Beers I’ve Been Drinking: a Scattered 2013 in Review

Oh, hey. Did you hear? It’s my last column of the year, which means TIME TO MAIL ONE IN.

Kidding, everyone! No mailing in from THIS guy. Just another year-end list on the never-ending pile of year-end lists - another group of beers you’ll never see from the wild and varied travel I’ve experienced over the past year. Luxury from San Diego! Southern hospitality from Richmond and Atlanta! Grey skies and endless industrial parks from Long Island!

Enough already. Let’s look back on this year.

Trend I Finally Got Over and Accepted: Putting stuff in my beer.

Oh, Corey, you rail against fruited beers like they might invade your house and take over your crisper drawer. Can’t you just let go and understand that you are the anomaly? That people like Shiner Cheer and Sam Adams Cherry Wheat and Bud Light Lime?

Well. Maybe not that last one.

Yes. I can get over this. I can let go. I can do this because everywhere I went, I’d find a surprising non-hop addition, a delicious note within a delicious beer. Traditional Germans might not be crazy about it, but I can start to rally around it.

Done well, it can be nearly mind-blowing, like Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra, a thick stout deeply infused with a combination of spices traditionally found in an Indian curry - a spicy and intense beer with a serving suggestion of one.

Sometimes, it can intensify the already existing flavors, like Epic Brewing’s Utah Sage Saison, the sage mixing and raising the spicy saison profile to an unforgettable level, or Dogfish Head’s Piercing Pils, a pear-infused pilsner that pulls the essence of a fruit wine, but without all of the cloying sweetness.

Or, it can be such a natural pairing that you can hardly tell there’s an addition at all, like Terrapin Beer Company’s Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout or, more locally, Odell Brewing’s Lugene.

Worst Beer of 2013: Schell’s Schell Shocked Grapefruit Radler

Schell’s, I love you more than any brewery, but you put out a few real stinkers this year - this one being the worst. Everything I said above? It does not apply - I still can’t handle these grapefruit-juice-pretending-to-be-beer beers.

Thankfully, Schell Shocked took a lot of attention away from the overall worst beer of this year’s Autumn Brew Review: Imperial Grain Belt. No, Schell’s. No.

Best New Renewed Style: Gose

We don’t know gose like the Germans knew gose. Schell’s second best new beer - Goosetown - is a modified gose, with less salt (and less sour) than the traditional gose, leading to what tastes more like an inspired witbier.

My sources say Lucid Brewing’s Goslar provided more salt and more tradition this year, though it sold out so fast I never got to try any. That’s okay - the style seems to be catching on, and summertime is better for it.

Favorite Brewery I’d Never Tried Before: AleSmith

If you read last year’s column, this might be a surprise. All I ever wanted in life was to be bathed in beer from the mythical New Glarus Brewing, and this year I tried what seemed like ALL of it.

But a trip to San Diego will really screw with your perception of great beer.

The winner of our vacation was AleSmith, the only brewery that has ever made me care about ESB again. In addition to AleSmith’s signature EXTRA special bitter, they exposed us to an amazing Speedway Stout, a fantastic Grand Cru, an itty-bitty “grumbler”, the cleanest taproom in San Diego, and (a few months later) the idea of mail-order beers.

Honorable Mention: New Glarus, obviously, and Mahr’s, who make a mean Helles and a fantastic Hefeweizen.

Favorite Beer We’ll Never See Again: Cocoa Mole

New Belgium’s Cocoa Mole was a thing of beauty, and those of us who attended Bros Brasserie’s New Belgium Lips of Faith beer dinner got one of the last barrels in existence. Which should teach you all a lesson: MAYBE YOU SHOULD STOP MISSING THE BROS BRASSERIE BEER DINNERS, EVERYONE.

Favorite Beer I Had an an Airport: Surly Darkness 2013

I had this - and only had this - at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Because it’s the best airport in the entire world.

My Favorite Beers of 2013

Finally.

I did this last year, and I was nice about it - it was just beers you could get here in Sioux Falls. This year, I can’t be that nice. My favorite beer above all others is located in a tap room in Northeast Minneapolis, and I refuse to leave it off the list.

So you get two lists. Lucky!

(These are all beers I tried for the first time in 2013, not just beers first released in 2013. They are in no real order.)

The Best of Sioux Falls

Deschutes Armory XPA - I sometimes can’t tell if I like this because it’s hard to find (growler and tap only, from what I’ve seen) or if I think the name sounds cool, or if it’s really good. Probably all three.

Green Flash Brewing West Coast IPA - I first had it in San Diego, but now that they sell it in Sioux Falls I can put it on this list. The standard bearer that named the style.

Great Lakes/Deschutes Class of ‘88 Imperial Smoked Porter - The breweries behind my two favorite porters (Edmund Fitzgerald and Black Butte) join forces for this smoky porter.

Ovila Abbey Saison (w/Mandarin Oranges and Peppercorns) - Hey, tell the people at Ovila and XXX to keep making beers together, because this is everything a saison should be - spicy, fruity, awesome - with a touch of that good ol’ Belgian spirit.

Odell WellSpring Dry-Hopped Saison Ale - It’s hoppy enough to be an IPA, but with that saison funk you love. Odell really hit it out of the park with their sampler beers this year (I feel like I’m one of the few who really liked the Loose Leaf session they put out).

Schell’s Fresh Hop - A case study in why Mosaic hops are so good, Schell’s Fresh Hop - a now-yearly single-hop beer that sprouted from last year’s Stag Series Citra Pils - might take a few to get on board, but once you do you might not drink anything else this winter. Or, at least, that’s what happened to me.

Honorable Mentions: A trio of beers pulled from this year’s Bourbon County Stout vertical at Monk’s: Bourbon County Stout 2008, Bourbon County Stout 2010, and Nightstalker 2010.

The Best of Everywhere

Dangerous Man Belgian Golden Strong - I am in serious love with this beer, guys. I need help.

Russian River Brewing Company Pliny the Elder - It’s as good as everyone ever said.

Great Lakes Brewing Company Eliot Ness - HAHA! HEY COREY! IT’S FUNNY THAT YOU LOVE VIENNA LAGERS. Yeah, maybe, but Eliot Ness is hands down the best Vienna Lager - and one of the best lagers in general.

New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat - Sometimes I forget that wheat beers can be awesome. Like this one.

Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Cold Press Black Ale - Like a hot cup of delicious coffee, except it’s actually cold and it’s a black ale. Taproom only, which is a total bummer because Duluth is a really long drive from my house.

Snake River Brewing Co. Double Fistin’ IPA - And if you think Duluth is a long drive, imagine driving to Jackson, Wyoming, for this amazing taproom-only double IPA. (I’ll give you a hint: it’s about three times as far away.)

Best Closing Paragraph of 2013

It’s this one, because it follows 1,300 words of collected beer experiences, travels, tastes and illumination. Your lists will vary, and I hope they do - the idea that we all follow the same breweries and champion the same beers is as boring as listening to these Coldplay Christmas songs that sprouted up all month long.

Here’s to hoping 2014 is as fruitful as last. (Except for the beer. Keep the fruit out of there.)

Cheers and happy new year!

- Corey Vilhauer