If it’s related to beer, we probably have thoughts about it
We used to put together a Craft Beer Almanac during the busiest, wildest days of the mid-2010s as the craft beer renaissance raged, but we haven’t really done a “favorites” or a “best-of” post in quite a while (because, well, you know what the last couple of years have been like).
Here at the end of 2022, however, we thought we’d put our collective heads together and see what really shone this year for all of us. Spoiler: We were big into barrel-aged beer and events over the course of the last 12 months, but there were also a few specific beers that we kept coming back to or appreciated in new ways.
Steve’s Best of 2022:
DLD is back!
Three Floyds’ beloved brewpub was a COVID casualty, as was its massive annual Dark Lord Day gathering of those who love high-quality beer and metal music. But the 2023 return of DLD was announced this year, bringing joy to the masses.
And while the brewpub seems destined to remain closed for assorted reasons, their gorgeous distillery tasting room (with some beer taps!) hadn’t been open long before it also closed, so fingers remain crossed that at least that could re-open in 2023. (And maybe we’ll hear more about those massive expansion plans once discussed, too?)
I’m ending 2022 grateful that Craft Beer & Brewing still delivers an actual magazine to my mailbox a few times a year and for the Chicago Tribune’s Josh Noel’s actual reporting on beer – and not just promotion of it. But I’m also grateful for the emergence of fun beer-centric social media accounts like @hazeboiz, @pilsnerish and, of course, @dontdrinkbeers.
But easily my favorite follow is @beeraficionado, run by Revolution Brewing’s Chief Strategy Officer, Doug Veliky. The CPA-turned-influencer and outstanding human (see his annual fundraising efforts for Lurie’s Children’s Hospital) has nailed the humorous side of beer (Marketing Mitch is a favorite new character) but also delivers insightful Whiteboard Sessions breaking down the business side of beer with transparency not seen often enough.
If you’re not already, give him a follow – you’ll laugh and you’ll be smarter for it, too.
Days of thousands of overnight campers making the news for lining Marcey Street, in anticipation of Goose Island’s Black Friday release of Bourbon County Brand Stout, seem to be over. Lines were killed during COVID and 2022 saw few come out early. (Did anyone even camp out?)
Noticeably increased production of those once-rare beers may be to blame, but so too are the rise of barrel-aging programs from other area breweries. Revolution, Half Acre, More, Phase Three, Whiskey Hill, Brothership, Cruz Blanca, Three Floyds, Mikerphone, Temperance, and many others are carrying that next-generation torch, dropping high-quality BA beers, leading to shifting shopping habits.
That said – BCBS remains as impressive as ever, no matter the year of production. I had a chance this year to sample 2013 Backyard Rye, 2014 and 2017 Proprietor’s and 2015 Rare and they haven’t slipped – a testament to their own high quality.
Some are new, others new to me, but 2022 provided introductions to many impressive breweries. I loved Chicago’s Funkytown from the first taste and can’t get enough of virtually everything coming from Merrillville’s Gnosis. Downstate visits to Riggs and Artesia make them now must-stops, while Mokena’s Brothership consistently delivers some of the best IPAs and stouts around. And Solemn Oath’s offshoot, Hidden Hand, hasn’t missed yet.
Various travels introduced me to places like Pinthouse in Austin, Bow & Arrow in Albuquerque, Moontown near Indianapolis, Etheral in Lexington, Templin Family in Salt Lake City and The Peddler in Huntington. Even the re-opening of Wax Wings’ brewpub in Kalamazoo has provided yet another reason to travel to southwest Michigan.
Eric’s Best of 2022:
Rev remix of old standby
When I heard Revolution Brewing was rolling out an Imperial Anti-Hero to mark the beer’s 10th anniversary, I kinda shrugged. Sure, you’re happy to see it pouring at a restaurant where the taps are dominated by macrobrews, but with so many IPA options at most places, you’re probably not gonna seek it out. Wrong assumption.
The double dry hopped, Imperial, 10% ABV version of this West Coast is terrific. It’s boozy. It’s got bite (think old school 3 Floyds‘ Dreadnaught or Permanent Vacation). It’s better than the OG Anti-Hero. I rarely buy more than a four-pack of anything, but I’m already through two Imperial Anti-Heroes. As IPA tastes swing back away from bloated haze, Rev would do well to bring this back as a yearly seasonal.
Roll out the barrel
Phase Three Brewing rarely misses with its barrel-aging program, so their social media post around Labor Day trumpeting a bourbon barrel-aged Oktoberfest was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Could such a beer be any good? There’s not a lot of this style in the Chicago market. Tried it on a lark during release day at the taproom and so glad I did.
Clocking in at a whopping 15% ABV, this big beer presents as a barrel-aged barleywine, complete with spice and caramel and sweetness. If you close your eyes while sipping, you might think you were at Revolution in November. The beertender was kind enough to sample out BA Perception of Depth, a 15.5% brown ale released later that month. It, too, was a winner.
Put away the six-shippers
Used to be that to try the latest East Coast hype haze or the taproom-only, whalebro Alaskan BA stout, you had to find a trading partner or proxy who didn’t gouge you too much (and hope the beer didn’t break in transit). These days, you don’t have to beat a path to the UPS Store quite as much. 2022 saw an influx of big-name, out-of-market beers distributed in the Chicago marketplace.
Anaheim’s Bottle Logic’s BA pastry stouts, Anchorage Brewing’s spendy BA stouts and barleywines, and J Wakefield sours and haze from Miami all made their debuts at city and suburban bottle shops, with word that Boston’s Trillium might be coming soon. They joined Colorado-based Weldwerks and New York’s Other Half and Equilibrium, which started selling beer here a few times a year within the last couple of years. More of this, please.
Karl’s Best of 2022:
Events. Just, events.
Even though I dipped my toes back into drinking beer amongst the masses at FoBAB 2021, my first major unmasked beer event in over two years happened in May of this year when Ryan and I reunited to attend the Michigan Brewers Guild Spring Beer Festival. It was the first time since FoBAB 2019 that I was able to sample dozens of beers amongst hundreds of people and I had forgotten how much I missed it.
The location (a sprawling minor league ballpark) and the weather (as good as you could ask for in northern Michigan in late spring) were contributing factors as well, but honestly, simply being around other humans all enjoying a variety of fun beers in one of the best states for beer was just plain restorative. It was good to be back.
Rediscovering beers I thought I knew:
Many of you who subscribe to our weekly beer news email know that I relocated to Traverse City in late 2020, and even though there’s plenty of great beer up here, I quickly realized that there were a handful of beers that I was going to miss pretty much all the time. Having returned to Chicago a couple of times since the move, I’ve been able to really look at some of those beers with fresh eyes and re-learn the joys of drinking my old favorites.
For example, one of my Best of 2022 moments is reliving the fresh joys of cracking into a Daisy Cutter or a Tome from Half Acre on hot day.* I can slowly savor a Dovetail Hefeweizen or Helles with a lot more intention and a lot less of taking it for granted that a 4-pack will always be nearby. I can track down a 6’er of Metropolitan Afterburner and have it be as exciting of a find as it was a decade ago. And don’t get me started on the feeling of being reunited with Hopleaf’s CB&J and Mussels for One.
Do you need to move hundreds of miles away to have the same feeling? I don’t know, but I suggest a thought experiment: imagine a world where your favorite beer is only available to you a few times per year. Then go drink one, this time imagining that it’s your first time trying it. See what happens.
*I continue to rue the fact that I never got my hands on as much Original Reaper as I should have.
More praise of alternate barrel-aged options:
We all seem to be really digging on different barrel-aged beers this year, huh? After last year’s BCBS tasting I challenged myself to calculate the combined price of all those beers provided by Goose and then drink the equivalent amount (by cost) of barrel-aged beers from other breweries. While I can’t claim to have hit that number, the effort at least paid off in getting me to stretch out and actively pursue BA beer that I wouldn’t otherwise have tried.
And guess what? I ended up having a lot of really fun, interesting, tasty beer this year.
I sampled Odd Side’s BA Mayan Mocha Stout and BA Banana-Chocolate Hazel’s Nuts (both quite good) and I branched into Upper Hand’s SISU Stout (dangerously great, especially at $18 for a six-pack). I returned to Bell’s BA Expedition Stout (also awesome) and Rev’s dangerously smooth Ryeway to Heaven (twice).
I had a whole bunch of Solemn Oath barrel-aged beers before FoBAB just to earn my wings, which were all pretty much top-notch (I didn’t love the cabernet-barrel-aged RIS as much as the others, oh well) and a BA Quad from Brewery Vivant which didn’t kill me this time and apparently there was a BA imperial porter from Untitled Art which I honestly don’t remember but I’m sure was just fine. Another “Best of 2022” moment was celebrating Hopleaf’s 30th anniversary with a small pour of Three Floyd’s Marshmallow Handjee without waiting six hours in line for it.
Suffice to say that I really spent 2022 waking up and reminding myself of all the great barrel-aging options out there beyond the BCS label.
Okay, here’s a beer I really liked this year:
You know it’s a good beer when you buy it a second time, and the only new-to-me beer I went back to repeatedly was Brew Detroit’s Pleasant IPA, which 100% lives up to its name. I appreciated the actual presence of malt character, lightly bready though it may be, as well as its ability to walk the line between a decent amount of bitterness paired with some friendly citrus on top.
I’m also going to shout out Blackrocks Brewing’s Mykiss IPA in here for very similar reasons; I very recently grabbed a 6’er of this and it’s delicious for all the same reasons in a noticeably different way. If this is the return of the West Coast influence in IPA, I say keep it going into ’23.
Ryan’s Best of 2022:
Rediscovering old favorites.
I spent a lot of 2022 getting reacquainted with beers I usually passed over in the beer aisle for something new. I think I drank through Blackrocks entire lineup throughout the year, from Honey Lav and Grand Rabbits poolside in the summer to 51k pretty much all of the time and North Third Stout over the weekend. It’s not unusual to have a go-to brewery when nothing else looks good and Blackrocks became that for me this year.
A return to Chicago.
Much like Karl, I no longer live in the city either, although I made a rather quiet escape back in 2014. It’s been five years since I last drove up Lake Shore Drive but had to return one chilly Saturday in April to get one last box of Dinkel donuts before our favorite bakery in the city closed for good. It was a whirlwind 12 hours in the city where I loaded up on pastries from Dinkel, smoked meats from Paulina Meat Market, drove past a smattering of old apartments, and grabbed a deep dish pizza on the way out of town from D’Agostino’s. Oh, and I got beer. It was great to have a fridge full of Half Acre, Metropolitan, Begyle and Dovetail again.
Sometimes it’s not what you drink but where.
This fall I spent four days backpacking through the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was an arduous couple of days of surprising elevation changes and rain. So much rain. Thankfully, we also brought beer: Upper Hand’s UPA.
On the first night, it paired perfectly with a roaring fire as we were perched above the Lake of the Clouds. A room-temperature UPA helped celebrate the end of a 10-mile traverse on day two and helped laugh away a driving rainstorm on day three. It was the perfect beer for the not-so-perfect occasions.