BeerGraphs Staff Picks for 2014

Eno Sarris, January 07, 2015

What a great year!

Let's look back at some of the excellent beers our staff enjoyed this year. We'd love to hear your best in the comments. 

According to Untappd, the best beers I had for the first time this year were Founders' Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Jester King's Atrial Rubicite, 50/50's Eclipse Elijah Craig 20-year from 2012, Cantillon Vigneronne, Bell's Hopslam, Toppling Goliath pseudo Sue, Prairie Bomb!, Allegash Farm to Face, 3 Floyds' Dark Lord, Maine Lunch, Hardywood Gingerbread Stout, and The Bruery The Wanderer. I remember most of them. They were really good. 

But I'm going to give my personal Beer(s) of the Year award to the two beers on that list that I remember best, even though I only had one of them. Maine Lunch and Toppling Goliath pseudo Sue.  You could open up a firehouse of those into my mouth and I wouldn't be sated. What's so amazing about these is that, despite the BIG BOLD tastes that litter the craft beer landscape, these speak softly and carry a big stick. There's nothing but a deep desire to have another sip. Just really amazing mouthfeels paired with loooong tastes that finish crisp. No need for cardamom and vignonberries with sea salt. Pale. Ales. 

I'll have a Rookie of the Year pick once I pull that query. If it's new to me, it's new enough to talk about, I hope.

Here are the staff picks, which are great because they all come from different parts of the country. 

J.R. Shirt
This is a tough year for me to pick a winner. Over the course of 2014 I had quite a few beers from my wish list - Pliny the Younger, Surly Abrasive, Pipeworks Galaxy Unicorn, 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, Founder's KBS, a bunch of Cantillon, my fair share of Tired Hands, and Toppling Goliath's psuedo Sue. And then there were the beers I had no idea about until I had them, like Jester King's Atrial Rubicite, Off Color's Apex Predator, and Allagash's PNC Broken Elevator. Any of these beers could be my beer of the year. If I had to narrow it down to three it would be Zombie Dust (an American Pale Ale), pseudo Sue (another American Pale Ale), and PNC Broken Elevator (a Sour Red/Brown). If I'm to narrow it down from there, I'd have to eliminate pseudo Sue as I only had one glass of it and the PNC Broken Elevator after that for similar reasons (I had two glasses of it but both on the same day). I was lucky enough to bring some Zombie Dust back with me from my trip to the brewery, and it lived up to hype with each and every bottle. A truly perfect beer.

If were talking rookie beers, or beers first released in 2014, that decision is a little easier - it's Boulevard's Love Child No. 4, an American Wild Ale made from a blend of oak aged beer and soured beer. It was as delicious as you could imagine, with an upfront sourness, followed by the wood notes, and with a perfectly dry finish that kept you going back. My honorable mention here would be Troeg's Blizzard of Hops. I have been drinking a lot of this recently and it is delicious IPA with tons of tropical fruit aromas and juiciness thanks to a hop bill that includes El Dorado and Galaxy.

Richard Hefter
Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose
One of the few beers that came out this year that I purchased multiple times. I could not get enough of this 4.2% ABV brew and found it to be my go to beer no matter the situation. Great tart flavor that is amplified by the addition of the blood orange. It might be a tough sell to non-craft beer drinkers with its salty and tart taste, but I believe most fans of craft beer would enjoy this refreshing beer and possibly use it as a change of pace beer between your heavy hitters. It has an added bonus in that it is exclusively sold in cans. ($9.99/6 Pack in VA)

Michael Donato
New Beer of the Year: Troegs Hop Knife
Troegs has started some kind of seasonal IPA series, and their harvest ale is exploding with delicious hop flavor. 

New Distribution Beer of the Year: Almanac Cerise Sour
Getting Almanac in New York was exciting, and these sours live up to the hype. I'm a sucker for the cherries, and the tart and juicy cherries were very present in this excellent beer. 

Limited Distribution Beer of the Year: Lawson's Finest Liquid's AVA
The only Lawson's I could find on a weekend trip to Waterbury Vermont but was easily a standout IPA of the dozens I've had this year, and I had it after I'd had Heady Topper. If their other beers are actually better, I need to get back to Vermont ASAP. 

Larry Koestler
Tree House Brewing Company Julius IPA
I first started hearing about Tree House a little over a year ago, and like any beer geek, was intrigued by the insanely gushing reviews. This past summer during my family’s annual vacation to Cape Cod I was able to secure a growler of Julius thanks to a very generous friend, and my mind was thoroughly blown. Julius is perhaps the juiciest IPA I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something for someone who has drank literally thousands of IPAs. Huge hop aroma, monster citrus flavor, full body — it’s all there, and it's spectacular.

Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA 
Probably the most famous DIPA that I somewhat surprisingly hadn’t been able to check off my list prior to 2014 (aside from Pliny the Younger, but given its extremely limited availability I’ve all but written it off), I finally got to try it thanks to another extremely generous pal, and it lived up to the hype and then some. Truly exceptional.

Lawsons’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine IPA 
A world-class DIPA that drinks like an IPA; huge citrus juiciness bursting throughout. Amazing that they are throwing this in 16-oz cans, and super-jealous of the beer drinkers of Connecticut.

Beer of the Year: Third Rail Beer Bodega American Pale Ale
Yeah I’m biased, but it doesn’t matter. Bodega is delicious, and delivered on the promise of everything we set out to do with it: give the beer drinkers of New York City a massively hoppy and eminently drinkable American Pale Ale — an overlooked category in the local scene — with huge Citrus flavors from Citra; a big, dry bitter back-end from Centennial; and a uniquely engineered water profile that leaves the palate begging for more. And at 5.6%, we brewed the beer with enough malt to give it a substantial-enough body so that it drinks closer to a 7% IPA, but is still low enough that it’s both super-crushable itself and also crushes the myriad limp bodies of the unfortunate Session IPA trend. Objectively I consider Bodega to be the finest year-round APA brewed by an NYC-based brewer, and I couldn’t be more proud to call this beer my own.

Nathan Gismot
Little Mo' Porter by Elevation Beer Co.
Little Mo' is relatively modest by BeerGraphs' statistical measures, but it makes the cut as one of my favorite beers of the year. Park effects (read: lack of oxygen) may have been in play in my assessment: I enjoyed these beers at about 9,500 feet above sea level among the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado in early Fall. Still, Little Mo' struck me as a remarkably well-crafted porter with just the right flavor-blend of malt and chocolate and caramel. It goes down smooth, avoids the syrupy flavor I detect in so many porters, and, at 6.2% ABV, packs a decent little punch. I like!

Ben Sammis
Founders has been one of my favorite breweries for years, ever since I represented them as a distributor in the early years of this century.  Accordingly, two of the three beers on this list belong to them.

Founders Mosaic Promise  
A SMaSH, this is bright, fruity, slightly biscuity, with just a hint of the garlic and onion undertone I associate with Mosaic dominated beers.  I wish it were a year round brew instead of a likely one-off.

Founders Dark Penance
Rich, smooth, clean finishing.  Think black licorice and oranges.  I suspect the low BAR is due to check-in frequency rather than quality, especially given the positive Style+ score.

Crooked Stave Nightmare on Brett (Leopold Bros. Whiskey Barrel) 
Everything you ever liked about dark beers combined with everything you ever liked about sours.  With bourbon barrel aging thrown in, because why the hell not.  Astonishing.  I was crushed when I found there were no bottles to take home with me.

Honorable mention goes to Cantillon Iris, which is not a new beer this year, nor was it new to me.  However, it was new to my wife, who found it to be life-changing.  She is now officially obsessed with lambic/geuze/wild/sour ales, much to the chagrin of my checkbook.

Andy Keatts
Council Brewing Gavel Drop
7.1% American IPA
Big time fruitiness, especially white sauvignon blanc grapes. Best nelson-based IPA west of Alpine.

Karl Strauss Mosaic Session Ale
5.5% American IPA
Punch of tropical flavor with a subtle piney aroma. Punches way above its ABV and exhibits everything great about Mosaic.

Modern Times Monsters Park Imperial Stout 
12% Imperial Stout
Figs, chocolate, roast in the base beer, plus was released in a dozen iterations, all beautiful.

Erik Hernquist
DC Brau Brewing On the Wings of Armageddon 
Many of you have had this, but until this summer, I had not.  In September, I was able to hunt down a pint of this beer, and I was not disappointed.  The nose oozes with refreshing grapefruit and orange.  This carries over on an incredibly smooth first sip, followed by a very dry finish.  This beer goes down very easy, almost too easy.  You’d never know it had an ABV of 9.2%.  This is not only one of the best beers I tried this year, it’s one of my favorite IPAs to date.

Three Notch’d Brewing  Marble Man Mosaic IRA
99% of you reading this do not have access to this brewery in central Virginia that opened in August 2013.  However, I mention this beer because it opened my eyes to what is quickly becoming my favorite style – Imperial Red Ale.  While I drink a lot of IPAs, I’m a sucker for the caramel maltiness of a red or brown ale; this IRA combines the best of both worlds.  For you hop heads, the “Marble Man” is loaded with Mosaic hops, but it is balanced out by deep, dark crystal malts.  This viscous mouthfeel allows this deliciousness to linger on the finish.  If you are looking to switch things up, I would recommend seeking out an IRA.

Alex Remington
Barrel Aged Old Rasputin
Lots of barrel-aged beers don't do it for me -- they just add a heavy bourbon nose and unbalance a beer that would have been just fine without it. But the aged Rasputin gains a new depth. A true sipping beer, one of the best I've ever had at that gravity. Especially remarkable, because the regular Rasputin is so good: as a guy I met at a beer festival once told me, it's probably the best most widely-available beer in America. And somehow they managed to make a version of that beer that's even better than the original. I don't know how they did it, but it's a hell of a trick.

Harris King
My four top beers of 2014 are all from the I-85 corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte. Two were introduced in 2014, one at the end of 2013, one in 2011, but I discovered them all this year. I am going to drink three of the four as I write this evening. I think that is how Joyce did things. 

Sweetwater Brewing Company Hop Hash 
I was immediately blown away by this when I first had it in late October. Sweetwater’s IPA would’ve made this list if not for Hop Hash. Drinking one now, it continues to impress. Here are my Untappd check-in comments: 
I like this a lot! Oct 24
Yo, peoples, drink this. Nov 1
100 IBUs! Nov 6
100 IBUs but still so smooth. Nov 19
Is becoming a top 5 beer. Need cans & 12-packs! Nov 23

Terrapin Beer Company Hi-5 IPA 
I just really like this beer. I like that I can smell the citrus when I open the can. Even following the Hop Hash, it holds its own. And I really like its ABV as my Untappd comments reveal: 
At 5.9 ABV my idea of a session beer. Freaking dee-licous. May 29
Reaching favorite beer status: in a pretty can with tons of flavor at 5.9 ABV. May 31
Quickly becoming my go-to. Aug 1

NoDa Brewing Company Hop, Drop ‘n Roll  
I live circa 70 miles from Charlotte, but I can only get this beer when I am in the Queen City. Last time there I bought two 4-packs (16 oz). It will be more next time. I wish I had one to drink now. My check-in comments: 
One of the best West Coast style IPAs I've had. Aug 23 
Best beer in the Carolinas? Oct 14
So good. 6 left in the fridge. Oct 16

Creature Comforts Brewing Company Tropicália  
This is beer is hard to get. Even in Athens where it is brewed, I recently struck out (baseball reference) to get at least a 6-pack. Luckily I still had two in the fridge. Make that one. It’s West Coast for sure, and as my check-in reveals below it reminds me of a certain beer out of Tampa. That’s a good thing! 
My kind of IPA. Nov 14
If Jai Alai had a kissing cousin. Nov 25

Matthew Kory
Double Mountain's Hop Lava IPA
2014 was an IPA year for me. Maybe it was that I'm now living in Portland, Oregon, beer capital of the country, and nobody does IPAs like Portland does IPAs. The hops are grown here as it turns out so that's a thing. Double Mountain brewing is in Hood River, nestled between the windy Columbia River and the snowy peak of Mount Hood. That has little to do with the beer, probably, but it makes for nice copy. The beer itself is a lighter orange carmel in color, with billowy white lacy foam. The citrus fragrance from the hops come through in the nose, while the taste is about as true to the essence of IPA as any beer I've had. It's strong but it won't kill you, fragrant but not fake smelling, and tasty but not overpowering so that you couldn't stomach another. The complexity of hops is a mesmerizing thing and Hop Lava doubles down on that complexity with layers of flavors upon layers of flavors. This is the beer of the year. 

Deschutes Chasin' Freshies Fresh Hop IPA
IPAs to stouts, strong to pale ales to porters, Deschutes makes great beer, and if you follow the brewery at all, you know they've made hundreds of beers over the years. If you like hops though, there might not be a better beer in the brewery's history than this year's Chasin' Freshies Fresh Hop IPA. In case you aren't familiar with fresh hop beers, the idea is simple. Hops degrade over time so the sooner after picking them that they hit the brew kettle the better. Therefore, brewers who live and brew near the hop fields come with trucks during picking season, load up sacks of freshly picked hops, drive them back to the brewery (they don't even stop for a bathroom break!), and throw them straight into the kettle. This creates flavors brighter, fresher, and more pungent than in normal beers and IPAs being full of hops to begin with means the style is the natural extension of the idea. Deschutes hit the mother load this year by using fresh mosaic hops from John I Haas growers. The mosaic imparts smells and tastes of fresh grapefruit with a touch of sugar on the tongue and then comes the hop bitterness that says, 'that sweetness is alright, grab another sip.' Sadly the fresh hop season is yet again in our collective rear view mirror, but the few Chasin' Freshies I've still got remind me of the greatness of the hop harvest. It's the one time of year when the best beers come out of hiding and in 2014 Deschutes made the best of those best.