BeerGraphs Staff Picks

Eno Sarris, January 05, 2016

There are all sorts of music lovers, and there's nobody to say that one way is better than other. To wit: you can love a small amount of music fiercely, and so therefore you don't need to be up on what's coming down the pipe. Or you can love live music more than recorded, and so therefore you need to know tour dates most of all. Or you really love new music, and so you know the release dates and album titles as they come out. Who's the biggest music fan of the bunch, really. 

With music, I find myself bogged down by what's new. I haven't listened to a full album in years. I let what I want to listen to filter down to me through social media, through friends, even off the radio (satellite, not regular). I slightly prefer live, but I don't get the time as often. I think music is very important to me, and I think beer is as well.

And so with beer, I get recommendations from leaderboards and friends and chat rooms and comment sections. Social media helps. I don't need to stand in line for a release, I haven't got the time. Even special events are a rarity. But I love beer, and whose to say others that get their beer love it more. 

All of this is pre-amble to explain one little aspect to our best of list this year: Most of our writers  designated a beer that they loved this year that was new to them and another that was new to everyone. That way, they could talk about both kinds of beer lovers, as they exist within themselves.  (Most, anyway, and then there was one, bet you can guess which one.)

It was a good year in beer, however you found it. 

Michael Donato
New to Me:
Oskar Blues Death By Coconut
I'm a sucker for that smooth coconut taste, but this beer nails it. It's a porter full of rich chocolatey notes and the strong silky coconut keeps it from being too bitter. It's full of delicious chocolate and coconut and all the amazing porter flavors. I immediately went back to the beer store and was dismayed that it was sold out everywhere.

Upstate Brewing Company Common Sense Ale
Extra bonus points for being at Citi Field and being a great ballpark brew. This is a Kentucky Common Ale, which is a rare pre-prohibition style that's basically a dark cream ale. The darker malts give it some nice roastier flavors that blend well with an extremely drinkable brew. I drank it on Opening Day and I drank it during game 5 of the World Series.

Matt Murphy
New to Everyone:
Grimm Artisanal Ales Telekinesis 
I was lucky enough to sample a number of Grimm's offerings in early 2015 at both NYC Beer Week and one of their release events. However, one of my favorite beers was their Telekinesis, a dry-hopped sour ale that was released later in the Spring The aroma was full of citrus with some funk and a hint of floral hops. The body was light and the tartness was subtle, making it quite refreshing; this is a sour you can drink more than eight ounces of without exhausting your taste buds.

Harris King
New to Me:
Sixpoint Resin
Resin is an amazing DIPA. I increasingly buy it every time I am in my beer store and was very sad today that they were temporarily out of stock. I also like Sixpoint’s thin cans, which I refer to as Virginia Slims in my head. I have never smoked btw. 
The Whales
This year thanks to one trade with our fearless leader Eno, being in the right place at the right time and expanded distro, I had Lunch, Pliny the Elder, Russian River’s Consecration (WOW), Bomb! and Alpine’s Nelson. All were amazing and lived up to the hype. I refuse to downplay how good these beers are.

New to Everyone:
NoDa Hop Cakes
NoDa out of Charlotte released Hop Cakes in February and Hoppy Holidays in December. The former is a DIPA that is made with maple syrup and rivals Hopslam. The latter is an IPA that is made with spruce tips. Both are amazing. I still have a couple of the Hoppy Holidays and the Hop Cakes is a little over a month away. Who else has a mental beer release calendar in their noggin?
Sierra Nevada Collaboration Oktoberfest
I happened to be at Sierra Nevada in Mills River, NC before their collaboration Oktoberfest with Augsburg, Germany’s Brauhaus Riegele was released. I was there with the Beer Blogger’s Conference, and not only did we get to try the beer pre-release in an Oktoberfest in summer setting (it was July), but I also got to meet and speak to the German brewers. Since then I felt as if I am part of the story and subsequently bought 7-8 12-packs before they were all gone. Plus, it is/was an amazing beer. Sniff. Sniff. 

J.R. Shirt
This is always tough. It’s tough because looking back at some of my favorite beers from the year, I realize liked so many so very much and want them again. It’s tough because I don’t want to just rattle off a list of beers that everyone probably knows are awesome: Surly’s Todd The Axe Man, Toppling Goliath’s King Sue or Pompeii, Alesmith’s Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout, and that list maybe just keeps going. Then there is the list of things that are definitely worth mentioning but won’t do too many people any good because they either already had them or have little chance of getting them unless you’re in the right place at the right time with a growler – like that collaboration between Other Half and 7th Sun (It’s Not You, It’s Me), or Pizza Boy’s Murren River and you start to spiral down some sort of Waking Life what’s the point of listing these beers but really what’s the point of doing anything but these beers were awesome so I should mention them but should I even bother because why do I exist.

And that sentiment doesn’t improve at all when you look at your ratings for some of these beers and realize you gave some of these beers 4.25 or 4.5 stars and you’re like why? What was I thinking? When did I get so weird about giving something 5 stars? And then I’m in my downstairs bathroom looking for answers deep inside my eyeballs that at this point I’m not even sure are my own because a mirror is not your friend in a time of crisis.

With all that being said, I did recently have a 16 oz. can of Peak Organic Brewing’s Super Fresh, a dry-hopped super pilsner that isn’t really a pilsner at all other then maybe if you took out all the amazing pine-citrus-zest-grass-straw-hop flavors there is the ghost of a pilsner body there somewhere. And maybe if you’re really good at compartmentalizing everything else in your life, you might notice some of the hints of dry crackers that a person tends to notice in an actual pilsner. But this beer, whatever it actually is, is a new beer for 2015 and a new beer for me and oh my it is so good that for the ten minutes I was drinking it I did not once question my existence.

Ben Sammis
New to Everyone:
Rare Barrel's Wise Guise Blended Sour
The only truly new beer that was a standout for me was the Rare Barrel's Wise Guise (thanks Eno!).  Excellent integration of sour and fruit, with a woody and earthy backbone.

New to Me:
Brickstone Hop Skip DIPA
Many new to me beers stood out, including several from Toppling Goliath and Russian River.  Two stood out though - Alesmith .394 Pale Ale.  Bright and fruity with a solid bitter structure, plus it's a baseball beer.  The year's winner was Brickstone Hop Skip, a double pale from Bourbonnais IL that I'd put up against Zombie Dust and PseudoSue all day.  It's the winner because it's regularly available on shelves near me.  

Larry Koestler
New to Everyone: 
Other Half Canned Single Hop IPA Series
This is a bit of a cop out in that I’m selecting multiple beers, but there was literally nothing else in the marketplace like OH’s magical series of single-hop-showcase cans in 2015. I got to try Citra (which I’d previously had on draft in 2014, but was equally amazing from the can), Nelson, Mosaic, Equinox, Amarillo, Cascade and Simcoe this year, and I still missed out on two — Galaxy and El Dorado. Each and every single-hop IPA I had from Other Half this year was a vibrant, brilliant showcase for that hop varietal, with the only downside being that thus far they’ve each only available roughly once a year. Hopefully that changes as OH continues to grow.
Threes Superf*ckingyawn
Among a sudden sea of fresh DIPAs being produced in NYC, this 9.5% hop dream was the juiciest, softest, easiest-drinking I tasted all year, and they haven’t even put it in a can yet.
Brash EZ-7
With Brash finally brewing beer in its hometown, EZ-7 saved Houston beer this year. From the super Citra hop profile and crazy dry-hopping, to the aroma, flavor, color, insane amount of IBUs for a 5% American Pale Ale and the way the flavor utterly drapes your tongue in hops and leaves you in desperate need of taking that next sip, EZ-7 at times feels like the long-lost cousin of a certain other favorite APA of mine that rhymes with Shmodega. 
Foundation Epiphany
This canned beauty came with absolutely zero hype for me, and I was completely taken aback by how good the contents of this self-described “Maine-style IPA” were. I’m not wild about categorizing an 8% beer as a single IPA (Lawson’s does this too with Sip of Sunshine, a beer I still classify as a DIPA for better cohort comparisons. Not really fair to put 8% SoS up against, say, Lagunitas IPA at 6%), but when it tastes this good, who cares.

New to Me:
Alpine Hoppy Birthday 
I’d been waiting years to try this brew, and with Green Flash finally shipping kegs across the country, I wasn’t disappointed. From the very first sip I knew this was a special beer. Hoppy Birthday might be my desert island beer; I just couldn’t get enough of it on tap or in bomber form.
Third Rail Beer Stoop Juice
A juicy, super-crushable 6.2% Northeast-Style IPA that begs to be canned.

Alex Remington
New to Everyone:
• Hellbender Red Line red ale — one of DC's newest breweries, not quite consistent yet but they have promise 
• Denizens Lowest Lord ESB — a brewpub that opened in 2014 and has greatly improved in 2015 
• Jailbreak Infinity amber — Jailbreak opened in 2014 in Laurel, MD, and I'm only just starting to see their stuff here. It's pretty good!

New to Me:
• Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale — They're still not in DC yet!)
Founders Dark Penance Black IPA — Originally released 2014
Coniston Bluebird Bitter — hard to get any more classic than this, but I'd never had it on tap before, and its perfect simplicity still astonished me.
Stillwater Brontide black ale — as you'd expect with Stillwater, this is as smooth as can be, a rare non-hoppy black ale. 
Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA — Ballast Point finally made it to DC, and while I'd had their stuff occasionally, this was the first year that I was able to get Grapefruit Sculpin in restaurants. What a lovely beer.
Schlafly Tasmanian IPA — similar story. We had Schlafly before this year but I don't think I'd seen the T-IPA in DC before this year. Really, really nice beer.
Marshall Wharf Danny McGovern's Oatmeal Stout — my favorite brewpub in Maine, a town of 6,600 happens to have a really nice brewery.

Dan Wade
New to Me:
Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue 
I finally got to try one of the most highly regarded pale ales in the US this fall and it was absolutely worth the trip to Decorah. Fortunately for those that don't often find themselves in Northern Iowa, the beer is being canned and distributed, giving a much wider range of people access to this well-balanced, truly outstanding pale.

New to Everyone:
Lakes & Legends Brewing Co. Marigold
Lakes and Legends may well be the best brewery that opened in Minneapolis in 2015, producing a line of Belgian ales from the traditional dubels and Belgian IPAs to the stranger rauches and braggots. I liked a lot of what they had on tap, but the best of their line is probably Marigold, a traditional Belgian strong that packs a ton of flavor and hides its 7.7% ABV almost too well.

Nathan Gismot
New to Me:
Destihl Brewery Here Gose Nothin
I didn't think I'd like a beer with as much of a citrus punch as this one, but there you have it. It's clean, delicious, and highly drinkable.
City Star Brewing Night Watchman
This roasty, malty American Stout--and bronze medal winner in the 2015 Great American Beer Festival--makes for teriffic drinking on a cold winter's night. 

Erik Hernquist
New to Me:
Hardywood Kentucky Christmas Morning
A variant to the gingerbread stout line, and it does not disappoint. This milk stout made with fresh ginger, honey, cinnamon and vanilla beans is aged in bourbon barrels, before it is cold filtered through roasted coffee beans. It may sound like a lot, but it is perfectly balanced with silky mouth feel. While the name suggests enjoying on Christmas morning, sipping fireside at the end of the evening works well too.  

Eno Sarris
New to Me:
Treehouse Julius
I loved their Haze, and their Green, and their Eureka (with Nelson), but Julius is still king. I'll drink anything by these guys (and probably give it five stars, as it seems). Last year's new to me IPA was pseudoSue, and while I would still soiffe that beer at the drop of a dime, there's something Julius added to the picture. Maybe it's grassiness, maybe it's mouthfeel, but it's all good. 
Crux Fermentation Project Half Hitch
Not quite as grassy as Julius, Half Hitch still nails that fruity yet bright aspect of my favorite pales. This one is so fruity it might turn some people off, but it's peach instead of mango or citrus, and so it's a little different. 
Trillium Congress Street IPA
Another great brewery that's too far from me to make me comfortable, Trillium is turning out great stuff right now. It's fresh, classy, fruity, and bright, and their labels are the best in the business. Not that it matters much. 
Rare Barrel Ensorcelled Sour
Sammis gave some love to Wise Guise, which is Ensorcelled blended with their blonde sour, and that one's great. But Ensorcelled is a raspberry sour born of that moment when you bite into the seed and get all of the sweet and sour that the fruit has to offer. It's brilliant.
Wicked Weed Amorous American Wild Ale
Thanks to Harris and Brad for this amazing beer. It's sort of like Almanac's Citra Sour (below), but with more 'jam' -- more thickness, more lacto goodness -- before the hops comes into play. I could mainline this.
Creature Comforts Tropicalia IPA
This is an orange tropical IPA that reminds of other great IPAs of our time, but still carves it's own space. Athens, GA, what's up!

New to Everyone:
Almanac Citra Sour
If a single-hop IPA is a good way to get to know your hops, then a single-hop sour is a good way to get to know it in the biblical sense. Because, after having had this beer as often as I could get my hands on it, I know feel like I have had sex with citra. I know all of Citra's inner workings now. This beer alone pushed the hops up my personal list of favorite hops.
Fieldwork Watershed Pale Ale
Thank the heavens that Alex Tweet left Modern Times and came up to my neck of the woods. Because he makes these great drinkable beers -- in this case something like you might get if you hopped AleSmith X with mosaic. Fruity, fresh, easy to drink. This is a desert island beer.
Cellarmaker and Sante Adairius I See a Dankness
What happens when your two favorite locals make a beer together? Fruity, grassy, dankness with a clever title. Nugget, Simcoe, Citra and Equinox, in a hazy yellow beer? Right into my heart piece. 
de Garde Brewing Mosaic Hose
I paid way too much for this in a place that shouldn't have had it, but in return for my morally bereft buying habits, I got a salty, tart, fruity beer. Like a gose, but on the tart side, this had some fun with the mosaic, too. I'll take it by a nose over Westbrook Gose, even though Westbrook is more true to style. 
Night Shift Belafonte Saison
Oh Boston, be still my beating heart. This peppercorn saison actually beat out all the non-Trillium Boston beers I had because it added an orange peel sweetness to round out the taste. 
Mother Road Tower Station IPA
Pineapple and pine? In a fresh IPA from flagstaff? See if you can get some.

2015: A great year in beer. And even if you don't give us full lists of your own in the comments, do take a moment to scroll through your 2015 unique beers. You'll remember them all over again and it'll make you thirsty for more.