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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
On 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.