Most Memorable Beers of 2016: Craig’s Listicle

So here we are at the end of another year. And what a great year it was… to drink! We were fortunate enough to be able to try a wide variety of beers, from locally, to domestically, to internationally brewed. Since the internet loves lists (and cats), I figured why not make a list of some of the most memorable beers I’ve had this year. (A cats one will be forthcoming.) There must be some rules, or else I could include that beer I had two ounces of in the middle of a tasting that took place during a beer party. And no one really wants read about that (or hear me sing early 90s rap songs). So rules!

  1. We had to have it on the show; not talk about it, but actually drink it.
  2. 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.
  3. I will not be listening to anything I said on the episodes about any beers on the list. Nice little way to reinforce the “memorable” aspect.
  4. 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.

The episode where we had the beer is linked to each beer below, so feel free to click and see how much Craig actually remembers. Without any more pontificating, here are Craig’s 30 Most Memorable Beers of 2016.

You can also check out what Ryan thought about this year in beer here and here.

30 | Imperial Bernie | Noon Whistle | Barrel-aged Imperial Milk Stout | 12.2%

Bernie is one of my favorite milk stouts in Chicago, so when I heard there was a barrel-aged imperial version of it, I had to try it. I was at first shocked by the 12.2% ABV (Bernie is 5%), but all that shock, as well as coherency, faded as I started drinking. Imperial Bernie really hides the alcohol well and supplements the base Bernie with some vanilla from the bourbon barrel along with caramel and toffee. Oh, and there’s some chocolate in here. By some I mean lots. A fine substitute for those that waited in line and struck out on Bourbon County (as you could just go to the Noon Whistle taproom and pick up a bottle!).

29 | Le Seul IV | Une Annee | American Wild Ale | 6.5%

Sooo many roman numerals here. What is this, Rocky? For those keeping track at home, Le Seul IV is Une Annee’s peach wild ale, and one so popular that it became its own, standalone beer (Peche). Moving away from the red ales of earlier Le Seuls, IV features a solera base beer that complements the peaches very well. It isn’t too sour, tart, or yogurty, just a solid peach beer that, at times, tastes like it had some barrel on it. But Peche is all you’ll be able to find, and Une Annee has dialed in the process even more, making an even more delicious beer. But it’s always nice to see how and where it started.

28 | Barrel-Aged Chocolate Barleywine | Moody Tongue | See beer name | 9%

When Jared Rouben was with Goose Island Clybourn, he did a collaboration with Rick Bayless called XOCOLATL, which happened to be a barrel-aged chocolate barleywine that I have never had. I’m going to guess this was something similar. Cocoa powder is the most prevalent feature on the nose and the taste, but there are some bourbon notes there as well (vanilla, oak) in addition to the usual barleywine suspects (caramel, toffee). Putting it all together, it becomes a fantastic dessert beer that would pair well with a wide variety of dinner finishers.

27 | Project Lo | O’so Brewing | American Wild Ale | 5.3%

This solera blended sour blonde from O’so is the base beer for all the sours they produce, which usually means it’s nice to try it for reference, but all the variations and additions will top it, right? Nope. Sometimes simple is better. Tart but not overly so, fruity but not veering into being a fruit bomb, Project Lo is a delicate and delicious sour beer. Stone fruits (peaches, apricots) and a clean finish makes this beer one that doesn’t really need any fruit additions to add acidity or anything else to it. It’s fine just the way it is. But, yeah, I’ll need a few bottles.

26 | Drago | Wild Onion | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | 9.5%

Winning a blind BA stout tasting featuring some of the heavy hitters in the midwest, including Bourbon County, Black Note, and BA Plead the 5th? Yeah, you’ve got to be on this list somewhere. Drago, put simply, has all the qualities that make any of the above barrel-aged stouts – or any BA stout for that matter – good, with none of the hype and lines behind it. It’s got a thick mouthfeel, tons of chocolate, bourbon, vanilla, leather, and caramel and drinks well for its ABV. If you struck out on BCBS, get a 4-pack of this. You won’t be disappointed.

25 | Cassis | Funk Factory Gueuzeria | American Wild Ale | 6%

Levi Funk knows what he’s doing with blending and fruits (and mobile coolships for that matter). For this beer, he used champagne currants to provide his base blend with some white grape characteristics, all while retaining a good bit of the funk, lemon zest, and oak all of his other creations have been known for. This one never reaches the point of being too tart or sour, allowing you to simply sit back and enjoy this champagne/wild ale mashup.

24 | Tiny Bomb | Wiseacre | Pilsner | 4.5%

One of the very few pilsners that could compete with my standard, locally made pils (Metropolitan Flywheel), Wiseacre’s take on the style has more body, more fruit and florals, and more hop presence. Crushable and flavorful, it’s no wonder that it has won awards at various beer festivals. Thankfully it’s now being distributed to Chicago where we can pick it up whenever we want.

23 | Little Secret | Triptych Brewing | Session India Pale Ale | 5%

Much like Maplewood’s Crushinator (later in the list), Little Secret from Triptych is a very flavorful, aggressively-hopped session IPA with little of the hop bitterness associated with IPAs. A World Beer Cup award winner, it has all the qualities IPA drinkers like in their hoppy beer (fruity and bitter) with a reduced malt bill and an extremely crushable product. If it were only more available in the Chicago area…oh wait…

22 | Vestige Bloom | Fonta Flora | Appalachian Wild Ale | 6%

Brewed at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, Fonta Flora uses as much local product as they can. For this Vestige Bloom, they used local kiwis and put it in white wine barrels. Somehow, the kiwi’s interplay with the white wine tannins iss a winner, as kiwis can sometimes dominate a beer with vegetal qualities, but not here. The wine barrels add some sweetness and dryness to the beer, and the beer never gets overly acidic – a great showcase for what kiwi can do in a beer and what Fonta Flora is capable of. I want more!

21 | Travelin’ Man | Mikerphone | Saison | 6%

If you’re Mike Pallen of Mikerphone, you brew stouts and IPAs that fly off the shelves because it’s what you do. Right? Yeah, but Mikerphone brews other styles, like this here saison, that the social media stalking hoarders pass on so you can effortlessly grab one. Which is great, because this is one of the best saisons I’ve had all year. Clean, smooth, dry, and dry-hopped with Enigma hops, Travelin’ Man hits you with a ton of fruity notes, like oranges, bananas, and peaches, but still has time to keep it real with some peppery spices thrown in for good measure. I’m anxiously awaiting a re-brew.

20 | Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout 2016 | Goose Island Brewing Co. | Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout | 12.5%

The king has returned? Maybe not the king, but Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout is back after a target character drift plagued 2015. This edition of the coffee variant is my favorite since its 2013 iteration, with a creamy coffee backed by the usual chocolate, vanilla, and bourbon notes of the standard Bourbon County. If you don’t believe how good it is, just ask Ryan who, as a ritual, spills the best Bourbon County variant all over his computer as some kind of thank you to the gods. This year’s chosen sacrifice? The coffee. You can’t argue with that.

19 | French Toast | Funky Buddha | Double Brown Ale | 8.8%

Do you remember waking up to the smell of french toast when you were a kid? Funky Buddha does, and they decided to make a beer to make you weep about your childhood. The bottle says it should taste like french toast and, holy shit, does it taste like french toast. Cinnamon and vanilla make this beer a sweet, sweet breakfast in a bottle, but they’re only missing…

18 | Cinnamon Girl | Horse Thief Hollow | Barrel-aged Milk Stout | 9.8%

…milk. Cinnamon Girl takes all the qualities of french toast above and adds some lactose to the proceedings. The nose recalls Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and the beer tastes exactly like a bowl of it. The alcohol is extremely well-hidden, and a bomber of this can be consumed easily by one person. The aging bourbon barrels adds some depth and body not present in Funky Buddha’s, and the beer is better off for it. As of this typing, bottles are still available at Horse Thief Hollow, so get you some!

17 | A Deal With the Devil | Anchorage Brewing Co. | Barrel-Aged Barleywine | 17.3%

Two things I don’t generally gravitate towards – barleywines and cognac – came together to make a beer I was very skeptical of. It has some pedigree (it was voted the best barleywine at Toronados barleywine fest a few years ago), but the above combined with that high ABV and hefty $30 price tag left me very skeptical. Until I tried some. Yes, you need to be careful, as this barleywine is crazy drinkable for that high ABV and features all the things people love in barleywines (caramel, toffee, raisins) with the cognac supplying some vanilla and some more body to an already big beer. Definitely a sipper, but one you can enjoy over and over again.

16 | The Crusher | The Alchemist | Double India Pale Ale | 9.6%

“Hey! I know The Alchemist! They make that Crusher beer!” said no one ever, but maybe they should. From the same brewery that brought eBay and craigslist Heady Topper comes another DIPA, but this one is better balanced and slightly less aggressive than its more valuable brother (although still plenty aggressive in its own right). While it is still dank and piney like Heady, the fruit and floral notes on the nose and flavor make it a slightly easier beer to drink down. The 9.6% ABV is well masked, so be careful with these before you enter the Danger Zone.

15 | East Bank | Casey Brewing and Blending | Saison | 6.5%

I crave this beer. A lovely dry saison with a sweet honey kick that is eminently drinkable is something I can get behind. Basically it’s Casey’s standard Saison (which I love) with some honey added, but the honey is not too sweet or cloying and just provides small kiss of sweetness that keeps you coming back for more. The honey just builds upon the strong saison base of lemon and some slight spices that make this one a constant want in my collection.

Maplewood’s Crushinator pairs well with Paulie Gee’s pizza.

14 | Crushinator | Maplewood Brewing and Distillery | Session India Pale Ale | 4.5%

I’m not typically a session IPA kind of guy, but this one might have converted me. Low in alcohol and very aggressively hopped, Crushinator is a perfect summer AND gateway beer. The hop bitterness is not so much that it would offend the standard BMC drinker, but substantial enough to entice even the hardest DIPA/TIPA veteran. Fruity and piney, I’ve bought Crushinator in 4-packs of 16oz cans multiple times, and I rarely buy 4-packs of anything for consumption outside of the podcast. It’s a beer I’m eagerly awaiting for the summer months so I can consume it in mass quantities.

13 | Whiskers | Off Color | American Wild Ale | 8.1%

It’s usually an ominous event when the bottle gushes (but Gushy is usually there to save the day), but this one bucked the trend. Tart and featuring lemon and other citrus fruits, this beer from Off Color and collaborator Central State Brewing was one of the best American wild ales I had this year. Red wine tannins dominate the beer and give it a very dry finish that keeps you coming back for more again and again.

12 | Weko | Transient Artisan Ales | American Pale Ale with Brett | 6%

Named for the beach that’s near Transient’s Bridgman, MI location, Weko is the first “can conditioned” beer I’ve ever had. A solid pale ale with fruity notes and hoppy bitterness, the addition of brettanomyces adds a distinctive pineapple note that only grows more significant over time. A damn quality pale ale that really shows where Transient is going with their canned offerings.

11 | Your Wish Is Granted | Hop Butcher For The World | Double India Pale Ale | 8%

DIPAs are a dime a dozen in the current market place. You either need to make a hop bomb or one of those “juicy” New-England styles to get noticed. Your Wish Is Granted from Hop Butcher is neither. Completely clear and hopped with the white wine tannins of the Nelson Sauvin hop, it has the bitterness of a double IPA and it goes down easily. Here’s hoping that Hop Butcher continues to make these types of beers.

10 | Barrel-Aged Mexican Achromatic | Weldwerks Brewing | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | 13.2%

Unless you’re allergic to it, you probably like chocolate (I’ve met a few that haven’t and had questions). Save for one beer coming up, this was the most chocolate forward beer we had on the show. The bourbon barrel rounds out and adds body and depth to the base Achromatic beer; the vanilla is there but not overly done, and the cinnamon is just the right amount so as not to veer into the “it’s getting spicy hot” category. But the smooth, decadent chocolate is the star here, and one that FoBABers seemed to agree with us on – it lasted no more than an hour at each session. You’re welcome, Weldwerks. 😉

9 | Special Sauce (Batch 1) | Mikerphone Brewing | Double India Pale Ale | 8.5%

This was the first “New England-style” IPA I’ve had made in Chicago that came closer – and in some cases surpassed – its namesake brethren. While subsequent batches haven’t hit this high note, this Mosaic hopped delicacy had all the classic New England-style qualities – fruit forward and juicy, a little pine and resin, and a little bitterness. Extremely easy to drink, I await Mikerphone’s upcoming taproom and hope to eventually see this in 16oz cans, perfect for summer imbibing.

8 | 2X4 | Melvin Brewing | Double India Pale Ale | 10.5 % (Patreon Exclusive)

Finally! We were finally able to secure a can of 2X4 from Melvin and it did not disappoint. See that 10.5% up there? Doesn’t taste like that at all. There is malt present, but not overly so. The fruit and dank notes are up front in the nose, but it doesn’t overdo it on the taste. A wildly fruity and delicious quadruple pale ale that hides the alcohol too well? That’s a recipe for a disaster at a pre-GABF gathering. But such a fun and tasty disaster.

7 | Frampaars | Funk Factory Gueuzeria | American Wild Ale | 6 %

Jammy jammy jammy. When the pour has raspberry particulate, you’ve got jam son! Tart and not overly acidic, Frampaars takes the best qualities of Belgian lambic (pillowy soft mouthfeel, funky characteristics) and mashes it up with American wild ale sensibilities (tons of fruit and fruit flavor) to produce one of the best lambic-style ales made in America. I’m excited to see what Levi Funk can do going forward.

6 | Eeek! | Off Color Brewing | American Wild Ale | 5% (Patreon Exclusive)

I initially thought, upon hearing about the collab between Off Color and Miller, that this was something I would like to try but not bust my ass trying to get. Now I wish I had gone and got multiple bottles. Featuring the best qualities of an American wild ale – tartness and citrus fruits – and combining it with the quick finishing and never lingering qualities of Miller High Life, Eeek! was the perfect summer beer to quaff your ale. The tartness and lemon never got out of hand, nothing lingered on the back too long and, before you knew it, you were done with your glass. I can only hope John Laffler and company will remake this beer next year, put it in 4-packs, and release it during the summer to completely dominate my fridge (along with Yuzu Fierce).

5 | The Goat | Holy Mountain | Saison | 4.9%

Both Ryan and I had wanted to try some Holy Mountain beers after repeatedly hearing positive things about them from fellow beer drinkers and brewers alike. The Goat is their farmhouse saison, aged in a foudre with brettanomyces added in the bottle. All the best qualities of a saison are there – lemony, pillowy mouthfeel, slight spices – along with some red wine characteristics from the foudre it was aged in. An easily drinkable and enjoyable offering from Holy Mountain that closely resembles Hill Farmstead’s Arthur and one that makes me want to see what else they can accomplish.

4 | Smells Like Bean Spirit (Batch 3) | Mikerphone | Imperial Stout | 8.5%

We had my number 9 beer (Special Sauce Batch 1) earlier on the same episode and, while we usually save some beer so we can revisit it before we rank them, we both decided there was no way that there would be something better, so we finished it. We were wrong. Smells Like Bean Spirit is a masterstroke; it has all the roasty, chocolate qualities typical of a stout, with a healthy dose of coffee and a nice backbone of maple syrup sweetness. It never gets too sweet nor too bitter, and goes down way too easily. When the first comparison that popped into my head is Tree House Brewing’s Good Morning, you know Mike Pallen is onto something.

3 | These Aren’t the Blueberries You’re Looking For | Triptych Brewing | Berliner Weisse | 3%

Berliner Weisses were meant to be tart and refreshing. In fact, some people over in Germany thought they were too tart, so they started adding syrup to take away the tartness and add some sweetness, which led to adding fruit to the beer. Triptych’s version is a revelation; it has some of the tartness of the base Berliner with some of the sweetness you’d like in a fruited berliner. In fact, it both smelled and tasted like a Pop Tart, down to the pastry crust. As far a fruited berliners go, this one is up there with the J. Wakefield ones as one of the best available in the United States. The good is that it comes in 16oz cans. The bad is it’s a summer seasonal release. Hurry up summer.

2 | Armand’4 Seasons | Drie Fonteinen | Oude Geuze | 6%

Yeah, this is cheating, but I felt it was better than having two to three different entries for these beers. Released in 2011 to save Drie Fonteinen, the Armand’4 Seasons show what can be accomplished when an individual masters his craft. Armand Debelder took 50 or so barrels filled with his personal lambic and decided to blend four beers – one to represent each season. What he was able to accomplish was magnificent. Lente (spring) ss light, pillowy and lemony; Zomer (summer) even more so. Herfst (autumn) has a slightly heavier mouthfeel, and coats the tongue with a syrup-like consistency, all to get you ready for Winter, the heaviest and earthiest of the four. Having one of these beers at a tasting or an event is a treat; having all four together, allowing you to compare and contrast them against one another, was a rarity. If you have the means to obtain them all, do so, get your favorite beer friends over, and enjoy what can be accomplished with blending and lambic.

1 | Summation | 3 Sons | Barrel-aged Imperial Stout | 10%

I had only heard about the beer and the brewery through its absolute domination of the awards at Hunahpu’s Day in 2015 and 2016, winning best beer (for Summation) and brewery both times. I was able to try some of the beers Corey Artanis brewed under Flagler Village Brewing for The Brass Tap when I visited Miami, including a delicious strawberry berliner and rum barrel-aged coffee stout, but nothing could prepare me for this. Upon opening the bottle, the smell of cocoa powder immediately filled the room. Vanilla, coffee, chocolate, and bourbon were all present on the nose. Actually drinking it yielded the same results, but the amazing thing was the balance of the flavors. At no point did any one of the vanilla, coffee, chocolate, or bourbon dominate the beer or cause the beer to become too sweet. Every sip was a piece of chocolate cake topped with vanilla icing and a side of coffee. It was both decadent and drinkable, allowing one person to be able to finish a 12 oz bottle (or more) with relative ease. There are dessert beers readily available in any liquor store, but how many can actually be the dessert? I loved the nose on it so much that I kept the bottle just so I could smell it days after we finished it. Summation was easily the most memorable beer experience I had in 2016 and one that I have mentioned to numerous people since I have had it. I would give up some of the most prized things in my cellar just to try it again.

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