Love Is (Finally) In The Air: Our Favorite Beers of 2017

In Beer Reviews by Karl

We thought long and hard about this, and after six weeks of near-constant consideration, measuring, grading, scaling, and a few heated disagreements, we’ve come up with our respective favorite beers of 2017.

We write about and review plenty of beers here — but we sample many more over the course of a calendar year. Nearly none of them get any level of visibility from us. Some we love, others disappoint. But overall, the best beers of 2017 are a mix of successful experiments, longtime favorites and just great beers that we had at just the right time (be it vacation, with friends and family, celebrating a milestone, etc).

Here now, on this Valentine’s Day, we put a pin in the many beers of last year with a look back at what truly stands out — our most-loved, favorite, top beers of 2017 in no particular order.

Ryan:

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, 2006

Patience certainly paid off with this more than 10-year-old pour of Goose Island’s venerable Bourbon County Stout. Spilling out charcoal black from the bottle, an ’06 Bourbon County Stout carried faint scents of vanilla, fresh-sanded wood, soy sauce and brine.
A stemmed cherry atop vanilla bean ice cream opens the flavor gates followed by cocoa powder, a bit more vanilla, and black licorice — all leading to a creamy finish, a lengthy tail and a sufficient bourbon burn. The flavors hadn’t diminished much from a decade in the bottle with strong notes of chocolate and vanilla, little oxidation and still plenty of alcohol notes.

Old Nation Greenstone

A small brewery in Williamston, Mich (just outside of East Lansing) took the state by storm in 2017 with M-43, arguably the pinnacle of hazy IPAs in this state. However, it was the least juiciest of the bunch that carried me through the summer months. Greenstone is equally as hazy as M-43, however its hop profile bends slightly away from juicy with bits of rind and an herbal hoppiness. Dry-hopping gives it a more of a traditional IPA-ish scent too, despite the cloudy appearance, and carries a bit more bitterness.

summer beers

TIE: Dovetail Lager and Territorial Brewing Battle Creek Lager

Same style, but very different beers. Dovetail’s Lager is crisp and yeasty and biscuity and grainy with a subtle apple sweetness. Territorial’s Battle Creek Lager on the other hand carried the same crispness but was slightly drying with an underlying honey sweetness and an herbal and slightly spicy hop-bite on the finish. Both are equally fantastic and, sadly, more than an hours drive for a growler fill (sigh).

Steve:

More Brewing: Henna (Batch 1 – Double Rainbow)

Talk about setting the bar high. When Shaun Berns was let loose to experiment at the RAM Brewery in Schaumburg, he had folks driving from across the Midwest for his releases. Henna – a Neapolitan stout – was the first of his stouts as head brewer at this brand-new Villa Park brewery. And it was mind blowing.

With all due respect to the other Neapolitan stouts out there, it was unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Chocolate covered strawberries with a vanilla lacing? Sure. Strawberry and vanilla ice cream with a swirl of chocolate? Yep. Just amazing. A clear favorite of 2017, it’s scary to think of how good this 11.8% imperial stout is going to be with a little aging.

Transient Artisan Ales: The Juice Is Loose

A south suburban trip to One Trick Pony a few years ago first introduced me to the beers that Chris Betts was making. They were memorable and remained so, even as he bounced to brew at Aquanaut and then established his own brewery in Bridgman, Mich. One of the first beers produced there was this New England-style IPA. Bursting with hops, it hit all the NEIPA check-marks – hazy, juicy, slightly dank and a bit tropical – and doesn’t drink like the 8.1% ABV that it is.

It really came before the Haze Train began its journey through nearly every Midwest brewery and production couldn’t meet demand, with Zombie Dust-like lines forming whenever it was announced as being available. Production has since increased noticeably – thankfully for all of us.

Revolution Brewing: Café Deth

Released around the same time as another brewery’s much-hyped and exceptionally made coffee stout, I found myself whispering to anyone who would listen: “I think Rev’s is better.” (Incidentally, the tasting panel in this Tribune story affirmed that feeling.)

I’m whispering no more.

This year’s coffee stout strikes a perfect balance with its base Deth’s Tar beer and the full-flavored beans from both Gaslight and Dark Matter coffees. The barrel taste is noticeable, particularly as it warms, but the roasty coffee is a welcome constant presence. Clocking in at a whopping 14%, it’s amazingly drinkable, meaning I’m glad this was put in a 12oz can, instead of something larger. “Enjoy Now,” they implore you. No problem. It’s so good, I’m not even tempted to cellar these.

Honorable Mentions: Stone Enjoy By, New Glarus Strawberry Rhubarb, Windmill Who Lives In a Pineapple Under The Meme, Short’s Carrot Cake, Pigeon Hill Your Grandma On French Toast, Upland Bourbon Barrel Teddy Bear Kisses

Karl

Spiteful Maple Goddamn Pigeon Porter

I stopped in for a quick pint at Spiteful’s new taproom not long after it opened, and even though maple is nowhere near my favorite adjunct for a dark beer, it was just goddamn delightful to have a Spiteful beer in a Spiteful taproom. The rough edges of the original porter have been smoothed off, it’s hearty and rich and robust and kissed with just enough maple to let you know it’s there but not have you feel like you’re drinking a donut. Here’s to many more Pigeon variants in the coming year (PB&J please) along with some new Spiteful experiments like lager and cask beers.

Also, they have a section on their menu simple called “Other Good Shit” which is just great.

favorite beers of 2017

Windmill Brewing: Who Lives In a Pineapple Under The Meme

I predicted Milkshake IPAs to go big in 2018 for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the potential spelled out by this beer, gifted to me by my fellow Guy Drinking Beer, Steve. I don’t think this is a perfect beer, but it’s the one that’s put me on the road to milkshake IPA appreciation, thanks to the smooth creamy body, patisserie-like custard sweetness of pineapple and vanilla, and just plain craziness of the whole thing. Also, the label is fantastic for anyone steeped in internet culture like myself.

Metropolitan Brewing: Magnetron Schwarzbier

Similar to the aforementioned first beer at Spiteful’s taproom, my first pour at Metro’s new riverfront taproom was just plain wonderful. In a perfect world, we’d be awash in Schwarzbier options, but until that date Magnetron fresh from the Metro taps is just fine for me. Having had the opportunity to sample many a Magnetron over the years, there was something a little bit crisper, a little bit more roast-forward, a little more there than one consumed just sitting on my couch.

Runner-up: The Heliostat Zwickel my wife ordered (pictured below because I drank my Magnetron too quick to document) was freaking delicious for all of the same reasons. Lager straight from the source — you can’t beat it.

favorite beers of 2017

Goose Island: Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout 2017

I gotta give it to ’em. They really nailed this one. This could be a case of lowering expectations to bedrock level — I thought this beer was going to be a bottle of hot garbage — and then blasting through them with a genuinely awesome beer. I’d like to think, though, that it’s just a damn good beer that’s been recognized as such. It was a pretty ballsy move to go all Bananas Foster in a beer but they stuck the landing — the brew showcased the base BCBS while dropping a sundae of banana and cinnamon and brulee right on top. A real winner, and one that shows that Goose has still got some surprises up its sleeve. (The less we talk about Northwoods, though, the better.)

Runner up: Their Foudre #1 beer is still bouncing off a few of my tastebuds as well.

(Disclosure: Both my Goose beers were provided by the brewery at tasting events.)

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Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers. If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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