Friday, December 21, 2012

The Well-Ordered Enumeration of 2012s Best Beers

The Criteria 

There will probably be some obvious omissions from this list because it's not truly a roster of my favorite beers that I dabbled in during 2012.  Instead, this is a list of my favorite beers that I drank during the calendar year BUT ALSO were brand new to my palate.  That is, if beer was newly minted and released to the public in this year-- or if a beer that had prior distribution, but was previously unavailable to me in some capacity before January, then it was considered for a spot in my top 10 beers of 2012.

Vintages were also left unlisted -- even if recipes were altered from years prior -- so as to eliminate powerhouse verticals, like Sputnik, La Folie, or The Abyss.  That would be a boring list, and would look very similar from year-to-year.

These were the 10 best beers that were sampled by me in 2012 -- typically in the company of my amazing wife and a variety of outstanding pals -- then presented to you all, my internet drinking buddies.

I hope you will have something to comment about, because lists tend to rouse -- so, de-lurk, un-lurk, ex-lurk, whatever.

(note: each listing has the active link for its respective [AA] article.)

The Results

10 | Labyrinth
Uinta Brewing | Salt Lake City, UT
Labyrinth's trademark isn't in the oaking of the beer, nope.  It is Uinta's actual adherence to clever ingredients which ultra-forgiving whiskey casks can't help to elevate: molasses, anise, cocoa, espresso, and yes, the very subtle rye itself.  The result is a sweetly spicy beer that smells like a conversation with your anti-prohibitionist grandfather and a dense gravity that tours and branches through all of your sensory receptors like a stout maze.

New Belgium Brewing | Fort Collins, CO
[The] draught version was crisp and smart and nuanced.  I loved it so much I thought about ordering another one immediately -- which, if you've been drinking with a beer nerd at a venue with a superfluous beer menu, is pretty much as unlikely as catching two homerun balls in consecutive at-bats.

Sun King Brewing | Indianapolis, IN
We set a game plan to blitz the Midwest like Manny Diaz's nickle formation.  Only we didn't get caught in the bubble screen.  We sacked the shit out of it!  Founders, Jolly Pumpkin, Short's, Goose Island, Bell's, North Peak, DESTIHL, Kuhnhenn, and Sun King -- all our bitches.  There were others, but these were the best.  In fact, the highlights of the night -- maybe the entire weekend -- came from this region on this night.  Out of the possible 100-esque beers we sampled, six of my top 10 favorite were brewed by Middle American brewers.

Thirsty Planet Brewing | Austin, TX
While Jittery Monk emphasizes its coffee notes, the brilliance is in the use of a cold-pressed coffee supplied by local roasters Kohana Coffee.  In doing so, the coffee is never introduced to the heat element that tends to drain the flavor of the bean itself.  Instead, the cold-press makes the product far less acrid and presents itself as a naturally sweetened and very noticeably smoother liquid.  With Jittery Monk, that charred bitterness never presents itself, and instead, you are left with a very well-bodied coffee beer that finishes on the palate with a sweet cream and expertly placed hint of smoke, spice, fresh baked bread, malt, and Belgian chocolate.  Its a complex beer without being fussy.  Its clever without being exaggerated. 

Funkwerks | Fort Collins, CO
It is very obvious that the flagship beer of Funkwerks is brimming with pride.  It is very well-executed, satisfying, and thoughtful -- rich and cozy.  The exposition of this saison is that of a brightly-steeped lemon and ginger tea.  Then, there is crisp pear and citric acids exposing shrewd carbonation that boils on your tongue like cauldron spill.  Over-ripened guava, alfalfa hay, pepper and cloves impart before finishing with biscuity malt notes.  This beer was kicking some serious ass. 

Harviestoun Brewing | Alva, Scotland
Ola Dubh is an old ale aged in Highland Park casks that held whisky for 16 years and infused with mystery and magic; Highland Park scotch being a coveted brand amongst devotees.  What is imparted in this dark ale is a smoky-sweet sipper with roasted coffee and chocolate liquor notes.  Its is smooth as a Neil Hannon album-ender, and I probably should have been wearing a nice robe de chambre with turn-up cuffs while enjoying this.  It is a beer rooted in geography, and proper respect was to be paid to commemorate its long endeavor from the awful, Gap-swing-revival influence of the mid-1990s to its final flirt with my palate.  Its migration from Midwest Scotland to Midwest USA is a remarkable range, and it felt like its story was a Robert Burns re-interpreted by Tim Burton.

Hops & Grain Brewing | Austin, TX
If you've ever tried the base beer -- H&G's Baltic Porter -- you would remember that this was already a massively complex beer, with roasted coffee, cocoa, toffee, vanilla, and burnt malts -- but in this iteration, the Baltic Porter was further enhanced by age in Maker's Mark barrels, then imparted with black cherries to add luxurious, muddled Old Fashioned flavor profile.  Altogether, this beer is as graceful as it is playful.

03 | Hopslam
Bell's Brewing | Kalamazoo, MI
However, the Lou Gehrig power-alley slugger of this batting order is Bell's Hopslam.  This beer is supremely capable of snagging Pliny the Ruth's shot-calling glory in the clean-up spot.  Hopslam is the most well-controlled, and thus, well balanced, IPA I've ever had the opportunity to dabble in.  Its BIG hop profile is perfectly reigned in by the syrupy perseverance of its honey addition.  It is both easy drinking and challenging to tackle.

Jester King Brewing | Austin, TX
[Buddha's Brew] is both discretely saccharine and devilishly tart -- a clandestine sour ale with surreptitious balance, it is truly the first recipe from the brewhouse that I felt was under their absolute, expert control.  That is not a jab in any way -- instead, a huge ovation for their practices and tuned technical refinement, since they are most famous for using such highly volatile brewing methods and ingredients.  And that does not even mention the confident use of a monstrously unpredictable focal ingredient, kombucha tea (from Austin's Buddha's Brew, natch), which in and of itself is riddled with wild yeasts, bacteria, and other ferementable variables.  Buddha's Brew was soured and bright and complex, yet deftly clear in focus.  It was refreshing, but worthy of late-evening, fireside enjoyment.  Lemons without insistence on lemonade.  Really, just perfect.

01 | Einhorn
Austin Beerworks | Austin, TX
Einhorn is pound-for-pound, pretty much the best summer beer I've ever tasted -- and that is comparatively assessed against the giants of summertime like Bell's Oberon, Boulevard's Tank 7, 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon Wheat, Dale's Pale Ale, Dogfish Head Festina Peche, and so on.
The immediate tenor of the beer is that it is superbly tart and deftly citrusy -- not in the clumsy way I find most brewers who've rushed a sour to market.  Einhorn had the dextrous finesse of apples, pineapple, citrus, and other subtle palm tree fruit mingling with fancy champagne notes.   It was gentle on the palate and crisp at the bookends of my articulators.  It was sweet without being either sugary or syrupy -- and most importantly, it hit the key characteristic of any worthy summertime ale: cold, bright, and effervescent.

The Conclusion

The overall, 2012 conclusion is this: 40% of the list is made up of Austin brewers.  In my best rah-rah-we-moved-to-Austin-just-before-it-got-too-crowded-and-therefore-we-have-local-opinions-dammit impersonation, this means that 1) There is explicit talent in the local brewing industry within this underrepresented, but blossoming state (and more expected in 2013) 2) There is an identifiable growth in the sheer number of breweries in Texas, and Austin is leading that movement.  3)  40% of the sample size covering dozens of excellent, worthy, and rateable beers are brewed right here in Austin, therefore 4) The best beer in Texas is being brewed right here in the Capitol City.

I think its a fair summation.

Cheers and happy holidays!  Thank-you for reading.  See you in the New Year when the whole process starts over again.

1 comment:

Renee Ryan said...

Very smooth mouthfeel There's no bitterness in the aftertaste, just a very, very mild but pleasant malt taste