I am pretty sure I will never have another beer year like 2015. Looking back at my Untappd feed for the past year I find that I was able to imbibe multiple world-class beers. It is really quite staggering how many epic libations ended up gracing my palate.
This is list going to be ridiculously challenging to narrow down. In fact, to do my 2015 justice I’ve decided to do two lists. The first list is my top 12 (because beer drinkers love 12 packs) of the best of the best of the best that I tried for the first time this past year. The second list is the “honorable mention” list. The beers that made the honorable mention list could just as easily have made my top 12 list any other year.
As I said, 2015 was epic.
Without any further ado, here are my twelve favorite beers that I tried for the first time in 2015. They are listed in alphabetical order by the brewery name.
Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
If grapefruit IPAs are now “a thing” (and let’s hope that they are) then we most certainly have Ballast Point’s version to thank. This beer is really rather hop-forward, but the effect is an explosion of intense tropical fruit flavors rather than a piney, peel-the-enamel-off-of-the-teeth bitterness.
Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
I decided early in the year that 2015 was to be the “year of the IPA” for me. In other words, I would do my best to try many different India Pale Ales and see if there were some that I could enjoy. In the past, I have gravitated to malty dark beers and shunned the overt hoppy bitterness of IPAs. I met my goal of trying scads of IPAs. Beer for beer, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale was my favorite. If/when Bell’s distributes in Kansas I will regularly have some of this glorious libation in my beer fridge. The beer strikes a perfect balance of a pleasing bitterness balanced out with a maltiness that always leaves me wanting more. Pairing a Two-Hearted with a juicy burger and french fries (or salty potato chips) cranks things up to 11. Wow!
Deschutes The Abyss (2014 vintage)
I was given a bomber of this by one of my best friends for Christmas in 2014. I cellared it immediately and shared it with two friends in July of this year. Is it the best Imperial Stout I’ve ever had? I dunno. But it was darn close. The bottle I had simply nailed the blend of bourbon barrel, licorice, and molasses. A stunning beer.
Founders Backwoods Bastard
Just as 2015 was my own personal “year of the IPA,” so I have decided that my 2016 shall be my “year of the wee heavy/scotch ale.” And I have a feeling that I will have a difficult time finding a scotch ale that can top this monstrous beer from Founders. Take a world class scotch ale and dump it in bourbon barrels to age for a time. What comes out is one of the finest beers I’ve ever tasted. Epic, epic stuff.
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
I am a complete sucker for a good porter (especially a good American porter). With the exception of one, I have tried all of the top ten American porters currently listed on Beer Advocate. The top spot in that list is consistently claimed by Founders Porter, but my preference is the number two–Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. For my palate, the Ed Fitz hits all of the right porter notes: coffee, chocolate, and that smoky char that is characteristic of the style. And it balances them all perfectly.
Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Prior to this year, I have never had BCS in any form. I either lived too far away from the normal chains of distribution or arrived too late to my local bottle shop when they were able to distribute. This year I vowed that I would procure a bottle or two (if possible) of the precious liquid, if at all possible. In November my favorite Wichita bottle shop would be stocking several cases of BCS beginning on Black Friday. With one of my best friends in tow, we braved adverse weather on Black Friday and were able to score bottles of BCS. I may or may not have taken my wife back later in the morning to obtain a second bottle.
I just had my first of the two bottles for my 19th wedding anniversary on December 28. My thoughts? What a massive, unruly, hot beer this is. At least speaking for the 2015 vintage. I am letting the second take a nap for a year and we will see what happens after things have mellowed. My only complaint about this beer (and it really isn’t much of a complaint) is that the bottle is 16 ounces. That is an awful lot of ounces for something that comes in at 14.2% ABV. I made it through the entire 16 ounces in one sitting but I’ll admit that my face was a bit shiny.
Rodenbach Grand Cru
This beer is not something I would normally gravitate toward. The style (Flanders Red) is one with which I am quite unfamiliar. In fact, the only only Flanders Red style beer I’ve imbibed is Duchesse de Bourgogne and I was ambivalent about that one. I probably would never had sought out Rodenbach Grand Cru except that it came was highly touted on a podcast featuring the owners of The Alchemist brewery. I had a friend that could get it in the Champaign, IL area and so I procured a bottle.
I basically had the same expectations for this as I had for the Duchesse de Bourgogne. What I ended up imbibing the Rodenbach was nothing like the Duschesse. The taste of apples, grapes, and even sour candy were the predominant flavors. Whereas the Duschesse was almost “make one’s cheeks hurt” sour, the Rodenbach was merely tart. My only regret is that I didn’t think to pair this beer with any food or even some cheeses. I suppose that gives me a great reason to go after another bottle.
Stone Delicious IPA
“Delicious” is an apt adjective to describe this beer. According to the brewery, this beer is brewed with Nugget, Calypso, El Dorado. and Lemondrop hops in order to give it an almost “candy-like” flavor. This is the exact taste that I get every time I drink this beer. That isn’t to say I would go around pairing this with candies. I’ve tried it with hummus, beans and rice, and chicken salad and it paired amazingly well with all three.
So that is the top 12. Which leaves the 2015 “best of the rest” list–beers that I tried for the first time in 2015 that (for various reasons) didn’t quite make my top 12. That isn’t to say that any of the following are lousy beers. On the contrary, I enjoyed each of them very much and in many cases they just barely missed making it into my top 12.
Here is the “best of the rest” list in alphabetical order:
AleSmith Speedway Stout
Ballast Point Sculpin
Bell’s Expedition Stout
Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout
Bell’s Oberon Ale
Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout
Boulder Beer Shake Chocolate Porter
Boulevard Bourbon Barrel Quad
Boulevard The Calling Double IPA
Boulevard Imperial Stout X Aztec Chocolate
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Cigar City Jai Alai IPA
COOP Ale Works F5 IPA
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
Engelszell Benno Trappistenbier
Engelszell Gregorius Trappistenbier
Evil Twin Lil’ B Imperial Porter
Firestone Walker Double Jack IPA
Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA
Founders Centennial IPA
Founders Dark Penance Double Black IPA
Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale
Founders Double Trouble Double IPA
Founders Imperial Stout
Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti
Great Lakes Chillwave Double IPA
Great Lakes Octoberfest
Lagunitas Brown Shugga
Left Coast Brewing Asylum Tripel
Lost Abbey Inferno Ale
New Belgium Portage Porter
New Holland Dragon’s Milk
Odell Myrcenary Double IPA
Oskar Blues Death by Coconut
Oskar Blues IPA
Prairie Artisan Ales Bomb!
Prairie Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb!
Prairie Artisan Ales Vanilla Noir
Real Ale Real Heavy Ale Wee Heavy
Saint Arnold Pumpkinator
Samuel Adams Tetravis Quad
Southern Tier Pumking
Stone Enjoy By IPA
Stone Ruination IPA 2.0
Stone Xocoveza for the Holidays & the New Year
Surly Brewing Company Furious IPA
Tallgrass Brewing 16-Bit Double Pale Ale
Tallgrass Brewing Big Ricc Russian Imperial Stout
Tallgrass Brewing Zombie Monkie Porter
As for beers I’m really looking forward to trying for the first time in 2016, here are six:
- More scotch ales/wee heavys. On the short list of stuff I’m dying to try includes AleSmith Wee Heavy, Duck-Rabbit Wee Heavy, Orkney Skull Splitter, and Thirsty Dog Brewing Wulver.
- One or more of the world-class nanobrewery IPAs that are setting the world on fire. I have in mind beers like Treehouse Brewing Green, Maine Beer Company Lunch, Trillium Brewing UPPER CASE, Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine, Hill Farmstead Abner, or the grandfather of them all: The Alchemist Heady Topper.
- Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Apple Brandy Barrel Noir. Evidently the brewery has no plans to ever brew this again. I hope they change their minds.
- Cigar City Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout. I have friends that live in Florida so hope springs eternal that they might one day score a bottle of this epic brew on my behalf.
- Firestone Walker Parabola. Pretty much one of the gold-standard for barrel aged imperial stouts.
- Brooklyn’s Black Ops. Although it doesn’t really exist (wink, wink).