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.