The Year in Beer: Our Favorite Beers of 2014

In Site Newsby The Guys

We scour tasting notes in notebooks, on loose scraps of paper and Instagram photos to find our favorite beers of 2014.

favoritebeersWhat has long been a top 10 beers of the year has doubled to a top 20 list with the addition of two new writers. This list — which is un-ranked — includes local favorites, cellared goodies and festival rarities.

Here are Ben, Karl, Ryan & Steve’s favorite beers of 2014.

newglarusscreamNew Glarus Scream IIPA
Not that they need any more nods or accolades for their phenomenal beers, but I would be remiss without dropping New Glarus Brewing Company’s Scream IIPA as one of, if not my favorite beer of 2014. This beer won me over at first sip and I stand by my statement that this beer is nothing short of epic. (Ben)

Heady Topper CanThe Alchemist Heady Topper
When Ryan pulled this out of his back pocket at a mid-year tasting, I remember being a little skeptical based on all the hype about this beer. Skepticism turned to surprise when I realized the hype was justified. It was at points gushingly fruity, bracingly bitter, surprisingly sweet and overall refreshing. The fact that one could easily pound through a few of these without much effort may still be its’ biggest secret. (Karl)

IMAG3053Dark Horse 3 Guy Off The Scale 2009
After a five-year slumber in the bottle this behemoth of an American Barleywine easily tops my list of favorite beers of 2014. The nose was sweet and salty, as was the body. Chocolate covered cherries are the first to greet the tongue followed by black olives, anchovies and a kick of red pepper as it warms. Let it sit a bit more and you’ll pick up some raisins and nuts in the finish — liquid trail mix, if you will. (Ryan)

grapefruit18th Street Grapefruit Dead
This beer was made for summer and I spent many a summer day enjoying this one. All citrusy and popping with hops, it brings all the bitter, tang and sweetness you’d expect from a grapefruit-based IPA. Brewed in collaboration with Mikkeller, I only hope it’s back again next summer. (Steve)

troublesomeAnderson Valley The Kimmie, the Yink and the Holy Gose AND Off Color Brewing Troublesome
For me, this was the summer of Gose. It’s  an ancient and almost extinct beer style, which I wasn’t privy to, with the exception of a curious sip of Leipziger Gose some 10 years ago that my naive palate just wasn’t ready for. Gose are usually brewed with coriander seeds, soured and then finished with a noticeable addition of salt, giving you tart, herbal, creamy and salty all at once. Anderson Valley The Kimmie, the Yink and the Holy Gose was my summer jam and a great introduction to the style. I was equally blown away with Off Color Brewing’s Troublesome. (Ben)

Lagunitas Chicago First LookLagunitas (in general)
Admittedly, these guys weren’t really on my radar too much until the big announcement that they were coming to Chicago, and even in the long construction process I only sampled here and there. It was somewhere around the early open house and then the kickoff of the fully operational super-facility throughout this year that I really made an effort to rediscover their offerings, and it certainly paid off. Having uberfresh options like Daytime Fractional, the Pils and IPA, the Nighttime dark ale and everything else on hand was awesome, but having bombers of Cappuccino Stout, Hopstoopid and others for as little as $4 around town made them an immediate go-to. (Karl)

IMAG4238Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA 2009
I pulled this from the cellar as a treat on Fathers Day. Five years in the cellar did wonders to take the edge off this aggressively hopped double IPA. The alcohol is still present but is more warming than burning. The hops have faded dramatically but still leave a touch of citrus — mainly orange peel — around mid-sip. It’s the malts that really shine in this aged pour; there’s gooey caramel and chocolate covered cherries, butterscotch candies, caramelized brown sugar and honey. (Ryan)

10-speedBloomington Brewing 10-Speed Hoppy Wheat
Just when you thought there were distinct camps – IPA fans and Wheat fans – along comes this phenomenally brewed beer that appeals to both. A solid wheat base gets a touch of citrus and bitterness that leads to a balanced, hoppy wheat. Look for it to come back next summer, as it’s definitely a beer worth crossing the border for.” (Steve)

doorkriekO’so Brewing Company and Funk Factory Geuzeria’s Door Kriek
To me, this beer is so much more than a staggeringly great Lambic. It’s a sign of the great things to come in the new year. Cue Funk Factory Geuzeria. My hometown of Madison, Wisconsin is about to be home to a brick and mortar facility dedicated to producing only funky lambics and geuze. In the meantime, the infamous Geuzedor, Levi Funk has been quietly collaborating with O’so Brewing Company, turning out some killer beers. This particular collab is made by blending two different types of lambic that were aged on oak and then aged over Door County cherries. In the nose this beer is so lively and bright; plump cherry aromas are enveloped by pleasant spice and a firm kick of earthiness. In the mouth, this beer has a bracing acidity, but is perfectly kept in check with a solid bitterness, making it phenomenally fun to drink. If this is the future of craft beer in Wisconsin, I’m never leaving. Ever. (Ben)

Spitful-God-Damn-Peanut-ButterSpiteful’s Pigeon Porter varieties
My appreciation for the variety of output achieved by the Spiteful team is unwavering, and while I really enjoyed offerings like the barrel-aged GFY earlier this year and their absinthe-barrel-aged experiments that I tried at FoBAB, the Pigeon Porter in all its permutations scratched an itch like no one else in town this year. By playing around with flavors like raspberry and peanut butter they had my attention. By blending the two together they had my total affection. The base Pigeon is a happily raspy bitter brew, and the way these guys play with it (other varieties include toffee and chocolate banana) keeps me coming back. (Karl)

IMG_0447Kuhnhenn 4D 2010
This Old Ale, which is the only beer I have come across to promise and deliver on flavors of marshmallow continues to get better with age. A near carbonation-less body that’s thick and slippery carries heavy flavors of caramel, toffee, plums. red grapes, marshmallows and graham crackers. The tail is long and sweet and the 13.5 % ABV is absolutely nowhere to be found. (Ryan)

tenninetyimpporterTen Ninety Imperial Porter
The spicy kick of cayenne pepper might be too much for some. The uniquely sweet punch of pomegranate might be over the top for others. Put them together with a touch of espresso, chocolate and both brown and black malts and you have a winner. It’s light, too, making it incredibly drinkable, though the heat may slow you down. It’s worth it, though. (Steve)

photo 1Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Hop Harvest Series (and everything else they brew)
With all of the phenomenal new breweries emerging on every corner of the country, I think I drank more Sierra Nevada this year than anything. Funny how that works. They continue to be a gold standard and I’d fight tooth and nail that damn near every one of their beers in their portfolio is excellent in it’s own right. This year, I was crazy about their Hop Harvest Series. Sierra Nevada went way out of the box, releasing five beers throughout the year, showcasing hops that ranged from experimental to wild (as in, “…found scrambling down hillsides near their home in New Mexico.”) Looking back at some of my tasting notes for the first release, which utilized an experimental hop solely named #291, I wrote down the following aromatics: tellicherry peppercorn, burnt tires and blueberries. When’s the last time your IPA smelled like that? (Ben)

oddside mayan mochaOdd Side Ales Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Mayan Mocha
I accidentally happened into one of these on Black Friday when I was making my own little Northern Michigan rush to dark heavy beers, but just via a pick-your-sixer with no waiting in line. This random find seemed like it was biting off more than it could chew (chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, Habanero, barrel-aging) but man, did it nail it just right. It’s hard to imagine that a beer this busy could find something approaching balance, but they did — nothing stuck out too much; rather, everything blended pretty happily. Starting with a rush of chocolate stout, the cinnamon and nutmeg rush in second and then gets spanked down quickly with a burn of bourbon, and then finally the Habanero wanders in and stick around for a while with just enough spice to tickle the back of your throat and let you know it’s there. (Karl)

IMAG3062Bell’s Expedition Stout 2011
Part of a five-year vertical, this two-year-old bottle — which was perfectly balanced — stole the show. If you’ve drank a fresh Bell’s Expedition Stout then you know this is a fairly hop-forward Russian Imperial Stout. This is the first glimpse we’ve gotten of those hops; coming by way of some spearmint up front and mint chocolate chip ice cream in the finish. The chocolate and coffee flavors in the two previous versions blended seamlessly together. This may have been the best pour of the bunch. (Ryan)

takeiThree Floyds Oh Myyyy Takei
An advantage to living by Three Floyds is being able to try some of their one-off beers, like this Japanese rice lager. Being a Howard Stern fan, there was the appeal of the name, given the show’s relationship with George Takei and their use of his “Oh myyy” soundbite. The beer was even better. Brewed with both Saki and Kolsch yeast, it’s completely different from anything else I had this year. It’s light and has a fruity nose, surprisingly sweet for a 9.2% ABV beer. It’s worth every slow sip. (Steve)

pfp-14 Hands Passionfruit Prussia Berliner Weisse
I promise you I’m not just writing this up to pat ourselves on the back for bringing this to Chicago for the first time at this year’s South of 80. This is a damned great summer beer and was the standout (for me) at the event. Juicy, tart and sparkling without sacrificing drinkability and sweetness, this is a light enough beer to crush all throughout a hot day, but not so cloying or uncomplex that you get overwhelmed or bored by it. It’s not sticky-sweet like some radlers can be, it’s creamy and refreshing, it’s got enough going on to keep you coming back and offers a great change of pace from the flood of session IPA’s we saw this year. (Karl)

eccentric091Bell’s Eccentric Ale 2009
The aggressive hop-profile that was so prevalent from a fresh pour through a two-year-old bottle has backed off significantly revealing a rich but still intense beer. The overall minty-ness of this beer is toned down across the board, which is a good thing. There is still a lingering touch of spearmint on the nose, but it’s joined by some peanut brittle — adding a nice touch of complexity to what was once a one-note aroma. The hops are still pretty aggressive on the palate, leading with a burst of piney hops, however the long hop tail has shortened allowing chunky peanut butter to join the party mid-sip and a heaping scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream to finish things off. (Ryan)

2014_Collab_Xocoveza_bttle22Chris Banker/Stone/Insurgente Xocoveza Mocha Stout
The idea that this came from a homebrewer as part of Stone Brewing’s annual competition gives me some inspiration. That aside, the cocoa, coffee, vanilla and chile pepper are phenomenally blended. It’s an adventurous and creative brew that aimed high and nailed it. They were going for the traditional flavors of Mexican hot chocolate and that’s exactly what this reminds me of. (Steve)

Honorable Mention: Marz Community Brewing, What The Pho? Porter, Short’s Peaches & Cream, Local Option oak-aged Hoku Vila at What the Firk, Dark Horse Perkulator Dopplebock, Half AcreDaisy Cutter, Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, 4 Paws Fawn (RIP), Perrin Grapefruit IPA, Slapshot Red Eye Coffee Porter at Beer Under Glass, Excel’s 2nd Anniversary Porter at FoBAB, Une Annee’s Enkel, Begyle Imperial Coffee Pajamas at Winter Brew, Blackrocks Grandrabbits, Short’s Space Rock and Griffin Claw Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA.

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Written by many, compiled by one, this is a collaborative post with contributions from at least two writers at Guys Drinking Beer.

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