Ryan’s Top 40 Beers of 2022
The criteria for the list is simple: these are the best beers that I had this year that were (mostly) released this year. I undoubtedly left off many other great beers I had this year because I’m not a very good record-keeper and don’t use Untappd. But I hope some of these beers resonate with you, because they stood out to me, and they deserve recognition. (And since we’ve been posting monthly samplers for most of the year, many of these blurbs are reused from their initial posts, in the case you notice the many out-of-season references.) The order of these beers, like all the rankings we do, is arbitrary and based on my personal preferences that can seemingly change from day-to-day. But I feel confident in saying that all these beers are worth seeking out if you’re in a position to do so – I think you’ll like them.
40. Dunkel | Munich Dunkel Lager | Pipeworks Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 5.3% ABV
That Trader Joe’s shelf placement is the catalyst to a lot of impulse purchases, so whoever engineered that deal for Pipeworks hopefully got a nice bonus that year. This dunkel is right in line with so many of their forays into lager – a perfect homage to tradition without much modern influence muddling it up. This beer pours a deep mahogany and leaves ample lacing with each sip. Aromatically, there’s roasted malt, toasted wheat bread crust, and something akin to light molasses or cocoa bean. The flavor is malt-forward without being sweet, accented with unsalted fresh baked sourdough pretzel nuggets. Deeper sips bring out some maillard notes, oven-roasted nuts, and a subtle noble hop bite. It’s a fully satisfying beer through and through, and one that is built for everyday drinking.
39. Pale Weizenbock | Weizenbock | Giant Jones Brewing Company | Madison, WI | 7.3% ABV – listen
Of the breweries we’ve gotten to know this year, I think I’m most excited about Giant Jones. It’s not just that it’s run by truly great people, but it’s the kind of place where every beer is approached with such a deliberate purpose, you’re likely never to come across a bad or even subpar one. To be certified organic, there are going to be ingredient limitations – but the trick with Giant Jones is that you’d never think something is “missing” or being used as a substitute for a “normal” ingredient. This pale weizenbock can absolutely cut through a hot summer day but also hold its own on a chilly fall night. This beer is reminiscent of banana bread and baking spices, and the alcohol is well-hidden. It is full-flavored and soft, bready malts rise in the middle, and the finish is surprisingly dry.
38. Barrel-Aged Alpine Ridge | Barrel-aged imperial stout w/ coconut, hazelnut, and coffee | Riverlands Brewing Company & Foreign Exchange | St. Charles, IL/Aurora, IL | 14.5% ABV
Patio Dad is closing out July with a Patio Dad: Nights recommendation. My wife and I had a child-free weekend and made a short trip to the St. Charles and Geneva area, and dusk at Riverlands on their patio was about as good as it gets. In addition to an incredible Kellerbier (Cottage Cellar), good vibes steered me towards this barrel-aged collaboration. Unlike the Coconut Deth, this beer is unabashedly decadent – not afraid to layer on the coconut and coffee on top of an already luscious and chocolate-forward base. The hazelnut is certainly there amongst the wall of flavor, but the incredible Sazerac Rye and Weller Special Reserve barrels give it some much needed oak and heat to beat back the sweetness. Five ounce pours of this are the exact sweet spot (sorry), but by the time I finished my sample I was left hoping for another pour. This is decadence done right.
37. Batisserie Chocolate Covered Bananas | Imperial pastry stout with chocolate and bananas | Energy City Brewing | Batavia, IL | 10% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Lately I feel like I can handle about one of these types of beers a week before needing days to recover, but I was pleasantly surprised with this beer’s relative restraint. Now, it’s still a big-ass dessert beer that successfully blends the banana into the chocolate throughout the sip, but it doesn’t land on your tongue like a sticky sugary cordial at the end. It’s even got a touch of bitterness to suture up the finish. The banana is closer to the overripe ones you use for baking, and not the melted Laffy Taffy and paint thinner with which we’ve become well-acquainted. Maybe I shouldn’t write off these Energy City beers as ones to avoid because I don’t like overly-sweet beers. This one does sweet the right way.
36. Schwarzen Katze | Schwarzbier | 1840 Brewing Company | Milwaukee, WI | 5.3% ABV – listen
This winter brought out a lot of different dark lagers, as breweries are leaning into more seasonal releases and the dependable movement of easy drinking styles. This is a fantastic development. 1840 excels with bold flavors, but this is them succeeding with a lighter touch. On the nose, it’s an even amount of chocolate malt and grassy noble hop – nothing too impressive. But immediately after the first sip, it becomes irresistible. The soft effervescent body moves into something close to nitro-level creaminess, providing a fullness with none of the lingering heft. There’s a bit of roasted malt, dark chocolate, and herbal bitterness, which are all nice but really just supporting this excellent mouthfeel. You will need more than one fat bottle of this.
35. In Dark Trees | Dark Czech-Style Lager | Maplewood Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 5% ABV
It’s pretty common for us to gather doubles of each beer for the podcast (we still record remotely) to fit a concept, record it, then immediately come across three more beers that would’ve also been a perfect fit for the show. This would’ve been a standout on our Dark Lagers 2 show, and that one was full of winners. (See 1840, above.) This beer pours with a finger of whipped khaki head on a pitch black base. The aroma is deeply roasty, with notes of toasted walnut and pine. In the sip, small bubbles move from the front to back, creating a softness that is almost chewy in the middle. The roasted malt is upfront, somewhere between coffee and chocolate without embracing either. But the finish leans into its pine and grassy hop notes, providing just a nudge of bitterness. This is a four season drinker – there’s no wrong time to enjoy it.
34. Devon | Gose w/ Telicherry black pepper, Himalayan pink salt, and Indian coriander | Azadi Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.2% ABV – listen
As a tribute to the Chicago Indian community and the prominence of Indian culture represented along stretches of Devon Ave., Azadi’s somewhat straightforward gose takes a new angle with the addition of salt and pepper. Tasting the base of this tart wheat beer was reminiscent of a Leipziger or Ritterguts bottle you’d dust off from the International Beer section at the big liquor store back in 2014. The pepper adds a little sharpness to the finish, while the salt keeps things dry and eminently drinkable. It’s nice to have a gose without fruit for once, and Azadi took it one further with some inspired additions, much like everything they do.
33. Are You There God? It’s Me, Guava | Triple Guava Smoothie Sour w/ vanilla and lactose | BlackStack Brewing | St. Paul, MN | 6.4% ABV – listen
Haze’s supreme reign over the high-priced colorful can wars is being overtaken by overfruited smoothie beers. When 450 North first hit the shelves this past year, folks had no problem paying close to $10 a can for thick fruit slush – selling out from most places in a few days. Far be it from us to say that’s a bad thing for beer – the more it brings people into breweries and bottle shops and away from sitting home sippin’ on that Smooj – well that’s some sort of win for beer. For us it helps step off of the high horse every now and then and just purely enjoy a few of these fundamentally delicious pints of fruit puree. Not concerned with being a beer, this guava smoothie is tart on the edges with a creamy body. Drinking this gave me a tan, and beneath my feet sprouted flip flops.
32. Biere de Pieces #39 | Blended Saison aged in whiskey and mead barrels | Afterthought Brewing Company | Lombard, IL – listen
Earlier this year, I stopped into the Afterthought taproom to pick out a beer for this show concept we had and was chatting up Mike Thorpe about it. He ran through a list until a sudden thought occurred to him, and he turned to the bartender and said, “Should we do 39?” The bartender responded with a devilish grin, and said, “Yes! 39!” It was all very ominous for a day at a saison brewery. Anyways, this beer is a fantastic trick to the senses, because the combination of barrel treatments bring out some flavors I don’t think I’ve ever had in a saison. It smells of old wet wood and potpourri, with black licorice and pine needles spiking at the end. The flavor follows that aroma but there’s an unripened blackberry tartness followed by some unexpected fresh dill. If I drank it again, I bet my descriptions would all change as well. It’s just a magically weird beer.
31. Church Street Schwarzbier | Schwarzbier | Church Street Brewing Company | Itasca, IL | 5% ABV
As my summer alias of Patio Dad sees the sun setting on his vacation days, I reflect on some of my favorite patio experiences this year and going to Church Street was one of them. Other than the fact that my kids politely asked to borrow a frisbee from the brewery for their frisbee golf basket and then my son immediately threw it over the fence, it was an ideal night of live music and unbelievably easy-drinking beers like this Schwarzbier. It’s one of those beers where your intention to order other things from the menu becomes unnecessary, as this is the only beer you need. Perfectly roasty with a touch of bitter chocolate and coffee bean, it finishes like a crisp malty lager and is really perfect for any season.
30. Blue Suede Brews | Old Ale w/ peanut butter and banana | Gallant Fox Brewing Co. | Louisville, KY | 7.1% ABV – listen
File this under “shouldn’t work/does work” because I had major trepidation before the first blast of aroma hit me from this beer. Both peanuts and bananas jockey for lead position, and there’s never a clear winner. The way the banana is expressed is impressive, leaning more into Hefeweizen-like notes over artificial candy sweetness. And the peanut butter provides plenty of sweet, but it doesn’t linger past the finish of the malty base. It’s still weird, but dammit if it doesn’t totally work.
29. Island Pilz | Tropical Pilsner | Crux Fermentation Project | Bend, OR | 5.2% ABV – listen
The summer beer I’d most like to see more of from breweries is the hopped-lager; maximize all those beautiful fruity and dank hop notes while retaining the drinkability of a beautiful pilsner, like this beer. Utilizing some unnamed tropical-forward hops, this one’s aroma almost gives off beach cocktail vibes, but the fruitiness is appropriately subdued in the sip. There’s a kiss of herbal bitterness after the complex passion fruit that hits you up front. It’s crisp like a cracker in the finish, and like summer it’s all over way too fast.
28. Stay Frosty | Winter Lager | Hopewell Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV
This is a beer that begs to be paired with rich and comforting holiday foods, and I can attest that it made a perfect table beer for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s got that kiss of sweet caramel malt and a touch of allspice but finishes wheat cracker dry. Continued sips will bring out a little more of a citrus and pepper note, but none of that overwhelms its perfect baseline drinkability. Let’s hear it for a whole year of seasonal lagers in 2023 (please??)
27. World of Bog | Barleywine aged in single malt whiskey barrels | Half Acre Beer Co. | Chicago, IL | 14% ABV – listen
This feels like a victory lap for a year full of excellent barrel-aged beers from Half Acre – even excluding their highly anticipated yearly Benthic release. We don’t get a lot of barleywines from this brewery, but hopefully this one will get the barrels rolling. This one stuns with the very forward charred oak and vanilin barrel character taking over the front half before smoothing into a caramel stroopwafel with a spicy and dry finish. Spend time with this and let it warm, and over time you’ll be shaking any last drops out of the can. It’s a sumptuous sipper and a real cosmic gumbo.
26. Dapple | Dark Mild | Ordinem Ecentrici Coctores | Oxford, CT | 4.2% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
We love OEC because nothing is ever done quite normally. It’s like taking your tastebuds to the city MoMA; sometimes you nod and pretend like you know what’s going on, but always something will connect with you in a totally unexpected way. This take on a British dark mild is a Maris Otter fan’s dream, enhanced further by a little time in open fermentation. It pours a deep dark brown with a coating of khaki-white head. Aromatically, it’s earthy coffee grounds and toasted dark bread with molasses, anise, and chocolate. Some of the EKG hops peak through at the end of the sip, lending a slight bitterness that increases the re-drinkability.
25. Buzzard | Hoppy Small Beer | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 3% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Whatever Half Acre is doing making this a taproom-exclusive is damn-near criminal, as the greater public deserves – nay, needs – this hoppy small beer in their lives. Everything about this beer is delightful, even if it is named after a vicious murder bird. (Which are honestly pretty delightful too, you have to admit.) It’s so much bigger aromatically than it has any business being, but I have to say it might be my favorite hop-forward aroma I’ve gotten off of anything this year. It explodes with tropical aromatics, heavy with pineapple and mango. Then the sip reminds you it’s going to be a very easy ride, as it’s wispy, light, and true to its ABV. In the flavor, there are some lingering tropical fruit notes and slight bitterness almost akin to citrus pith
24. Rag & Bone | British Golden Ale | Necromancer Brewing | Pittsburgh, PA | 4.5% ABV – listen
We’re a little obsessed with the Resurrection series of beer from Necromancer, because there’s really no one else making some of the styles that have been released in that series. This one doesn’t have a super fun name like Merseburger or Lichtenhainer (or Kuit beer!), and it actually seems like it’d fit in on most modern taplists with its combination of lively and bombastic hops like Amarillo, Citra, and Centennial. It drinks a bit like a pale ale but with a more significant biscuit and bread character in the middle. It dances off to a bitter finish that implores you to sip further.
23. Thundertaker | Imperial Rye Stout aged in bourbon barrels | Revolution Brewing Company | Chicago, IL | 16.2% ABV – listen
On the aroma, this beer gives off a deep bitter roast, chocolate, molasses, and something like sandalwood. It’s much more rugged than the Deth, and continued sniffs bring out some notes of spicy dark rye bread. Up front, you taste dark fruits, rich cocoa, bitter roast, and a boozy burn. Some spicy rye character curls up the tongue a bit. It has a mouthfeel that is medium-to-full but feels heavier due to the burn of the bourbon. It’s a massive stout for bourbon lovers; this one hits if you want to really feel it on the finish. An improvement over the last iteration in just about every way. It’s a chocolate-drenched wall of bourbon and rye flavor that might push the boundaries too far for some, but rewards those patient enough to sip through their pour and let it come to room temperature.
22. Kilo Beer | Grisette | Off Color Brewing | Chicago, IL | 6% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Welcome to the Off Color Corner section of the Monthly Sampler. Yes, it’s the part of my six beers where you’ve come to expect whatever new Off Color beer I’ve had this month. Have a seat. There’s plenty of room – if you don’t mind pillows covered in cat hair. *shrugs and smiles* This month, we’re featuring a…Ah…grisette? Am I reading that right? After the great sadness that was the passing of Twenty Grisseventeen, Off Color has now joined the cause by celebrating their 1,000th batch with the greatest little farmhouse style on earth?!? It’s news as fantastic as this beer, which has a sparkling effervescent mouthfeel with hints of citrus and light wheat crackers. The finish lasts a bit longer with some of the 6-percent showing itself and a subtle yet complex layering of fruit and spice flavors from the yeast strains.
21. Barrel-Aged Hegemon | Bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout | Atrium Brewing | Louisville, KY | 14.2% ABV – listen
For their first barrel-aged release, Louisville’s Atrium went with a beer that was almost vetoed by head brewer Spencer Guy. A stupidly big malty and bitter throwback Russian Imperial Stout like people were drinking during Obama’s first term? Hardly a hot commodity among the current craft beer consumer. But the taste wins out, as the sheer heft of the roast and malt in this are only matched by its unblinking bitterness. The barrel is also just as important, adding enough light sweetness and booze heat to distract from the heft of the base for just a moment. Atrium will certainly make a ton more barrel-aged beers, but here’s to hoping this becomes a staple of their yearly lineup to appease the anti-pastry crowd, no matter how small they may be.
20. Wenceslas | Dark Bohemian-Style Lager | Art History Brewing | Geneva, IL | 6.4% ABV
This beer was #39 on my list from last year, so I was plenty familiar with its awesomeness. But after dabbling so heavily in dark lagers this year, I was ready to reapproach this beer with a slightly more refined sense of what I like about the category. Maybe the holiday baking spices are perceived, but this dark lager carries more than just roast and caramelized malt character. There are even some rye bread and plum notes that show up in the fleeting moments before you chug your whole can. This has to become my #2 go-to December beer behind Sierra Nevada’s Celebration, and hopefully with Geneva Lager Works opening soon we’ll see our shelves flooded with similarly perfect cold-fermented beers.
19. Smittytown | Extra Special Bitter | Temperance Beer Co. | Evanston, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen
When we had this for our 8th Anniversary nostalgia-fest episode, it wasn’t the first or second time we’d had it on the show. And though I’d enjoyed it before, in the seven years since, my preferences have really shifted in its direction. This beer delivers on two important fronts – approachability and surprising complexity. Early sips won’t deliver all this beer has to offer, but when you keep with it, you’ll find that it deepens across the middle. Aromatically, it’s a sweet almost candy-like malt with a floral finish. The flavors give off some nuttiness and a very light roast character. There’s a flash of bitterness across the middle, but it doesn’t hold back some of those sweet caramelized malts. Even with all of that, it finishes relatively dry. Now if only the E.S.B. would become trendy, Temperance would lead the way locally with this excellent take on the English style.
18. B.S.B. | Belgian-style Bitter Ale | Afterthought Brewing Company | Lombard, IL | 5% ABV
If you knew nothing of this brewery and grabbed this minimalist bottle off the shelf, you might be confused with the liquid contents. Where’s the big hoppy bitterness or fruit-forward Belgian yeast character?? Knowing Mike Thorpe a little bit, we’re guessing his inspiration for this is something like a De Ranke XX-Bitter, much like we opened together in his initial brewspace back in 2018. This has all the elements of a classic Belgian saison – lightly fruity esters and lemon zest with an effervescence that dances across the palate until stopping on a dry cracker-like finish. The only bitter characters are from some grassiness and cracked black pepper notes. Once again, it’s a masterstroke of where simplicity meets complexity – flavor that’s not flashy but never boring. I’ve literally never been disappointed by an Afterthought saison, and I promise you won’t be.
17. Bourbon Barrel Spinechiller | Imperial Stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon Barrels | Cellar West Artisan Ales | Lafayette, CO | 10.5% ABV – listen
There are a few “throwback” stouts on this list, which usually means they have no adjuncts and have a considerable bitter roast to them. Though I know more Cellar West saisons than stouts, this one nails that “throwback” BA stout character perfectly. It’s all chocolate, roast, and oaky barrel upfront without the burdening sticky sweetness of so many modern stouts. The body is full and chewy, yet the finish is somewhat bitter and dry. It’s the perfect beer to sip through the length of a movie. Netflix and Spinechill.
16. Green Bottle Saison | Whole leaf hoppy saison | Seedz Brewery | Union Pier, MI | 4.5% ABV – listen
Sometimes all you need is saison (in a green bottle.) This beer does Saison Dupont clone with a fresher hoppy kick – making a beer that is convincingly Belgian while also turning up the grassy hop character. A welcome skunkiness comes through as well, and the carbonation level is just below champagne-like effervescence (even after an extremely memorable gush). Seedz makes many great beers (in my limited experience), so you can’t go wrong trying anything they brew. But if this beer comes back around, make it a mission to seek it out if you’re a saison lover.
15. Ccccclear IPA | IPA | Hop Butcher for the World | Chicago, IL | 7.25% ABV
Full confession time: I bought this four-pack to share with Craig and our Patreon subscribers through a Low ABV, but I opened one can and didn’t want to stop drinking it. Now, I didn’t take down all four in a night, but it’s dangerously easy with this throwback IPA that actually tastes like a throwback. This is like fresh Pizza Port in 2014. Or maybe this is what Sculpin used to taste like? Either way, they manage to nail the big resinous bitter notes, hits of citrus marmalade, and bready malt that used to characterize the best American IPAs. Here’s to hoping this is a taproom staple once the doors are open on Lincoln. (Editor’s Update: The doors…are open!)
14. Amalgamator | IPA | Beachwood Brewing | Long Beach, CA | 7.1% ABV – listen
This beer is the perfect example of something that’s been in Chicagoland distribution for some time but hasn’t found the audience it deserves. Folks on the West Coast know Beachwood’s reputation, and the two of us have been fortunate to get familiar with them over the last decade thanks to previous GABF trips. If you need an undeniable reminder of the power of West Coast IPA, this beer is about as good as it gets. It’s full of pine, dank herbs, citrus, and tropical fruit notes while leaving a sizable bitterness in the finish. It’s everything you could ask for in a West Coast IPA, and it’s just waiting to be rediscovered.
13. Double LP: Side B | Bourbon Barrel-Aged English Barleywine | Mikerphone Brewing & Goose Island Beer Co. | Elk Grove Village & Chicago, IL | 14.58% ABV – listen
Running into Mike Pallen at FoBAB this year prior to this beer winning a medal encapsulated something I love about him. He had almost no voice – a barely audible raspy whisper that is almost entirely due to the pre-FoBAB events he hosted at his brewery and the half dozen collaborations he invited with the breweries who were in town. He’s the genuine article of someone who was born to run a brewery. It was a real thrill to hear this beer win a gold medal for Mike and his whole crew’s sake. It also adds another piece of evidence to that fact that Mikerphone beers don’t always need outrageous adjuncts to achieve transcendence. This barleywine is as good as any that’s come out of Chicago in the last few years. It’s barrel-forward yet smooth like a melted caramel candy, cleaning up with some chocolate malts and toasted coconut notes in the end. I found myself finishing the entire can before I was aware of how drunk it had made me, so I think that’s a pretty good indication of how great it is.
12. Volatile Substance | Northwest IPA | Von Ebert Brewing | Portland, OR | 6.9% ABV – listen
Feeling jaded about IPAs? Then get yourself to the Pacific Northwest and try some fresh IPAs, because this absolute banger Craig brought back from Portland made me believe in the power of hops once again. Okay – I know that’s not that easy to do, but if you ever have the chance to taste something made practically down the road from some of the best hop farms in the world, you’ll reignite something that made you fall in love with hops in the first place. This beer is deep golden and clear, and the aroma is absolutely slammed with tropical fruits, grapefruit, coconut, and dank herb. It’s a bit lighter with the malt than a typical West Coast IPA, but the bitterness is significant at first and lessens with each sip to just add a snap to the finish. This beer has won a ridiculous amount of medals for a reason.
11. Cosmic Echoes [Batch 1] | Blend of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and Barleywine Ale | Private Press Brewing | Santa Cruz, CA | 11.5% ABV – listen
We’ve been very lucky to try some of Brad Clark’s “Members Only” barrel-aged beers, as each of the three we’ve opened have been legitimate “Beer of the Year” candidates. It’s hard to pick a comparable barrel-aged brewer right now, as these beers are about as complex and nuanced as they come with high-end bourbon barrels adding more layers of flavor. This first batch of Cosmic Echoes smells like fudge brownies with toasted coconut and pecans with a bit of charred wood deeper in the mix. There’s an umptuous nutty character to the mouthfeel, but it handles the carb so well you barely notice it’s still holding everything in place. Both the caramel and nutty elements of the barleywine and the chocolate and coconut notes from the stout come together and never clash, keeping this thing deeply complex while still completely sippable. Who needs actual adjuncts?
10. Levain (Yuzu) | Saison fermented in oak w/ mixed culture and yuzu added | Is/Was Brewing | Chicago, IL | 5.5% ABV – listen
Mike Schallau is a true artisan when it comes to barrels, mixed cultures, and saisons. So forgive me for just coming out and saying that one of his carefully-crafted creations tastes like Lemon-Lime Gatorade and I. LOVE. IT. Now, yes, this is a wonderfully-made saison with complexity thanks to the yeast and bacteria cocktail used for the beer, but somehow that flavor blends with the yuzu to make a drink that tastes like my favorite post-Little League drink. This is either the most refreshing complex beer I’ve had in ages, or the most complex refreshing beer I’ve had in ages.
9. Saison | Saison | Waypost Brewing Co. | Fennville, MI | 5.1% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
Few moments this year have been as transcendent as this one: after a freak late-August rain shower, my beach-tired and famished family of four rolls up to a busy Waypost farmstead with a few Little Caesar’s cheese pizzas under arm. We wipe the outdoor table down the best we can, but the quickly soaking shower penetrated everything. The humidity suddenly spikes, and we’re ripping out slices and tearing at Crazy Bread with an almost feral hunger, sweat beading on our intensely focused brows. A full pour of this 2021 GABF Gold medal-winning saison washes down the culinary perfection that is Little Caesar’s pizza crust dipped in garlic butter sauce. Okay, maybe you had to be there. But this saison – and this brewery – is undeniable. The beer itself plays all the right notes: Belgian-esque spicy pepper phenols with citrus, hay, and grassy hops sit atop a soft and effervescent body. I could’ve put about four other Waypost beers in this spot (Grisette, Flora, Current, and Keptwell come to mind), and other than New Glarus (unfair), it was the best brewery I visited all year. And they don’t even mind if you pair their stellar beers with bad pizza.
8. Mamouche | Lambic with elderflowers | Brasserie Cantillon | Brussels, Belgium | 5% ABV
After over a decade and a half of craft beer appreciation, I can still have a brand new experience – like buying my first bottle of Cantillon. Now, I’ve been fortunate to drink some of the finest lambics in the world thanks to Craig, listeners, and friends, so Cantillon wasn’t a totally new experience. But being able to buy a bottle – with my own money – and then drink it within a week of purchase? That was new, and wholly satisfying. (Thanks to Ryan Tracy of Beer on the Wall for giving me the chance to purchase this.) We opened this for my wife’s (milestone redacted) birthday, and it’s a beer that you sip because it’s special, but you are so drawn into it you have to stop yourself from throwing it back. The floral character adds a bit more sweetness and dryness to the beautiful lambic at the base. The mouthfeel is unmatched: full and effervescent in the middle, dry and crisp in the end. Even if it’s like the 47th best Cantillon beer (I have no idea if it is), it’s still impressive enough to be one of the best things I’ll drink all year.
7. Lucky Bamboo | Rum Barrel-Aged Tiki Sour w/ pineapple, passionfruit, lemon, lime, and bitters | More Brewing Company | Villa Park & Huntley, IL | 6.5% ABV – listen
Confession time: I’ve never been to a tiki bar. And I know there are even some beloved ones within miles of where I live, but for some reason, I’ve just never been. If you have a bottle of this More beer, though, you might not need the tiki bar. This is an absolute tropical explosion of fruit flavor that is only further enhanced by the rum barrels, evoking a cocktail and avoiding overfruited smoothie sour bullshit territory. Every flavor is evenly upfront here, and the whole thing is just a stroke of genius that requires a paper umbrella in your snifter. I crave this beer.
6. 22 Pils | German-style Pilsner | New Glarus Brewing Company | New Glarus, WI | 5.4% ABV – listen
We’re spoiled to have so many Illinois breweries making fantastic Pilsners, but when Dan and Deb Carey drop a beer with a blend of American, Czech, and German malts *record scratch* all put through a double decoction mash *record player flies out the window* brewed even more slowly to maximize the flavor off of a German hop I’ve never heard of?!? *breathes heavily into bag* *bag explodes, causing my cat to fly straight up in the air from a seated position* This beer has what a less-talented writer might describe as “German flavors” and not further explain it. (…) It’s both totally approachable but deep with flavor that is malty, earthy, and floral. It snaps in the finish and a little bitterness is left behind. It’s really one of the best pilsners I’ve had in ages.
5. Rey Cuvée Vanilla | Blend of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts Aged in Bourbon Barrels w/ Vanilla | Cruz Blanca Brewery | Chicago, IL | 13% ABV – listen
The Rey Cuvée is a regular part of the Luchador lineup, and it has impressed in every iteration. So can you blame us for being skeptical about a vanilla addition to what has historically been an already rich and excessively complex stout? The beauty of the vanilla in this is that it doesn’t detract from the art at the center of this creation – it just puts a perfectly chosen frame around it. The already-occurring vanillins from the barrels are highlighted and brought forward with the adjunct, and the barrel-aged stout blend beneath everything is still as rich, roasty, and fudgy as ever. This might be the best beer in the history of the Luchador lineup, and I say that as an unapologetic fanboy of the beautiful barrel-aged creations from Jacob Sembrano and the whole Cruz crew.
4. Dreaming of a Common Language | Dry-Hopped Saison | Keeping Together | Chicago, IL | 6.7% ABV – listen
We’ve done two Keeping Together episodes in less than a year, and if we scrounge up another five KT beers, we might just do another. The first episode was a deep-dive into the project itself through our talk with Averie Swanson; the second episode was just us gushing over the artistry of every choice made to execute these perfect saisons. So I’m kind of worried the third episode would be really dramatically drawn-out satisfied mouth sounds. This saison is dry-hopped with Hallertau Tradition, Tettnanger, and Saaz hops which adds some floral and earthy notes in each step of the experience. But it’s really all about the incredible base saison that pops with lemon-lime citrus, sweet green grapes, pear skin, and bubble gum. Effervescent bubbles tingle the nose on a deep pull. A wheat-like body gives way to a nice tartness like lemon curd spiked with pineapple. It’s completely dry by the end, and there’s no way you’re not bummed when the bottle is empty.
3. Dopplesticke Altbier | Altbier | Giant Jones Brewing Company | Madison, WI | 9.3% ABV – listen (Patreon only)
We regularly sing the praises of Erica and Jessica Jones’ big beer brewery out in Madison because they have a perfect batting average with us at this point – they have yet to make a beer we haven’t completely enjoyed. Furthermore, they specialize in forgotten or long-lost styles, so you get that magical threeway of good taste, high alcohol, and learning. And did we mention it’s all Certified Organic – a challenging and rare designation for a brewery to uphold? There’s enough reasons this is my favorite non-local brewery of the year. This German-style beer uses an ale yeast but is cold-conditioned to give it a lager-like drinkability despite the imposing 9.3% ABV. It’s reddish-caramel in color and gives off brown sugar bready malts in the aroma. There’s a balanced molasses-like sweetness across the taste with a slight hint of roast, and mouthfeel starts chewy before finishing surprisingly dry. Count on Giant Jones to nail every style you’ve never heard of. Also, this beer won a well-deserved Bronze at this year’s GABF – though it’s a gold all the way for me.
2. Double Barrel Benthic (2022) | Imperial stout w/ coconut and cinnamon double barrel-aged in bourbon and apple brandy barrels | Half Acre Beer Company | Chicago, IL | 15.3% ABV – listen
It’s hard to ignore how well Half Acre’s barrel program has expanded and performed in the last few years, and I say this next part without trying to be some irritating contrarian: I do still feel like they’re a few years behind Revolution in terms of consistency in their releases. I have no doubts that’s only going to get better, as maybe one out of every five of their barrel-aged releases doesn’t live up to its promise, at worst. But when Half Acre nails a barrel-aged beer, it can be an absolute world-beater. Some “double barrel” beers don’t really taste it, but this one presents both bourbon and apple brandy as stacking power-ups for an already winning base beer. The individual coconut and cinnamon flavors are present but supporting – the barrels are the show you came for, and that’s what you get the most. But it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the thickness of the stout that rested in those barrels. This is one of the best things Half Acre has ever released.
1. Freedom Lemonade | Session Sour w/ lemons | Revolution Brewing | Chicago, IL | 4.5% ABV – listen (Patreon exclusive)
For the last two years, Rev has been my choice for “best beer of the year” – and both were barrel-aged stouts. In January when Freedom Lemonade was first released, I had said that it was the beer to unseat for my top pick of 2022. It’s become a fridge staple for my wife and I, and a six pack never lasts past a night once the first one is opened. I’ve always enjoyed the Freedom session sours from Revolution, but this is on another level of execution and drinkability. Certainly it will be an appealing option for those that prefer seltzers or canned cocktails to beer, but what elevates it over that other sessionable lemon shelf stable from Chippewa Falls is that it still has the body of a beer. The fresh-squeezed lemonade flavor feels authentic without too much sugar, giving a light pucker in the middle before drying out in the finish. This year’s mixed 12-packs will need its own expense line in my budget. Even with so many refreshing and light-drinking options on the shelf, I still found myself reaching for this beer more than any other in 2022.