From bottle shares to taprooms, bars to festivals, the opportunities to try new beer – from our market and well beyond – seems endless. That often comes with the chance to see breweries produce consistent world-class classics, while also delivering their creative best. 2018 was no different, as boundaries were pushed and some of the most unique flavor profiles were attempted – some better than others.
A couple of us sat down to review what we found to be the most memorable beers we drank this year — Karl’s are listed as (KK) while Steve’s are tagged as (SP). Karl’s are by month and Steve’s are the tops of his list for the year. It’ll make sense, sorta. We promise.
More Henna Double Rainbow: This was quite a welcome to the “Henna” series and one that set the bar for Neapolitan stouts to come. This year saw a barrel-aged version, as well, but this 2017 original was remarkably well done. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, as Shaun Berns continues to impress with nearly all he produces, from the Frooted series to Hennas, Marbles and more. (SP)
January: Trader Joes Double IPA Crowler: This is more in line with the “memorable beers” even if it doesn’t rank exactly as “great.” I kinda talked a little shit on Instagram about a sub-$5 crowler of packaged DIPA made as a grocery store house brand, but in retrospect it wasn’t that bad. I would probably buy it again, actually, and not just for the novelty of it — but I might have just gotten used to iffy TJ’s IPAs after a little over a year of living in close proximity to them. Either way, I’ll always remember buying a 32oz. can of DIPA at a grocery store. (KK)
Burning Foot All Shook Up: After meeting these Louisville homebrewers at Dark Lord Day, a trip south included a detour to their home garage, where this Elvis-themed stout was mind-blowing. Aged on apple brandy-soaked chips, the peanut butter, banana and bacon flavors were unlike anything else I had in 2018. Here’s to their ongoing efforts to open a brewery and taproom. (SP)
Boneflower Apple Inception: This Indiana meadery isn’t open to the public just yet, but their efforts to elevate their profile before opening included free bottle raffles. This one was nothing short of amazing. It’s why, when Aaron Schavey announced an Indiegogo campaign in May, he had $109,000 committed in just 13 hours. As Boneflower hunts for space for a Northwest Indiana taproom, expect that hype to keep building. (SP)
March: Parish Brewing Envie and Gnarly Barley’s Jucifer: A work trip took me to New Orleans and in two days I managed to enjoy a couple pretty good beers. A bottle of a nice straightforward Envie pale ale at the hotel bar was refreshingly bright, lightly bitter and barely hazy. I spent a bit of time at the Black Penny right on the edge of the French Quarter and sampled through some more locals, the winner of which was the Jucifer IPA from Gnarly Barley. I’d never heard of the brewery — I honestly figured Creature Comforts Tropicalia would win outright in this little tasting — but the big, bright citrus flavor (yes, it was juicy) atop nice light pillowy body made it immediately searchabout on future Big Easy trips. The can says IPA, the BA listing says NEIPA, I just call it good. (KK)
April – Une Annee’s Le Grande Monde 2018-1 with Vanilla and Black Currants: It’s to my endless shame that I hadn’t sampled through Une Annee’s strengths until I visited their tasting room. Yes, their Hubbard’s Cave stouts are fun — the coffee/maple one I sampled was nice — but holy ever living hell was this a wonderful sour beer. You got crazy wild acidity and tart up front, rich dark and almost licorice-y black currant fruitiness following all washed around with a big wave of vanilla. So good. So, so good.
Hop Butcher For The World Blazed Orange: A very good 2017 pale ale got the trendy milkshake treatment in 2018 and, mercy me, was it a winner. The citra/strata hop base works ridiculously well with orange and vanilla. It bursts with flavor. And then 2018 ended with a double version of that milkshake style – kudos if you got your hands on any, as it disappeared from shelves in mere minutes.(SP)
Three Floyds Dark Lord Lounge Against The Macromachine: With so much hype around Dark Lord variants like Marshmallow Handjee, French Vanilla Militia and ChemTrailMix, this 2018 introduction saw a slow build in its hype. With the Dark Lord base blended with cinnamon, cocoa, guajillo peppers and tangerines (?!) all thrown in tequila barrels, it proves itself hype-worthy, earning a spot in the upper echelon of the other variants. (SP)
May – Rhinegeist’s Bubbles Rose Ale: A trip to Cleveland saw me sampling more than a few Ohio-only beers, and the one that I’m going to ask be muled my way (until they finally come to Chicago, which I’m sure won’t be long) is this Bubbles rose. Sparkly, bright, rich with cranberry flavor and not too heavy on the apple or peach. Most importantly — not a one-note too-sweet too-sticky cheap approximation of bad wine. (KK) (Also in May — I don’t remember exactly what I drank for my final trip to Quenchers, but I’ll always remember being there for it.
Hidden Springs Barrel-Aged Black Aggie Birthday Cake: These Tampa brewers stood out at 18th Street’s recent anniversary party (and bottle share) with their coconut-s’mores Cat Kong and Oubilette sour. Then they opened this barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout blended with birthday cake. For as simple as that sounds, it got people talking. In just their third year, they’re bolting toward the top of an already-impressive Florida beer scene. (SP)
June – Illuminated Brew Works Orange Sunshine: I called it the beer of the summer early and I stand by it at this late date. Complex and never leaning too far in one direction — orange-y enough but not cloying, light and floaty saison angles that kept you coming back for more, dry enough to make you crack a second before you knew it. Can more summer beers be saisons, please? (KK)
July – Hop Lot Bayshore Brown Ale: You know a brown beer is good when you want to drink it during the day, in the middle of summer, next to a goddamn campfire. Hop Lot’s is that good. (KK)
September – Pollyanna’s Fruhauf Oktoberfest: There’s only so many places you can go with an Oktoberfest — and if you’re not sticking pretty true to style, those places go nowhere great. Thankfully Pollyanna didn’t try to das Rad neu erfinden and thus ended up with a nice, midbodied, drinkable, nutty, sweet, earthy marzen. (KK) (Also-rans: I went to GABF and drank some good stuff there too.)
October: Goose Island Bourbon County Wheatwine: The big annual Goose release is full of hits and misses throughout the years, but Wheatwine was a new factor. Bold but still almost delicate, heartily dosed with plenty of barrel character that goes far and above what you usually get from an adjunct-laden stout. There’s lots going on here that I want to come back and visit again, which rarely happens for a BCBS offering. (KK)
October: My favorite drinking month gets two entries, because Half Acre’s Far and Away Invitational was chock full of really amazing beers, all memorable and well worth discussing — but because the invitational brought in brewers you probably can’t find here, maybe just go check out the post and think fondly on the bonkers-great meads from Supersitition, the flavor bomb Rice Proxy Treat stout from Other Half, two spectacular IPAs from Alvarado Street and some eye-opening spontaneously-fermented beers from The Referend Bier Blendery.
Untitled Art/Mikerphone Barrel-Aged Hazelnut Imperial Stout: When Mike Pallen teamed up with this Wisconsin brewery in early 2017, they didn’t skimp on the adjunct and the result was an impressive hazelnut stout. A few months later came the barrel-aged version and it was even better, as the hazelnuts continued to dominate – something that can be tough to pull off – but they did it with this. (SP)