Craig’s 30 Most Memorable Beers of 2018
This year in beer was unlike any other in recent memory. The Hazy IPA finally got recognized with its own BJCP and GABF category and spawned two similar styles that became popular – the sour IPA and the Brut IPA. The pastry stout didn’t get its own category, but the candy, cereal and even produce aisles (in some cases) suffered mightily at the hands of ambitious brewers experimenting with something new – but never asked anyone if they should. Some breweries even went so far as to start lagering programs!
Despite all that craziness (and potential intellectual property theft on some of the beer labels), 2018 was another breakout year for independent breweries, as the number of breweries operating in the United States reached 7,000, the highest ever. All these breweries meant a wealth of different takes on classic styles, many of which are represented in the list below. The rules for the list are as follows:
- We had to have it on the show; 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This year’s beer breakdown is drastically different from last years. Sours and IPAs (both really broad categories) led the way with nine (30%) and eight (26.7%) representations respectively and comprising a majority of the list; one-third of those IPAs were hazy (way down from last year’s eight). Stouts placed five times (16.7%) while saisons had four entrants (13.3%). Illinois had twelve beers on the list (40%), while Wisconsin came in second with three (10%), followed by Colorado, Vermont, Oregon and Belgium with two apiece.
Click on the listen at the end of the beer to go to the episode where we reviewed the beer and check my memory!
30 | Mugwump Brunch | Illuminated Brewing Company | Sour Double IPA | Chicago, IL | 8% – listen
Did we jump on this train fast. Along with Brut IPAs, sour IPAs exploded this year with seemingly every brewery making one or the other and many times both. While we couldn’t really wrap our heads around Brut IPAs this year, sour IPAs we got – a generously hopped kettle soured beer. Most of what we had were just Berliner weisses that had some dry-hopping except this one from Illuminated. A nice tartness gave way to a sharp and robust bitterness on the end, making this one of the few of this style that delivered on what it was. It helped that it was pretty damn tasty as well.
29 | Petrus Aged Pale | Brouwerij De Brabandere| Sour Pale Ale | Bavikhove, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium | 7.3% – listen
Listed as a sour on some sites and a pale ale on others, Petrus is more sour than pale ale, with it being brewed with only pale malts. There’s some light acidity, funk, softness, tartness, fruit, white wine, and even some green apple notes. It’s very much gueuze-like, but without the time invested to brew it and some of the depth. A treat to drink, it’s always available on the shelf, so obtaining a bottle is not a problem at all. And to think it was solely used as a blending beer until Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter, told them to release it.
28 | Everything Lasts Forever | Orpheus Brewing | Methode Traditionelle Gueuze| Atlanta, GA | ??% – listen
Started right around (or even before) the brewery opened, Everything Lasts Forever has been a goal for Jason Pellett to get released. Sticking to the Methode Traditionelle, Everything Lasta Forever exhibits many of those potentially untamed characteristics that come from it: tons of funk, some band-aid/dirty sock aroma, and a fair amount of tartness. But the balance is what made it memorable for me. There was that tartness and funk, but it was balanced with a soft mouthfeel and some lemony and grain notes. The funk can put some others off, but it worked well in the confines of this beer. Between this and the rest of the barrel-aged offerings they had a GABF this year, Orpheus is setting itself up as one of the few serious barrel-aging breweries – of all styles – in the southwest.
27 | Duchesse de Bourgogne | Brouwerij Verhaeghe | Flanders Red | Vichte, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium | 6% – listen
I had this beer many, many years ago, when the packaging suggested to a neophyte me that it was a stout (I was sorely mistaken). More accustomed to sours than neophyte Craig, the Duchesse is exquisite. Tons of dark cherries and a restrained tart taste with a slight sweetness on the finish make this a Flanders Red that should be the standard for all others. It’s accessible, flavorful, and a good starting sour for those not in to the style yet. That full bouquet of cherries and low tartness should be something brewers stateside try to emulate.
26 | Petite Prince | Jester King | Saison | Austin, TX | 2.9% – listen
2.9%?! That was my first reaction upon tasting this beer. For something that’s about as close to water as you can get, Jester King got a ton of flavor out of Petite Prince while still staying true to the sasion base. Everything is dialed down a bit, but the lemon, bubblegum, grain, and bite are all still there, resting in a sessionable saison that you can easily drink a bomber of in one sitting. I always hope that beers like this trigger a trend, but I always am proven wrong.
25 | Society & Solitude #5 | Hill Farmstead | Imperial IPA | Greensboro Bend, VT | 8% – listen
The only beers never packaged for release by Hill Farmstead were their hoppy beers, like the Society & Solitude series; you were then forced to get growler fills of them to bring back home. That all stopped last year, when Hill Farmstead began releasing their beer in cans. With both canning and fresh by dates, you know when you’ll be getting the product as intended. And what a product S&S #5 is. It’s classic imperial/double IPA with the bitterness you’d expect from a beer of this style – until this giant grapefruit show up in the middle. A ton of grapefruit and other citrusy notes flow along with the bitterness make it a standout DIPA, but it’s the sheer magnitude of fruit notes that make this beer memorable. I guess it’s a New England IPA because, you know, it was brewed in New England, but it exhibits both the new and old styles exceptionally well.
24 | Pumpkin Lager | Lakefront Brewery | Lager | Milwaukee, WI | 5.9% – listen
From an otherwise forgettable episode of pumpkin beres, this pumpkin lager stood out immensely. Lakefront managed to keep all the crisp enjoyable lager characteristics while adding just the right amount of pumpkin to the beer to produce a beer that was part lager and part pumpkin, not something that was wholly dominated by one or the other. More breweries need to take note, as pumpkin beers are much better when there’s not a ton of that pumpkin (or pumpkin-like) flavor in their beers. Lakefront sure nailed it with this one, thereby making me interested in trying their other pumpkin beers.
23 | Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout (2018) | Goose Island | Barrel-aged Stout | Chicago, IL | 15.2% – listen
One is an anomaly, two a coincidence. This is the second year in a row that Goose Island’s Reserve Bourbon County Brand Stout has destroyed the regular Bourbon County. Last year’s was drier and less sweet; this year’s was also less sweet but less boozy and more chocolatey. It definitely didn’t hurt that Goose used award-winning Elijah Craig 12-year barrels for the beer. It just goes to show how important the barrel actually is in the beer. Only downside to this beer is that not many people were able to try it as it was the most limited of the 2018 Bourbon County lineup. We all know what three is…
22 | Luscious | The Alchemist | British Imperial Stout | Stowe, VT | 9.2% – listen
This traditional break in our ranking are sponsored by the next three beers. First up, The Alchemist’s Luscious. While their Beelzebub stout was a bit too hoppy for me (it was an American stout, after all), this British version was outstanding. Low bitterness, tons of chocolate, vanilla, and coffee all combined with a creamy, full body that left you wanting more every time you finished what was in your glass. It’s a beast at 9.2%, which of course you don’t taste, so be careful as this one will sneak up on you as you keep drinking it. More breweries need to release stouts of this caliber in 16 ounce cans.
21 | American Brown Ale | The Civil Life Brewing Co. | Brown Ale | St. Louis, MO | 4.8% – listen
Civil Life made an amazing traditional style that few make memorable? That’s why we always recommend swinging by if you’re ever in St. Louis dummy. In contrast to a host of brown ales I’ve had that are on the watery side of the flavor spectrum, Civil Life’s is full of roasty, nutty notes and a light-to-medium body that supports the style oh so well. It’s a rare brown ale that actually delivers on what the nose promises. Usually used by other breweries as a base in some cake/cookie flavored beer, this brown ale doesn’t need any tricks or adjuncts to shine on its own.
20 | Black Walnut Coffee Stout | Raised Grain | Belgian Imperial Stout | Waukesha, WI | 9.5% – listen
Complex and flavorful, Raised Grain knocked it out of the park with this full-bodied stout. Tons of roasty, chocolate, and vanilla aromas made way for a thick stout with a ton of medium roast coffee when imbibed. The big takeaway here was the lack of today’s typical stoutly sweetness; the roastiness (both from the malt and coffee) dominated and made this a beer you could have more than one of without needing a break from the cloying sweetness. I could see this being a great beer barrel-aged, but why mess with something simple that’s working so well.
19 | Bouncy Castle | 450 North | Oat IPA | Columbus, IN | 6.4% – listen
At least they didn’t put hazy IPA on the can! This oat IPA used a fair amount of oats to generate a thick, creamy mouthfeel and the hopping and dry-hopping led to a kick of welcomed bitterness at the end which a lot of hazy beers tend not to have. This combination of creamy mouthfeel and bitterness made Bouncy Castle not only a standout hazy beer in 2018 but also a top beer. Easy to kill a 4-pack without even trying it’s that drinkable. Oh, and the can art is pretty sweet too.
18 | Blazed Orange Milkshake | Hop Butcher for the World | Milkshake IPA | Darien, IL | 7.5% – listen
The problem with milkshake IPAs for me is usually two-fold: there’s little to no bitterness and it’s overly sweet. Somehow Hop Butcher managed to keep the sweetness in check while adding some bitterness to the proceedings, making for an excellent, unique, and very memorable beer. It actually starts with the bitterness – very uncommon for the style – and then ends sweet, with a perfect dreamsicle appearing on the tongue at the very, very end. And it’s some actual bitterness, not “I think there’s something bitter there…” Along the way there are milkshake/hazy staples of orange juice and low to no malt body, but the bitterness, balanced sweetness and spot on dreamsicle flavor make this one a winner.
17 | Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout | Goose Island | Barrel-Aged Stout | Chicago, IL | 15.2% – listen
Bourbon County is a rarity on this list. Has it been other breweries catching up? Or the beer just not being as good as it was before? Could be a little of both, but 2018 marked a turning point in the Bourbon County family and the best lneup, in my opinion, since 2013, with this beer leading the way. While concept is simple (those chocolate orange things some had when little), the beer could’ve been a citrusy disaster. Instead, it featured a ton of specialty dark chocolate with only a hint of that orange peel used, while the booze was (relatively) kept in check. It honestly tasted like a really expensive orange dark chocolate bar soaked in bourbon. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and actively looked for bottles upon release. Let’s hope beers like these continue with next year’s Bourbon County.
16 | Eeek! (2016) | Off Color Brewing | American Wild Ale | Chicago, IL | 5.5% – listen
Most beers you shouldn’t age. Hoppy beers suffer from the hops falling off and cardboard-like flavors showing up, while stouts can become oxidized and develop sherry-like notes. Wild ales, on the other hand, can age gracefully over time, even change into another beer completely. Off Color’s Eeek! happens to do just that. Fresh, it closely resembled the Miller High Life half of the collaboration, with some of Off Color’s bugs being present but in the background. Aged only 2 years, the Miller High Life influence has all but vanished, with the bugs taking over and making this an exquisite wild ale full of lemon, funk, and tartness. If you have the patience and self-restraint to not drink it fresh (kudos to you then), you will be greatly rewarded.
15 | Kriek | Dovetail Brewing | Lambic-style Kriek | Chicago, IL | 6.5% – listen
This was the moment all of beer Chicago had been waiting for – Dovetail releasing their first lambic-inspired beer. Pictures of their second floor barrels and stories about what they had planned with them had been circulated since their opening, and now we were finally getting a tangible product. Dovetail’s Kriek delivers on those promises. It’s tart, sweet, somewhat jammy, with some Brown Line funk™ and cinnamon from the cherries. Much like Chicago, it’s very assertive, with a deep red color and bold flavors throughout. But then there’s…
14 | Oude Kriek | pFriem Family Brewers | Lambic-style Kriek | Hood River, OR | 5.6% – listen
…pFriem from Oregon. Similar amounts of time spent in the barrel, same care in brewing and maintaining said barrels, slightly different result. Whereas the Dovetail Kriek was assertive, the Oude Kriek is done the pFriem way, with that pillowy soft mouthfeel, light tartness and funk, and a hint of cherry. It is delicate, balanced, and delicious. It’s complex, but not overly so. This is one of those beers that you forget you’re drinking and wind up whisked away to some riverside park, enjoying nature, only to be brought back when you’re finished with it.
13 | Lunch | Maine Brewing Company | American IPA | Freeport, ME | 7% – listen
It’s odd that this point has come, but here we are. With so many hazy and New England-style beers dominating the market, Maine’s Lunch is a “throwback” IPA – tons of bitterness, hops, bite, malt, grass, pine, and some dankness. Or, you know, an IPA. With even things listed as IPAs being hazy or juice bombs today, it was a welcome change to have and one more people should look for and drink. There are some citrus notes on the beer as well, but it’s all about that bitterness and malt while still remaining drinkable. I will always get a pour of it when on tap.
12 | Fresh IIPA V18 | Hubbard’s Cave | Double IPA | Niles, IL | 8.5% – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Welcome to the sasquatch of the beer world, the best of both worlds. Using Centennial, Columbus, and Simcoe hops (three untraditional hazy/New England-style hops), this beer has the hazy mouthfeel down with a thick, pillowy, slow-moving-across the palate. The real shock (especially to those hazy untappd-ers) is the piney, grassy and very bitter notes this beer features. Brewed as an homage to Pliny the Elder, this beer evokes that it well, all while incorporating some “hazy feels” in all the other facets of the beer. While one of the lower rated Fresh IIPAs, here’s to Hubbard’s Cave brewing this one again. I will enjoy this every chance I can get – only if I can remember the name.
11 | Duck Duck Gooze (2016) | Lost Abbey | Gueuze-inspired | San Marcos, CA | 7% – listen
While not possessing the sometimes extreme funk of other American gueuze-inspired beers, Duck Duck Gooze sure made up for it with the mouthfeel and barrel character. One of, if not the, first American gueuze, Tomme Arthur has had time to refine and perfect his signature gueuze and it really shows in this third batch. A soft, pillowy mouthfeel with notes of lemon and a little funk meld exceptionally well with the tannins of the red wine barrels used to age the beer. While not a pure Methode Traditionelle III gueuze, it reigns in the acidity and overbearing funk sometimes present in those beers and presents an exceptional and time-worthy gueuze well worth the effort to obtain it once every three years.
10 | Dark-N-Curvy | Piece Brewery & Pizzeria | Dunkelweizen | Chicago, IL | 6% – listen
Here’s a beer style that doesn’t show up too often on these lists (or ever). The Dark-N-Curvy dunkelweizen is everything you want in a classic style beer – flavorful, light and refreshing. The 6% makes it easy drinking, the roast malts add some body to the mouthfeel and coffee/chocolate notes to the taste, and it all goes down easy and enjoyably, ready for you to take another swig or have another pint. A style that’s easy to mess up, Piece nails it, making it one of my go to beers if it’s on tap while I’m getting some za at their establishment. Don’t sleep on it.
9 | Champ du Blanc | New Glarus Brewing Company | Sour Ale | New Glarus, WI | 10% – listen (Patreon exclusive)
What new, what new; a New Glarus beer in the top 10. Another product of their famed Fruit Cave, Champ du Blanc is one of those ales that blurs the line between wine and beer. Blended sour blonde ales with chardonnay grapes, this beer is a delight to all senses – the crisp, clean notes of the blonde ale, the tartness and acidity of the sour fermentation, and the dry and tannic notes of the chardonnay grapes. The biggest surprise? It’s freaking 10% ABV but dangerously drinkable. As if it needed to be stated, another excellent beer from New Glarus.
8 | Tavern Cut | Hop Butcher for the World | Double IPA | Darien, IL | 7.5% – listen (Patreon exclusive)
Purveyor of the proprietary “ghost hops” (ABV trademark pending), Tavern Cut is an otherwise expertly done Double IPA. Low on booziness but high on fruity flavors and bitterness, it’s an easy-drinkin’, finish a 4-pack in one sitting kinda beer. The “ghost hops” aspect is the fact that the bitterness and fruit seem to levitate above the tongue and remain throughout, making Tavern Cut a unique and ultimately enjoyable beer. One of Hop Butcher’s finer beers, and one I hope they brew and release again, if only for the fact that I need to have a tavern cut slice with it.
7 | QDH Juicy Bits | Weldwerks Brewing | New England IPA | Greeley, CO | 6.9% – listen
Sometimes brewers need to think if they should do something rather than if they could. But then this QDH Juicy Bits comes along and causes me to rethink that whole statement. This is a beer that after all was said and done was more hop matter than liquid in the tank, but it was also the first beer where I was able to get about of foot of clear aroma. Tons of all the fruit and still maintaining some bitterness, the real marvel of this beer is that it avoided some of the pitfalls that usually come with all the dry hopping, mainly the onion-y notes. This was an aroma and flavor explosion and one I soon won’t forget. I was so taken by this beer that I suggest a quadruple dry-hopped IPA to any brewer that is willing to listen.
6 | Paz Y Pina | Cruz Blanca Brewery & Taqueria | Saison | Chicago, IL | 7.1% – listen
This beer makes me feel like an old-timer; “do you young-uns remember Pineapple Brettanomite?” If you don’t, it was a variant of a beer Goose Island Clybourn released in 2013 and it was delicious. It’s no coincidence that Jacob Sembrano was brewing at Clybourn at that time and is now releasing its spiritual successor at Cruz Blanca with Paz Y Pina. A saison through and through, Paz’s brilliance is its use of pineapple. A fruit few use and ever fewer use well, the pineapple in Paz Y Pina is crisp, sweet, and acidic without being overbearing. The tannins and dryness from the Chardonnay barrels complements the pineapple and reminds you of one of those fruity tropical drinks you get on a beach. The balance is what makes this beer excel, as there are still some soft and light saison notes shining through the fruit and barrel. One not to miss from Cruz Blanca and one of the best beers of 2018.
5 | 100 Ft North | Suarez Family Brewing | Saison | Livingston, NY | 4.3% – listen
I had only heard of Suarez Family Brewing tangentally; I knew Dan Suarez used to brew at Hill Farmstead and I heard that he opened a brewery. A friend gave me a bottle of 100 Ft North and I was excited to try something from Suarez. Now I’m excited to try anything from Suarez Family Brewing. 100 Ft North is everything a saison should be – light, pillowy, dry, lemony, slightly funky, some grain characteristics, drinkable, some bite – just yeah. The only issue with it is it’s not widely available or easily accessible, but that’s not a knock on the beer itself. I’m thankful to have tried it and hope to have more Suarez at some point.
4 | Biere de Pieces #3 | Afterthought Brewing Company | Saison | Lombard, IL | 5% – listen (Patreon exclusive)
After taking home my #1 honors on the 2017 list, Afterthought now resides that this spot on my list. Must’ve hit its peak last year! (Just kidding!) 2018 saw Afterthought expand its distribution a handful of additional beer stores and the quality has not dipped one bit. Biere de Pieces is a blend of four different saisons with a ton of berries – many of which I’ve never heard of – that act in harmony and balance. There’s that “saison bite” I like at the beginning, the dry finish I like at the end and a ton of subtle fruit and lemon throughout. Hell, I immediately ran out and got two more bottles of it. Eminently drinkable and expertly crafted, Afterthought is on it way for an even bigger 2019, and that makes my mouth very, very happy.
3 | Frambozen | pFriem Family Brewers | Lambic-inspired | Hood River, OR | 5.7% – listen
A similar thread running through the top three beers is time and no brewery better exemplifies this approach as does pFriem Family Brewers. A lambic-inspired raspberry ale, Frambozen typifies why both of us are such pFriem pfanatics – delicacy. The beer itself is soft and pillowy with faint notes of lemon, grain, and funk. The raspberry is integrated slowly and deliberately, complementing the beer rather than overpowering it and making it too jammy, achieving a delicate balance. And I won’t even get in to how long it took to brew, aged and blend the beer. While one that won’t wow you at a beer festival with bold flavors, Frambozen is expertly crafted, carefully brewed, and infinitely enjoyable. Get as much of it as you possibly can. And then give some to me.
2 | V.S.O.J. | Revolution Brewing | Barrel-aged Barleywine | Chicago, IL | 13.8% – listen
First unleashed on draft at the Straight Jacket 2016 bomber release party, V.S.O.J quickly became everyone’s favorite barleywine. Response was so great that, due to the nature of the beer being aged for 2 years minimum, it couldn’t be released in the 2017/2018 Deep Wood lineup. But when the 2018/2019 Deep Wood lineup was announced, V.S.O.J. was leading the way as part of the first release and shit hit the fan. This version might be even better than the draft-only first one. It has all the classic barleywine characteristics – caramel, toffee, figs, dark fruit – to go along with a ton of chocolate solely coming from the barrel. The booze, of course, is there, but damn if I’m don’t finish that can fast without realizing it. The barleywine that closely resembles it was King Henry, and that was aged in a previously-used stout barrel to get most of its unique characteristics. V.S.O.J. might just be the future of barleywine.
1 | Mexican Medianoche | Weldwerks Brewing | Barrel-aged Stout | Greeley, CO | 14.8% – listen
So Weldwerks’ Medianoche Reserve became infected and, instead of offering a refund on those purchased bottles, they decided to offer a refund-only, not available to the public bottle – Mexican Medianoche. If any other breweries are taking notes, this is how you do a mea culpa. Barrel, cinnamon, and vanilla all exist in balance and harmony, while the chocolate leads the way but doesn’t dominate the beer. The booze made its presence known while drinking, but never too boozy to make it a chore. This beer is up there with Perennial’s barrel-aged Abraxas and 3 Sons’ Summation as barrel-aged stouts that I will remember forever and rank as one of the best beers I’ve ever had. A work of art and apology.