1 Year of GDB: Ryan’s Top 5 Beers Thus Far

In Site News by Ryan

Lists!  Everyone loves ’em.  And as such, we figured that with one full year of Guys Drinking Beer reviews and coverage in the books, we’d go back and take a look at the 5 beers that are still yanking our heartstrings.  Beers that we wish we were still drinking at this moment, and forever and ever, amen.  Beers that were just so damn good they have a permanent place of honor in our addled little brains.

We’ve drank damn near every type of beer in the past year, everything from macrobrew basics all the way to hyper-local brewery one-offs.  Stouts, sours, pilsners, ales, lagers, and everything in between – if it was fermented with yeast, we got our hands on it.

Here’s my top five beers of this year, with a little bit of perspective now that they’re sadly in our rear-view mirror.  For now.

Ryan’s Top 5 Beers

5) Stoudts Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout 2009.  It’s quite a mouthful to say and quite a mouthful to drink.  I was able to chronicle this beer’s cellaring journey from fresh, to six months and to 18 months.  That last bottle I pulled out of the cellar was remarkable and it is one of the few beers I regret not having more stashed away.  I have tried cellaring a handful of other imperial oatmeal stouts and the Fat Dog is not only the lone beer I’ve had hold up well but actually improve dramatically with age.  As I wrote in my review, it went from a-typical oatmeal stout to a super-awesomely complex oatmeal stout.

“The chocolate and coffee notes have taken a backseat to an almond-like nuttiness, brown sugar, plums, dates and a milk chocolate finish.  The dark fruits are rather alluring and the brown sugar adds a pleasant sweetness to this beer.”

Find it.  Buy it.  Cellar it.  I can promise, you won’t be disappointed.

4)  Surly Darkness.  This yearly offering from Surly is still fairly new to me.  I had it in 2009 and recall drinking a very hoppy imperial stout reminiscent of Victory’s Storm King and Bell’s Expedition stouts.  The 2010 offering from Surly was far more complex.  In fact, I noted it was one of the most complex beers I had ever drank.

“Aromas of rich, milk chocolate, brown sugar and a well-worn leather jacket and spearmint gum fill my nose.  Take a sip and you’ll find an incredibly complex beer.  You’re initially greeted with a wave of silky, creamy, smooth and rich milk chocolate.  It quickly gives way to a mix of smoked meats and soy sauce and finishes with a kiss of citrus hops.  The longer you let this beer warm, and you should because there is so much to appreciate here, the smoked qualities become more pronounced with a bit of tobacco emerging as well.”

To this day I want to sit down with a bottle of this and a really, really big steak.

3)  Dogfish Head Bitches Brew. Honey and cherry flavors went a long way in both blending with and offsetting the bold rich flavors of a typical Russian Imperial Stout.  This is truly an imperial stout for people who don’t generally like the style or are afraid of dark beers.  Oh, and I still want to try that blend of Troegs Mad Elf and Bell’s Expedition some day.

2)  Stone Vertical Epic 07.07.07.  Three years in the cellar made for a fun tasting of Stone’s VE 07.07.07.  All things fruity and zesty on the palate with this one; mint, ginger, citrus, mint, spices and a hint of mint – oh and some raspberries on the finish.  This beer was far thicker than I anticipated, nice and syrupy.

I was skeptical that it would hold up well in the cellar, but I was wrong.  And I hope it continues to get better with age till at least until 2012.

How a beer that Karl claimed tasted like burnt marshmallow didn’t wind up in his top 5 is beyond me.

1)  Jolly Pumpkin Noel De Calabaza 2007. Sure, things started out a little rough with this three year old offering from Jolly Pumpkin sampled around Christmas. But after I got the burning out of nose caused by inadvertently sucking some of the head up my nostril while trying to get a good whiff of this beer, I was good to go.  And good, no great, this beer was.  So fantastically Jolly Pumpkin tart and complex and fruity and wonderful.

“The nose (careful!) was full of pears, apples, earth, soil and that funk we know and love from Jolly Pumpkin.  Take a sip and you get a sourly complex beer that has a mix of tart fruits, hints of dark chocolate, raisins and plums and some vanilla.  Each sip was different with any of the aforementioned flavors being more prominent than the others.”

This was my beer highlight of 2010 and, without a doubt, the highlight of our numerous beer reviews over the last year.  The tartness and funkiness and all-around-awesomeness of this beer will be hard to top for beers, er, years to come.

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Honorable mention goes to New Glarus Unplugged Berliner Weiss and Imperial Saison, Founders Devil Dancer, Bell’s Black Note, The Bruery Two Turtle Doves, Heavy Seas The Greater Pumpkin, Short’s Strawberry Short’s Cake, Jolly Pumpkin’s Magr…Mada…Madro…(I give up) Dark Dawn Stout and Boulevard’s Rye-On-Rye and Bourbon Barrel Quad.

Thanks for a year of reading our beer-related blather, and here’s to more in the future.  We’ve got crafts to save and brews to review, so we’ll keep it comin’ if you keep on reading.

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About the Author



Equal parts beer nerd and policy geek, Ryan is now the curator of the Guys Drinking Beer cellar. The skills he once used to dig through the annals of state government as a political reporter are now put to use offering unique takes on barrel-aged stouts, years-old barleywines and 10 + year verticals.

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