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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Sam Adams is where it all kind of started for me. Sam Adams Light was the first beer I deemed “not gross” and could drink more than one in a sitting. It was the first beer I knew I could pick up a six pack of and bring to a party with me. While for the most part Sam Adams has fallen out of favor with most craft beer snobs I couldn’t resist trying one of their “brewmaster” beers. Coastal Wheat is decent, but in the end not something I would really reach for and I tend to enjoy wheat beers. Drinking one on a hot Summer day might be refreshing but I wouldn’t pick this up for my next beach party. Which I’m sure I’ll be having this Summer.
Beer Advocate Review:
A: Pours Yellow, hazy, exactly what I wanted it to look like. 3.5
S: Not much smell to be had. I got a small whiff of the lemon but subsequent sniffs came up dry. 2.5
T: A little sour, no bitterness. As it warmed up the wheat came forward. The lemon was pleasant and not fakey like I believed it would be. 3.0
M: Felt lots of carbonation on my back teeth. Very thin. 3.0
O: This would be very good on a hot day, but I could only drink one and it isn’t something I would really reach for over other beers. Pleasant enough but nothing special. 3.0
BA turned this into a 2.93/5
So I’ve decided that I want to write reviews of the beers I’ve been trying lately. I’ll be using the Beer Advocate method of beer review. Rating Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, and an Overall score using a scale that goes 1-5 with half points allowed. I’ll be posting these first on BA but then do an expanded version here on the site. BA takes your scores you give the beer and uses some sort of weird weighted system that I don’t understand to give your beer rating a final score. The first beer up will be Sam Adams Coastal Wheat. I’ll have it up before the day is out.
I didn’t touch alcohol until well after I turned 21 and was under the impression for a very very long time that all beer “tasted like piss”. I tried really hard to like beer because it was cheap and it was what everyone else was drinking. So I tried a long line of beers trying to find one I truly enjoyed drinking. About five years ago that was Sam Adams Light. Somehow over the course of doing research on craft and micro brews I stumbled upon Goose Island. I tried Goose Island 312 and it quickly became my favorite beer. From then on I was content to live in a world where I was drinking the tastiest, trendiest beer and that beer was 312.
Last March Goose Island was bought by Anheuser Busch and a side of the craft beer world I had never seen before came out of the woodwork to spout some of the most insane hateful shit I had ever read. This lead me to do some research. If Goose Island wasn’t the tiniest of the tiny brewers, then who was? One brewery in particular caught my eye and that was Half Acre here in Chicago. A week or so later I stumbled upon cans of Gossamer Golden Ale at the local Whole Foods. I cracked open the can, poured it into one of my beer glasses and took a sip. I was blown away, there was flavor to this beer like I had never experienced before. By the end of the glass I had cracked open another can and was declaring it my new favorite.
I then read online that production at Half Acre wasn’t able to keep up with demand and the beer was going to be scarce and possibly only able to be found in the city limits of Chicago. For months I scoured all the local high end liquor stores looking for more Gossamer, but alas none was to be found. Then in November Half Acre mysteriously reappeared at Whole Foods and all was well. But something was bugging me. Half Acre’s brewery was so close to my house, why hadn’t I just driven out there and gotten some fresh from the tap Gossamer Golden Ale?
The week before New Year’s Eve the stars aligned. Half Acre was brewing up a batch of Callow Knife beer special for NYE weekend and it sounded absolutely delicious. I got to my destination early and pulled up Google Maps. It turned out the brewery was less than a half mile away ON THE SAME STREET I WAS STANDING ON! So me and my friend Cliff (who doesn’t even drink) made the just over quarter mile trek to Half Acre. I bought my growler and walked it back to my car. On New Year’s Eve I cracked it open and fell in love all over again with a Half Acre beer.
My weekends usually consist of me doing household chores and playing video games and quite frankly I was sick of it. I decided I was going to have a mini Chicago beer adventure. Well…..I had to be in the city anyway and all this stuff was within 3 miles of each other so….again I got lucky. I started off by having lunch at the Wriglyville Goose Island. My beer with lunch was Mild Winter. Now I’ve had Mild Winter from the bottle and it’s great. I’ve had it form the tap at bars and it was really good, but from Goose Island it was a whole different beast. It tasted much more smooth than any other glass of Mild Winter I have ever had with the rye bread flavors being a bit subdued. On the food side of the equation I had the BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich and while the meat was pretty average the Honker’s Ale BBQ sauce was outstanding. My wife who could write a BBQ sauce blog like I could write a video game blog even said it might be her favorite sauce ever. I suggest asking for a side of it and some fries.
I left with a growler of 312 and my first glass out of the growler was a tad disappointing it had a weird funkiness to it. However I poured myself a second glass and it was much better. I’m starting to wonder if the first glass wasn’t dirty. Once again straight from the brewery beer > out of a bottle or even away from the brewery. The 312 was fresh and made me remember why it was my favorite for so long.
After that we drove down the road to Half Acre and much to my amazement Callow Knife was still being poured! I expected to leave with a growler of Gossamer or even Daisy Cutter but I quickly handed over my growler to have it filled with the Knife. I cracked it open Sunday and it was even better than I remember. I’m thinking of heading down there in a couple days just to get a refill for
Super Bowl Sunday The Big Game.
If you have slightly more than a passing interest in beer (as in you drink it because you like the way it tastes, not to get drunk) I urge you to check out what small breweries might be in your area. Or try something different next time you’re at the liquor store, might I suggest the now practically nationwide Goose Island. And if you need any advice or help, I am definitely willing to lend a hand. Now if only someone could help me get my hands on a Bourbon County Coffee Stout….