The Best Beers of 2016: Ryan’s Most Arbitrary Countdown Part 1

If you’ve heard our podcast, we’re all about emphasizing how arbitrary the order is on our end-of-episode rankings, because we tend to find flaws in our beers in the scrutinizing way that Jerry Seinfeld found flaws in his fictional love interests. And sometimes, based on the night, a technically good beer tastes like an artfully amazing beer, or the other way around. Well, here I have the most arbitrary list of all: the best beers I personally drank in 2016. This list is narrowed down from over 400 unique beers I drank this year, but I didn’t bother narrowing down the word count on this thing you’re about to read. Hoo boy. Here’s my list criteria, similar to last year:

  • The beer must’ve been released or brewed this year – it doesn’t have to be a new beer to 2016, just has to have gotten a fresh release this year, so no aged vintages of anything here. Most of these were new to me this year, but it wasn’t necessarily a requirement.
  • All beers are ranked on overall enjoyment from a totally subjective standpoint. I don’t care about a beer’s rarity or secondary value at all, although we are extremely fortunate to have many extremely hard-to-acquire beers on the show thanks to Craig’s trading acumen, brewers’ contributions, and our very generous listeners who sent us beer this year. I owe a sincere thank you to all of them.
  • These are beers that got my attention specifically this year, leaving out my regular favorites like Gatecrasher, Lizard King, and Anti-Hero – even though those beers still ruled by volume in my fridge.

Again, my list leans towards Chicago (and entirely American), large-flavored beers, because those are the beers I tend to pick up the most and the beers people like to hear us drink on the podcast.

So, here it is: the definitive arbitrary list of beers in 2016.

Also check out Craig’s year in beer here.

okfest50 | Oktoberfest | Märzen | Old Style/Pabst Brewing Co.listen (Patreon exclusive)

Ok, maybe I needed a 50th beer to fill out the list, but I did buy three 4-pack cubes of this first new recipe in 15 years from Old Style. There are better märzens out there (Metropolitan and New Glarus come to mind), but this one is as good as the ever-present German versions and a few American craft interpretations. With nice caramel from the malts and wheat bread crust on the flavor, a slight bit of copper on an otherwise easy finish – it’s a nice fall beer, and a pleasant surprise.

49 | Frampaars | Blended lambic-style beer with purple raspberries | Funk Factory Guezeria (Madison, WI) – listen

Maybe the first guy in the midwest to have a traveling coolship, Levi Funk makes fruited wild ales with the best of them, and this one is rich and jammy, yet effervescent and zesty at the same time. Tasting like a mix of raspberry fruit leather and lemon zest, this beer has some extreme sourness at first, but then it transitions into a balanced acidity with successive sips.

48 | Hawaiian Bartender | Mango & pineapple Brett. sour | Odd13 Brewing (Lafeyette, CO) – listen

A tiki bar in a can, this is the kind of beer that makes me want to get seriously girl drink drunk. It’s sour under-ripened pineapple with over-ripened mango and papaya with some funky haystacks from the brett on the finish. It’s all stupidly drinkable and it comes in a 12 ounce can. Coolers everywhere rejoice!

47 | Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout 2016 | Stout aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels with ancho chiles | Goose Island Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) – listen

Even before certain target characters drifted back in 2015, last year’s Proprietor’s was heavy on the sweetness in an overbearing way, and Goose’s hand is usually much more steady when using potentially overwhelming ingredients. And that’s exactly why I enjoyed this year’s Prop: the chipotle pepper is upfront but the spiciness barely lasts. A mellow smokiness lingers throughout, but then chocolate and sweet caramel bourbon put the brakes on the heat. It’s a beautiful sipper: a perfect complement to a flourless chocolate cake and a two-hour nap.

 

46 | VenkMan | Double pale ale with tangerines | AleMan Brewing Co. (Chicago, IL)

An Ecto Cooler-inspired double pale ale (that’s a thing now?), this hit on those familiar citrus and tangerine notes from the original Hi-C drink that made me such a chubby 8-year old. But there’s also a significant herbal and piney bitterness that hangs around on the finish.

45 | Weko | Brett Pale Ale | Transient Artisan Ales (Bridgman, MI) – listen

Made as a fresh Orval clone, this beer has a remarkable brett character that is both soft and everpresent. The aroma is peach, apricot, white grape, lemonade, and cotton candy bubblegum. The flavor is bubblegum and banana with some stealthy bitterness, a touch of spicy phenols in the middle, and a clean finish.

44 | Cassian Sunset | Bourbon barrel-aged stout with coffee, vanilla beans, and cinnamon | Central Waters Brewing (Amherst, WI)  – listen

This one is like a festive winter coffee cocktail that came out in the Spring for some reason. Like a lot of barrel-aged Central Waters beers, it has a lighter body, yet there’s a clear interplay of ingredients that works magically.  The aroma is decadent with spicy cinnamon and deep oaky vanilla bourbon notes; the flavor is much more chocolatey, with some roasted coffee and a spicy cinnamon bourbon finish. I get warm just thinking about this one.

 

43 | Porter | Porter | Stoneface Brewing (Newington NH) – listen

Some porters are so good it almost makes you resent the recklessness of stouts: settle down with all the roasted and chocolate notes, there! This porter is deeply complex: chocolate-covered cherries, licorice, light roast coffee, bitter baker’s chocolate. It’s robust and tastes like a cup of coffee with some sort of chocolate-cherry tiramisu. Whelp…now that’s a thing that I want.

42 | Karin | Belgian IPA blended with farmhouse blonde | Middle Brow Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) – listen

Using less than 15% of their immaculate Robyn farmhouse, blended with a tweaked version of their Summer in Pain Belgian IPA, this finds an excellent balance, keeping it extremely effervescent and drinkable with an approachable amount of Belgian influence. The dominant characters are banana, bubblegum, clove spice, tropical fruits, and grass. It’s surprisingly light and crushable, but the flavor opens up with each sip, and it finishes bitter, with a few lingering phenols.

41 | Pot & Kettle | Oatmeal Porter with coffee | Trillium Brewing (Boston, MA) – listen

Another example of a beer that proves that a porter can out-stout a stout in the flavor department, without being so heavy. The aroma is coffee roast, cherries, vanilla, triple chocolate bundt cake, raisin, and cocoa powder. The flavor is like a coffee-dipped oatmeal chocolate chip raisin cookie with some red grapeskin in the finish; there’s a very light bitterness, but the body is chewy/creamy. Chrewmy.

40 | Cocovore Cuvee | Imperial Milk Stout | Horse Thief Hollow (Chicago, IL)

From our StoutFest recap:

“Although the program and Untappd entry for this beer suggest otherwise, according to Kim from Hail To The Ale, this beer is a blend of 60% Cocovore Imperial Milk Stout, 35% Cheval Deux Sweet Potato Brown Ale, and 5% Pat Mac’s Irish Red Ale. And I believe her, because she was with us and much more sober. I do recall the earthy sweet potato, cinnamon, and nutmeg flavors coming through clearly from the Cheval Deux, with a seriously creamy milk chocolate compliment.” HTH has spent 2016 racking up medals at GABF and FoBAB, and if you haven’t been to the brewpub down in south Beverly for their stellar beer and food menu, get there as soon as possible.*

*The recently-released Cinnamon Girl from Horse Thief Hollow just missed the cutoff for my list this year, but it’s an easy favorite to make it high on my list next year. Go get it immediately!

39 | Kolb’s Farm | Imperial Stout | Burnt Hickory Brewery (Kennesaw, GA) – listen

Be patient with this one – it’s unlike any stout I had this year, but it took time to get past some initial prohibitive bitterness and booze. Once it opens up and warms a bit, it’s licorice, honey, vanilla, and coffee. It’s high in alcohol, but it doesn’t take long until it tastes much lower. Let this one slowly warm and sip on it to unfold its unique flavor profile: chocolate ganache, bitter coffee, honey sweetness, prunes, and some piney hop character.

38 | Flanders Oud Bruin Foudre | Flanders Oud Bruin | Two Brothers Brewing (Warrenville, IL)

From my GABF write-up:

“Matt Smith steered us to his booth for this one in particular, and it was an excellent surprise. The beer itself is like a more syrupy Rodenbach Grand Cru – slightly thicker and sweeter with notes of cranberry and cherry, and a distinct oak note before it finishes with a sharp sourness.” Don’t neglect Two Brothers this year, ubiquitous as they may be – they can master classic styles (like the GABF gold-winning Domaine DuPage) yet have the resources and knowhow to produce masterful sour and barrel-aged offerings.

37 | Le Tub | Blended farmhouse with 10% Cabernet barrel-aged saison | Whiner Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) – listen

If we can get 2017 to be the year of small-format, readily-available brett brux beers, I’ll have to buy less High Life. This is a welcome addition to the Chicago landscape. The beer’s aroma is lemon, orange, and some yogurty lacto notes; the flavor is much more funky, with muted or moldy tropical fruits and a suggestion of red wine grapes. The mouthfeel is approachable and refreshing, but there’s still an evident tannic finish from the minimal barrel influence.

 

36 | Charlatan | Pale Ale | Maplewood Brewery (Chicago, IL) – listen

Rediscovering a beer you had once written off is the best. Now, I hadn’t had this beer since it was brewed under the Mercenary name, but whether I was way off base or the brewery made some adjustments, a GABF Bronze medal for American-Style Pale Ale is a ringing endorsement of this beer’s quality. The aroma is citrus, grapefruit and passionfruit; there are bitter resinous hops on the palate and a clean dry finish. Light malt sweetness adds a bit of heft to an otherwise light body. This leapfrogged the Lizard King as a beer I’ll always buy when fresh, especially if Maplewood keeps up with this 16oz. can business, thankyouverymuch.

35 | Citra Clencher | Double IPA | BuckleDown Brewing (Lyons, IL) – listen (Patreon exclusive)

From our StoutFest recap:

“**Record scratch** What?? A double IPA at a Stout Fest?? Yeah, whoever from BuckleDown had the idea to bring their recently-canned DIPA might have been playing loose with the rules, but hot-diggity-dog was it a treat after two hours of roasted coffee malt chocolate exhaustion. This beer is like ruby red grapefruit juice…on weed. The dank and piney grassiness coats the tongue after a huge wave of beautiful bittersweet grapefruit. I now love this beer, and kudos to BuckleDown for the smart move.”

34 | Hopititis | Double IPA | 515 Brewing (Des Moines, IA) – listen

It’s amazing that you can describe a beer’s aroma as “like farting in leather pants” and still have it end up on your year end list. But once that descriptor wears off, the beer’s aroma and flavor just burst with juicy tropical fruits, mango, passionfruit, and a slight grassiness. The fruit character is huge, and it’s complemented by lighter herbal piney characters and an easy malt bill. It’s dangerously drinkable for a 10 percent beer.

33 | Fun Juice | Mixed-culture sour ale aged in red wine barrels with passionfruit juice and citrus zest | Highland Park Brewery (Los Angeles, CA)

From my GABF write-up:

“I hate to quote brewery-provided write-ups for beers, but this sour ale is described as
“zippy,” which is perfect. This is fermented with lacto, pedio, and brett, aged in red wine barrels, and pumped with passion fruit, orange, and grapefruit zest. It wasn’t needlessly complex, and the flavors were perfectly balanced – each element was clearly present with a drier finish than the aroma and first sips would suggest. This was a top three sour beer at the fest for me, and I even gave the brewery a shoutout in the Chicago Tribune.” #humblebrag #ripharris

32 | Dos Rubias | Bière de Garde | Cruz Blanca Cerveceria (Chicago, IL)

From my Belgian Fest write-up:

“Maybe this one is cheating, because on the Bière de Garde spectrum, this one leans way closer towards the golden-blond style that is much more akin to saison. Further confusing the style, Jacob Sembrano threw in some lactobacillus and honey. What results is a tart lemon honey ale with a barely-there wheat-like malt flavor. There’s a noticeable honey sweetness and lemon curd before a touch of minerality moves in, and the finish is pristine and dry. It certainly seems far-removed from the bready and malty dark Bière de Gardes, but it manages to retain its farmhouse roots.”

31 | Monday | Maple bourbon aged coffee cinnamon imperial stout | Cycle Brewing (St. Petersburg, FL) – listen

The beer Garfield probably hates, this one just has to work – and it really does. The aroma is maple, cinnamon, oak, vanilla, and leather. There’s an even maple flavor, dark chocolate and coffee bitterness, and a thick mouthfeel. The cinnamon is very prevalent, and a light vanilla bourbon burn lingers to remind you that this beer is not pulling punches.

30 | East Bank | Oak-aged Farmhouse Ale | Casey Brewing & Blending (Glenwood Springs, CO)  – listen

I didn’t drink much Hill Farmstead this year (oh poor me), but I didn’t need to with beers like this and Holy Mountain’s The Goat. This one has that rustic Vermont well-water saison feel but with more of a full body, and the addition of honey brings out just enough sweetness to play with the moldy tropical fruit and oak in the flavor.

29 | The Goat | Rustic Brett saison | Holy Mountain Brewing (Seattle, WA) – listen

Oh hey, speak of the devil! Wouldst thou like to live deliciously? If so, sign your name in the book, and get your hands on this beer. With its diverse malt bill, Fantome brett strain, and red wine foedre treatment, it’s a fascinating amalgamation of flavors. There’s lemon zest, herbs de provence, red wine, barnyard funk. It’s like an herbal wheat lemonade with a dry red wine tannic finish. It’s nuts.

 

Bottling Framboise.

28 | Framboise | American raspberry wild ale | Une Année (Chicago, IL) – listen

I’m a card-carrying Une Année homer as I’ve followed the brewery from the beginning, and I’ve rarely been disappointed. And lately, with Jerry’s creativity with brewing sour beers, I’ve been consistently impressed with his mixed-cultured wild and solera’d beers. This one is all macerated raspberries in lemon and vinegar, with notes of yogurt and cardamom. There’s a significant sourness yet it remains drinkable, and has an effervescent mouthfeel.

27 | Very Hazy | Double IPA | Tree House Brewing (Monson, MA) – listen

I almost felt like disqualifying Tree House this year, as they were all over my list last year, and their beers are rightfully being recognized as among the best in the world. My biggest problem with them is that they’re not mailing their beers directly to my wide-open maw. This beer is huge with the aroma of tropical fruits, lemon zest, pineapple juice, chives, and a dirty earthiness. The flavor is green onion, grapefruit, mango, pineapple juice, and has a slightly sweet and bitter finish.

26 | Imperial Bernie | Bourbon barrel-aged imperial milk stout | Noon Whistle Brewing (Lombard, IL) – listen

The regular Bernie milk stout from Noon Whistle is one of the finest easy-drinking stouts around, and its availability in cans made it a no-brainer for repeated purchases. This version is almost unrecognizable from its base – it seems to be there in its creamy lactose finish that effectively smooths out a potential boozy burn. On the aroma, there’s a lot of oaky vanilla bourbon, caramel, toffee, Butterfingers, and dark chocolate. The flavor is smooth, the body is chewy, and the aftertaste is something like lovely chocolate chip and raisin oatmeal cookies.

Click here for Part 2, Numbers 1-25.

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