Our Favorite American Craft Beers of 2016

 Every year we get the chance to drink a lot of really great beers.  We don't assign them numbers or award points for rarity.  Some of those beers stick out to us.  This last year, these were those beers (in no particular order): 

1. Fonta Flora Brewing, Razzmatazz Vol.1:  In my opinion, Fonta Flora is one of the most exciting breweries in the country.  They experiment with local and foraged ingredients, brew killer hoppy beer, but most of all have a portfolio of wonderfully complex and bold flavored and balanced beer.  Razzmatazz Vol. 1 is a beautiful red raspberry wild ale, with an enormous berry bouquet and layer upon layer of raspberry and funk on the palette.  While we could have picked from almost any of the Fonta Flora beers we were lucky enough to have this last year, this one had us from the first smell in the glass.

2. Bissell Brothers Brewing, Lux: We're suckers for Rye. We're suckers for hops.  Marry the two and Lux is as close to perfect as you'll get.  While most people talk about Swish or Reciprocal when they bring up Bissell Brothers, but Lux was a stand out for us given the unique peppery character added by the rye.  Like you've come to expect from Bissell Brothers, huge tropical fruit, citrus, and pine will punch you in the face from the first sip to the last.  We popped the can and could smell the hops from 4 feet away!  We love Bissell Brothers beer and this one is our favorite.

3. Forest & Main Brewing, Paradisaea: This brewery, the people behind it, and the beer are all world class.  Paradisaea is a barrel aged saison with citrus and Mosaic hops.  It's a juicy, just sour enough, beautiful interpretation of the style and is a wonderful representation of what the brewery is capable of.  Part English pub and part barrel aged sour production brewery, F&M is creating some of the most inspiring beer in the country.  Fermenting their sour beers, like this one, on a local forged yeast and bacteria culture, they're able to create an experience unique to their brewery with each offering. Paradisaea is wonderful.  It's fun and playful and really got us thinking about all the subtle flavors we were picking up throughout our time with the beer.  We can't wait to see what's next from F&M.

4. Cellarmaker Brewing, Nelson: We visited the quaint brewery in November while in San Francisco, with our good friend Jesse Friedman (Almanac, founder).  He thought it was a must while in town - and he was absolutely right.  We loved the experience from start to finish.  The taproom is cozy and the beer is fantastic.  Nelson, which features Nelson Sauvin hops (as the name suggests), stood out as our favorite.  Nelson is just one of those juicy, hazy (not juicy because it's hazy), dry, and hop forward beers that has you going back for more.  It's aggressive but soft at the same time.  It's pungent and powerful but subtle and delicate all at the same time. Moral of the story, it's just damn good.

5. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Nightmare on Brett (Leopold Whiskey Barrels on Cherry): Chad Yakobsen, owner and founder of Crooked Stave is the authority on Brettanomyces fermentation.  He's able to coax unique and interesting character out of his yeast cultures that most breweries only dream of.  This understanding of fermentation also allows Crooked Stave to put out big bold beers like Nightmare on Brett (around 10% abv), which are sour, influenced by fruit, and fermented in whiskey barrels and make them seem delicate and almost wine like.   We love this beer because the dark appearance and whiskey aromatics give way to a complex acidic and fruity character on the palette.  It takes you by surprise and offers a truly unique experience with sour beer as most breweries only use neutral oak or wine barrels for their sour program.  The beer has so much going on but when poured into the glass everything works in harmony.  Nightmare on Brett is a present look to the future for sour beer and for that reason it had to be on our list. 

6. The Tank Brewing, La Finca: It's no surprise that we love saison.  The Tank, which opened earlier this year, decided to make La Finca ("the farm", in Spanish) saison a core year-round offering and we couldn't be happier about it.  It's dry, effervescent, peppery, citrusy, earthy, and incredibly refreshing.  It's brewed with a nod to the traditional saisons and the history of the style, but is modern in approach and choice of ingredient.  La Finca is brewed with an acute attention to detail and purpose that comes across as a mature "we've been doing this for years" offering.  We're excited about this beer and what's to come from this new Miami brewery. 

7. Civil Society Brewing, Fresh: Hops, hops, hops.  Civil Society just celebrated its 1 year anniversary and has already established itself as a hop head's dream in South Florida.  Fresh is the beer that, in our opinion, truly separates the brewery from the rest.  Head brewer, Karl Volstad, has been brewing the beer for years, each time fine tuning the approach to make it into what it has become.  An aggressively hopped, ripe tropical fruit forward,  aromatic, and refreshing IPA that gives you all the hops you could ask for without the astringent bitterness.  You can taste the time and effort the brewery has put in to the beer with every sip.  For even more hops, head to the brewery and try the Double Dry Hopped Fresh. 

8. Side Project Brewing, Derivation (Batch 5):  I know, I know.  Side Project has made its way on to the favorite beers list every year since we started.  What can I say?  Cory is a master at his craft.  This year, we got to spend some time together down in Florida drinking through several Side Project offerings and although all were world class, this batch of Derivation blew us away.  A huge imperial stout: coffee, vanilla, aged in rum barrels for over a year; yet, somehow it came across as soft and delicate.  We still haven't been able to wrap our heads around how such a powerful and flavorful beer could come off so nuanced, subtle, and graceful.  Big body, creamy mouthfeel, and dangerously drinkable.  It's a testament to what Side Project is capable of and quite simply one of the best beers we've ever had the opportunity to try.  

9. Firestone Walker Brewing, Pivo Pils: This beer may be as close to perfect as it gets.  Because it's a pilsner and because it's somewhat readily available it doesn't get all of the the attention in the beer nerd kingdom that it deserves.  But, it is phenomenal.  It is so technically sound, so flavorful, so refreshing, it's almost hard to believe.  Firestone Walker is an industry standard for quality and consistency and Pivo is steering the ship.  It's no surprise that Pivo took Gold at the Great American Beer Festival from 2013 to 2015.  That's blind tasting, by the way!  

10. Casey Brewing & Blending, Oak Theory:  Troy Casey is a superstar in the making, if not already one.  Ask most brewers who they're watching these days, and Casey Brewing is at the top of the list, and it's no surprise.  He's making beautiful funk forward mixed fermentation beers employing old school meets new school fermentation techniques and the results are often times breathtaking.  Funk reminiscent of your favorite cheesy lambic, jammy fruited sours, and just a masterful command over the beers.  Oak Theory is no non-sense Belgian inspired beer fermented in and aged in oak for over a year.  The result is a funky, dry, and incredibly complex beer.  It's one of those beers that really lets you experience the oak and Troy's ability to bring out unique flavors through fermentation.  It's a thing of beauty people!

Our 2015 Favorite American Craft Beer List

If you've listened to or watched any interview on our site, you know how we feel about beer rating. The subjectivity of the product really makes any of these lists somewhat useless.  Nonetheless, we read them.  All of them.  We can't help it.  We know you can't either - so here's our 10 favorite beers that we had in 2015 in no particular order.  

1. Plan Bee Farm Brewery - Precious

This was just plain awesome.  So balanced, complex, and well, precious.  Evan is putting together some of the most beautiful beers in the country from his Hudson Valley farm and this one (although not released in 2015) may have been one of his best to date.  2016 will see more growth for Plan Bee which will hopefully make it easier for more people to try these wonderful creations.

2. The Rare Barrel - Forces Unseen

The Rare Barrel has quickly gained a reputation for their wonderful barrel aged sour beer program.  Forces Unseen is a seemingly straight-forward blend of golden sour beers - only, it's masterfully blended and really displays what the Rare Barrel can do.  No need to add fruit or any outside flavors, the oak, yeast, and malt backbone(s) are front and center and come together to really make this a special and versatile beer. 

3. Green Bench Brewing - Petit Provision

The definition of a table beer.  Low in alcohol, tart, and refreshing.  This wild ale aged in white wine barrels is soft and delicate but full of flavor and complexity.  It's ready for a day out at the beach or to be paired with a high-end meal at your favorite Michelin rated restaurant.  We love this beer and the fact that it's readily available at the brewery makes it even better. 

4. Trillium Brewing - Fort Point

Hop juice.  Trillium has really taken the Northeast by storm this year, releasing hit after hit and causing lines to form around the block for bottle releases.  Fort Point is the brewery's staple pale ale and really sets the tone for what you can expect in the rest of the brewery's offerings.  Huge aromatics, luscious and never-ending hop character with minimal bitterness.  Drink fresh and drink often.

5. Firestone Walker Barrelworks - Feral One

Firestone Walker is one of our favorite breweries in the entire world.  They release classic after classic.  Perfection at every level.  Feral One follows suit.  Although, really any Barrelworks offerings could have made this list, Feral One is something special.  A special blend of their best barrels, the team in Buellton has created a beautifully nuanced funky, sour, and complex ale displaying an array of fruit sitting on top of just the right amount of barrel character. 

6. Lagunitas - Born Yesterday Pale Ale

We love Lagunitas and their consistently clean IPA's and pale ales but this fresh hop pale ale just had a special something to it that really made it stand out of the crowd for us.  Big tropical fruit aroma and flavor is at the forefront of this seemingly drier than usual (for Lagunitas) base.  Every aspect of this beer is just fantastic and plays its role perfectly.  If only it was available all year.

7. M.I.A. Brewing - MegaMix

MegaMix is our favorite pale ale in South Florida.  Juicy and not overly bitter, you can really enjoy the hoppiness of the beer without killing your palate.  What started as a one time release, Mega Mix became so popular that the brewery intends to add it to their year-round offerings.  We're happy they are.

8. Fremont Brewing - Bourbon Barrel Abominable

By far the biggest beer on our list, "B-Bomb" as it's been nicknamed, is just one of those beers that exceeds all expectations.  Huge bold flavors, oak, bourbon, spice, roast, complement a wonderful aroma and mouth feel.  A phenomenal sipping beer that evolves as it warms.  Just an awesome beer to drink casually with friends or to enjoy alone and really get in to.  It's also a great beer to age so make sure to pick up a few to taste over time. 

9. Side Project Brewing - Pulling Nails

Side Project is changing the game with its beautiful wine-influenced and wine barrel aged wild and sour ales.  Pulling Nails, a blend of four different offerings, is tart and refreshing.  Green apple, white wine grape, lemon/citrus, all sit on side project's signature funk.  It's just awesome.  What did you expect?  Cory just can't miss.

10. Sierra Nevada - Hop Hunter

This one is a game changer.  A year-round release that tastes like a bottled yesterday fresh hop IPA always.  How?  Hop oil.  Leave it to Sierra Nevada, one of the best and most consistent breweries in the world to distil fresh hops on the farm and use the oils obtained from that process, in combination with whole cone hops, to bitter, give flavor to, and add a pungent hop aroma we've all come to love to this offering.  From a brewery that does everything at the highest level, this one is on its own level and is readily available for all to enjoy.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Looking Forward to 2015 - Florida and Beyond

So here it is.  This year is shaping up to be a great year for craft beer, especially here in South Florida and it's just under way.  These are some of our home town breweries to look forward to and some other breweries that we're excited about across the country.  Leave us a comment with the breweries you're looking forward to.


1. M.I.A. Brewing Co.:  After almost 2 years of construction and permitting and more construction and more permitting, M.I.A. Brewing is finally opening it's doors.   There's a lot to look forward to too. Brewmaster, Mike Demetrus, says what he looks forward to most is "brewing both classic and modern interpretations of styles from around the globe sparing no cost, cutting no corners, and reproducing with clean and consistent results."  Early releases like the M.I.A. IPA, one of our favorite IPA's around, is just that: 5 hard to find hops, lots of them, but not lacking in balance - a really nice and clean interpretation of the style.  With 52 taps in the taproom, you'll be sure to find something you'll love. Look for new releases weekly in the taproom.

2. Wild Oak Artisan Ales:  Ok, so Wild Oak technically isn't a "brewery" yet as they don't the state licensing or space required to hold the official title, but all indications point to this changing in 2015.  Led by Chris McElveen and head brewer Matt Manthe, Wild Oak is creating some of the most complex and delicately balanced beers around.  This, all while every beer is fermented with wild yeast (brettanomyces) and sees oak at some point in fermentation.  Take Farmacology for example, a brettanomyces fermented sour ale with Florida honey and Florida kumquats - an incredibly complex and balanced beer while coming in at around 12% abv.  Chris is looking forward to 2015 as a big year for the duo as they've "got another year of experience with [their] beers, a clearer picture of the market, and more drive than ever to be self-employed", says Chris.  We expect great things from these guys. 

3. J Wakefield Brewing Co.:  Mr. Florida-weisse himself is finally opening his doors in what may be the most anticipated opening to date in Florida.  What amazes us about JWB is the incredible amount excitement and anticipation surrounding the brewery and the exclusive members-only society that will likely see bottles of the rare, internet-forum destroying releases of JWB favorites like DFPF - Dragon Fruit Passion Fruit, a pink sour "Florida-weisse". The hype behind the brewery is not all a mystery, Jon has been pouring his sours and big barrel aged stouts and porters for fans at festivals and events like the famous Hunahpu's day at Cigar City to much praise.  A collaboration with Stone in 2014 doesn't hurt either.  Either way, JWB will bring a lot of attention to Miami craft beer.  We welcome it.

4. Biscayne Bay Brewing Co.:  Another newcomer to the Miami brewing scene in 2014, Biscayne Bay is shooting straight for the heart of Miami residents, drawing inspiration from local ingredients and landmarks to come up with names and flavor profiles.  Take the "La Colada" Porter for example.  A big bold porter that features "La Carreta" espresso.  For those who have never been to Miami, La Carreta is a staple Cuban restaurant chain in Miami, who's cafecito (espresso) draws locals and and tourists to their coffee windows.  Seriously, coffee windows.  Small windows where people gather to discuss politics, their annoying neighbors, and drink a coffee.  It'll be interesting to see what other inherently Miami themes find their way in to the beers Biscayne Bay is going to produce this year.


1. Plan Bee Farmhouse Brewery:  This is just one of those breweries that will stand out for being MORE than your average brewery.  Let's go through a short list of what I mean by that: every bottle of Plan Bee is sold by Evan Watson (owner/brewer) directly to the consumer (hand to hand exchange), Every yeast strain used by the brewery is a culture pulled from the property on which the brewery sits, and eventually most everything used in the beer will be grown on site.  Looking to 2015 - the brewery will move from a 1 bbl system in the Watsons' back yard to a 25 acre farm with a 3-story, 1820's barn which will house an 8 bbl system and plans for "things like farm school for children, brewers school for home brewers, concerts and music events, etc." are underway says Emily Watson, owner of the brewery.  Although the growth in production means more beer, what's amazing is that Plan Bee will continue its current method of sales - direct to consumer.  Pretty amazing.  All this talk about the brewery and nothing about the beer; which, by the way is fantastic.  Be on the lookout for Tree Beer in 2015, "a mahogany ale featuring organic Crown Maple syrup that has been aged in oak barrels" featuring the house yeast strain which gives it that signature "taste of the Hudson Valley."

2. Lord Hobo Brewing:  Our friend Vincent Tursi, formerly of Night Shift Brewing, has been tapped to lead the brewing at Lord Hobo which will focus its attention towards "delicate, juicy, hop-forward ales in cans", says Vince.  We're excited to get our hands on these beers.  Knowing what Vince is capable of - we're looking forward to what he'll do now with the ability to fine tune his hop forward ales with precision and dedication to flavor and balance.  They will likely be nothing short of spectacular.  Looking to the future, Vince says they'll do "barrel-aged stouts [and others] within year 1, then a sour program with foudres and coolship in year 2."  If the past is any indication of what the future holds, Vince will be producing some of the best and creative beers around and Lord Hobo will be on its way to setting fire to the forums. 

3. Side Project Brewing: These seems like an easy pick... Almost too easy.  It's no secret, we love Side Project.  Side Project's Blanc de Blancs took the number one spot on our top beers of 2014 and Cory King, Side Project's Captain, can seemingly do no wrong.  In 2015, Cory will make use of a larger amount of barrels to produce more beer under his private label.  What's more exciting is the continued reliance upon native yeast and local products (yes, I love this stuff) and Cory's emphasis on creating and maintaining Side Project's terroir.  Also, the opening of The Side Project Cellar will allow more people access to these incredibly rare and hard to find beers.  Balance, flavor, delicately blended beers will elevate the expectations on other breweries producing wild or barrel-aged sour beers.  

4. The Ale Apothecary:  Paul Arney, the solo force behind The Ale Apothecary is revered by many of his peers as one of the most talented and creative brewers around.  Developing barrel-aged beers made to age.  Complexity from date of bottling and flavors that only evolve over time.  I could ramble on and on about the unique techniques used to produce these beers but I just wouldn't do it justice. Visit www.thealeapothecary.com to watch a video that shows just how cool this brewery is.  Something spectacular is brewing in the mountains of Bend, Oregon.