The 2010s began with plenty of “Wow! I’ve never tasted anything like that before!” — and comes to an end with stunned realizations like “Wait. Maine Lunch is not only available locally, but … it’s kind of a shelf turd?!”
You spoil us, craft beer, you really spoil us.
With the absurd amount of breweries added to the U.S. landscape in the 2010s, it’s no wonder we sampled more than we’d ever admit aloud. From fewer than 1,800 in 2010 to nearing 8,000 today, beer drinkers have more choices today than ever before.
We saw the death of the pilsner and lager — and followed them through to their impressive resurrections. We saw the brief explosion and quick plateau of ciders, the bigger rise of pastry stouts, brut IPAs, milkshake IPAs and slushy-style, super-fruited berliners — welcomed by some, SMDH’d by others.
And let’s not forget the rage that was Not Your Father’s Root Beer, whose parent brewery, Small Town, is now permanently shuttered.
Quite the decade.
So what stood out to us in that 10-year stretch? What 4 beers not only stood out, but stood the test of time for consideration of our very own personal 2010-2019 Mount Rushmore of craft beer? Our four favorites — or the four beers that sum up our own beer journey.
When every palate is different, there are no wrong answers and as we enter a new decade, we welcome yours. Below is a compilation from our correspondents:
Ryan’s Standout Beers of the 2010s
A five-plus year old pour of Dogfish Head World Wide Stout resembles a port twice as old than it does a beer. Dark fruit flavors dominate with warming, sweet undertones. There are dates and figs and cashews and gooey caramel. It’s sweet but not too sweet.
The depth of this beer is pretty incredible and I’m still wowed by the fact that the alcohol was barely discernible. Time in the cellar certainly took the edge off and allowed a showcase of malts to shine through. This is one of those benchmark beers, a standard-setter, that other ridiculously high ABV imperial stouts will attempt to achieve but may never reach.
The nose on this strong ale leans stone fruits and star of anise as it continues to trend away from the sweet and savory aromas of year’s past. Overall, the nose holds up really well with limited signs of oxidation.
The first big surprise on the palate was the still-decent carbonation, especially for a beer of its age, as was the velvety smooth texture and sticky yet creamy mouthfeel. The carbonation coupled with the smoothness made for a nice vehicle to deliver the likes of cherries, plums, raisins, dates and dark rum. The dessert-like sweetness of the last few years has faded, making way for hearty dark fruits and a slight hint of alcohol.
Maybe it’s because we got to know the owners well or maybe it’s because I still use a 4 Paws goblet on a fairly regular basis, but Atlas Bone still ranks among my favorite ambers.
Amber ale’s, traditionally, aren’t very flashy. They show up, do their job, and clock out. Much like hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans do each and every day. The amber ale is the, “hard hat, lunch bucket, blue-collar,” beer of the beer world and I could think of no better example of that than Atlas Bone.
Pouring a cloudy, apple cider-ish in color with a creamy, sandpaper colored head — Atlas Bone gives off a nose of chewy caramel, chocolate malt balls and a distinct nuttiness. Essentially it smells like the candy case at a movie theater; Whoppers, Rolo’s and a Baby Ruth.
Take a sip and you’ll find a malt forward amber ale that is nutty with a few splashes of apple cider and a mild hop bitterness that trails away on the finish.
A five-year-old pour of Westy 12 is a deep mahogany in color with champagne-like carbonation and a thick, fluffy eggshell in color head. The effervescence was surprising given the age of the beer and made for a nice vehicle for the rich flavors of the OG white whale.
The nose is hearty, giving off aromas of plums, dates, warm caramel and black cherries. Tingly carbonation carries caramelized stone fruits, pillow-y biscuits, sticky honey, cherries, figs and raisins across the palate. It was like liquid cotton candy. The finish was a tad dry with a balance of warming alcohol.
Karl’s Standout Beers of the 2010s:
This website very nearly lined up with this entire explosive decade of American craft beer ascendance — we kicked GDB off in early 2010 (yeesh, time flies) with absolutely zero forethought about what the next ten years might look like in terms of “here’s some white guys talking about craft beer” and naming your site after it.
If I’m being fair to the decade, I guess I have to eliminate the beers that was drinking and loving in the runup to the 2010s. Sorry, Oberon. But … that’s about it. Pretty much everything else has happened within the context of these ten years, and as such I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about how I could sum up my craft beer journey to present day.
I’m going to differ from Steve in saying that these are my favorite beers of the decade — but they all represent a large bullet point in the progress of this drinker.
Here we go:
When we kicked this website off, we were largely drinking and reviewing beers muled back from Michigan by Ryan. Today we have a Jolly Pumpkin brewpub in Chicago. There’s one way to sum up the decade.
We drank a lot of crazy beers in the early days of beer writing but this is the one that my brain keeps coming back to as the one that really kicked open the door and said “there are no rules here. We can do anything we want — and we will.”
Nowadays when someone hands me a sour stout I assume there was a significant screwup at the brewery, but from Jolly Pumpkin it was just another exciting adventure into a type of beer that barely anyone had scratched the surface on.
Here’s the other thing — I haven’t had this beer once since then. So I can’t fairly call this a “favorite” … but I’ve probably thought about it once a month all decade. So man, did it leave an impression, and it definitely opened me up for a whole lot of new beer experiences.
Goose Island’s Mild Winter:
I ask for the return of no retired beer more than Goose Island’s Mild Winter. It was my go-to easy-drinking malt-friendly option for as long as I knew it existed in the early-mid 2010s, and we can easily make the case for its demise as being indicative of the shift that brought us to present day Goose, for better or for worse.
I mean, yeah, we could make the same case with Honkers Ale, but I didn’t love Honkers the way that Mild Winter nestled into my dark seasonal drinking pattern. It was a great, lightly sweet, heartily malty beer that really offset my pursuit of Everything Hoppier than Everything Else that summed up most drinking in the early part of the decade.
And now it’s gone. Presumably never to return. Alas. But hey — people in Shanghai have a Goose Island brewpub now. Progress means different things to different people.
I mean, come on. If I have to explain this one have you even drank beer in Chicago over the last 10 years? This is a true Mount Rushmore selection, and one that I named the #2 best Chicago craft beer last year.
Other than Anti-Hero, did Chicago drink any craft beer more than this one? Dominance isn’t just measured in beers with huge resale market value, or once that cause lines a few times a year – it’s the beers that you can keep coming back to, day in and day out. And Half Acre excels at making all of the above.
Bell’s Best Brown Ale:
I’m kind of outing myself as a real malt-forward kind of guy, huh? Somewhere around the middle of the decade, I realized I needed to have an answer to the question “what’s your favorite beer?” Everyone else’s answer seemed to always be a variant on “well it depends on the season” or “the one I’m drinking right now!” For me, I wanted something more specific — and actionable. So that’s when I chose … Founder’s Porter.
I’ve been off Founder’s beer ever since the now-famous racial discrimination lawsuit was filed, and since the settlement I’ve found that I’m still not ready to reintroduce their beer to my drinking habits, despite my appreciation for the quality of their offerings. There’s too many other beers out there and they don’t need my money. But … I did have to choose a new “favorite beer ever” at that point.
After flirting with Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald (there’s a reason my bio says I’m likely having a porter or a pale ale) I decided that Bell’s Best Brown was my true favorite beer. It’s a seasonal that returns in my favorite part of the year, it stays in my fridge for as long as it’s in production, it’s rich and nutty and balanced and delicious. And no moral quandries about drinking it!
Steve’s Top Four Beers of the Decade:
So many great breweries, so little time. And while some have grown from local breweries to regional, national and even international breweries, I still find joy in discovering something new, whether it’s from an out-of-town brewer, a homebrewer on the cusp of doing their own thing or a local place trying something new.
And of course, there remain the go-to standard bearers.
To narrow the list, I eliminated those whose first few tries led me to sing its praises far and wide, only to be disappointed in follow-up tries over the years. (I’m looking at you, Bell’s Hopslam, Lagunitas’ High West/Willitized Coffee Stout, Stone Xocoveza Stout and Founders KBS/CBS.)
And there are countless barrel-aged stouts that drank so well at the time, but then faded with age. Or others that didn’t initially impress, but then became mind-blowing after time in the cellar. So many fit that criteria, they could fill their own separate list.
For me, multiple tastings over that period was mandatory – and so was consistency.
New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb
Fruit Ale, 4% ABV
Season after season, it is exactly what is advertised. From nose to mouthfeel to taste, it’s all strawberry and a little rhubarb. Sweet, jammy and just a tiny bit tart, it screams late summer in the Midwest. And it ages incredibly well, to boot, making it a “dreaming of summer” beer by this time of year, as well. And in keeping with the “only in Wisconsin” credo, I have no problem continuing to make special trips north just to get it.
Russian River Pliny The Elder
Double IPA, 8% ABV
Living in the Midwest, Bell’s Two Hearted is my go-to in a pinch. Amazing that we tend to take for granted a beer that annually dukes it out with this West Coast stalwart. No, I’ve not yet been fortunate enough to have tried Blind Pig or Pliny The Younger, which many say surpasses this one. That’s OK – whether on tap in Philly, Denver or bottles from the source, I have yet to be disappointed by this amazing display of piney, citrus, smooth, bitter beer, set to turn 20 next year.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels, 15.2% ABV
For every insider complaint about their corporate owners, there are a dozen people in line for it. And with good reason. To be sure, variants like the 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2019 Proprietor’s are magnificent, Bramble and Templeton Rye, Reserve, Double Barrel and Triple Barrel, as well. But the OG? Earlier this year, I opened a 2008 BCBS and was stunned by how well it had held up. And yes, the base stout is easier to find than ever before. And for that, I say: thank you, corporate owners. Maybe re-think your approach with local media, but don’t re-think your decision to crank out more of this, as long as it keeps coming out so spectacularly.
Burning Foot (beer name here)
Imperial Stouts, ABV varies 18-22%
No, that’s not a typo on the beer name. It’s more of a “fill in the blank” because everything from this Louisville small batch/home brew operation has just been mind-blowingly fantastic. Big stouts with loads of adjuncts is their calling card and whether it’s All Shook Up, their apple brandy-aged peanut butter/banana/bacon stout, S’morgasboard, their s’mores stout with macadamia nuts or one of many others, they’ve all been out-of-the-park good. I can’t get my hands on them often enough and from a distance, am cheering on their efforts to open their own brewpub.