We were very fortunate to have been able to try many phenomenal beers from all around the world, but a few seemed to continue to come up in conversation throughout the year. Beers that we continuously compared to others of the same style, that we admired for technical perfection or a special and unique taste, that created a sense of pride for our local beer community, or just simply a great beer that just seemed to stand out. So, naturally, as one does when they have these great experiences, we ranked our favorites. Just for good measure, we threw in a wild card as number 11, a beer that could have been in any top 10 as far as we're concerned.
As we sat to write out our list, we tried to include various styles and the beers within those styles that stood out; but, as you can see, 2014 was the year of the wild/sour farmhouse ale for us. A style that is wide open to creativity and which saw brewers from around the country pushing the limits with house yeasts and bacteria cultures, and various fruits and oak barrel combinations. A return to a time where beer was truly "wild" but now in controlled environments that allowed the brewers to push the envelope and come up with some amazing new beers with a sense of purpose and almost surgical precision. We can't wait to see what 2015 has in store and want to thank everyone for their support this past year. Here are our favorites of 2014:
WILD CARD; Green Bench Brewing Co. - For the Mad Ones Rye Sour Brown (St. Petersburg, FL): We had this beer recently and it opened our eyes to Green Bench's very unique sour program. Kettle souring allows this beer to remain clean and bright while the initial taste is heavily influenced by the cabernet sauvignon oak barrels. This is complex beer that is approachable to an experienced beer drinker or beginner. Wonderful all-around beer.
10. Wynwood Brewing - Pop's Porter (Miami, FL): Our very own Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner. Roasty, silky smooth, viscous, and rounded off by a nice sweet finish. A sturdy beer that features a great malt character and a straight-forward, calculated approach to the style. Plus, how can a list created in Miami not have it's city's very first GABF gold medal winner as part of it?
9. Half Acre Brewing Co. - Beer Hates Astronauts IPA (Chicago, IL): This beer found it's way to us from Chicago and was consumed almost immediately after canning. The crack of the pop top lead to a massive aroma of dank, tropical fruits and all that Citra hop goodness. The flavors that followed were as aggressive as the nose - tropical fruits (think melon, ripe mango, and guava) that were so in your face, the only thing we kept saying was "juicy"! An outstanding IPA from one of our favorite pale ale and IPA producers. We hope they make this again in 2015.
8. Stone Brewing Co. - Xocoveza Mocha Stout (San Diego, CA): While being from Florida may make me partial to our big roast spiced stout, in Hunahpu, Xocoveza was an amazing example of a spiced stout. The combination of chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili-pepper, and coffee in a sweet stout worked beautifully as the sweetness really did a nice job of holding all the flavors together and balancing the light chili presence. While this was released as part of Stone's collaboration series - we're hoping 2015 brings Xocoveza 2.0!
7. Beer'd Brewing Co. - Hobbit Juice Double IPA (Stonington, CT): At 9.2% ABV, this Double IPA is a monster of a beer. A beautifully balanced combination of hops and malt create a really enjoyable drinking experience that leaves you craving another glass (without realizing how big of a beer this really is). The choice to use only Nelson Sauvin hops brings forward notes of sauvignon blanc and stone fruit while giving the hop bite you expect from a double IPA. We had heard Beer'd produced amazing IPAs and can easily say that this one lived up to the hype.
6. Cycle Brewing - Rare DOS (St. Petersburg, FL): Cycle is producing some of the world's best stouts. Hands down. Rare DOS, an imperial stout aged in oak whisky barrels, is no exception. Huge whisky, oak barrel, and roast on the nose, followed by a big, silky, thick mouthfeel, and flavors of chocolate, vanilla, dark fruit, and whisky. If you'd prefer rum over whisky, try Cycle's RareR DOS - we love it just the same but prefer the whisky notes in Rare.
5. Cigar City Brewing - Hunahpu Imperial Stout (Tampa, FL): The king of Florida beer. People travelled from all over the world this last year to get their hands on their limit of this once-a-year release and raved about the quality of this year's batch. Hunahpu is a jet black, motor oil looking beer that almost appears to ooze out of the bottle into your glass. On the nose a beautiful array of vanilla, molasses, cinnamon and dark chocolate get the senses going and the tastes to come follow suit. A heavy beer with a perfect melding of the ingredients make this an almost perfect imperial stout. What would make it more perfect? Get your hands on an apple brandy barrel-aged Huna!
4. Wicked Weed Brewing - Black Angel Cherry Sour (Asheville, NC): Wicked Weed's flagship sour features over one pound of sweet and tart cherries per barrel of the sour black ale. Aged in bourbon barrels, the bourbon hits your nose immediately followed by some funk and tart cherry. Take a sip and the beer is like a cherry jam that has a pleasant sourness to it and is rounded off by whisky notes from the bourbon barrels that play a role in every aspect of your experience with the beer. Just a great example from, in our opinion, one of the premier sour producers in the country.
3. Russian River Brewing - Supplication (Sonoma, CA): Russian River's sour program is revered by any person in the U.S. producing sours today and this beer is a great example of why. This is a sour brown ale aged for 12 months in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries, brettanomyces and souring bacteria. A very sour beer that is balanced by a sturdy malt backbone all while achieving a delicateness that will blow you away. The cherries play right into the flavors imparted by the Sonoma County pinot noir barrels, and the funk from the brettanomyces adds a layer of complexity that makes this beer world class.
2. Jester King Brewery - Atrial Rubicite (Austin, TX): Jester King's first barrel aged sour beer to incorporate fruit was an instant success. One of the most sought after beers in the world, Atrial is a visually appealing pink/red wild ale that comes in at 5.8% abv and features raspberries and Jester King's famous house blend of native hill country yeast. A sense of terroir is created by Jester King's yeast and use of well water, which sets their beer apart from other raspberry sours we had this year. The most important aspect of the beer was the balance achieved - everything just felt right. We enjoyed lots of Jester King offerings this year, but Atrial held a special place in our hearts.
1. Side Project Brewing - Blanc de Blancs (Saint Louis, MO): This is a game changing beer from a game changing brewery. Side Project is, in our opinion, the most exciting brewery in the country right now, which landed our favorite offering from them (that we've been able to get our hands on) at number 1 on our list. Like Jester King, Side Project is imparting a sense of terroir into their beers using house yeast cultures and as many local ingredients are are available for their beers. Blanc de Blancs features chardonnel grapes which are prevalent throughout, playing on the tartness up front all while providing a residual sweetness that balanced the beer out. The chardonnay oak barrels come through in the finish and reminded us of a delicate dry champagne - a funky barnyard champagne! The best part about this beer was the complexity on every level; beginning with the look of the beer, the nose on the beer, and ending in the taste. Each sensory experience topped by the next. Funky, crisp, sour, refreshing, fruity, and almost wine-like, we loved everything about this beer.