WASHINGTON, January 21, 2013 — It’s tempting to do a “best of” list, but when it comes to beer, who’s to say what is a “best beer”? Best beer for when or what? Morning? Or evening? Best beer in the summer? Or in the winter? Best beer for a twenty-two year old vacationing in Cancun? Or for a retiree playing bocce ball? Best beer for after a day of hiking? Or best beer for snuggling up on Valentine’s Day by the fireplace?
The enjoyment of beer (and other matters of taste) and determination of the best beers is such a personal endeavor that I often shrink from the responsibility of creating such lists. Only you can judge what makes a beer truly great to you.
Since many tastes and aromas are often related to memories and can be associated with the shared experience of people and place, I have made a list of memorable beers that left an impression — on me — in 2012.
January – Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA hit the retail market at the turn of the year and it quickly took 2012 by storm. The first month of the year presented this beer to me in a rather nonchalant way. A six-pack came home with me from the local Wegmans grocery store and from that point I made every effort to buy it when spotted on tap and suggest that anyone that would listen to me do the same. What a near perfect balance of grains and hops is this beer. Fortunately, the 2013 version is hitting the market as you read this; do not miss out this time around.
February – Drinking Costa Rica Brewing Company’s Segua and Libertas certainly bring back great memories of an early-year trip with friends, it was back home where I found the most memorable beer of February. I was included on a judging panel at Victory Brewing Company’s Chili Cookoff in February at the brewery. While the chili entrants wowed the crowd with their creativity, I was personally wowed by my first taste of the new Victory Éclat Chocolate Lager. The collaboration beer was made with chocolate from highly-regarded Éclat Chocolate nearby in West Chester, Pa. and the result was a beer that struck the right balance of decadently sweet, delightfully bitter, and creamy smooth (particularly when served on nitrogen). This was a special one-off brew, but when a beer is so well-received as was this one, brewers have learned to never say never. Needless to say, I hope for its return someday.
March – While the first batch of Tröegs Nugget Nectar annual release occurs in January with bottles, fresh stuff is still hitting the market in March which, in 2012, is when I tasted what I believed to possibly be the best ever release of this Imperial Amber Ale at The Drafting Room in suburban Philadelphia during its annual Tröegs promotion night. In a spot on the calendar when other highly-touted, hop-forward beers like Russian River Pliny The Younger and Bell’s HopSlam are hitting the market, for those in the northeast part of the country, Nugget Nectar is the one to grab. Here in 2013, the last fresh kegs are due to show up at bars by early to mid-March.
April – Each late winter/early spring, I wind up in Pittsburgh for a Flyers-Penguins hockey game. For a guys trip to Pittsburgh focused on sports and beer, likely no more perfect place exists for the convenient intersection of the two than at Fat Head’s in the South Side neighborhood. Fat Head’s has served great beer, solid plates of belly-filling food, and local sports for many years. In recent years, it jumped into the brewing world by opening a brewing facility in suburban Cleveland. Since then, they have racked up numerous awards for the Fat Head’s Headhunter IPA and I will vouch without hesitation for this beer to any Hophead looking for their aggressive, citrusy IPA fix. If this is you and you are not near Pittsburgh, fear not. In 2012, they began selling the beer by the 12-ounce bottle for limited distribution in Ohio and western Pennsylvania. It’s a West Coast wake-up call in the world of IPAs.
May – I was in the beer mecca of Belgium for half of May 2012. That alone should be the subject of a handful of articles. But of the too-numerous-to-count great beers consumed from the rich beers from Trappist monastery breweries to the sour mouth-puckering delights found at traditional Lambic breweries, one beer stood apart: Corsendonk Pils. My traveling companions may call me out for not citing a Cantillon Gueuze, a Westvleteren 12, a Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze, a De Garre Tripel, or a De La Senne Zinnebir on this list (or did I do just that?), but on that one particular night of playing bumper pool at a hostel bar in Brugge run by a German man who wanted to show a little something different to his Belgian customers, this German-style Pilsner brewed in Belgium was perfect.
June – Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood is home to the irreverent Vortex Bar & Grill, which has been serving up a full list of great beers much longer than most of the more recent bars popping up around the city and suburbs. As is true nationwide, small breweries can be found around nearly every corner opening at an ever-increasing rate. The Vortex showed me an excellent Brown Ale from the new Wild Heaven Brewery’s Ode to Mercy. Just prior to the Atlanta trip, a new brew pub opened closer to home that I had the absolute pleasure to follow throughout its construction progress: Tired Hands Brewing Company. With several of its creations of the “session” strength (lower alcohol level), from the saison family, and out of the barrel along with specialty meats, cheeses, breads, and pickles it quickly became one of the most comfortable places to spend a few minutes to a few hours and a place to watch in 2013.
Read Part II of 2012 beer reviews covering the second half of the year here.
Read more of Bryan’s work at After Hours in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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