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 second set of picks from our staff and friends of the site. You can find the first part here.
- Right Proper Diamonds, Fur Coats, and Champagne blew my brains out of the back of my skull. Hadn’t had such a “Forget whatever else you’re doing right now and pay attention to me!” beer in some time.
- Right Proper and Pulaski True American Most Precious was also a damn fine beer. RP has continued to slay, and, yeah, I’m biased too because I love these guys, but I can’t wait to crush beer after beer from Pulaski. I’m also really excited about RP’s expansion.
- Sub Rosa from Bluejacket definitely caught my attention. So–less elegantly but no less awesomely–did Whiskey Barrel Aged Double Mexican Radio. I don’t have anything to say about whiskey barrel stouts that someone else hasn’t already said, but just because it’s a big, dumb, over brewed, #whalezbro style doesn’t mean Bluejacket hasn’t knocked it out of the goddamn park. And after drinking lots of other great stuff, it’s nice to have something so big to cap off an evening. I’m way behind on trying all that Bluejacket has to offer, but I’m looking forward to fixing that in 2016.
- Our other locals continue to crush it. So glad to be able to find bottles and cans of Brau, Atlas, Port City, and 3 Stars just about anywhere I go in town, including my mediocre Safeway. Hope these new accounts treat the beer properly. Most of my recent 3 Stars consumption has been of their canned lineup, so I’m looking forward to trying more of their big guns next year with the Illuminati membership I got for Christmas.
- Had my first trip to Europe this year (first trip out of North America), and was happy to find a solid IPA, Cerdos Voladores, in Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong, in Barcelona you’ll do very well with gin and tonics, house wine, vermouth and soda, and especially Basque cider, but it was great to see a nice locally made beer there too. Also great to get a short pour of Estrella by asking for “¿Una caña, por favor?” just about anywhere other than a pharmacy or La Sagrada Familia.
2015 has been a great year for beer. 2016 will be even better.
- Oskar Blues Death By Coconut
- Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale
- Evil Twin Double Barrel Jesus
- AleWerks Secret Admirer
- Firestone Walker XIX Anniversary Ale
- Tired Hands HopHands
- Green Flash Treasure Chest 2015
- Hardywood Christmas Morning & Kentucky Christmas Morning
- Handsome Beer Galaxy Saison
- Mad Fox The Rye’t Stuff RyePA
Locally, this was the year of Port City. Even aside from the Small Brewery of the Year Award, I defy anyone to pick out a beverage they released this year that wasn’t delicious, while many of the beers — Ways & Means, Oktoberfest, and Tidings come to mind right away — are excellent, and Essential Pale Ale andDownright Pilsner remain go-to beers for me for many reasons. (Maybe the go-to beers, if it wasn’t for the continued excellence and evolution of Bluejacket’s Forbidden Planet.)
Heading northbound, I was really impressed with DC Brau Oktoberfest this year, which I drank a ton of. (Reminder: stop drinking pumpkin beers when things like this are available, people.) Meanwhile, Brau’sSolar Abyss in cans was probably the beer of the summer, and I drank tons of Brau Pils, as well — the boys on Bladensburg had a very strong year. Right Proper’s Diamonds, Furcoat, Champagne is an absolutely outstanding beer that I’m sure others here will fawn over. As for newish breweries: I was impressed with Handsome’s initial offerings, especially their Galaxy Saison — hopefully, they can continue to build on their launch and influence the local scene in much the same way that Right Proper has. You’re all going to be drinking lots of Pulaski next year, too, and Old Ox and Ocelot are also some to keep an eye on.
Continuing further north, D.C. and Port City aside, though, the biggest story of the year for me was all about Maryland. Union, Burley Oak, and RAR all crushed it this year. Old Pro Gose and Nanticoke Nectar are all amazing beers. Old Line State breweries are going to have a very big 2016 if you ask me.
As for other readily available beers around D.C., Boulevard absolutely killed it this year (not that they don’t every year, but still). I’ve bought several packs of Collaboration #5, which for someone who loves both American pale ale and tropical flavors was an absolute godsend. (Additionally, The Calling was probably the best new widely available IPA that was released this year, and took up rotation with Troegs Nugget Nectar and Bell’s Two Hearted in my fridge.) And look, Tired Hands is now on draft in D.C. — if you’re not drinking everything they’re putting out, you are doing yourself a massive disservice.
There was also that time I drank an entire bottle of Cascade Foudre #1 at Boundary Road (beaming smiles) and that time I drank an entire bottle of Pretty Things Field Mouse’s Farewell at Churchkey (drowning in frowns).
Finally, just for kicks and in no particular order, here are ten of my favorite (generally) out-of-market beers that I drank out-of-market over the past year.
- Creature Comforts Tropicália at Porter Bar in Atlanta
- Paradox Brett’s Hop Farm and Skully Barrel #16 at Hops Culture in Aspen
- Off Color Eille in Chicago
- Aquanaut The Search ESB on cask at Map Room in Chicago
- Hops & Grain The One They Call Zoe in Austin
- Fresh Speakeasy lager (!) on draft (!!) for $3 (!!!) at Growler Garage in Burlington (!!!!)
- A growler of Hill Farmstead / Svaneke / Beer Here Raskolnikov with breakfast in Montreal
- Evil Twin Low Life on draft at Torst in Brooklyn
- Great Raft Grace and Grit at Avenue Pub in New Orleans
- Cantillon Kriek in Reykjavik
Go on a beer trip this year, it’s always worth it.
I drink a lot of beer. Probably too much beer, but that’s for another post. Consequently, it can be tough to remember all of the beers that I have in a given year. Fortunately, that isn’t the point of this exercise. The beers below are those that are most memorable; they stopped me in my tracks and became bright spots and defining moments across the past 12 months. When selecting these beers, I chose beers that I had for the first time in 2015, regardless of whether they were first brewed last year.
- Right Proper Kick.Kick.Snare: Some of my compatriots here have mentioned Diamonds, Fur Coats, and Champagne among their picks, which is fine I guess but also damnably incorrect and foolish. DFCC pales in comparison to the electric livewire that was Kick.Kick.Snare. Right Proper’s sour and tart beers often blur for me in that they’re reliably good but also sometimes hard to distinguish given their similarity and the profile of the house yeast blend. Not so with Kick.Kick.Snare, whose notes of apricot and peach slap you immediately in the mouth, refresh your palate with a tangy kick, and make you salivate for more…immediately, which is fine because at 3.1% even if they served it by the liter (they won’t, I’ve asked), it would be a long race between my stomach lining and my liver to see which got tired first.
- Fair Winds Siren’s Lure: I have a ton of respect for the brewing prowess of Charlie Buettner (formerly of Mad Fox) and Will Cook (formerly of Port City), and so I expected the beer at Fair Winds to be fairly great from the start, and it has been. Sessions in the Abyss and Quayside Kolsch are both solid examples of their respective styles. But my first taste of Siren’s Lure was as satisfying as my first taste of Saison Dupont; there is no higher praise. I can’t say I’m surprised that it won GABF Gold so early, but I will be surprised if it doesn’t win again.
- Modern Times Black House Oatmeal Stout with Coffee, Cocoa Nibs, and Coconut: After a long, long day in Baltimore bar-hopping, checking out Union, and maybe having just a few beers, we came home to watch the US Men’s National Team lose to Mexico in the final minutes. Modern Times’ Black House stout was the sole consolation of the night. Despite a full day of imbibing, its rich mouthfeel, combined with a balance between the roasted malts, coffee, cocoa, and coconut, with no part outshining any other, cut through the palate fatigue (and inebriation) to impress immensely.
- Modern Times Fortunate Islands: I’m on record as saying that I think we have enough breweries distributing to DC, but if I had to pick just one more to eke in, it would be Modern Times. They don’t make a single beer (often hop-forward, funky, or bold) that doesn’t sound intriguing to me. (Kudos to DC’s own Mike Tonsmeire for assisting with recipe development at the outset). Fortunate Islands was the first beer I had from them, and it contains multitudes within its 5% wheaty body thanks to a huge dose of Citra and Amarillo. Gorgeous.
- Bluejacket A Little Golden Gem: Bluejacket had a big year in terms of tart and funky fruit beers. Sub Rosa, Vignette, Bear Mountain, and The Jam all come immediately to mind, but A Little Golden Gem, a 3.8% kumquat gose, was the best of the bunch. I don’t know what a kumquat really is. I don’t know where it grows or how or on what. I do know that these little walnut-sized tennis ball-looking dealies contributed to a tangy, lemony/citrusy thirst quencher that wasn’t so acidic that I had to reach for Tums after I inevitably had six of them. I’m glad it is back on draft now.
- Ecliptic Capella Porter: This is pick is thanks to Jason Notte, who introduced me to Ecliptic on my first trip to Portland, OR. That this was the most memorable beer, and not something from Cascade or any of the other well-respected houses there, should be enough of a testament to its quality. Capella won’t blow you away or do anything fancy. It’s a solidly well-made porter, brewed to spec as far as I can tell. Only Port City’s and maybe Great Lakes’ bests it for me.
- Allagash Nancy: Realistically speaking, anything Allagash makes in a cork-and-cage 375mL bottle could wind up on a best of list any year. Nancy is a sour red ale aged on Maine cherries in stainless for just under a year. The sourness seemed to come more from the cherries than the yeast (it’s fermented on Brett), which added some funk while letting the fruit’s pure flavor shine through. Thanks to Josh Fruchtman for sharing this bottle, which made me think I should be eating more Maine cherries.
- Hops & Grain The One They Call Zoe: I made multiple trips to Austin in 2015, and it skyrocketed to the top of my list of favorite cities. Just a straight up fun town where you can affordably eat and drink like a hipster king. I could honestly get through a trip to Austin only drinking Zoe. It’s that great. It’s a pale lager that is phenomenally thirst-quenching and crisp but leaves just enough floral and citrus from dry-hopping to keep things interesting.
- 3 Stars Raspberry Dissonance: The trend of adding fruit to beers is starting to get played out, but I think adding raspberries to their Berliner rye was a great move from 3 Stars. There’s a very pure, clean raspberry flavor here that provides some sweetness to balance out an assertively tart take on a Berlinerweiss. In this case I think the fruited version is actually better than the original, and my fingers are crossed that we see much more of this in 2016.
- Fremont Brewing Abominable – Bourbon Barrel Coffee Cinnamon: Jake Berg already made this excellent point yesterday, but when we opened this up, it literally silenced the room. I was genuinely sad when I finished my allotment of this bottle. Like the Modern Times, none of the many elements in the beer’s name was overdone. This is probably one of the best beers I’ve ever had, in any year. I’m genuinely grateful I got to try it because I’ve gotten fairly jaded/bored with the monster barrel-aged RIS category, and this showed me there’s still magic to be found in it.
- District ChopHouse Nut Brown (Cask with Hazelnuts & Cocoa Nibs): Out of all the (many, many) beers on offer at this year’s Snallygaster, this simple nut brown with some restrained and complementary hop additions is the one that I remember most fondly. Barrett Lauer doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for the consistently high-quality offerings at his Chinatown mainstay, but I want to make sure he gets it here for this easy-drinking, caramel/toffee offering that showcased simplicity and succeeded.
- Manor Hill Citra Splendor (Cask with Citra): The latest (in terms of calendar year) addition to my list was a cask I ordered on a whim at Roofers’ Union’s holiday party. This beer was a stunner and rivaled even my beloved Bluejacket Lost Weekend for attention in the Citra IPA space with its peachy, stone fruit flavor profile and bold tropical fruit notes (without tasting catty like so many other Citra IPAs). Like my colleagues, I think it is going to be a big year for Maryland breweries like Manor Hill and RAR (among others), and beers with this level of quality and memorability are why.