Here at DCBeer, we’re starting off 2016 by looking back at the beers that impressed us in 2015. Unlike other websites that give you all of their year-end content at the end of the year, we’re giving it to you at the beginning of the year instead. We remain the most iconoclastic DC-based beer blog around. There were no guidelines for what did and didn’t count as 2015, as you’ll see. Some of us restricted our lists to beers that were first released in 2015, or that we first had in 2015 regardless of release, or even just the best overall beers we had in 2015 regardless of when they were released or when we first had them. Life is fickle.
Here’s the first set of picks from our staff and friends of the site. Expect the rest throughout the week!
- RaR Groove City Hefeweizen: Had this at Snallygaster, and it was hands down one of the best hefes I have ever had. I need to find more of this. Also, RaR are all-around real nice guys.
- 4 Hands Brewery Preserved Lemon Gose: Picked this up for Thanksgiving and was surprised by the balance and complexity.
- Pulaski True American and Right Proper Collaboration Most Precious Saison. Had a blast making this, and, as biased as I am here, I need to make more of this later. We set a BBL aside for 2016.
- La Socarrada Cerveza Artesanal De Xativa Valencia Saison: The carbonation was super high (almost to a champagne level), with a beautiful fresh citrus, but non-acidic, profile.
- Boulevard and Cigar City Collaboration #5 Tropical Pale Ale: This was a last minute addition to the fridge, thanks to my local liquor store. Huge citrus hops and passion fruit on the nose and wonderful palate balance. One of the few Cigar City beers I like.
- Faction Brewing: 2 Hop Pale (Jarrylo/Lemon Drop): Super cool place in Alameda, California that is built on an old naval base. The brewery looks out over the San Francisco Bay, and you drink on an old tarmac. First time having a Jarrylo-hopped beer and was overall impressed by what they were doing.
- Jester King Hibernal Dicotomous and Aurelian Lure: Both are done using Jester King’s house yeast and barrel aged on various fruits. I need more of these.
- Stillwater Yacht: This was my summer anthem beer, 16 ounce tallboys of dry-hopped lager. Now, I am not one into dry-hopped lagers or Kölsches, but this worked for me. (Sidenote, I am still demanding an unhopped version of Bluejacket’s Forbidden Planet).
- Top Brewery of the Year: 4 Hands Brewing. I feel I had almost their entire portfolio within six months, and I kept asking, “When the hell did these guys show up?” Super impressed with their quality, consistency, and the overall balance of each beer.
- Bluejacket Fields of Friendly Strife: To a large extent, the concept of brewing a “saison” is a bit of a joke. There’s so much variation in the style that outside of "uh, it’s on the dry side and has a Belgian yeast strain I guess?”, there’s not much to go on. This is both a negative and a positive. While it makes comparisons across beers difficult, it does allow for a certain degree of creativity and nuance that is not traditionally afforded to other styles (looking at you, imperial stouts). Most of all, it gives drinkers the ability to find a beer that appeals distinctly to them. Fields of Friendly Strife is that beer for me. Bright, effervescent, and slightly funky without being overly peppery-yeast-driven, FFS (see what I did there?) brings a light and citrusy aroma bolstered by a white-wine-like acidity that hits all the right notes for me.
- Right Proper Brewing Company Kick.Kick.Snare: Sometimes I like to dissect the nuances of my beers, and sometimes I like to drink cheap macro lagers in quantity and go to sleep. Kick.Kick.Snare delivers a beautiful simplicity that somehow combines those two sides of my beer drinking brain. This beer does not hide what is: aggressively, assertively, mouth-puckeringly sour. Add in the citrus of the dry hops, and you have a beer that is simple and light enough to consume without thinking too much, with just enough intrigue and nuance in the aroma from keeping it from tiring.
- Wynwood Brewing (Miami, FL) Pop’s Porter: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look down a bit from my high hill/horse/other high thing up here in DC on the brewing scene in my native South Florida. “Sure, there are a few solid breweries down there making decent beer,” I thought, “but nothing like what I regularly drink in DC.” Now, having spent enough time and having visited enough breweries in my ancestral homeland of sunshine, beaches, senior citizens, dudes with terrible linen suits and fancy cars, and DJ Khaled, I can proudly say that I was wrong. I’ve been back to Wynwood Brewing on three separate trips with a single goal in mind: drink Pop’s Porter. This beer is not barrel-aged, not made with out-there wild yeasts or soured in a foudre made from salvaged wood from a sunken ship. Rather, it’s a (GABF-award-winning) robust porter that wonderfully balances a nearly toffee-like sweetness and caramel flavor with rich roast and a not-too-sweet finish. Drinking a beer this delicious (a “standard” and “boring” style, to boot) in my hometown gives me a wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling about the beer scene in Miami and the surrounding area. I was wrong about you, South Florida brewing scene, and I am sorry. (And also, thank you for DJ Khaled’s Snapchat adventures.Seriously.).
- My beer of 2015 has to be Bell’s 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout. I talked about this beer before, but at it at Bell’s Funvitational and kept a few extra bottles. It’s a fantastic balance of huge coffee and bitter chocolate flavor and an ever-so-slight hoppiness that makes it drinkable now. The added bonus is getting to try the beer with my Dad at the Funvitational in Kalamazoo.
- I also had a lot of Port City Ways & Means. One of the best sessioners around here, I tried to get this whenever I could this summer when my need for a hoppy beer kicked-in but I still wanted to have more than one beer. Clean and with a spicy rye character, plus 4.5%.
- Alpine Pure Hoppiness: A while ago a friend told me to look up Alpine next time I was in San Diego, but it turns out I didn’t need to. I’m sure we wouldn’t get the fresh stuff in this market if Green Flash hadn’t bought them. Pure Hoppiness is super clean with a crap load of C-type late hopping. The beer is plenty bitter, but not overly so.
- Home – Ocelot (IPA): An admitted homage to Alpine’s famed Nelson rye pale ale, see below, with slightly more cereal and grain in the body.
- Nanticoke Nectar – Real Ale Revival (IPA): This brewery is crushing it. Big things. One thing a beer professional can do is introduce people to new things and champion them. Jace Gonnerman did that with RAR and Fairwinds, see below.
- Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne – Right Proper (Berliner Weisse): Not too sour that I can’t drink three of them. Floral, bone dry, and made within walking distance of my house.
- Raspberry Dissonance – 3 Stars (Berliner Weisse): Not sure I can drink three of them, but I can drink two.
- Black Twig – Albemarle Ciderworks: Their single-apple varietal ciders continue to impress.
- Siren’s Lure – Fair Winds (Saison): Always nice when a brewery opens and immediately medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
- Now in cans: Union Old Pro Gose, Port City Optimal Wit, 3 Stars Ghost White IPA.
- Oktoberfest – Sierra Nevada–Brauhaus Riegel: Basically liquid perfection.
- Left of the Dial – Notch (Session IPA)
- Down to Earth – 21st Amendment (Session IPA): These session IPAs are the two best examples of hop-bursting I’ve encountered so far, moving this style away from what I’d ordinarily call a “bitter” to a category of its own.
- Coffee Cinnamon Barrel-Aged Abominable – Fremont (Imperial Stout): This beer was so good that it literally silenced the room at a tasting.
- Deux Rouges – Yazoo (Sour/wild ale): My favorite sour from SAVOR, no small feat.
- Vinosynth White – Upland (Sour/wild ale): My second favorite, sorry Allagash.
New in the Market:
- Anything from Tired Hands: Greg Engert’s persistence pays off yet again, as NRG bars and restaurants carry this Pennsylvania brewery. Look for more of this kind of arrangement in 2016.
- Anything hoppy from Alpine: Not paying the six-pack prices, but it’s nice to have these guys on tap.
- Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin (IPA): My official beer of the summer.
- Avery Liliko’i Kepolo (Witbier): White Rascal was already my go-to Belgian in a can. Tropical fruit flavors and tartness take it up a notch.
- Firestone Walker Pivo Pils: Yet another stupid good beer from a stupid good brewery.
- Boulevard Ginger Lemon Radler: Danner knows what’s up.
- District Chophouse Nut Brown (cask w/ hazelnuts)
- Right Proper Kick.Kick.Snare and Ready Set Gose
- Bluejacket Nobody’s Darling, A Little Golden Gem, and Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Mexican Radio
- Reuben’s Blimey That’s Bitter
- Fremont Coffee Cinnamon Bourbon Abominable
- Surly Eight
- Country Boy Barrel Aged Black Gold
GABF/Rare Beer Fest/Other Travels:
- Port Brewing Churchill’s Finest Hour
- Lost Abbey Track 8 and Cable Car
- The Rare Barrel Becoming and Ensorcelled
- Dogfish Head Barrel-Aged Palo Santo Marron
- Bell’s Tawny Port Baltic Porter
- Avery Vallum, Tweak, and Ill Dolia
- Cascade White Raspberry, Boysenberry, and Sang Noir
Check back tomorrow for even more picks! Disagree? Agree? Want to add your own? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!