappd.com/b/small-town-brewery-not-your-father-s-root-beer-5-9/867402

Take 1 drink when….
You see the word Dangerous
You see the word Delicious
Someone made a root beer float
Someone uses more than 3 exclamation points
Someone says it’s too sweet
Someone says you can only have one
Someone compares it to regular root beer(IBC, Barqs, Dad’s, etc)

Take 2 drinks when….
Someone is surprised it tastes like root beer
Someone complains about the aftertaste
Someone can’t believe there is alcohol in it
Someone likes this but not root beer

Take 3 drinks when….
Someone can’t believe it’s beer(its not!)
Someone earns the Newbie badge on check in
Someone says how bad they need the 10% or 19.5% version
Someone says they can taste the beer

And when someone says its their favorite beer…..
CHUG!

The Third Annual Jim Plachy Beer Awards!

It’s time for me to reflect on my favorite hobby and name my favorite beers of 2014. I can’t believe this is the third time I’m doing this. There are more awards to give out than in the previous two years as I continue to expand my beer drinking horizons.

As a reminder these awards are based on beers I drank in 2014. They may be a day old they may be five year old vintages as long as I drank them this year they were up for contention. Also, I don’t get outside of Chicago much so these awards are mostly based on beers I was able to obtain in this area.

Another quick programming note no beer can win 2 awards. So while I might call a beer “Best Porter” then name a Porter my Beer of the Year obviously I liked the BOTY better. I’m still trying to decide if I’m going to keep that tradition going next year as it doesn’t make sense on paper, but I guess I like keeping things a surprise and not making the other awards BOTY nominees. Make sense?

And, just to make things perfectly clear “best” really means favorite. These are my favorites of 2014. As always feel free to comment with your favorite beers or hit me up on Twitter or however else you want to get a hold of me. Ready? Here we go!

Best Beer Thing That isn’t a Beer: Good Beer Hunting 

gbh

For those unaware Good Beer Hunting isn’t just one thing…it’s many things. A blog, a podcast, a digital storefront, and quite honestly the best voice in craft beer. That voice belongs to Michael Kiser who time and time again has recommended beers I’ve fallen in love with, championed worthwhile causes in the community, and above all is a voice of reason inside of craft beer.

When Beer Advocates rail against a brewery for “selling out” Kiser proves to them just how wrong they are. When a brewery or beer shop is being dishonest he calls them out on it. And his podcast is a treasure trove of amazing interviews with everyone from Goose Island’s head brewmaster Brett Porter to Matt Heff  who throws regional craft beer festivals in Tennessee.  But no matter who he’s talking to or what he’s photographing Kiser’s work is absolutely essential.

Best Place to Drink Beer: Links Taproom 

links

Links Taproom is the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory of craft beer bars. Big screen TVs are plastered all over the bar but only a couple show sports or sometimes live concerts. Displayed on the other televisions are the tap list. 36 beers to be exact and not only the names of the beers and breweries but how much of the beer is left before the keg kicks. Having trouble deciding between Zombie Dust and that rare keg of barrel aged beer? Well how much is left? That’s the one you should order first. Most of the beers are also available as 9oz pours should you want to try a variety through the night without needing to sleep it off in the street .

On top of that is some damn good sausage and hand cut fries. The place gets pretty packed on weekend nights but I find the place to be breezy, open, and comfortable on a Sunday morning or weeknight. Definitely my favorite new bar in Chicago. Links Taproom is at 1559 N. Milwaukee ave.

Best Spring Beer: Firestone Walker Opal Saison 

fswopal

Opal was a great beer to drink as the weather finally warmed up in Chicago. Great funky Saison yeast, slightly spicy, with just enough citrus from the hops to make you think of the warmer days ahead. Firestone Walker makes consistently amazing beers and in 2014 Opal was one of their best.

Best Summer Beer: Revolution Brewing Rosa Hibiscus Ale 

revrosa

For the second year in a row this award goes to the absolutely delicious Rosa. Mouthwatering tartness followed by a great malt backbone and eye catching pink color makes this Chicago’s go to Summer beer and it totally deserves all the taps its taken over across the city and suburbs.

Best Fall Beer(includes Harvest/Wet Hop/Fresh Hop ales): Lagunitas Born Yesterday Pale Ale

Lagunitas-born-yesterday

I never in a million years thought this award would go to any beer other than Founders Harvest Ale which drank better than ever this year but Lagunitas knocked this one out of the park. It’s too bad this one was so hard to come by because everyone I shared this with jaw dropped so hard I thought they were going to need surgery. Intense citrus aromas gave away to intense citrus flavor with just enough bitterness to keep you drinking until unfortunately it was all gone. Hats off to Lagunitas for proving even after their explosive growth they still know their way around hops.

Best Winter/Holiday Beer: Revolution Brewing Fistmas Holiday Ale

revfistmas

Revolution scores the hat trick with Fistmas. For the third year in a row no other beer screams CHRISTMAS! like this one. 2014’s batch was even heavier on the ginger, my favorite part, and even brought back some of that great citrus rind flavor that I thought was lacking in last year’s batch. I miss it already.

Best Double/Imperial IPA: The Alchemist Heady Topper

headytop

BELIEVE THE HYPE Heady Topper is the best double IPA in the world. I was lucky enough to get a can from a co-worker who’s family lives in Vermont and as soon as I took my first sip I ran across the office, up a flight of stairs to another good friend who respects beer like I do and FORCED THEM TO DRINK IT. The balance is so perfect I can’t even accurately describe it. The beer just…..drinks well. You could drink this all day. I’m convinced wizards make this beer.

Best IPA: Founders Harvest Ale

Founders-Harvest-Ale-label

I couldn’t not give props to one of my favorite beers of all time Founders Harvest Ale. The aromas of tropical fruit salad give way to a taste that follows suit. All hiding the over 8% ABV. Quite simply one of the world’s most perfect IPAs.

Best Stout (Non-Barrel Aged): Off Color Brewing: Dino S’mores

offcolordino

Its a stout that tastes like a smores. What else could you possibly need to know about this silky, chocolatey, incredibly delicious 10% ABV stout?

Best Porter (Non-Barrel Aged): Revolution Brewing Coffee Eugene 

Coffee Eugene

Last year’s 2nd place beer wins another award in 2014. Coffee Eugene actually made it out to distro this year so I got to have it in more places more often. Each time it never failed to disappoint. Intense iced coffee flavor with just a hint of the roast you expect from a porter. Once again a flawless beer from Revolution.

Best Saison: Off Color Brewing Apex Predator

offcolorapex

I didn’t really start enjoying Saisons until this year but I have this beer to thank for kickstarting that enjoyment. Off Color has brewed up an accessible and true to style farmhouse ale that is welcoming to new drinkers but complex enough for fans of the style to stand up and take notice. Another fantastic beer from last year’s winner of best new brewery.

Best Sour Beer: Goose Island Madame Rose 

GIMrose

Goose Island killed the sour game this year with their “sisters” line of beers and Madame Rose shone brightest. Madame Rose features a great soured brown backbone highlighted by pounds and pounds of Michigan cherries. Each sip was mouth puckeringly delicious and I always cried a few tears when it was all gone.

Best Session Ale: Lakefront Brewery Extended Play India Session Ale

lakefrontep

2014 was the year that every brewery tried to do a session ale. Some were pretty good, a lot were downright miserable but over Memorial Day weekend I decided to try as many as I could and Extended Play by Lakefront was the clear winner. The beer is nice and sweet with a light but fruity hopping. This is definitely the beer you want to have a few of during your next cookout.

Best Belgian Beer (across all styles): Ale Asylum Bedlam Belgian IPA

aleasylumbed

Madison, Wisconsin’s Ale Asylum is quickly becoming one of the most respected breweries in the Midwest and Bedlam is by far one of their finest brews. Bedlam takes the Citra hop and gives it a Belgian backbone. Its somewhere between a Zombie Dust and a Gumballhead with the clove like aromas of a Belgian beer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Best Barrel Aged Beer (across all styles): Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout 

Saugmilkstout

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Festival of Barrel Aged Beers where I was lucky enough to sample THIRTY TWO different barrel aged beers. By the end of the night my taste buds were SHOT. But then we drank this and it was incredible. Like barrel aged ice cream. I’m not even joking this was the highlight of THIRTY TWO beers had over the course of four hours. Unfortunately the BA version is only available at the brewery but I’ve been tempted to pick up the non-BA version.

Best Fruit Beer: New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red Ale 

newglarusred

For the third year in a row New Glarus takes the award for best fruit beer because honestly I’m pretty sure it’s what they do best. Of all the awards I’ve given to New Glarus for fruit beers this is the one they most deserve. A belgian ale, meets a white wine, meets delicious cherry juice Belgian Red is the ultimate fruit beer.

Best Cider: Virtue Cider The Ledbury 

virtueledbury

 

Oh, you think hard ciders need to be high fructose corn syrup laded sweetness bombs? Meet The Ledbury he’s dry, rough, but still fantastically delicious. Pour this in a wine glass and serve it to one of your wine snob friends I’d be surprised if they could figure out it was a cider.

Best New Cider: Sietsema Orchards Bourbon Barrel Aged

sietsmabarrelaged

Sietsema Orchards is….I think new to the Chicago area. I can only find their cider at one store in downtown Chicago so while they’ve “been around” for a couple of years I’m declaring this cider new. Barrel Aged ciders are becoming increasingly popular but I’ve never had one as delicious as this. A very dry cider goes into bourbon barrels and comes out just slightly sweeter thanks to the aging processes. It’s a wonderfully complex cider that you should savor but I guarantee you’ll want to slam it down.

Best New Beer: Revolution Brewing Jukebox Hero Black IPA

revjukebox

I am not a very big fan of black IPAs but I totally should have seen Jukebox Hero coming. With Anti-Hero as its base and roasty malt elements mixed in it should have been no big surprise that this beer was going to be good. The citrus is on point the malts are forward but not dominate Revolution continues to prove they are the masters of balance. Easily the best black IPA i’ve ever had and the best new beer of 2014.

Best New Brewery: Penrose Brewing Company

penrose

Penrose opened this year in Geneva, IL and started making impressive Belgian style beers immediately. Then as if that wasn’t enough they opened a beautiful tap room, made a bunch of fantastic sour beers, started bottling and selling beer in stores, and had an incredible turnout for their first sour bottle release. This was just the FIRST YEAR. An absolutely stunning showing from Penrose. I don’t know how they’ll be able to top 2014, but I know they’re going to make sure 2015 is also something special.

Best Brewery: Revolution Brewing 

revbrew

Consistency, consistency, consistency that is what makes Revolution the best brewery twice now. Every time I have a Revolution beer it is exactly as delicious and tasty as the last time I had it. As the first time I had it, as the 20th time I had it, and on and on. On top of that their lineup is second to none. The Hero series, the Gene series, the Deep Woods series, the taproom exclusives, etc, etc, etc. Everything is fantastic and incredibly thoughtful. They give back to the community as often as possible, and are a lot of people’s gateway into the world of craft beer. Revolution Brewing is doing incredible things and I don’t see them slowing down any time soon.

Best Beer of the Year (2nd Runner Up): Goose Island Bourbon County Stout Proprietor’s 2014

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The Goose Island Bourbon County Stout line up is strong this year. We have a less complex and more drinkable regular, an intensely coffee forward coffee variant, a tasty barleywine, and of course Vanilla Rye. But this year’s Proprietor’s variant is head and shoulder’s above the rest. It tastes like a barrel aged mounds bar sprinkled with the best cinnamon money can buy. Bourbon County has always been complex but this is sensory overload. Goose has outdone themselves this year and I’m really not sure how they’re going to top this next year.

Best Beer of the Year (1st Runner Up): Revolution Brewing Citra Hero IPA 

revcitra

I can barely find the words to talk about this one. Ever since Zombie Dust burst onto the scene as America’s premiere Citra hopped Pale Ale everyone has been scrambling to create something that tastes just like it. Revolution did one better…they created an IPA that tastes better than Zombie Dust. This thing is absolutely bursting with tropical fruit juice flavors. Every sip is better than the last with its higher than average 7.5% ABV carrying you into a fruity IPA promised land. Dozens of breweries have tried to tame the Citra hop and in my opinion only Revolution has succeeded.

Beer of the Year: Revolution Brewing Uncalled Four Barrel Aged Belgian Quad 

IMG_1037On a whim one night a friend and I walked to the Revolution Brewing taproom and found this beer on the tap list. It is a barrel aged version of Four Year Beer Revolution’s Belgian Quad they brewed up for their four year anniversary. We weren’t expecting much but we do enjoy a good barrel aged beer. This beer was so incredible I had to sit down and collect my thoughts. Nothing I drank in 2014 was nearly as complex as Uncalled Four. Cinnamon, chocolate, butterscotch, raisins, stone fruits, cloves, bourbon the flavors just kept coming. I wonder if Revolution even realized what they had on their hands as they put this in the barrels or if they were just crossing their fingers. Something tells me they knew, oh I think they knew.

 

REVIEW: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Box Set

Box Set

With craft beer in the middle of its “boom” Sierra Nevada began to take a back seat to all of the new micro and nano breweries popping up across the country. In the last couple of years they’ve started stepping up their game. Introducing several new varieties alongside their ubiquitous pale ale. But this Summer Sierra Nevada is using all of their power to do some truly amazing things. Their biggest initiative is Beer Camp a traveling beer festival that puts the most breweries in one place ever.

To commemorate this event the brewery teamed up with 12 of their peers from across the country to collaborate on a series of beers. These beers are being collected into a very limited edition box set. I was told Chicago was already through their allotment. I was lucky enough to snag one and I decided the best way to enjoy it was to gather together with friends and have all 12 beers in one night.

It took us about 4 hours to get through all 12 beers and to be honest we got pretty buzzed but I took notes and here are the 12 beers in order from the one I liked the least to the one I liked the best. Hopefully you get a chance to try some of these beers because some of them are quite unique and delicious.

12. Asheville Brewers Alliance Tater Ridge Scottish Ale

Tater Ridge

This is the only beer we ended up drain pouring. It was made with sweet potatoes and smelled like dirt. In honestly didn’t taste much better. I don’t normally like Scottish Ales and I was hoping this one would be a chance to change my mind on the style but it only ended up reinforcing my opinion.

11. 3 Floyds Chico King Pale Ale

Chico King

Yes, I’m just as shocked as you are. What should have been an amazing collaboration between Sierra Nevada’s ability to hop anything and 3 Floyds skill at making pale ales ended up being a malt bomb with absolutely no hop profile. I have no idea how it happened but this was easily the most disappointing beer of the night.

10. Russian River Brewing Company Yvan The Great Belgian Blonde

Yvan the Great

Russian River is responsible for two of the most widely respected beers on the planet. Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger. I was expecting great things from this collaboration and instead we got a very middle of the road Belgian Blonde Ale. Nothing special, nothing interesting about it. Just Belgian funk in a decent Blonde Ale. I was hoping for something more, not a bad beer, just not anything special.

9. New Glarus There and Back ESB

There And Back

I’ve never been a big ESB fan and I don’t feel like this one is particularly special. There’s almost no flavor in the front or the middle. The backend had a nice roasty flavor that was pleasant but nothing I would reach for outside of this box set.

8. Allagash Brewing Myron’s Walk Belgian Pale Ale

Myron's Walk

Allagash is known for great Belgian ales and there’s no change to that here. I have a similar complaint to the Russian River beer in that there’s nothing outside of anyone’s comfort zone. This is an average Belgian Pale that I’ve had several times before from other breweries. I wish they had thought a bit more outside the box. And then put that in this box.

7. Bell’s Brewing Maillard’s Odyssey Imperial Dark Ale

Maillards Odyssey

Bell’s makes a plethora of dark beers on their own time and for this box set they pump out an Imperial Dark Ale. It was full of wonderful dark aromas and flavors like coffee and toasted nuts with a bit of hop bitterness at the end. It was just unique enough to be interesting but in the end too similar to many dark ales I’ve had before.

6. Firestone Walker Torpedo Hoppy Pilsner

Torpedo Pils

Firestone Walker took advantage of Sierra Nevada’s torpedo hopping technology to make a……hoppy pilsner. Something they already do. While it was delicious, I’ve had it before. You probably have too.

5. Victory Brewing Company Alt Route Altbier

Alt Route

Thanks to Off Color Brewing’s Scurry I’ve become curious about Altbiers and while this one didn’t have the molasses or oats featured in Scurry it still had the base flavor I liked. Lots of nice dark, sugary flavors, with a hint of Sierra Nevada’s love of hops shining through near the end.

4. Ballast Point Electric Ray Imperial Pale Lager

Electric Ray

I knew Ballast Point could pull this off but I wasn’t expecting the results to be so delicious. This amped up lager was assertive and let you know this is what a lager could be. The fruitiness from the hops was a wonderful compliment to the EIGHT POINT FIVE percent abv lager and its aggressive malt profile.

3. Ninkasi Brewing Company Double Latte Coffee Milk Stout

Double Latte

A very delicious coffee milk stout from a brewery I never even heard of before. The lactose provided a fantastic sweetness and the coffee was delicious. An above average example of the coffee stout. A shame this may be the only time I get to try it.

2. Cigar City Brewing Yonder Bock Tropical Maibock

Yonder Bock

This beer was probably the one I was most excited to try. I haven’t had many Maibocks but the idea of a dark tropical beer had me curious. On top of the beer sounding delicious we don’t get Cigar City beers in Chicago so I couldn’t wait to finally taste one of their brews. Yonder Bock completely exceeded expectations. An even amount of dark malts and tropical fruit, a nearly perfect beer. This would be great to sit outside with on a Summer night and savor.

1. Oskar Blues Canfusion Rye Bock

Canfusion

Just narrowly edging out Yonder Bock was the rye bock. I wasn’t expecting to like this as much but the overwhelming spiciness from the rye was fantastic. I’m a sucker for rye flavors and this beer delivered and then some. Totally personal preference on this, Yonder Bock was the favorite amongst the majority of us in attendance the night we opened this box but I enjoyed the rye flavors in this beer more than most.

That’s it, hopefully you can find some of these beers. Thank you to Stephanie and Chester for being such great hosts that night. Also if you’re curious here is the order the 3 of us came up with together. It’s slightly different from my individual list.

Final Order

1. Yonder Bock
2. Electric Ray
3. Rye Bock
4. Double Latte
5. Maillard’s Odyssey
6. Alt Route
7. Torpedo Pilsner
8. There and Back
9. Myron’s Walk
10. Yvan the Great
11. Chico King
12. Tater Ridge

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 

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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

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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 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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

The First Annual Jim Plachy Beer Awards!

In the year 2012 my love of a fine craft beer became a full fledged hobby. I spent much of my free time this year enjoying many beers, going to my first beer festival, and even venturing to more than a few breweries. I drank nearly 120 unique beers this year and I feel like naming some of my favorites. I’m just getting to know certain styles so you wont see everything represented here but in the styles I feel confident in I have created an award. There are 13 awards including Best Beer of the Year and 2 runners up for Beer of the Year. Let me know some of your favorites so I can give them a try.

 

Best Beer Thing That isn’t a Beer: Untappd 

untappd

Straight up. This post wouldn’t exist without Untappd. What is Untappd? The simple answer is that its Foursquare for beer. You check in to a beer, earn badges, comment on your friends beers, etc. It documented all the beers I’ve had this year, the places I drank them, and even on a scale of 1-5 what I thought of them. Untappd help me discover new beers and even where to get them. The site recently launched a paid account program and I highly recommend it. If you’re drinking beer and you have a computer or smartphone near you, you should be on Untappd. We should also be friends. Look up Jimplachy.

 

Best Place to Drink Beer: Half Acre Beer Company Tap Room

HA-Tap-Panorama

Half Acre’s amazing tap room only opened in November and I’ve only been there once, but I can say without a doubt that it is the best place I drank beer in, in 2012. Just look at it. The amazing attention to detail, especially in the wood certainly makes it one of the classier tap rooms around. Besides just being a nice place to be in the other fantastic part is that each beer comes in multiple sizes. This includes a 5oz pour for $2 essentially allowing you to make a flight out of any of the 10 beers on tap. Half Acre has been cranking out fantastic beers for over 5 years and now they have an amazing tap room to showcase those beers in.

Best Spring Beer: New Belgium Dig 

dig

As I wrote when I reviewed Dig its hard to remember sometimes that New Belgium makes anything other than Fat Tire. But they do and the results are usually pretty damn good. Dig is no exception. A perfectly balanced refreshing pale ale, Dig makes me long for the Spring. And finally not just because the weather is getting nicer.

Best Summer Beer: Half Acre Akari Shogun

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Half Acre’s Akari Shogun is listed as a wheat ale, but this is Half Acre we’re talking about so of course they hopped the hell out of it. Beers are routinely called “refreshingly bitter” but never like Akari Shogun. Its a great easy drinking beer, that went down quite nicely on the hot Summer day I drank it. It was on tap at the tap room when I went to go check it out and have regretted not having it again while I was there.

 

Best Fall Beer: Founders Harvest Ale

Founders-Harvest-Ale-label

 

I don’t have to tell you that wet-hopped ales are delicious. As a smart beer drinker you should know this. However, I was absolutely unprepared for how amazingly delicious Founders Harvest Ale was. Fruit forward and ridiculously pleasant on the tongue this beer had me seeking out more wet-hopped ales for weeks. None of them held a candle to this one.

 

Best Winter Beer(Holiday Beers Included): Revolution Fistmas Ale

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Revolution’s Fistmas Ale hits me right in my weak point. Ginger. I love things that taste like ginger. Fistmas combines one of the most delicious red ales I’ve tasted with tasty orange and a nice spicy shot of ginger. If there is any downside to this beer its that the ginger flavor fades in older bottles. Maybe Rev should think about bottling this stuff a little closer to Christmas next year. Fresh this stuff cannot be beat.

 

Best Fruit Beer: New Glarus Apple Ale

New-Glarus-Apple-Ale-1

 

 

Apple Ale by New Glarus tastes like a carbonated caramel apple. I don’t really know what else you need to know. Fresh apple juice with a hint of sweet caramel. It is absolutely fantastic and makes me long to try New Glarus’ other fruit beers.

 

Best New Hard Cider: Angry Orchard Crisp Apple

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Angry Orchard came out of nowhere and is taking the hard cider game by storm. Angry Orchard’s crisp apple is everything you want a hard cider to be. Sweet, crisp like fresh apples, and with just enough booze to let you know you’re drinking alcohol. There hasn’t been a hard cider this well balanced since Woodchuck Amber. And that is saying a lot.

 

Best Hard Cider: Woodchuck Pear

Woodchuck Pear Draft Cider

 

How good is Woodchuck Pear Cider? I don’t even like pears and I could drink this stuff all day. This stuff was hard to find in the Chicago area for quite a while, but then Binny’s upped their cider selection and brought Woodchuck Pear into its stores. There is nothing more satisfying, tangy, and refreshing than Woodchuck Pear.

 

Best New Brewery: Solemn Oath 

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Solemn Oath are awesome guys and gals who took a chance on opening a brewery in the suburbs and they are absolutely nailing it. Tons of experimentation, an amazing tap room, really neat artwork, and integrating with the beer community are just a few of the reasons why Solemn Oath is the best new brewery of 2012. How much do I like Solemn Oath? I’m not even a huge fan of their beer. That’s right, I’ve had about 5 of their beers and none of them have really knocked my socks off. But I like them, the people. And I think they will continue to do amazing things for the local beer scene and that’s why they are the best new brewery of 2012.

 

Best Brewery: Revolution Brewing 

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I could have easily named Revolution the best new brewery in 2012 seeing as how they opened in March. But they aren’t the best new brewery, they are the best brewery of the year. In 9 months they opened a taproom and a restaurant, brewed up countless amazing beers, released 2 barrel aged beers to much excitement, and racked up a few medals and “best-of-shows”. Revolution absolutely killed in 2012 and I can’t even imagine what they have in store for 2013. Here’s to Rev pumping out some more of my favorite beers.

 

Best New Beer: Revolution Anti-Hero IPA

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My favorite beer style is the pale ale. So when I went to the Wheaton Ale Fest this past August I stuck to trying a bunch of IPAs I’ve never had before. They all tasted pretty much the same. And then I had this. Anti-Hero IPA. It was an oasis in a desert of boring same-old IPAs. Its sweet, fruity, bitter, with just enough malt to let you know its there but not overpowering. This is the beer that I want constantly in my fridge at all times. If its on tap somewhere I can’t help but order one. By far and away this was the best new beer of the year.

 

Best Beer of 2012(2nd Runner Up): Goose Island Juliet 

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Juliet was the first and quite frankly the best sour beer I’ve ever had. Bursting with a sour blackberry flavor Juliet left my mouth watering with every sip. It made me crave it. I tried to savor my bottle but I just couldn’t. It was too good. Juliet opened my mind to sour beers but so far they have all paled in comparison. Until we meet again Juliet.

 

Best Beer of 2012(1st Runner Up): Boulder Beer Co. Oak-Aged Apri-Cran Mojo IPA

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This beer is as rare as its name is long. How rare is it? The pic above is a picture I took of it with Untappd. Its also the first result when you google image search this beer. On tap at the Bavarian Lodge back in August I had never heard of its base beer(Mojo IPA)let alone this oak aged fruitified version. I didn’t even know there was an advantage to aging an IPA. In fact I thought it was frowned upon, since the hops would fade. This beer however was incredible. Absolutely no bitterness and the added fruit really brought out the flavors in the hops that remained. Somewhere between a fruit beer and……a cider? I couldn’t wrap my head around it but I enjoyed every sip. Hopefully one day we will be reunited.

 

Best Beer of 2012: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

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Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the almighty Bourbon County Stout so I’m not sure what I can add to the conversation. However I’ll do my best. Stouts are not beers I’m a big fan of, but what Goose Island does with Bourbon County can only be described as magical. The flavors of chocolate, coffee, and butterscotch compete with every taste bud on your tongue. Your brain gets confused, the burn of the alcohol starts to affect you and by the time you’re done you are a different person. Its hard to believe this is even a beer. It feels elevated, it feels so much bigger than the word beer. Bourbon County Stout is an experience I wish everyone could take. It is remarkable.

 

 

 

Beer Review: New Belgium Dig

New Belgium is responsible for the uber-popular Fat Tire. This is their Spring seasonal called Dig. It’s an American Pale Ale which is a style I have been digging (get it?) lately so I decided to pick up a bottle. I love the color and the aroma is big fruity hops. So is the taste with a very pleasant bitterness. What follows is my Beer Advocate review. It averaged out to a 4/5.

A: Brilliant copper color with a nice light head. It doesn’t last long but by the time I finished it I had plenty of lacing.  4.0

S: I get lots of fruit on the first sniff. Grapefruit and apricot is at the front. Then I get the fruit mixed with malt in the background.  4.0

T: Bitter fruity hops. Quite a bit of bitterness here but it’s very pleasant and mixes well with the other flavors. The fruits in the smell are just as nice in the taste.  4.0

M: The mouthfeel is nice with a decent amount of carbonation. I enjoyed letting it linger on my tongue.  4.0

O: This is one of my new favorites. With the “mainstreamification” of Fat Tire I tend to forget that New Belgium does a lot of great beers. I’ll definitely be reaching for this beer again. It’s one of the best examples of a pleasantly bitter beer I’ve had since I started this “enjoying my beer” thing.  4.0