30 Most Memorable Beers of 2023
We started this podcast almost ten years ago. The following ten years have been a “best of times, worst of times” situation. Personal things, elections, and, you know, a global pandemic will do that. But throughout that span breweries have opened and thrived. There were more openings than we knew about and that continued unabated for years.
Breweries (and beer) have entered a tough time. People are drinking less. Post-pandemic crowds never returned to pre-pandemic levels. Typical barrel-aged beers releases that would’ve sold out only a couple years ago either languish for days or don’t sell out at all. And, yes, breweries are unfortunately closing. The ones that hit closest to us were Lo Rez and, of course, Metropolitan. While the space can be replaced or repurposed, the beer and the people behind it can’t. Support your local brewery now because it may not be around next year.
Even through all that doom and gloom, beer was being made and most of it was pretty damn good. Different, usually seasonal, styles have popped up more frequently and thrived (like Czech Dark Lagers). Lagers are certainly coming back into vogue again. While some things on my list remain the same, some new things have happened. Most notably for the first time a non-barrel-aged beer has topped my list.
While imperial stouts still dominate with eight of thirty spots (27%), three of those (10%) contained no additions. Lagers and pilsners showed up in force on my list for the first time, with each taking three spots (10%). Barrel-aged saisons also came in with three entries. Barleywines had two entries (6.7%) while American Wild Ale, Gueuze-inspired, and a barleywine/stout blend clocked in with one apiece (3.3%).
Barrel-aged beers occupied a little more than half of my list with sixteen (53.3%) while non-barrel aged had fourteen (46.7%). Illinois breweries came roaring back after last year’s low showing, with seventeen on the list (56.7%). I traveled a bit this year – but not as much as 2022 – and those states show up on the list. California is well-represented with six entries (20%) and finishing second to Illinois. Wisconsin and Colorado were next with two apiece (6.7%). One each from Michigan, Delaware and Iowa (3.3%) round it out.
As per my rules set out during the pandemic list of 2020, only two beers from one brewery are allowed on the list – also what I’m now calling the Revolution rule. The quality of beer that Revolution produced across the board needs to be recognized, as a their releases – whether it be Deep Wood, taproom-only or wide release – would have absolutely dominated this list. Not to spoil anything below, but Boss Ryeway, Life Jacket, Praguress, DB V.S.O.D., V.S.O. Gravedigger, and DB V.S.O. Dark Mode should all rightfully be on the list (plus many more I’m probably forgetting). Feel free to mentally sub those in accordingly. Revolution has the city’s and state’s top barrel-aging program without question.
- We had to have it on the show or reviewed it for the website; not talk about it, but actually drink it.
- Rankings are based on “memorable beer experiences.” That means yes, beer X might be better in some way than beer Y, but beer Y is higher on the list. Why? It was more memorable to me. That’s it. You’ll have your own list, of course, and feel free to argue, yell, or send us an email saying Craig’s an idiot. It’s all good.
- Patreon-exclusive Low ABV beers are in-play and not excluded from future listicles! Kind of like September call-ups in baseball that keep their rookie eligibility.
- Maximum of two beers per brewery on the list.
So allow me to join eBay, Etsy, SpotHero, McDonalds, Untappd, Spotify, and who knows what else for a year end recap!
30) Take One Down | German Pilsner | More Brewing (collab w/Beer on the Wall) | Huntley, IL | 5.1% ABV – listen
I was on the IPL train when it started. The crispness of a lager/pilsner with some bitterness? All aboard. Then they changed the train name and I didn’t know it. Now I’m on the hoppy lager train! Take One Down veers more towards fresh grain as opposed to creamed corn (which I love). The pilsner remains crisp and clean throughout. Bitterness stars here as even after many sips the blast of bitterness still happens, making it a similar drink throughout. The German noble hops provide that grassy bitterness near the end. It finishes nice and crisp, almost begging for another pour. It’ll be canned more than once so you’ll have more chances to get a fresh one!
29) Double Barrel Almond Suite | Barrel-aged imperial stout with almonds and lactose | Private Press Brewing (collab w/ Side Project) | Santa Cruz, CA | 16% ABV – listen
When your first sniff reminds you of chocolate-covered almonds, you know you’re in for a flavor ride. As with all Private Press creations, it won’t be over-the-top or in your face while drinking it. Almond nuttiness hits big on the nose along with a dark chocolate supporting it. It reverses on the palate, with the almond taking a back seat to a luscious dark chocolate flavor that simply doesn’t quit. It’s like a dark chocolate candy bar. The barrel blend just supports everything, with bourbon adding some scant vanilla and oak to everything. The cognac, while not a huge portion of the blend, makes itself known at the very end of the sip, adding a spike to the flavor and some effervescence where typically the bourbon would just ride it out. While not the most complex or challenging Private Press beer, it definitely hits the mark on being enjoyable and drinkable.
28) Goofy Boots | New England IPA | Penrose Brewing | Geneva, IL | 7% ABV – listen
It started as a great idea and ended up burning me out on them, but at least I know what I’m looking for now! I’m of course talking about Hazy IPAs and our Chicago Blind Battle Royale we completed. Yes, each round pretty much advanced chalk to the finals – even the play-in round. But I did not expect Goofy Boots to come out on top, even if it did have 2 GABF medals to its name. It brought what we were looking for in a hazy IPA – a juicy, citrusy, tropical flavor character, a full mouthfeel but not too full, and some bitterness to end things off. If that was it it probably wouldn’t have won it. Somehow – through one of the hops I would assume – gave off a prevalent berry note. Between everything else Goofy Boots did, this put it over the top. I never reach for or order the hazy IPA anymore because the run too sweet with not enough bitterness. If more breweries made them like this (and Old Irving’s Beezer), I might be more likely to go with them.
27) Lawrence | German Pilsner | Millpond Brewing | Millstadt, IL | 5.3% ABV – listen
Pilsners usually have a hard time standing out but Millpond’s Lawrence managed to steal the St. Louis, Illinois show. Big grassy notes along with some cracker notes keep it flowing, while the “side of the tongue” flavor keeps things interesting (more so than the typical “middle of the tongue” flavor ride). Bitterness is there and pretty big for a pilsner but that just keeps you tipping your elbow. Some lemon and orange flavors join in with everything to produce a very enjoyable pilsner. The fact that so much is going on and those flavors are so pronounced and big really make this one standout among all the other pilsners we’ve had on the show. Time for a trip to Millstadt, IL?
26) Rauch Doppelbock | Rauchbier | Dovetail Brewing | Chicago, IL | 9% ABV – listen
Combining two styles that usually don’t get combined could lead to disaster or victory. In Dovetail’s case, victory was achieved. An aroma that featured campfire berries (or a smoked jam if you prefer) led things off interestingly enough. Chocolate-covered raspberries (with a smoky finish!), a silky mouthfeel, and some spices reminiscent of a winter warmer combine to yield a different take on both a rauchbier and a doppelbock. The two styles work well together in Dovetail’s hands. The result, while a bit high on ABV, leaves you wanting more. Grab one for a chilly and/or rainy day and sip away the day thinking of roasting berries by the campfire in the fall months.
25) Marbelle | Barrel-aged saison with petite pearl wine grapes and Montmorency cherries | Supermoon Beer Co. | Milwaukee, WI | 7.2% ABV – listen
Beer/wine hybrids have been a thing for a few years now, with places like Duneyrr at the forefront of it. Marbelle is Supermoon’s beer/wine hybrid, with wine grapes on the nose and a dry finish. The cherries add a big jammy quality to the beer. Yet it somehow doesn’t have the sweetness usually associated with it. Funkiness from Supermoon’s lovely yeast strain (I assume) replaces sweetness in this beer, resulting in an interesting and unique beer/wine hybrid. Unlike some other hybrids, this one sat in French oak for 12 months and you can tell. Oak and wood do play well with everything else, assisting those tannins in a dry finish. While the various aspects of this beer start out as separate things, allowing Marbelle to open up a bit melds them together into a wholly unique and memorable beer experience. If you’re taking a trip to Milwaukee for whatever reason, Supermoon should be at the top of your list for beer places to hit.
24) R&D Vintage 2021 | Gueuze-inspired | New Glarus Brewing Company | New Glarus, WI | 6.1% ABV – listen
Being a yearly release from New Glarus at this point, their Vintage series gets overlooked all the time in favor of newer and different fruit cave takes. Don’t. The Vintage series obviously changes ever so slightly with each release but still maintains its drinkability. Notes of lemon, barnyard, hay, and stone fruits combine with a dry finish and a skill that takes decades to master. While not as intricate as some of Belgium’s best (Drie Fonteinen or Cantillon, for example), Vintage 2021 stands as one of the foremost examples of a gueuze-inspired beer brewed in the United States (along with Duck Duck Gooze from The Lost Abbey and the Coolship series from Allagash). Seeing as how Chicago is only about two hours from New Glarus, it’s almost criminal if a Chicagoan doesn’t drive up to the brewery to pick some up. A plane ticket to Belgium most assuredly costs more.
23) Dark and Down | Schwarzbier | Mickey Finn’s Brewery and Pub | Libertyville, IL | 6% ABV – listen
I always love a good schwarzbier but an award-winning schwarzbier – hell yeah! Mickey Finn’s really knocked it out the park with theirs. Chocolate and coffee notes play well together and never overpower the beer. The big start here is the creamy mouthfeel that makes you think you’re drinking a milk stout or a beer bigger in ABV. It even adds a bit of a vanilla flavor to everything adding a nice bit of depth to a beer style that sometimes doesn’t offer too much of it. That 6% ABV makes it one that you can drink a crowler of with ease and without feeling a ton of fatigue – palate or otherwise. One of the top schwarzbiers I’ve had and one that I’d happily make the trip out to Libertyville to try again.
22) Sweet Drams | Barrel-aged imperial stout | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 18.89% ABV – listen
There must have been a Pappy barrel dump off recently as many breweries have started to release beer aged in those barrels. Mikerphone did exactly what you should do with one of those barrels – let it shine alongside a double mash imperial stout. While the stout imparted some bitter dark chocolate and little sweetness, those Pappy 15 barrels shine with a dizzying array of flavors. Baking spices, vanilla, bourbon and some oakiness added some complexity to the beer. But the real star here came in the form of the dark fruits – specifically cherries – present. Cherries were prominent on the nose and translated to the palate as well. It makes an interesting addition to the beer that few other stouts could match. Thankfully a little booze showed up as this otherwise would’ve been a dangerous 18.89% ABV beer. The stout served the barrel and really didn’t have a ton of sweetness to it. Add it to the Mount Rushmore of barrel-aged Mikerphone stouts (along with BA Birthday Imperial Smells Like Bean Spirit and BA Flipped the Switch). No additions necessary!
21) No Mas | Gose with Persian lime, pink pepper leaf, and lacto-fermented honey | Fox Tale Fermentation Project | San Jose, CA | 4% ABV – listen
Leave it to the brewery where I had a black saison with oysters (that wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be) to knock a gose out of the park. While the first few sips for me tinged with some lacto-ness, it all settled into a refreshing and uniquely crafted gose. Some salinity existed in the finish but the lime really starred and took this gose to the next level. Combined with some of the pink pepper leaf and No Mas bordered on refreshing tropical cocktail rather than low ABV gose. The honey really didn’t add its usual sweetness, opting for adding some body and fullness to the final product. Gose is a style that, while still being made with some regularity, is nowhere near its peak from about 10 or so years ago, so it was nice to have a well-done and, more importantly, wholly unique take on the style.
20) Beer For Huddles | Amber ale | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
I now think Off Color’s Beer For series is just a way for them to sneak classic styles into their yearly rotation – while getting them to sell absurd amounts of that beer and related merchandise. Ignoring the Off Color-branded football and sweatpants associated with it, Beer For Huddles absolutely slays as a standard amber ale. The caramel notes from the malt expresses itself throughout the entire sip while a full mouthfeel allows the beer to ride off gracefully (and flavorfully). While some might complain about the lack of bitterness, I’m all-in on uninterrupted caramel notes in my beer. One day Off Color will sneak in an IPA into their Beer For series but for now enjoy their takes on classic styles that seem to be coming out monthly.
19) Noir Et Bleu | Belgian Tripel with blueberries and black tea | Big Oyster Brewery | Lewes, DE | 9% ABV – listen
A year round tripel? Ok, I can get behind that. A year round tripel with tea as a flagship? A little weird, but fine. A year round tripel with tea and blueberries? It shouldn’t exist. But it does and it’s delicious. It still retains the Belgian tripel qualities of brown sugar and dark fruit notes. A lovely shot of blueberries runs throughout the tripel while not overpowering it. And the tea, of course, dry the beer out a little and kind of stops the finish in its tracks. It wasn’t doing anything too big or crazy and everything stayed in its lane and the result was a lovely harmony of a well-made classic beer style with some new-fangled additions. If more breweries made beers like this year-round flagship offerings it would definitely make things more interesting.
18) Medianoche: Amburana Vanilla Luar | Barrel-aged imperial stout with vanilla | WeldWerks Brewing | Greeley, CO | 13.7% ABV – listen
I knew what I was getting into with WeldWerks’ Medianoche – a thick, very flavorful barrel-aged imperial stout that sometimes veers too sweet. To my surprise, none of them really went too far on the sweetness. And Amburana Vanilla Luar really nailed its flavor profile. The vanilla comes and sets up shop, leaving behind marshmallow notes in its wake. Then the Ambruana barrel step in bringing a healthy dose of cinnamon to help keep any sweetness in check. The base Medianoche imparts some bitter dark chocolate along with caramel, vanilla, and oak from the bourbon barrels. Ambruana barrels are very difficult to get right and WeldWerks pulls it off expertly showing how little time it needs to spend in barrels. (6 months; WeldWerks typically does not age a beer for less than 10.) Production seems to be getting closer to matching demand on these beers so now’s the time to try and procure one. You will have an experience and not be disappointed.
17) Compensation | Dark Mild | Lion Bridge Brewing Company | Cedar Rapids, IA | 4.5% ABV – listen
Putting on a multiple gold GABF-winning beer has its perks as it usually makes our jobs easier. Compensation was no exception. Featuring a big roasty character on the nose that followed when sipped, Compensation also had a bitter finish. But that was simply coming from the roasty malt as opposed to any hops. The flavor across the tongue felt big while the beer moved fast, only leaving behind the roasty bitterness. Some chocolate and bready notes joined the mild fun as well, but this one’s all about the roast. It’s one of those “insane I’m getting this much flavor off a 4.5% beer” and very worthy of its dual golds. I wonder what it tastes like on cask?
16) Gallivant | Gin barrel-aged barleywine | Burns Family Artisan Ales | Denver, CO | 13% ABV – listen
After 3 days of drinking, of course a 13% BA barleywine is going to not pop as much as it should on our show. Having it with an unfatigued palate on Wednesday, though, made this a revelation. Wayne Burns knows his way around old ales and barleywines (he brewed at Kuhnhenn). This “summer barleywine” shows it. All the flavors of a more classic barleywine are there – molasses, brown sugar, dark fruits. Using a gin barrel could be dangerous, but in Burns’ hands it only imparts a low amount of botanicals on the beer. The gin really shines by drying the finish out reasonably well and adding a bit of alcohol bite to everything. Due to that drier finish it drank less than its ABV would suggest but still packed a punch. I can see why they call it their summer barleywine. Maybe we could get a Revolution/Off Color gin BA barleywine collab?
15) Dread & Breakfast | Barrel-aged blend of stouts and barleywines with coffee | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 15.8% ABV – read/listen
Maple syrup notes without any maple syrup? This is the future of beer. Dread & Breakfast of course reeks of roasty, fruity coffee but the amount of perceived maple syrup in the beer boggles the mind. Since it’s not actually been added, no sweetness harmed this beer in any way. Dread definitely leans more toward the stout end of the spectrum. Chocolate and vanilla lead while notes of caramel, butterscotch, fig, and raisins support. It’s the one beer that is so unique, different, and interesting from their Deep Wood line this year that it will serve as a reference point for any future maple syrup beer I have. A stunner through and through.
14) Green Torch | Lime Lager | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – listen
Green Torch is billed as a lime lager. I was hesitant about that after having Tostitos that were billed as having a “touch of lime” and wound up being overpowering. They should switch taglines. Green Touch is more of a touch of lime lager, with a crisp, refreshing lager having a nice little lime citrus kick to things. It never overpowers the lager and provides just enough flavor to keep you coming back for more. A flavorful, refreshing lager is a dime a dozen and Half Acre pulls it off so deftly. They knew what they had when they started selling these in 12-packs to go. But seriously, do not pair it with those touch of lime Tostitos. Unless you really like lime!
13) Of Lochs and Monsters | Scotch Ale | Old Irving Brewing | Chicago, IL | 7.5% ABV – read
Scotch ales (or wee heavys) aren’t a style I generally reach for – on tap or otherwise. Of Lochs and Monsters might be changing that for me. Big aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel make you sit up and notice this beer. Bread, toffee, and some nuttiness lead the charge while some honey-like malt sweetness adds some depth. Some bitterness shows up after warming and it appears some smoked malt was used. There’s a little smoky note running through everything (but nowhere near a smoked beer in case that’s scaring you off). This did everything I’d want out of a scotch ale. Too many other ones I’ve had skimp on the flavor and mouthfeel. This is the best non-barrel-aged scotch ale made by a Chicago brewery. Here’s hoping Old Irving threw some in barrels!
12) Westly | Barrel-aged saison with apricots | Sante Adairius Rustic Ales | Capitola, CA | 8.5% ABV – listen
We had Sante Adairius Rustic Ales’ West Ashley forever ago (2014, in the first year of the podcast). It was amazing. Little did we know that in that same year they would release Westly for the first time. The idea – double the barrel time and apricots found in West Ashley – is simple enough. But it’s all about the execution on something like this. This combination could lead to something too acidic or not barrel balanced. Not so. Doing exactly what I had hoped, Westly doubles up on the apricot presence, making it both smell and taste like biting into an apricot without any added acidity or tartness. While sufficiently tart, it never breaches into the sour realm and really keeps you coming back for more with its apricot flavor and tartness. Think of a more complex mimosa. The barrel complements the base saison and apricots perfectly allowing the apricots to really stand out and shine. An exceptional beer from an exceptional brewery.
11) Small Batch: Intinction Sauvignon Blanc | American Wild Ale dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin | Russian River Brewing Company | Santa Rosa, CA | 8.55% ABV – listen
From time to time we get a beer we know we want on the show and then build around it. A ringer if you will. This Small Batch Intinction was that ringer and it ringed its way right in to our hearts (and taste buds). No surprise here, as it’s just a variation on the already divine Intinction: Sauvignon Blanc. While only being nominally higher in ABV, it drinks much, much bigger but never sacrifices drinkability for it. The additional wine grape juice gives it a bolder flavor across the palate. But it also still maintains a little funk and oak. While the sweetness goes up a bit the dry finish tamps it down a bit and keeps things flowing. Some tartness and a little green hoppy character come through as well just adding a little complexity to the beer. A great beer if you happen upon it; otherwise the more regularly-released Intinction would be more than fine.
10) Vienna Lager | Vienna Lager | Goldfinger Brewing Company | Downers Grove, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen
Ah yes, a maltier lager. Typically not what I reach for when I want a light crisp lager but Goldfinger’s keeps it light. You get a big mouthfeel while still remaining light across the tongue. It somehow achieves a creamy, chewy mouthfeel through all of this. Aroasty and bready character joins in that just makes it easier to want another pour. The fact that it’s only 5.5% with this amount of flavor and mouthfeel is astounding. You sometimes think you’re drinking a higher ABV beer. Add in a little hop bitterness and it seriously checks all the boxes. Goldfinger just might be making the best lagers in the Chicago-area right now and their Vienna Lager is an excellent starting point.
9) AJ’s Stout #2 (2022) | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Triptych Brewing | Savoy, IL | 15.5% ABV – listen
Before even trying any of the 4 barrel-aged Triptych beers on the show I compared them to Half Acre as the second best barrel-aging brewery in Illinois. While that’s debatable, the rest of the show didn’t convince me otherwise, with AJ’s Stout being at the top of that list. A straight blended barrel-aged stout that could be so smooth, flavorful and complex still makes me marvel even after all these years. With very favorable comparisons to Goose Island’s Reserve Bourbon County beers, AJ’s Stout brings chocolate, vanilla, caramel, and some roast to an enjoyable package. The roast and a little bitter chocolate on the finish keep it from going overboard on sweetness. The fact that this 15.5% ABV beer drinks so easily recalls some of Revolution’s Deep Wood behemoths. This would be Triptych’s regular barrel-aged stout and one you can tell they’ve honed lo these last 10 years. Take the drive to Savoy to try or, if you’re lucky enough, buy some of their barrel-aged magic.
8) Slappa Da Base | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | Mikerphone Brewing | Elk Grove Village, IL | 13.83% ABV – listen
At one point in their timeline, I wrote off Mikerphone barrel-aged beers. Not enough barrel presence, too many additions, and too sweet. Then they started releasing straight barrel-aged stouts, whether it be in their Pick of Destiny line or in their regular lineup. Slappa Da Base continues the absolute tear Mikerphone’s been on with straight barrel-aged stouts. A blend of 3 different barrels with aging times akin to WeldWerks’ Medianoche, Slappa Da Base keeps the alcohol in check and pushes the flavor to 11. With no additions, aromas of chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, coconut and a host of other things. Upon sipping it, a distinct and big nutty flavor somehow finishes things off. The chocolate remains throughout, vanilla supports, and the bourbon barrels round things off while not making it prohibitive to drink. The blend does the heavy lifting on the flavors and shows what Mikerphone is capable of in this realm. Any no addition barrel-aged stout is now a must-grab from Mikerphone, no questions asked.
7) Double Barrel V.S.O.J. | Barrel-aged Barleywine | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 16.8% ABV – listen
Typically the hype doesn’t match the liquid for releases such as Double Barrel V.S.O.J., but in this case it did. Is it sweet? It’s a double barrel barleywine, so of course it will be. But you’re rewarded with such a complex and amazing beer that it’s worth it. Caramel, rye spices, butterscotch, dark chocolate, vanilla, toffee, raisins, figs, and cherries all contribute to the overall aromatic dance in your nose. The flavors then somehow match the aroma and maybe even then some, combining to form things like snickerdoodles, chocolate covered cherries or fig newtons. The added bonus comes in the post-sip, as all those flavors hang around and allow you to savor what you just had for minutes after the sip. Could I finish a 4-pack of this in a sitting? No way, and I wouldn’t want to. It’s better to have four separate experiences of this beer. Every time is memorable.
6) Supreme Being | German Pilsner | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV – listen
We made it a point to (eventually) do a Hop Butcher show that featured no IPAs. We were finally able to accomplish that – with spectacular results. Supreme Being proves that Hop Butcher can do other styles exceedingly well. A full mouthfeel, a kiss of bready sweetness, some grassy hop bitterness and crisp but wet finish make this one a tankard beer of the highest order. The surprise here is the full mouthfeel that prevents this beer from being a flavorless ride through the mouth and encourages multiple sips, drinks, and can consumption. If Hop Butcher wants a non-IPA flagship, this is it. Do not skip over Hop Butcher’s non-IPA and stout beers; they might just be one of the best things you have that year.
5) Don Moustache | Barrel-aged imperial stout with Mexican Mazapan candy and cocoa nibs | Cruz Blanca | Chicago, IL |13% ABV – listen
I, like I’m sure a majority of drinkers, initially read that as marzipan. I had no idea what Mazapan candy was until I took my first sniff. Peanuts. Fresh-roasted peanuts. I’ve had many beers with nuts, peanuts, and peanut butter in it but I’ve never smelled or tasted anything like this. While the imperial stout and cocoa nibs bring the chocolate and the bourbon adds the heat, the mazapan hit like a bag of peanuts straight out of the circus or Five Guys. That peanut note, though, doesn’t dominate the flavor. It still allows for the Rey Gordo base to show a little and melding seamlessly with the mazapan. It’s a rarity to be able to try something I’ve never had before but if any barrel-aged series is going to accomplish that, it would be Cruz Blanca’s Luchadors.
4) Third Press | Stout and barleywine blend aged in oak barrels | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 15% ABV – listen
You can tell Brad Clark’s been doing it for a while. Third Press features similar blending techniques as his other Private Press releases – different “threads”, or barrels, blended to achieve a goal. But Third Press elevates everything. First off, the blend starts with Second Press, the second anniversary beer. Then, both barleywine and stout are added to the blend. The result is a complex, layered and nuanced take on both barleywine and stout. The stout provides the chocolate and roast while the barleywine adds things on the darker side of the style – molasses, fig, raisin. Vanilla, oak and some cherries round things out on an impressive blend of beers. It’s balanced, challenging, complex, flavorful, and unique. One of Private Press’ high points which is saying something.
3) The Saucefather | Barrel-aged Imperial stout with coffee, coconut and vanilla | Wax Wings Brewing Company | Kalamazoo, MI | 14% ABV – listen
Back when we started the podcast I’d freak out over a barrel-aged imperial stout with these adjuncts. Today I usually wonder how sweet or unbalanced the resulting beer will be. Then this Saucefather came along. Perfect amount of barrel character. All three adjuncts show up in equal amounts and actually form together to make the tiramisu they were going for. Sure, it’s a bit sweet, but not nearly as sweet as it could have been. I gladly finished my 500 mL bottle with ease (as well as my pour at the taproom when I went). I cannot overstate how perfectly balanced everything in this beer is – from the base, to the barrel, to the adjuncts. Wax Wings barrel program is one you should be familiar with if you’re not already. Even things in barrels that I don’t really like still manage to shine. Unreal.
2) West Ashley Cuvee | Blend of barrel-aged saisons | Sante Adairius Rustic Ales | Capitola, CA | 7.3% ABV – listen
Having had West Ashley and Westly previously, the sky was the limit on our expectations of West Ashley Cuvee. It met and exceeded them. Whereas Westly featured a bigger apricot presence and possibly a little boozier kick, Cuvee attacks you with waves and waves of apricots that never let up, giving the sensation of biting into a juicy apricot over and over. The barrel plays well with the base beers as always, providing some heft and dryness to finish things off. The balance here astounds. This beer took at minimum 4 years to make and it shows. Soft and delicate yet assertive and fruity without being too acidic or tart. When the starting point is the amazing West Ashley, doing a four-year blend of it will typically only yield otherworldly results. An unbelievable beer.
1) Rauchbier Helles Lager | Rauchbier | Double Clutch Brewery | Evanston, IL | 4.7% ABV – listen
I don’t know if you can buy – or if they even make – smoked meat extract. If they did, Double Clutch’s Rauchbier would be the template. The smoke smells exactly like a smoked polish sausage and never veers into any unfortunate smoky smells like campfire or cigarettes. Drinking it provides a bit of that smokey character but keeps things at a minimum and lets the lager shine, remaining 100% drinkable (shout out to the side of the can for letting me know that). The smoke makes you want to go back for more and, in my case, craving it long after the show was done. Usually when I have award winning beers on the show, my most common reaction is, “I can see how this won something.” For this, I immediately wanted to taste the 2022 GABF Gold medal winner in this category as I still can’t fathom how any smoked beer could be better than it. It of course happened again in 2023 so now I have two smoked beers I need to get my hands on. (Back-to-back GABF silvers are astounding and totally deserved.) My wife even suggested cooking with it and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve bought this whenever I see it available. Unfortunately it looks like it’ll be a fall seasonal, which means I’ll need to stock up when it gets released. Totally worth it.