Now that I officially survived the landfill conflagration that was 2020, I can reflect on my favorite beers from that tumultuous year. Bucking global trends, my number of beers checked in were less than previous years (2018 and 2019). I only managed 1773 beers with 1480 of those being unique. Talk about a slacker! My liver is jeering me, calling me weak and asking “Is that all you got?!?” Tough crowd here in my body. My top style was surprisingly Double Stouts, yet not at all surprising my next 4 were different IPA variations. Out of all these beers, I drank a whole lot of good ones and a small handful of great ones. I have managed to filter down all these beers to my top 10 of 2020. While my list primarily contains the usual suspects of IPAs, stouts, sours, barleywines, and barrel aged blends, there is one surprise near the top featuring a style that has never before made my top 10. With that enticing fish hook dangling in front of your thirsty eyes, here goes nothing.
The legend elevated to the next level. After all these years, Pliny the Elder is still the standard bearer for the West Coast Double IPA, and El Presidente amps up the hop profile with generous double dry hopping, taking the classic dank pineyness to new grapefruit citrus heights. Classic Pliny is always a perfect balance of bitter and resinous hops, and this just tips the scales ever so slightly towards a more citrusy profile. Russian River has canned themselves another winner here.
Another new twist on a legendary beer, Black Atrial is a perfect marriage of Atrial Rubicite and Black Metal, fruited sour and big brash stout. I’m always a sucker for a well executed sour stout, and this ups the ante with a delightfully jammy raspberry body. Leave it to Jester King to marry two disparate styles and end up with an incredible beer.
I have to admit some personal bias here as I am a True Anomaly investor, but I also have to admit that this is one of the best saisons you can find on the market. I originally invested in True Anomaly because I believed in my friends’ vision of producing great barrel aged sour beer for the Houston market, and Freedom 7 is the first foeder aged sour they bottled and released. Tart, funky, well balanced, and possessing fruit characteristics born of the barrel and bacteria, this beer is everything I look for in a sour. I love what True Anomaly has produced so far, and I’m excited to see where their sour program goes in the future.
Speaking of incredible sours, I had to include one of the many de Garde beers I bought at the brewery in Tillamook, OR. It was difficult to choose my favorite as all their sours are quite great, but Peach BuVeaux stood out with its lovely yellow orange opacity, delicate tartness, and huge stone fruit characteristics. de Garde is right up there with Jester King for making the best fruited wild ales in the country, and this beer excellently displayed exactly why they deserve such high praise.
10 years of making beers in southern Louisiana for Parish culminated in this beast being released to celebrate that first decade. Parish makes some incredible stouts with their Reve and Shade series, and Decade One builds on what they’ve learned by amping up the complexity and booze. Multiple barrel aged stouts were aged, blended together, and then given some more rest atop whole vanilla beans to create this 14% masterpiece. Barrel dominant yet allowing for vanilla and coffee to delicately dance amongst the depth, this stout is hugely impressive and worthy to commemorate 10 years of the best brewery in Louisiana.
Anchorage is no stranger to extensive barrel aging, and Endless Ending is just another entry in a series of mindfuckery that emerges from their barrel program. This 15.5% monster is a blend of stout and barleywine that was aged 18 months in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked barrels. There’s a reason Anchorage is so renowned for their barrel aged beers: they simply deliver complexity and nuance that few other breweries can compete with. By relying on subtle flavors in the wood themselves instead of a kitchen sink of adjuncts, the Alaskan barrel masters are able to pull out massive flavors while still delivering spirit forward affairs. Paired with the huge base beers that are aged, this is the recipe to create some of the beers that I enjoy the most.
Before you DM me with your complaints of this beer being 7+ years old and Goose Island being an evil Belgian megabrewer, I fucking know. It still slightly pains me every time I drink a faux-craft beer, but sometimes I just cannot ignore pure deliciousness flowing into my mouth. I first drank this nearly 5 years ago, and it has somehow only gotten better with age. After 7 years, this bourbon barrel aged barleywine is all barrel and cherry. Booze, vanilla, and tobacco are present, yet cherry steals the show. I’m not sure how the barrel morphed into such a strong fruit flavor, but I loved every minute of it.
I bummed off my friend’s Modern Times club membership in 2020 and drank some incredible (and some not so incredible) offerings from their barrel program, and Mostra Tones definitively took the crown. The tasting experience starts off with an absolutely insane coffee chocolate nose. If blindfolded and forced to smell the difference between this and freshly ground 90% cacao chocolate and coffee beans, I would utterly fail at distinguishing the two. The richness continued right into the flavor where 6 different barrels (6!: bourbon, Kentucky whiskey, rye whiskey, California brandy, port, and rum) created an immense depth. Further aging on coffee, cacao, vanilla, almonds, and coconut amped this beer up to 11. While the Anchorage was a strong ale driven by barrel complexity, Mostra Tones is driven by damn near every ingredient in it. Coconut finishes the palate party, lingering and beckoning you to drink just one more sip. I wish I had a case of this beer so I could greedily drink it all by myself, pushing myself towards the pastry white light.
Surprise! A Vienna lager was the 2nd best beer I drank in 2020. While at first glance this seems patently absurd, I assure you this was one of the most mind melting beers I drank all year, completely changing my perception of what a lager could be. Brewed as a traditional Vienna, First Turn did its lagering within a first use oak foeder, imparting flavors I had never experienced out of a lager before. With the expected woodiness, there was also a wonderful vanilla flavor brought out by the oak. Combined with the sweet malt backbone, there was marshmallow I would expect in some crazy adjunct milkshake IPA or pastry stout, not a simple Vienna lager. I don’t imagine that Parleaux is the first brewery to ever foeder age a lager, but I want to see more of this going forward. If you think all lagers are simple and something you drink just to pass the time, First Turn will blow your preconceived notions right out of the brite tank.
A late entry into this super serious competition, Coconut Convergence was the most insane and memorable beer I drank in 2020. Horus pulled no stops when making this the most coconut forward beer to ever exist. That had to be Kyle’s intention when you read through the ingredient list: Coconut Candy, Coconut Syrup, Coconut Water, Desiccated Coconut, Shredded Coconut, and Toasted Coconut. What the hell is coconut candy?!? This beer is not for the coco-curious – it’s for the coco-crazed. Despite the laundry list of coconut derivatives, the Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels still manage to shine, giving you a hint at its 16% ABV. DDB hilariously reviews this beer as the subject of a dystopian SoCal future where everything exists to produce and harvest coconut. This beer exists for Horus to blow through the limits of how much coconut can be put in a beer without rendering it atop a palm tree inside of a fresh husk. I am fully down for the adventure.