As 2011 comes to a close, everyone and their mother is putting out top 10 lists and recaps for all manner of subjects, including beer. Here at Kaedrin, we're usually pretty lazy about it. Over on my generalist blog, I always put together a top 10 movies of the year list, but it usually doesn't come out until February. In that case, it's because I'm trying to catch up with movies on DVD/BD/Streaming/Torrents/etc..., but beer is a different matter entirely. For one thing, beer isn't released the way movies are, and while I've certainly had my fair share of one-off 2011-only brews, most of what I drank this year has been around for a while. So I've been lazily compiling a couple of lists, all based only on what I drank this year.
As such, this post will be an intensely personal affair, entirely dependent on my 2011 consumption. Almost everything in this post will be represented in my archives somewhere, because as a true nerd, I've done a pretty good job about documenting the beers I drank this year. Before I get to my top beers of the year, I thought I'd spend some time musing on the trends of the year. Not necessarily trends of the whole craft beer world, just my own personal tastes.
- Stouts - When I began beer blogging a little over a year ago, I wasn't much of a fan of stouts or porters. But I forced myself to try some, and the more I tried, the more I enjoyed, especially when it comes to imperial stouts. There are still some varieties that I don't love, particularly stouts that emphasize coffee flavors (I'm looking at you, Founders Breakfast Stout), but I've really come to enjoy strong, dark beers over the last year.
- Barrel Aged Beer - In particular, bourbon or scotch barrel aged beers have become a bit of an obsession (wine barrel aged beers with wild yeasts/bacteria are a different story, see below). One sure-fire way to trick me into buying your beer is to make a bourbon barrel aged version. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to cattle calls or paying through the nose, but I'm willing to jump through some hoops for beer this good. I know some folks think bourbon barrel aging has gone too far, and there's something to be said for harnessing a balance of flavors (which some barrel aged beers emphatically do not accomplish), but I think my tolerance for bourbon/scotch flavors is higher than most. I kinda love these beers. This is something that I imagine will continue to explore through 2012...
- Aging/Cellaring Beer - As evidenced by a few recent posts, I've been toying with the concept of aging beer in my basement. Conditions are apparently not entirely ideal down there, but I tend to buy more than I can drink, so sometimes this happens by accident. I intend to cover the subject in more detail in a separate post (including a list of beers I'm currently saving), as it's an interesting practice.
- Homebrewing - I brewed 5 batches of beer in 2011. This roughly translates to once every 2-3 months and even that has left me with 3-4 cases of beer in my basement. I think my next step is to try making smaller batches more frequently. Speaking of which, I should really get cracking on my next batch!
- The Discovery of Barleywines - I never quite knew what to make of this style, and owing to the extremely high ABV, these aren't exactly every day beers, but some of my biggest discoveries and surprises this year were barleywines. I don't expect to go crazy with the style in 2012 - again, very high ABV beers require certain circumstances - but I'll most definitely be exploring the style a little more in 2012 (and hey, the style often gets the bourbon barrel treatment, so there's that too!)
- Sour Experimentation - I've really only gotten my feet wet with my exploration of sour beers. I've enjoyed a lot of what I've had, but only one has really knocked my socks off (the Sierra Nevada ExPortation). Expect more exploration in 2012, though I can't say as though these beers have really captured my imagination the way other styles have.
- Finding my White Whales - When I started this blog, I was a little frustrated by reading about beers I could never find anywhere. Well, somewhere along the way, I started to get a sense for how to find me some white whale beers. My list of beer purveyors has increased significantly over the year, and the ridiculous PLCB rules notwithstanding, Philly is a pretty bitchin beer town.
Well, there you have it. It's been a great year, filled with a ton of great beers. So great, in fact, that I couldn't quite bring myself to put together a top 10. I mean, seriously? I wrote somewhere on the order of 170 posts this year, and some of those contained multiple beers (including some with 10+ beers), meaning that I have somwhere on the order of 200-250 beers to choose from. Narrowing the list down to 30 was hard enough. All of the below beers have been reviewed, and I'm linking to each one. They're all at least an A- on my grading scale, and they're being listed from best to "worst", though I'd like to emphasize that the order is relatively fluid in my mind. Some of the beers on the bottom of the list could easily float up towards the middle or even top of the list, depending on my mood... Indeed, I could probably add another dozen beers to the list with no real problem. So take it with a grain of salt and if you want to see more, check out the A- archive.
Bottom line, though, is that these are all exceptional beers in one way or another.
- Trappistes Rochefort 8 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
- Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40 (Old Ale)
- Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont (Saison)
- BrewDog and Mikkeller Collaboration: Devine Rebel (Barleywine)
- Victory V-Twelve (Belgian Specialty Ale)
- La Trappe Quadrupel (Quadrupel)
- Ommegang Rare Vos (Belgian Pale Ale)
- The Bruery Autumn Maple (Belgian Fruit/Vegetable Beer)
- Ommegang Three Philosophers (Quadrupel)
- Trappistes Rochefort 6 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
- Iron Hill Kryptonite (Double India Pale Ale)
- Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
- Victory Dark Intrigue (Imperial Stout)
- Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue) (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
- Sierra Nevada ExPortation (American Wild Ale)
- Allagash Big Little Beer (Belgian Pale Ale)
- The Bruery Mischief (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
- Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout (Pumpkin Ale/Imperial Stout)
- St. Bernardus Watau Tripel (Tripel)
- Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (Imperial Stout)
- St. Bernardus Prior 8 (Dubbel)
- Pretty Things Baby Tree (Quadrupel)
- Russian River Pliny the Elder (Double India Pale Ale)
- Uinta Cockeyed Cooper (Barleywine)
- Lost Abbey The Angel's Share (American Strong Ale)
- Lagunitas Hop Stoopid (Double India Pale Ale)
- Mikkeller I Beat yoU (Double India Pale Ale)
- La Chouffe (Belgian Strong Pale Ale)
- Dogfish Head Burton Baton (Double India Pale Ale)
- Victory Hop Wallop (Double India Pale Ale)
It's no Beer Samizdat 100, but it's a start! Hopefully, it will be up to 50-60 beers by next year... In any case, this concludes my 2011 beer wrapup. Still a few more beers to be drunk, and I need to figure out a beer that fits New Years, but I'll include those in next year's recap (like I did above with Dupont's Bon Voux). Here's to a great 2012.