First off, let me say it’s hard to believe my journey into the world of beer blogging started less than a year ago. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a lot of amazing beer during the past 12 months and have been really humbled and excited to see so many people take an interest in what I have to say. I really enjoy being part of the conversation (and sometimes debate) and have seen things grow faster than I could have ever imagined. So, on my last post of the year, I want to sincerely thank everyone for reading, tweeting, commenting, trading, sharing a beer with me and, frankly, making me feel welcomed. Cheers to all of you.
With that being said, beer blogger law dictates I must compile a “best of” list to finish out the year. I scoured through my archives and compiled a list of the best new beers I’ve had this year. Mind you, this isn’t the best beers I’ve had for the first time – I did go to Belgium and drink Cantillon and Wesvleteren, after all – but the best new beers I’ve grabbed off the shelves since January. It was rough whittling the list down to just five, but here’s what stood out to me the most.
No. 5 – Stone 16th Anniversary IPA
You can’t deny that the folks at Stone know what they’re doing when it comes to hoppy beers. They’re the masters of it, plain and simple, and in 2012 they proved that time and time again. I loved the 10th Anniversary edition of their Ruination IPA, but they killed it with their 16th Anniversary IPA. A 10% rye IPA made with a helping of Amarillo and Calypso hops and then rounded out with lemon verbana, it immediately became one of the best DIPAs I’ve had, and I love DIPAs. A rich, flavorful mouthfeel, an incredible nose of spice, lemon and tropical fruits and that abrasive, biting hop presence I expect from Stone were all there. It was everything I could have hoped for in DIPA, and everything I would expect from one of my favorite breweries.
No. 4 – Oskar Blue’s Deviant Dales IPA
When I first found out Oskar Blues would be putting out a bigger, hoppier version of Dale’s Pale Ale – one of my all-time favorite beers – I felt like a kid who just found out my parents were taking me to Disney World. (That is, insanely excited.) It was one of those beers I wanted to have so badly that I had a friend pick me up some from another state because it wouldn’t be distributed around me until a few days later. My impatience paid off as the beer lived up to all the hype I had created in my head. To say Deviant Dale’s is a piney hop bomb is putting it lightly. Just pick up a handful of pine straw, shove it in your mouth and viola! That’s what you get from drinking this beer. That may sound off-putting, but for hopheads like me, it’s perfection. Coupled with luscious tropical fruit flavors and just enough carbonation to cleanse the palate, this is one I come back to time and time again.
No. 3 – Westbrook Single Hop: Citra
Picking which entry in Westbrook‘s Single Hop series is best is like asking which child you love the most: You know in your heart it’s easy to pick one, but you feel bad for the others. To be fair, the series has wowed me time and time again since its inception earlier this year. Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin were each fantastic in their own separate way, and I would put Citra in this spot, but I can’t count it since it was released last year under a different name. So, with those factors in mind, Pacific Jade was the one that stood out to me the most. New Zealand hops are all the rage right now and showcaseing Pacific Jade gives that hype credence. The tropical fruit tastes and rye bite were great, but the starfruit flavors were what stood out to me and put this one over the top. It’s an incredibly unique and flavorful hop that I have a much better appreciation for thanks to the series.
No. 2 – Westbrook Bearded Farmer: Hughey
I don’t give saisons nearly as much love as they deserve, but along with stouts and IPAs, it’s one of my top 3 favorite styles. And while Westbrook’s new Bearded Farmer series of saisons isn’t classic by any stretch, it does an excellent job of blending the creativity of the brewery with an already playground-worthy style of beer. Hughey, the first in that series, wowed me when I first had it, and I feel as if my review could have been twice as long. There was so much going on with this beer, and it certainly concerned me that it would all get muddled together in the end. But the finished product was shockingly good and – surprisingly enough – each piece of the puzzle stood out. The Belgian and French yeasts each imparted their own flavors, as did the variety of malts. As with any good saison, it’s great now, but develops beautifully over time as I’m sure Hughey will. Where as the Single Hop series stripped things down, the Bearded Farmer series ratchets things up with amazing results (so far). There’s a lot of promise in this series, and you’ll certainly see me delving into more entries in 2013.
No. 1 – Westbrook Mexican Cake
If you’re a fan of South Carolina beer, you know all too well the lure and fanfare that surrounded Mexican Cake – Westbrook’s 1st anniversary beer – when it hit shelves back in January. At that point, the 1-year-old brewery was still going through some growing pains – over-carbonation, infection, etc. – and people were skeptical about a pepper-heavy imperial stout. But what started out as a sleeper hit among SC beer geeks soon exploded into a widely sought and highly demanded beer.
As it damn well should have been.
Mexican Cake was a sort of sea change for Westbrook. Among my friends and others I encountered, the Mt. Pleasant brewery was regarded with a little bit of disdain. Whether it was personal feelings about the brewery staff or a ho-hum attitude toward the beer, I never saw anyone get excited about a Westbrook release. That changed once Mexican Cake hit – and subsequently disappeared from – store shelves. People went insane for this beer, and since then the brewery hasn’t let up. This was the year of Westbrook. From becoming a home for Evil Twin to the Single Hop and Bearded Farmer series, they’ve just done one awesome thing after another all year long.
As for the beer, having had it at different points throughout the year, I can say it still amazes me now as much as it did the first time I had it. A velvety rich and smooth body floods your palate with dark chocolate, dry cocoa and cinnamon before scorching your throat with the burn of Habanero peppers, forcing you to take another sip in a perpetual cycle of enjoyment. While the burn of the peppers has faded with time, the appeal and superb quality of Mexican Cake has stayed. This remains one of the best beers I’ve ever had, and there’s really no competition: Mexican Cake is my favorite new beer of 2012.
Honorable Mentions: Sierra Nevada Narwhal, Bell’s This One Goes to 11, Dogfish Head Positive Contact, Sixpoint Resin, Southern Tier 2XMAS, SweetWater 15th Anniversary Ale, Terrapin Samurai Krunkles, Westbrook Brett & No Mices, Sixpoint Apollo, New Belgium/Alpine Super India Pale Ale, Westbrook Cap’n Skoon’s Ballistic Stout and probably many more.