2019 was another great year in beer, and I did my damnedest to drink all of it. I failed in that endeavor, but I am still alive which is a plus. Untappd tells me I drank 1582 unique beers from 397 different breweries. That’s over 1 new brewery per day which is pretty cool and speaks well of the diverse beer landscape we’re lucky to live in. Of all these beers, many stood out for various reasons (both good and bad). I have sifted through all my check ins to find the superlative suds of the year, the beers so profound that they left an impression on me and were distinctly memorable amongst the multitudes. As in 2018, it was challenging to choose a Top 10, but I’m happy with what I’ve landed on. I’m only including beers I drank for the first time, so you won’t see Parish DDH Ghost here again although it was once again one of my favorite beers. I was also lucky enough to drink Jam the Radar again, my #1 beer from last year. Here we go!
The official name of this beer is an absolutely ridiculous 184 characters long, and the beer itself was just as ridiculous. Untappd describes it as “Black Barleywine On Strawberry Mead Barrels, Grape Mead Barrels, Vanilla/Whisky Barrels And Buffalo Trace Barrels” while I describe it as “nucking futs!” There was a lot going on. A looooot. 4 breweries and 1 meadery combined their blending talents to create this 15% concoction unlike anything else I’ve ever drank. It was boozy, fruity, smooth, multiple types of spirit forward, and a complete mind fuck as you drank it. This was one of the wildest beers I’ve ever tried, and it was only appropriate that I drank it at Other Half, themselves purveyors of some whacky yet delicious brews.
I had drank previous batches of Fēn Táo, and Blend 5 was released 6 months before I would get my hands on a bottle and drink it. While not Jester King’s most heralded fruited sour, it has always been one of my favorites. This 2018 blend was phenomenal and indicative of what makes Jester King a master of the American Wild Ale game. An overall delicate body was bursting with peach flavor as if Jeffrey’s own hands were wringing every drop of the fruit straight into your mouth. That’s an experience for which I would pay good money. This huge almost jammy stone fruit is wonderfully balanced by a complementary tart that Jester King has perfected. The balance is exquisite and what makes Jester King deservingly one of the best.
While 2018 saw me rank 4 IPAs in my Top 10, this was the only one to crack my list in 2019. It’s not that I wasn’t drinking IPAs (4 of my top 5 most checked in styles were IPA variants) or that I wasn’t rating them highly (4.02 avg IPA rating in 2019), but I think it’s become more difficult to make a truly distinguished IPA in 2019. So many breweries are making such good IPAs and especially so on the hazy side of things for which I am a total sucker. Two of the breweries making arguably the best hazies are Equilibrium and Other Half, and they teamed up to brew this delicious 10% Triple IPA. No lactose was used, yet the body had a wonderful fullness and velvety smoothness. The typical tropical flavors were all present with a huge dose of pineapple dancing to the front of the lineup. I tend to award beers extra points when they manage a high ABV without punching you in the face, and Dream Lab was definitely sneaky with its double digits.
Holy Mountain is one of my favorite breweries, and their Midnight Still series always brings some serious heat. This 2018 variant combined silky smooth bourbon barrel aging with the strong flavors of hazelnut and cacao to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Vanilla and oak from the bourbon play with roasted malts in the base stout, slightly bitter chocolate, and distinct nuttiness in a perfectly balanced melody. None of the flavors dominate the profile, leaving a delicious blend. For an adjunct barrel aged stout, this perfectly toes the line between having overwhelming extreme flavors and being muted and muddled.
2019 was the year of hazelnut for me. While I had definitely drank many hazelnut stouts before, it seems that this was the year where the nut became ubiquitous. Goshawk’s Grasp perhaps showcased hazelnut the best out of everything, combining it with coffee in a non-barrel aged stout that still cranked the ABV up to 13%. It still managed an impressive smoothness, a trait that Horus has seemingly perfected with their high alcohol yet drinkable stouts. It wasn’t too thick and almost had a creaminess that allowed it to go down smoothly. I haven’t had a ton of Horus beers, but I’m always impressed by what they can do.
This funky little brewery out of Ann Arbor makes some phenomenal beer, and COMPOSITION 1 was the best I’ve tried from them. Jammy berries are the star of the show here. There was a freshness and brightness to the fruit that impressively showcased its flavors and allowed it to shine. Italian wine barrel aging added a lovely tartness to the mixed culture fermentation, and conditioning on champagne yeast lended an airy mouthfeel without taking away from the fruity jam. The oddly shaped bottle combined with its subdued and refined label art added to the overall unique experience and made this truly a memorable beer.
What Jam the Radar was to 2018 Midnight Robots was to 2019. Fruited stouts are difficult to pull off well, yet this beer hit a home run and smashed it clear out of the park for good measure. Strawberries are hard to pull off in beer as it’s a more subtle fruit that doesn’t typically lend itself to strong flavors. Apparently Three Chiefs never got that message because this beer was pure liquid strawberries. Chocolate and bourbon barrel aging add some depth and complexity, but berries are undoubtedly the MVP of this game. Jamminess this pronounced is usually reserved for fruited sours. I don’t know the pounds per barrel used in this brew, but it was obviously a shit ton. My glass was coated with tiny strawberry lacing as I slowly enjoyed savoring every drop of this. It’s amazing what gets randomly tapped at Other Half.
The non-barrel aged Our Cake Is A Lie was already a banger, and the bourbon barrel just took it up a notch. Liquid doberge cake in a glass would be an accurate description for this collaboration with The Answer. While the barrel aging made slightly less distinct the chocolate and vanilla cake presence, it did lend extra depth of charred oak and cinnamon. A little bit of boozy heat was definitely there, and the overall decadence of this beer was undeniable. I almost expected solid chunks of cake batter to float up from the bottom of my glass while drinking this, but thankfully no cakebergs appeared in my glass. This beer was liquid excess in an approachable way, and I love seeing Parish seamlessly pull off such an intimidating concept.
As my Untappd check in says, this was one of the best barrel aged stouts I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. A double barrel version of an already amazing beer, Kentuckley, it was first aged 6 months in whiskey foeders (which I didn’t even know was a thing) before spending some time in bourbon barrels. The combination lends an incredible smoothness that allows a deep vanilla character and slightly sweet maple syrup to take the lead. Everything about this beer is so rich and complex, yet it remains drinkable at 15%. The overall smoothness is very impressive as there are no sharp edges to distract from the base stout’s adjuncts.
My #1 beer this year was an easy choice. Caribbean Shade is the best stout Parish has ever made. The concept is perfectly executed with a masterful blend of rum and bourbon barrel aged stouts. Rich coconut combined with vanilla takes the flavor to another level. Rum can be difficult to pull off in beer, but Parish uses it to enhance the booze profile with some island flare. Warm tones throughout the flavor profile blend with creamy coconut to create an experience unlike any other beer I’ve had. This is reminiscent of the Cycle coconut stout that made my list last year, but the added depth and complexity of bourbon barrels take it to the next level. Parish really outdid themselves with this brew while raising the bar on possibilities for what they can do in the future. I know that I’ll definitely be around to find out.