National Beer Writers Share Their Favorites from 2016
Cover Photo By Natrice Miller
In the spirit of collaboration, inspired by the beer industry we cover, the PorchDrinking team reached out to some of our buds who also do a tremendous job covering the beer scene and asked them to reflect on 2016, while also looking ahead in 2017. We polled a handful of these national beer writers and journalists about their favorite beers, breweries, trends and festivals from 2016, and predictions for 2017. Hear what they had to say!
1) What were 2-3 of the most impressive beers you tried this year?
“The most memorable brewery visit I probably had this year was an extremely tiny place in Tucson, AZ called Iron John’s Brewing Co. I stopped there while spending a weekend in Tucson to write about all the breweries, and it took me completely by surprise. It’s so tiny that it’s almost “professional homebrewing” in scope, but the guy there is insanely talented and dedicated to his craft. I had a stone fruit sour there that, if it had been released by Wicked Weed or Jester King, would have had people trading whales or shelling out $100 online to acquire. Even in Tucson, this place was being overlooked. Nationally, it’s a potentially world class brewery that few people have even heard of, much less sampled.” –Jim Vorel, Paste Magazine
“Since I do my owns lists of favorite Colorado beers for Westword, I am going to give some shout outs to some out-of-state beers here. First and foremost is Modern Times in San Diego, which makes beautiful beers across the board. And while hops are my favorite, their Monster’s Park imperial stout blew my socks off (as did the barrel aged version). Next up was Mylar Bags, a hazy IPA from Other Half Brewing in New York. It was juicy-sweet hoppy heaven. But really, I just couldn’t get enough of Melvin Brewing’s 2×4 double IPA. Available widely in Colorado in cans for the first time, this Wyoming was in my fridge all year long.” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
“Epic’s release of Double Barrel Baptist (imperial stout with cacao nibs and whiskey barrel aged coffee and 100% whiskey barrel aged) and Big Bad Baptista (Mexican coffee, cacao nibs, vanilla & cinnamon and 100% whiskey barrel aged) proved to be two of my favorite beers this year. Rich, flavorful and warming, it’s nice to see Epic experiment and have some fun with one of my favorite Imperial Stouts.” –Mark Robinson, Brewtally Insane
“The Lagunitas Born Yesterday, Alchemist Crusher DIPA, and Creature Comforts Automatic.” –Ale Sharpton
“Every beer on our Best Beers of 2016 list made an impression on me in its own way, but I was particularly fond of Mikkeller/Lindemans SpontanBasil, Toolbox Chaine Rustique and Highland Park Hello LA.” –Kate Bernot, DRAFT Magazine
“Anchorage Brewing Co. Anadromous Black Sour Ale, Hinterland 21st Anniversary BBA, Avery Barrel-Aged Series 41 – Dui Cochi.” –Mathew Powers, Chilled Magazine & PorchDrinking.com
“Barrel Aged Mexican Achromatic from WeldWerks, and Juice Box from Great Notion,” –Kevin Boyd, DrinkingCraft
“2nd Shift Hibiscus Wit, Perennial American Brown, Logboat Snapper.” –Jordan Palmer, Drink314.net & PorchDrinking.com
“The Rusty Nail from Fremont Brewing, Pua Aloalo Vanilla Hibiscus Golden Sour from Wiley Roots, Lunex Corvus Coffee Sour from Black Project, Spon from Jester King, Rented World from Ratio Beeworks, Coconut Medianoche from WeldWerks, Tangerine Cream from Station 26.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
2) What was your most memorable brewery visit experience this year?
“For me, it’s the things that happen and the people you meet that make brewery visits stand out. One memorable trip was to Our Mutual Friend in Denver, when I met a man who (currently) lives in Colorado, but graduated from my high school in rural Northwest Ohio 25 years ahead of me — and knew my in-laws. It’s such a small world, and you never know who you’re going to meet in a brewery.” –Jess Baker, CraftBeer.com
“I loved Phantom Carriage for its ambiance and dedication to the theme. The tasting room is kept so dark that it’s a shock when you walk back out into the LA sunlight. And drinking killer brett beers while watching old horror flicks is fun, too.” –Zach Fowle, DRAFT Magazine
“I have been to more than 200 this year and I was blown away by a couple including Service in Savannah, Badger State’s in Green Bay and the expansions of Three Taverns and SweetWater with the Woodlands.” –Ale Sharpton
“Grandma’s House has a comfortable, familiar feel to it. With vintage couches, chairs, TVs and games, I can easily kill an afternoon playing Atari and sipping on some new beers.” –Mark Robinson, Brewtally Insane
“Visiting Elk Mountain Farms with Goose Island.” –Kevin Boyd, DrinkingCraft
“Modern Brewery.” –Jordan Palmer, Drink314.net & PorchDrinking.com
3) What’s your favorite new beer / brewery that came from 2016 (beer had to have been released for the first time in 2016, brewery had to have started in 2016)?
“Scofflaw kicked the 2016 door in and came out blastin’ with some gangster IPAs and stouts. They are no joke. The Basement is a definite win. Look out for Southern Brewing Co. too!” –Ale Sharpton
“The Veil, in Richmond, VA. It’s hard to believe they could have opened in 2016. Talk about hitting the ground running, immediately jumping into the conversation of who’s making the best NE-IPAs in the world right now. That was some serious momentum.” –Jim Vorel, Paste Magazine
New Beer – Dry Dock’s Grapefruit Double IPA is liquid gold. Tremendously flavorful and now available in cans, this 9% release has become my new “session brew”. Haha.
New Brewery – Resolute Brewing in Centennial opened with with a spacious tasting room, inviting beer garden and a well-made lineup of beers. Check them out.” –Mark Robinson, Brewtally Insane
(More: How Craft Beer Gave Back In 2016)
“New Beer: Pollyanna Fruhauf Marzen/Oktoberfest — won bronze at GABF. New Brewery: Old Irving Brewing.” –Mathew Powers, Chilled Magazine & PorchDrinking.com
“Since I believe that craft breweries are the new neighborhood pubs in the United States, I am going to go with my local spot, Cerebral Brewing, which is just a few blocks from my front door. Of course that’s easy to do since they make great beer. Cerebral opened at the end of 2015 so they might miss the cut for new brewery from 2016, but just about everything they turned out in 2016 was stellar. My favorites were Rare Trait, an IPA, and its dry-hopped sibling, as well as Tandem Jetpack, a double IPA. But I also really dug Ancient Ruins, an imperial chocolate stout, and chardonnay barrel-aged Dreamy Things , a dry-hopped, Brett-fermented farmhouse ale (the non-barrel-aged version of this took home a silver medal at GABF).” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
“Slow Pour Pils from Bierstadt Lagerhaus is what Pilsners aspire to be. I’m also a bit biased because I work for Ratio, but the Stay Gold Oktoberfest was one of the best Oktoberfest I’ve yet to encounter. And echoing Shikes before me, Cerebral’s Chardonnay Barrel-Aged Dreamy Things was absolutely supurb.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
4) What was your favorite beer festival from 2016?
“Firestone Walker Invitational, no question. Every single beer is something you’d normally go out of your way to find and savor. Every brewery is quality. The number of attendees is reasonable. It’s the best beer festival in the world right now for the quality of the lineup alone. You will find yourself pouring out beers at this festival that you would normally be pushing and shoving strangers to acquire, just because you need to get in line to try the NEXT insanely rare offering.” –Jim Vorel, Paste Magazine
“I finally had the chance to attend Shelton Brothers’ The Festival in Louisville this year. It brought together some of the most interesting breweries from across the world, including many international breweries you don’t find stateside very often. What The Funk, a lead up to GABF, was a close second.” –Kate Bernot, DRAFT Magazine
“GABF is incredibly impressive. I got to see it from the inside in 2016, and it’s a herculean effort that the BA, volunteers, brewers and countless others make look easy.” –Jess Baker, CraftBeer.com
“What the Funk came back in a big way in 2016. Past criticisms of overcrowding and beer shortages were addressed, giving us one of the finest collection of barrel-aged and funky beers ever assembled. Amazing job by the Crooked Stave Team this time around.” –Mark Robinson, Brewtally Insane
“Hands down – Tribes Alehouse Fest IV – Tinley Park, IL.” –Mathew Powers, Chilled Magazine & PorchDrinking.com
“I don’t want to sound like a cliche, but the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival — now in Breckenridge — is indispensable for me as a beer writer, and a blast as a beer lover. I think that it helps set the tone for the year in terms of what beers and breweries are going to make waves. It is a chance to talk to beery movers and shakers about their opinions. And did I mention that it is an absolute blast?” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
5) What are the 1-3 breweries at the top of your ‘Breweries to Watch’ radar?
“I would say Max Lagers with their new taps upstairs, Locomotion headed by Chase Medlin, Mazurt which is waaaaaay overdue, another one at the end of the year called From The Earth (a brewpub), and Little Cottage in 2018 because Jon Shari is a beast. That’s more that three. My bad.” –Ale Sharpton
New Image Brewing in Arvada, Ursula Brewing in Aurora, 4 Noses Brewing in Broomfield.” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
“Cycle Brewing.” (St. Petersburg, Florida) –Kevin Boyd, DrinkingCraft
“WeldWerks out of Greeley, Colorado will continue their meteoric rise but on an even greater national scale. Holy Mountain out of Seattle, WA is one that I believe has yet to really get it’s due respect. Modern Times made a massive statement this year during GABF and I expect them to continue to grow in notoriety, Three Taverns in Decatur absolutely blew me away when I visited last year. MadTree in Cincinnati is poised to have a massive year, and I think Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, Kentucky’s Living Proof program will really turn some heads this year.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
6) Which brewery made the biggest splash in 2016 either in distribution, expansion, overall beer produced, etc?
“Creature Comforts got hella love this year with so many limited releases, cool artwork and a ridiculous buzz which they successfully answered to. Three Taverns killed it too with new cans, new brews and just being cool as f***.” –Ale Sharpton
“Rhinegeist in Cincy.” –Mathew Powers, Chilled Magazine & PorchDrinking.com
“Two way tie between Side Project and 4 Hands Brewing Company” –Jordan Palmer, Drink314.net & PorchDrinking.com
“I would say that Odd 13 Brewing in Lafayette and Weldwerks in Greeley made the biggest splashes this year — in part because of their excellent New England-style IPAs, which were the hot style — but I would give the slight edge to Odd 13 simply because they are cranking on a new 60-barrel production system and distributing widely.” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
“Ballast Point, Bells, and Lagunitas has some of the largest years in terms of distribution growth and growth as a company. But I also feel Wicked Weed and Founders made some pretty big strides as well.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
7) Whats your beer related resolution for 2017?
“This is (apparently) the year people are “over” cellaring beer, but I just moved into a new house that actually has a basement, so for me, it’s the year to get my beer cellar in top shape.” –Kate Bernot, DRAFT Magazine
“Focus on more Beercations.” –Kevin Boyd, DrinkingCraft
“Visit more Colorado breweries, hoard less, share more, document beer better.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
8) On a related note, what’s one brewery you absolutely hope visit for the first time in 2017?
“I am a beer writer who has somehow never physically set foot in Portland, Seattle or San Diego, so I still have a WHOLE LOT of places to visit in person. But I’ll shout out one random one in particular: Phantom Carriage in Los Angeles. As a horror geek, a vintage horror/German expressionism-themed brewery with beer names like “Karloff” and “Lugosi” is a dream come true for me.” –Jim Vorel, Paste Magazine
“UberBrew in Billings, Montana came out of nowhere for me at GABF, picking up four medals and Small Brewing Company of the year. I beelined for their booth after the awards ceremony and definitely enjoyed the pale ale and double IPA I tried. I’d love to visit and taste the full lineup.” –Kate Bernot DRAFT Magazine
“Hill Farmstead.” –Kevin Boyd, DrinkingCraft
“WeldWerks. I’ve lived in Colorado for 11 years and have yet to visit Greeley. I’ve had the chance to sample WeldWerk’s numerous times and I really need to make a point to drive up and spend an afternoon in their tasting room. With well made styles ranging from hazy IPAs to Barrel-Aged Stouts, they manage to reel in crowds of beer geeks for each new release.” –Mark Robinson, Brewtally Insane
“It has still been a dream of mine to finally visit Sante Adairius. Ever since I first met Adair Paterno at CBC in Denver, I’ve wanted to make the pilgrimage to Capitola to visit their taproom. They make such amazing stuff and I’ve been dying to taste more of it. Luckily I’ve got two weddings in the Bay Area this year, I think it’ll finally happen.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
9) What brewery are you most excited to have open in 2017?
“I hope Mazurt opens soon. They have been winning contests for years. It’s time.” –Ale Sharpton
“Not exactly a new brewery, but I’m anxiously awaiting Elk Mountain in Parker to rebrand / relaunch at some point in 2017. With very talented new ownership, the future is bright.” –Mark Robinson, Brewtally Insane
“I’m excited to see what Tivoli is going to be able to do at Denver International Airport. I think it is fantastic that we will have one of the only in-airport breweries in the country and I am hoping that they represent Colorado well.” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
“Rockwell Brewing Company” –Jordan Palmer, Drink314.net & PorchDrinking.com
“Amalgam, from Phil Joyce, head brewer at Powder Keg Brewing in Niwot, Colorado, and former Home Brewing Editor for PorchDrinking… he makes some of the best beer I’ve ever tasted and I can’t wait for his creativity to shine through in Amalgam with his partner Eric Schmidt” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com
10) What’s your prediction for the next big trend or story in 2017?
“Distilled beer whiskey/”bierschnaps. I was totally unaware of this stuff until a few months ago, and now I’ve had a handful of them that are all surprisingly tasty. With so many microdistilleries coming up alongside craft brewers, the collaborations are obvious, and the product is unique enough to find its own niche. It’s a new category with a LOT of potential for weird, creative results, especially when combined with the world of mixology.” –Jim Vorel, Paste Magazine
Beer Trend California Commons are going to be the next big “lineup addition” beer; found on the chalkboards from coast to coast. Story: The growth rate of breweries will fall again — possibly less than 5% growth. (I think we are reaching the max). Runner Up: I feel like we may see a large increase in brewpubs / gastropubs vs. standard taprooms.” –Mathew Powers, Chilled Magazine & PorchDrinking.com
“Ale Sharpton has his own show, podcast, and other ventures showcasing the beer world and featuring homies like PorchDrinking!” –Ale Sharpton
“Light lagers, and I am not too happy about it. Part of it is the craft-beer pendulum swinging away from experimental beer and high-ABV ales — not to mention a natural instinct by breweries to try new things — but another part of it is because lagers sell, and they often sell cheaply (which is the whole reason we ended up with so much bad beer in this country for so long). I hope that breweries, especially bigger ones, don’t use lagers as a way to race to bottom when it comes to price points. Also, I like those high-ABV ales.” –Jonathan Shikes, The Westword
“I think Rum Barrel-Aging is going to become more popular… so long as barrel quality continues to improve. I also see more breweries opening regional breweries and brewpubs growing as we’ve already seen with Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, etc. I feel like we’re due for a great focus on craft malting, as can be seen in Colorado’s Troubador Malting, Root Shoot Malting and Colorado Malting CO.” –Tristan Chan, PorchDrinking.com