|Some contemplation, pre-flight|
2011 was hands-down the most prolific beer-sampling year of my life. Not only did I nearly double the entire number of unique brews that I consumed between 2006 and 2010 (a total of 470) in one year, I wound up averaging almost two new beers a day having had 725 different beers between January 1st, 2011 and December 31st, 2011. Now, the majority of these beers came from samplers that averaged four ounces per beer and, if I was on a road trip, the odds are that I had only two ounces or so of a bunch of those. Still, there were a number of pints, bombers, and bottles thrown into the mix as well so I would estimate that the average quantity consumed per beer would be around 8 oz (accounting for the 2 oz samples and 22+ oz bottles), which would total roughly 5,800 ounces of beer.
It was a lot.
|In 2011, they lined 'em up and I put 'em down|
With all that beer came a surprising amount of good experiences; I definitely came to find what I enjoyed and didn't enjoy. 2011 was undoubtedly the year of the dark beer and the IPA as the bulk of what I tried fell into one of those two categories (stouts, porters, and brown ales, in particular with regards to the former). There were plenty of good beers, a relative dearth of terrible ones (thankfully), and a few that left an indelible mark on both my palette and my heart. Most were solid beers but ultimately unmemorable. Out of the rest, I have chosen the best 100 that I tried in 2011. The ones at the bottom of the list were decent and likely memorable for the wrong reasons but they were still better than most of the other unlisted beers; the ones at the top...well, let's just say, I still dream about them and can conjure their tastes purely from memory!
So, without further ado, here are my Top 100 Beers of 2011 in reverse order.
100 Flying Fish Bourbon-Aged (Jack Daniel's) Abbey Dubbel
I had really high hopes for this beer because of its Jack Daniel's aging but it wound up being the most distressing beer that I had all year. The Jack flavors were there but were trapped within what I can describe only as a Dimetapp taste that overpowered the beer. It was powerful, it was drinkable, but, ultimately, it made the list for tasting like cough medicine.
99 Lindemans Faro Lambic
I had managed to enjoy a wide variety of beer styles in 2011 and I closed the year with fewer than ten styles (based upon my research) in existence that I haven't tried. The Faro lambic was one of the last new ones that I had enjoyed but it, too, is memorable for the wrong reasons. Admittedly, I am not a huge sour beer fan but I can understand and appreciate their place in the beer spectrum. The Faro was awesome because it was not just sour but ultra-ultra-sweet. Rock candy winds up being involved in the brewing process at some point (I believe), which would explain the uber-sweet and sour battle going on with this beer.
98 Big Sky Moose Drool Brown Ale
I managed to buy some obscure and difficult-to-obtain beers courtesy of an awesome distributor called "Brewforia" (visit their site here: http://brewforia.com) in 2011--purchases that were driven in large part by the 1,001 Beers book that BWN gave me for my birthday. Big Sky's Moose Drool was not only a beer in the book but it was also from Montana--a state I had yet to have a single brew from. This was a respectable brown ale and is one I look forward to drinking again someday...perhaps on draft at the brewery itself!
97 Sprecher Shakparo (Fire-Brewed African Style-Ale)
Of all the beers I brought back with me from the Sprecher brewery, it was the Shakparo that I was most interested in trying. It was (I believe) my first gluten-free beer and was, as I remember, extremely tasty. Definitely worth tracking down, especially if you know a beer lover with Celiac's disease.
96 Baltika #6 Porter
I had low hopes for this beer made and bottled in the Russian Federation. Russians are not known for their love of beer let alone their brewing of it...but this is a really good porter. I was pleasantly surprised by this brew and it made me take a step back and reevaluate my personal bias towards certain beers; my newfound openmindedness has led to some great beer-drinking experiences!
95 Great Lakes Blackout Stout
I enjoyed this stout on my last visit to the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland. A solid stout that packed a punch. Wish they would bottle this along with the Edmund Fitzgerald!
94 Orkney Dark Island
All of the Orkney brews are strange, interesting creatures. The Dark Island is a scottish ale (not to be confused with a scotch ale/wee heavy) that is imbued with an incredible spectrum of flavors, particularly in its bouquet. Scope out all of Orkney's releases if you can!
93 Dogfish Head Ta Henket
I had fallen in love with DFH's Ta Henket before I even tried it. My wife and I had watched each episode of the Discovery show called "Brewmasters" that followed Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione as he set about crafting new beers in the DFH way. The Ta Henketpetri dishes to collect airborne yeast to be used in the fermentation process. Here's a link to a brief synopsis about the beer: http://www.dogfish.com/brews-spirits/the-brews/occasional-rarities/ta-henket.htm
92 Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (Cask Conditioned)
Back in June I had the good fortune to attend the first ever Dogfish Head Analog-A-Go-Go festival. It was a fun-filled day that was dedicated as much to sharing music and ideas as it was enjoying great beer with likeminded people. The featured beer of the day included special versions of DFH classics that had been aged in oak casks thus imbuing them with tremendous flavors and smooth finishes. Yards Brewing also contributed a few cask conditioned ales as well. The Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA was a standout among the crowd and improved on an already smooth and sessionable (in my opinion) IPA.
91 Samuel Adams Wee Heavy (Imperial Series)
I won't lie--I was as excited about the awesome design of the six pack holder as I was about the beer (it's green and has dragons and castles on it--enough said!) Scotch ales can be hit and miss (some are incredibly boring and routine while others stand out for one reason or another) but Sam Adam's Imperial Wee Heavy stands head and shoulders above most of the crowd. Its smokiness is reminiscent of a solid blended scotch whisky and its dark, swirling tides will lull you in if you aren't careful. One of the best beers I've ever had from the Boston Beer Company!
90 Chelsea Brewing Black Hole XXX Stout
I hadn't even heard of the Chelsea Brewing Company until I was going to a Johnnie Walker scotch tasting event at Chelsea Piers. I was researching places to drink craft beer in Manhattan and found that the aforementioned sports complex had its own brewery on the premises. After the scotch tasting, my buddy Carlos and I headed over to the brewery to sample their offerings. Most were decent but the Black Hole XXX Stout was incredible. If you're in the area, swing by and check it out!
89 Goose Island Fleur
I felt like I had died and gone to beer heaven when I visited the Goose Island brewpub in Chicago in May of last year. The sheer quantity of beers on tap and the ability to sample whatever I wanted left me exploding with anticipation. One of the beers I tried towards the end of my meal was the Fleur--easily the pinkest beer I have ever consumed. The description on the menu read, "Rose color, strawberry and hibiscus aroma, sweet and tart berry flavor, crisp body" and was 100% accurate. A bit sweet and tart for my tastes but a memorable beer nonetheless!
88 Brewdog Storm (Islay Whisky Cask Aged IPA)
Islay is known for its uniquely peaty scotch. Even fans of the smokiest of scotches have a hard time adjusting to the strong combination of flavors that make Islay scotches what they are. As a Scottish landowner of Irish descent (no joke--look at the picture to the left!) I can speak accurately of the potency of Islay whisky and know both of its power and its potential. The upstart brewery Brewdog clearly knows as well when they chose to age their IPA in Islay whisky casks. The result is precisely what you would expect: a hop-bomb drenched in seawater, iodine, and Islay peat flavors. This one will put hair on your chest!
87 3 Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale
The Alpha King produced by 3 Floyds was a solid brew--one worthy of its inclusion in the 1,001 beer books. I was lucky that it was a part of the brewery's extremely limited sampler at its brewpub facility (more on that in a future post).
86 Yards Brewing Love Stout
I had such a blast visiting the Yards brewery even though I didn't get to take the tour. The fact that they offered a variety of samplers enticed me all the more. The Love Stout was on tap that day and it stood out among a solid group of dark brews. Would love to have it again!
85 Uinta Brewing Dubhe Imperial Black IPA
The Black IPA (or Cascadian Dark Ale / American Black Ale) became a new favorite style of mine in 2011 thanks in large part to beers like this. Dark in color, smooth in texture, and extremely hoppy in character, these awesome brews have a little bit of everything. This one was surprisingly delectable.
84 Stone Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout
Stone produces some big beers with incredibly big personalities. As an inchoate Russian Imperial Stout drinker at the time, I found the Belgo Anise to be a bit daunting. It was brash, bold, and utterly delicious. Totally worthy of my list in the "Year of the Dark Beer"
83 Baltika #3 Classic
For all the concern that I had regarding Baltika's porter, I had even more with their Classic--a Euro Pale Lager akin to ubiquitous macrobrews like Heineken and Stella Artois. Baltika's offering, however, blew me away. It had layers to it--subtle nuances you wouldn't expect out of something generally swilled in anonymous bars throughout the land. Definitely one that I enjoyed.
82 Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA (Cask Conditioned)
Ah...Johnny Cask's most renowned offering. Dogfish Head's 75 Minute IPA became one of my most sought after brews--a holy grail of sorts--in 2010. Having had the 60 and 90 Minutes, I found out about their 75 and 120 Minutes. I knew that the 120 was a rare commodity but the 75 Minute proved to be even more elusive. The other three (including the 120) were bottled but the 75 Minute was offered only on draft. I knew that I would have to work to sample this incredible cask conditioned blend of DFH's 60 and 90 Minute IPAs. I finally had my chance at the Analog-A-Go-Go last June and loved the beer instantly. It was a perfect marriage of the two brews--a smoothed out version of the 90 coupled with a stronger, more potent version of the 60. Had it not been for another special beer sampled that day, this one might rank even higher in my pantheon!
81 New Glarus Cabin Fever Honey Bock
I feel that I have enjoyed a steady, recognizable progression as a serious beer aficionado: I began quaffing the typical macrobrews offered everywhere, dabbled in the microbrew world with Sam Adams and its kin, and, ultimately, became a true craft beer lover. I started to visit breweries and then brewpubs before ultimately making them integral parts of every trip. During my trip to Chicago last year, though, I added a new facet: visiting local beer markets and Whole Foods stores. When I went to the one in Milwaukee, I found a variety pack of New Glarus beers that I brought back home with me. The Honey Bock served as the perfect winter brew and is one I wish I had in the house today (they're all gone, of course, because they were so good!)
80 Stone Cherry Chocolate Stout
Chocolate and cherries...they have gone together since the first caveman Valentine's Day two hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Combining them in a stout? Genius. I enjoyed this beer at the Manhattan incarnation of the Dublin-based Porterhouse Brewing Company next to Fraunces Tavern and, though it was good, it wasn't great. Stone was definitely on to something but the cherry flavors were overpowering and it seemed more forced than smoothly fitted. Maybe if this one was aged it would be perfect but even as it is it's still worth a shot.
79 Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Stout
Chocolate was arguably my favorite beer ingredient last year and I've gained a new appreciation for the sheer diversity of chocolates and the flavors that they impart. Southern Tier's Choklat is absolutely killer!
78 Cotrell Old Yankee Ale
A ridiculously tasty brown ale--this one was shared with me courtesy of The Rev on a night that also featured something called Beer Schnapps. If beer is proof that God loves us (misquote, I know), then beer schnapps is proof that he loves some more than others. Thanks Rev for sharing!
77 Pizzeria Uno Gust-N-Gale Porter
I know what you're thinking--Pizzeria Uno!? There is exactly one Pizzeria Uno in the country (as we were told) that brews its own beer and, fortunately for me, it is located a mere half hour from where I live. I went in with fairly low expectations and came out absolutely blown away. The head brewer has a TREMENDOUS reputation for brewing solid beers and this porter is a perfect example. Silky smooth with a solid body, this is one worth sessioning with!
76 Lakefront Fuel Cafe (Coffee Flavored Stout)
If chocolate was my number one favorite ingredient, coffee would have to be number two. Lakefront brewing in Milwaukee offers a ridiculous array of amazing beers and the Fuel Cafe was near the top of the list for me. A perfect blend of roasted malt and coffee flavors, this black hole of a stout will perk you up on the coldest winter day. Plus, their distribution is expanding so if you're in New York or New Jersey, the odds are that you'll be able to find it bottled!