The Top 20 Beers I Consumed In 2018

January 13, 2019
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We are now two weeks into 2019, so now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on all that I’ve consumed in 2018. Back in June I reported on my favorite beers of the year (so far). Ah, but six months is a long time. Things change. 180 days means…I don’t know, 100 opportunities to try something new? Wait. Actually, thanks to Untappd I can tell you far too much about my consumption habits. By the way, that rant I made to open my Top Ten from 2016 still applies. Take your “hype beasts” and your “whalez” and your “haze craze” and stick it up your ass. I’m not buying it.

My “Year In Beer” according to Untappd turned up some very interesting stats for 2018. I checked into 984 total beers, which works out to almost three per day. I was startled to see that until I looked more closely at the stats and examined the number of days I checked into large quantities of beer (like…15+ beers in a day). The overall numbers are definitely skewed by the number of times I enjoying tasting flights at breweries or sample pours from bottles at friends’ houses.

I checked into beers from 244 different breweries in 2018. I think that’s a very useful and exciting statistic. It speaks to the wealth of options consumers have when it comes to craft beer right now. To me, at least, it is clear we have not reached PEAK CRAFT BEER yet. We are not oversaturated with breweries here in Southern California, nor are we oversaturated nationwide. There are…what…6,000+ breweries in America right now? I think we can easily handle more, especially if the people running them are doing so for the right reasons (read: not just trying to cash in on hot trends, or sell out to Big Beer ASAP).

Huh. Apparently I checked into 103 distinct styles of beer, which I guess proves I’m more than just a one-trick pony “hazebro” or “pastrybro”. Although I did check into a shit-ton of IPAs last year. Of my five most frequently visited styles, three of them were variants of IPA (Single IPA, Double IPA, New England IPA). The two styles I checked into most were Saison/Farmhouse Ales and Sour Ales. 

The 5 beers I visited and then revisited the most during 2018 were Highland Park Brewery Cloud Party, Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip Of Sunshine, LIC Beer Project Hollows, Carton Brewing This Town, and Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing

My most checked-in Breweries were all local this year! Highland Park Brewery led the way with 68 beers, The Bruery/Bruery Terreux came in second with 52, and then Bottle Logic and Modern Times trailed quite a bit with 27 and 22 check-ins respectively. I did most of my drinking at home (aka Swan Fungus HQ on Untappd). Mikkeller Bar, the City of Beverly Hills, and The Bruery tasting room rounded out my most frequented venues. Lest you think I do ALL my drinking on my couch, I drank in 214 unique venues across 7 states this year (CA, TX, NV, GA, NJ, NY, HI) and hope to increase those numbers in 2019.

That’s it for me. I’ll leave all the big picture critiques of beer culture in 2018/2019 to the people who get paid to write those pieces. I’m not in the business of making predictions or analyzing trends or anything like that. I guess I hope more breweries start to think for themselves in 2019. If you own a brewery, clearly you are passionate about beer and think you have a story to tell through your work. I hope more brewers start to act on that, and focus their efforts on forging their own paths instead of mindlessly following trends just to get likes on Instagram or generate lines down the block on release days.

Now, let’s get to the goods:

Honorable Mention (beers with ratings of 4.25 or higher on Untappd/Beer Advocate that just missed the cut):

Burial Brewing Co. Seasoned Skillet (2018)
Firestone Walker Coconut Rye Parabola
Against The Grain Bo & Luke (2017)
The Bruery Black Tuesday with Vanilla Beans
Highland Park Brewery Woodshop 10th Anniversary
AleSmith Barrel Aged Vietnamese Speedway Stout (2014)
Casey East Bank (Bottled 1/6/16)
Hudson Valley Graven Image
Magnify Brewing Company Yeah You Know Me
The Bruery Tart Of Darkness (2011)
The Bruery Sour In The Rye with Napa Cab Grapes
Russian River Beatification (Batch 004)
Kane A Night To End All Dawns – Vanilla (2015)

The Top 20 Beers I Consumed in 2018

Keep in mind this list is not just a countdown of the year’s highest ratings. I tend to agree with those who classify beer into categories like “impression beers” and “drinking beers.” Sure, lots of times I’m floored by barrel-aged stouts packed with adjuncts, and lots of times I find beers like Firestone Walker’s lager that I just want to drink poolside all summer long. How do you accurately compare one to the other? Each beer on the list includes my Untappd rating, but the ratings do not dictate the rankings. Make sense? Good.

20. Brasserie Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio (2012) (Untappd 4.50) – A lot of people seem to think these bottles haven’t aged well, but there must be some variation from bottle to bottle because I got the musty, earthy, funky lemon thing I always tend to get from their gueuze, with a bone dry finish. I guess if you wanted to nitpick you could say the tartness has tempered with age, but I found it to be really well-rounded and as good as I hoped it’d be.

19. Highland Park Brewery Griffith J Griffith with Coconut and Chilis (Untappd 4.25) – The “regular” GJG is one of my favorite imperial stouts with coffee, and this variant improved upon the OG. The heat from the chili and sweetness from the coconut play really well off the coffee’s inherent bitterness. Anticipate seeing some GJG variant on this list again in 2019, as they’ve just offered members a bunch of new variants, all of which I’ve maxed out on and am eargerly awaiting.

18. Trillium Brewing Company Raspberry Soak (2017) (Untappd 4.50) – Trillium’s “Soak” series of sour wheat ales are aged in oak puncheons with different yeast strains and fruit additions. The raspberries are blended directly into the barrels to better extract color, aroma, and flavor. The result is a pleasingly tart beer that won’t strip the enamel off your teeth with notes of intense red fruit, lemon, and oak, and a dry finish.

17. Inu Island Ales Hazy IPA Citra + Galaxy (Untappd 4.25) – Right before I left for Hawaii I asked my buddy Jason for some food and drink recommendations. He mentioned that Inu Island Ales was getting a lot of hype, and though I’d never heard of ’em the house where I stayed was like 15 minutes from Kaneohe and their brewery. I walked in not knowing what to expect and left with crowlers of every beer they offered to go. The goal was to bring them to the house and share ’em with the wedding party, but they were all so good I ended up keeping them in the mini fridge in my room and drinking them by myself. The Citra + Galaxy hopped IPA was my favorite of the bunch because of course it was. If anything I should be docking Inu for taking the easy way out, but the results speak for themselves. One of the best IPAs I had this year.

16. Southern Grist Brewing Co. Peach Cobbler (Untappd 4.25) – Someone sent me a crowler of this sour beer from Tennessee and when I first tasted it I think I actually giggled because they nailed the aromas and flavors of peach cobbler so perfectly. This is the perfect example of an “impression beer.” Peaches, apricot, vanilla beans, cinnamon. It doesn’t matter if you open it at a bottle share or on a Friday night with the girlfriend, it’s going to make everybody happy.

15. de Garde Brewing The Little Peach (Untappd 4.50, Beer Advocate 4.37) – A spontaneous wild ale aged in oak barrels with Oregon peaches. It certainly delivers on the promise of the premise, very tart and very funky with big peach presence and some spice from the oak. I kind of want to hate on de Garde for being difficult to obtain (especially the fruited beers), but every single bottle I open seems to be more impressive than the last. I think I finally need to get up to Tillamook this year…

14. The Bruery Train To Beersel (2017) (Untappd 4.50) – The Bruery gets a lot of flak from their society members for pretty much every decision they make. And sometimes a release like Train to Beersel flies under the radar because it’s not a Black Tuesday variant or a pastry stout. Although released in the summer of ’17 I didn’t crack my first bottle until early in 2018. Not only has it become one of my favorite beers they’ve made in my years as a society member, it might be one of the best lambic-inspired beers brewed in America. Thankfully they put a second allocation up for sale after it won the silver medal in its category at GABF. Now I’ve got a whole case to sit on and see how it ages.

13. Brasserie Cantillon Zwanze 2018 Manneken Pise (Untappd 4.50, Beer Advocate 4.50) – Whenever I fill out surveys for beer memberships that ask for suggestions on future brews and blends, I respond in all caps MORE EXPERIMENTS AGING IN NON-BOURBON BARRELS, and Zwanze 2018 is exactly why I want more breweries to play with weird barrels. After two years of aging in Sangiovese, Amarone and Chianti barrels from France and Italy, Zwanze 2018 was created from a blend of the three barrels. The result was a very complex, vinous beer that forced your attention on ever sip.

12. Jester King Brewery 2017 Spon 5 – Three Year Blend (Untappd 4.50) – Even though I was technically in Shiner, Texas for a wedding a few months ago, one of the highlights of my trip was visiting Live Oak and Jester King while in Austin. I’m not sure I buy into the whole marketing thing behind “Méthode Traditionnelle” or whatever JK calls it, but the liquid they produce from their blend of 1, 2 and 3 year old spontaneously fermnted beer certainly captures the essence of an authentic Belgian lambic.

11. Casey Brewing & Blending Leaner (Bottled 9/13/16) (Untappd 4.75, Beer Advocate 4.62) – A collaboration between Casey and Side Project, Leaner is a 100% oak fermented saison fermented with both breweries’ house yeast cultures aged with over 3 pounds per gallon of Colorado peaches. Super acidic (which I love) and very drinkable for its shocking 8% ABV.

10. House of Fermentology Black Dot (Untappd 4.25, Beer Advocate 4.26) – Ever since discovering Foam Brewers on a trip to Vermont several years ago I have followed closely their “dirty beer” label, House of Fermentology. I’ve tried desperately to obtain all of their releases, and have done a pretty good job of “catching them all,” as the kids say (usually about Pokemon, right?). Black Dot was actually the least appealing to me because of the addition of figs and Star Anise, but the end product was outstanding. Very tart and very oaky, the add-ins are handled delicately enough that neither one is overpowering.

09. Oxbow Brewing Company Momoko (2017) (Untappd 4.50, Beer Advocate 4.36). We popped a bottle of this at Tørst because I’d never tried an Oxbow beer before and the server recommended it. It’s got proper old-world funk to it with heaping amounts of stone fruit on the palate. Amazingly, it wasn’t even the best beer I had that night…

08. Suarez Family Brewery Ms. Frank (Untappd 4.25, Beer Advocate 4.27) – In contrast to beers like the Peach Cobbler one and the hazy IPA, Ms. Frank was one of the best “drinking beers” I consumed this year. One of the hardest parts about going to Brooklyn for work is showing up to drink at Tørst and freaking out about all the options. I started my night there with this lager inspired by the kellers of Franconia, Germany. I ended up trying three or four more beers that nigh – like Momoko – but returned to Ms. Frank because it’s absolutely delicious. It is full of rich malt sweetness with a toasty and inviting aroma, and just the right amount of floral hops to balance it out. It doesn’t hurt that its 5.1% ABV makes it eminently crushable.

07. Allagash Brewing Company Coolship Resurgam (Untappd 4.75, Beer Advocate 4.61) – It had to be…three or four years ago I was at my buddy Mike’s apartment and we were having one of those “Best Beer I’ve Ever Had” conversations that very quickly veers into hyperbole. He swore up and down that Allagash’s Coolship beers are his favorite American lambic-inspired beers. This was finally the year I got to try both Red and Resurgam, and they definitely exceeded my expectations. It hits all the right notes with apricot and lemon and tropical fruit in a funky, tart beer with a dry finish. Now that they’re distributing the Coolship beers to SoCal I couldn’t be happier.

06. LIC Beer Project Hollows (Untappd 4.50, Beer Advocate 4.45) – Imperial IPA double dry-hopped with Mosaic, Motueka, and El Dorado. I heard about LIC Beer Project via the Steal This Beer podcast and made a B-line for their table at EBF Los Angeles last year right when I got inside the venue. I was very impressed by Gal Friday, so when I was home in April I dragged a bunch of friends to the brewery even though they kind of wanted to try someplace else. We all left with armsful of Hollows, and it was far and away the best IPA or IIPA I’ve had in 2018.

05. Sour Cellars Frosy (Untappd 4.50) – This was a Curios Club “member’s only” bottle that a buddy shared with me during a random Sunday funday bottle share. There was no Untappd entry for it at the time, and there is currently no BeerAdvocate page devoted to it, so ratings are hard to come by. Sour Cellars is committed to making slow beer in the Belgian tradition, and the results that I’ve been lucky enough to taste thus far have all been outstanding. Frosy is a barrel-aged blended golden sour with Balaton and Montmorency sour cherries. It was brewed between January and October of 2016 and bottled in March of 2018. Totally outstanding. It actually inspired me to sign up for the Curios Club in 2019 and I’m really looking forward to what tricks they’ve got up their sleeves for this year

04. Backacre Beermakers Sour Golden Ale (Blend 10) (Untappd 4.50, Beer Advocate 4.44) – Imagine operating a brewery that brews only one beer. That seems to be the raison d’être of Backacre Beermakers, whose sour golden ale is very likely my favorite annual(ish) American beer release. This sour golden ale is fermented entirely in oak by a multitude of microorganisms. Barrels of multiple ages are blended for balance, then 100% bottle conditioned to high carbonation. Blends generally have an average barrel age of 18 months, plus 6 months conditioning in the bottle. ABV varies by vintage but is roughly 7.5%. Oh, and it’s only available in the state of Vermont at a handful of retailers. If you’re in state and come across bottles of Sour Golden Ale, buy as many as you can.

03. Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze Golden Blend (2014) (Untappd 4.50, Beer Advocate, 4.47) –  The Golden Blend is made with 4-year-old Lambic that accounts for 25% of its contents, the rest of the blend is made up by a “secret” combination of 1, 2 and 3-year-old Lambic. The exact mixture is only known by the master-blender Armand himself. The name “Golden Blend” is not far away from the truth, in fact, the 4 years of maturation in oak-wooden barrels is making this particular Lambic very expensive. Due to the “evaporation” through the barrels, only a small percentage of the lambic is left over after 4 years of maturing.

02. Ithaca Beer Company Excelsior! Brute (Batch E!027) (Untappd 5.00, Beer Advocate 4.78) – Brute is the only beer I gave a perfect score to in 2018, and only the 10th beer (out of almost 4,000 unique ratings) I have ever scored that high. Brute is, for all intents and purposes, like the Dom Pérignon of beers. Described as a Belgo-American, Brute is brewed with vintage (aged) local hops, barley, wheat, and corn. It is aged in oak barrels with Brett, and finished with three types of champagne yeast. It appears to glow in your glass, smells of proper funk with apples and touches of stone fruit, has a shockingly zesty mouthfeel and a bone-dry finish. Considering E!027 was brewed in 2010, I would say it is aging wonderfully and might still have some time left if you’re sitting on any bottles. And if you are sitting on any bottles, LET ME KNOW RIGHT NOW SO I CAN HAVE SOME MORE. Just… Wow.

01. Threes Brewing Short Fuse – (Untappd 4.25, Beer Advocate 4.39) – And yet! Ithaca Brute isn’t the kind of beer you can just open any night of the week with dinner. It’s one of those bottles you save for a special occasion. There’s a non-zero percent chance I might never taste another drop of it. It will be recalled fondly for years…and that’s cool…but I think the title of “best beer of the year” should go to one that isn’t so exclusive, one that made me think long and hard about what I want from a beer, and — honestly — changed my perception of how good a lager could be. I was sitting at Threes having lunch one day in April when I ordered this foudre-fermented smoked helles lager to go with my burger. I was floored. It’s the definition of a “drinking beer”: 4.2% ABV and a total flavor explosion. It’s savory, it’s got that tiny hit of smoke, it’s dry…it has everything I want in a beer, and I could drink it forever without getting bored. I ended up buying a few packs of Short Fuse to bring back to NJ — and then Los Angeles — and bemoaned consuming my last can when the time finally came to polish off my supply. I really, really hope this one becomes a core beer for Threes, because — in my humble opinion — it’s world class.

Ben Frost – Goonies Never Say Die [MP3]

1 comment

  1. |

    See you at the AA meeting Ev!

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