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Draft Magazine’s Top 25 Beers of 2011

Another List.  At least this time they didn’t try to rank them, but simply said these were their 25 favorite of the year.  I’ve had a few on the list, how many have you had?  Here is the article reprinted in its entirety from Draft Magazine.

Top 25 beers of 2011

2011 saw an unprecedented wave of innovative and eclectic beer—from 100-percent Brettanomyces ales to session beers reimagined— while a torrent of new breweries burst onto the scene. This is our snapshot of beer’s ever-changing identity and a toast to the pinnacle pours from 2011.

Pepe Nero
Goose Island Beer Co.
Saison
Perhaps the first of its kind, this “black saison” is an of-the-moment twist on a Belgian farmhouse ale. Brewed with black malt and black peppercorn (usually, the style’s spice is derived from peppery yeast notes), Pepe plunges the style into a darker, spicier realm than we’d ever imagined. The result layers rich, nutty malts over sweet plum and bubblegum, as robust peppercorn bites the tongue with each intense sip.

Abacus
Firestone Walker Brewing
Wood-Aged Beer
Each year, several Firestone Walker beers—many never sampled by the public—blend to create the brewery’s highly acclaimed anniversary release. This year, the brewery let the world in on one beer that’s blended into its commemorative brew by bottling the stunning Abacus. Aged for 14 months in 20-year-old Heaven Hill bourbon barrels, this English barleywine is a pinnacle example of the style: Both the aroma and flavor are packed with luscious, vanilla-laced dark fruits; rich, sweet malts; threads of spicy bourbon and accents of aged leather and tobacco.

The Concoction
Brooklyn Brewery
Specialty Beer
From Garrett Oliver’s second foray into cocktail-inspired beers comes The Concoction, a spin on the Scotch/lemon/ginger/honey Penicillin dram. There’s ginger, lemon juice and wildflower honey in the brew, and peat-smoked malt lends the depth and complexity of whiskey; the resulting beer’s high-octane but easy-drinking, and blurs the line between the tumbler and the pint glass.

Hop God
Nebraska Brewing
Wood-Aged Beer
Nebraska Brewing founder Paul Kavulak draws from his love of wine to craft some of the world’s most elegant barrel-aged beers. Hop God’s a delicate Belgian-style tripel, robustly hopped then aged in Chardonnay casks. The result is a thoughtful blend of citrusy hops and white grape notes bound by smooth oak—a beautiful essay on the complementary nature of beer and wine.

Lips of Faith Le Terroir
New Belgium Brewing
Specialty Beer
New Belgium made a definitive statement about whether beer’s flavor is influenced by geography with the appropriately named Le Terroir, an intensely dry-hopped sour ale that expresses the terroir of the brewery’s French oak foudres. The variable temperatures and humidity of the Colorado brewery’s aging facilities let the foudres impart a unique tart, woody character in each batch. The result is a cohesive, explosive swallow that balances  funky acidity, tannic wood and a hop bite with juicy mandarin orange and peach notes.

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
Stone Brewing
Black IPA
The shelves were awash with trendy black IPAs this year, but none wowed as much as Self-Righteous. Often, black IPAs miss the mark with either too much roasted malt or none at all, but this beer finds the perfect blend of velvety milk chocolate, dank pine and lively orange hop notes, all accompanied by a subtle roasted malt bite that makes the swallow sing. Hands down, Self-Righteous is the premier example of the style.

Weihenstephaner Original Premium
Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan
Munich Helles
Beer’s spectrum of flavors has expanded dramatically in the past two decades, yet there’s something to be said for clean, classic simplicity, and Original Premium has just that. This refreshing, 98-point brew tiptoes over the tongue with soft graham cracker notes and playful berry esters, and reminds us that an exceptionally crafted light lager can still inspire pause.

Dry English Draft Cider
Aspall Cyder
English Cider
Since the 18th century, England’s Aspall Cyder has championed traditional cidermaking methods, which use fresh-pressed apple juice instead of sweetened concentrate; not surprisingly, its delightfully proper Dry English is an inspiration for the resurgent trend of usurping those ubiquitous ciders. Its ripe apple flavor, light tartness, smooth smoke and touch of funk capture the essence of the ciderhouse’s centuries-old Aspall Hall Farm in Suffolk, England.

Collaboration No. 2 White IPA
Boulevard Brewing
Specialty Beer
Earlier this year, brewmaster Steven Pauwels teamed up with Larry Sidor (formerly of Deschutes) to concoct a hoppy witbier; they dubbed it a white IPA, then returned to their breweries to brew the beer independently. While Deschutes’ version was undeniably hoppy, Boulevard’s struck unprecedented balance: Coriander and sage connect with grassy hops, while the beer’s additional juicy, citrusy hop notes accentuate the lemongrass and orange peel additions.

Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw 
Brouwerij Het Anker
Belgian Dark Strong Ale
Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw is a tightly constructed, nuanced Belgian dark strong ale. Its rich, sugary dark fruit marries perfectly with herbal clove and bready malts; a smooth, drying alcohol punctuates the finish. This beer’s not only one of the most complex examples of the style, but it’s the most even-handed expression of rich malts and yeast flavors we sampled this year.

Bitter Monk
Anchorage Brewing
Specialty Beer
This brand-new Alaskan brewery burst out of the gates with wild ideas, and Bitter Monk was the best. This Belgian-style IPA’s triple-fermented, first with Belgian yeast, then with Brettanomyces as it rests in Chardonnay barrels, and finally in the bottle for natural carbonation. The result is insanely complex: Bright citrus and pineapple twirl on the tongue with tropical Chardonnay notes and round wood flavors. Light Brett funk bridges the hops and wood, culminating in an innovative brew that straddles the line between beer and wine.

Troubadour Magma
Brouwerij De Musketiers
Belgian Specialty
American brewers have long emulated the flavors of Belgium, and here, the admiration is reciprocated. This Belgian tripel/American IPA hybrid swaps out traditional peppery spice for juicy orange hops and familiar toasted malts; a dose of sweet sugar gives away its origins. This is an exceptional riff on a hallmark American style.

Friek
Odell Brewing Co.
Fruit Lambic
For the last few years, Odell’s Single Serve Series—a collection of small-batch, barrel-aged brews—has been a fountain of stellar beer, but Friek, a complex, oak-barrel-aged lambic fermented with cherries and local raspberries, is the series’ most inspired beer yet. Wild tartness pushes against luscious fruit and vanilla notes, creating the most remarkable, engaging fruit lambic we sipped this year.

Mangalitsa Pig Porter
Right Brain Brewery
Specialty Beer
Right Brain proves its love of pork is second to none with this porter brewed with five cold-smoked Mangalitsa pig heads and a bag of pig bones. The ingredients are jaw-dropping, but the execution is a masterful blend of brewing and culinary skill. Subtle smoked pork notes run through the chocolaty, roasty beer, but the swine truly shines in the finish; a pork essence coats the tongue long after the beer’s drying, roasted malts crest, making Mangalitsa the carnivore’s dream beer.

Hop Crisis
21st Amendment Brewery
Wood-Aged Beer
Plenty of imperial IPAs sat in wood this year, but Hop Crisis exemplifies how perfectly oak can soften the bombastic style’s bite. This beer bursts with a mélange of bold hops: Juicy orange, grapefruit and dank pine coat the tongue. But its light oak quietly fortifies the toasted malt backbone, and rounds the beer’s edges to create an imperial IPA as smooth as any we’ve ever tasted.

Newcastle Brown Ale
Heineken International
Northern English Brown Ale
Like many imports, Newcastle was long plagued by a simple problem: clear bottles that exposed the beer to light, giving it a faint skunkiness. But when we finally cracked open this classic beer in a can, it was like drinking from the tap. Everything about Newcastle in a can is right: Toasted malts, earthy hops and nutty flecks converge in a fresh, creamy swallow. The style itself may be overlooked in our fractured, everything-goes beer world, but Newcastle brings it back into the well-deserved spotlight.

W.W.B.R.
Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project
Specialty Beer
The concept of Crooked Stave’s Wild Wild Brett Series—100-percent Brettanomyces beers brewed to match all seven colors of the rainbow—truly takes a masterful touch to do right. W.W.B.R (aka Wild Wild Brett Rouge) incorporates Hawthorn berries, rose hips and hibiscus for a reddish brew with an exquisitely delicate blend of floral, fruity notes and a gentle acidic bite.

Red Poppy
The Lost Abbey
Flanders Red Ale
Somehow, this annual release gets better every year. Our highest-scoring beer of 2011, the 99-point Red Poppy exemplifies the wickedly sweet-and-sour profile of a Flanders red ale with an effortlessly woven tapestry of luscious red currants, rustic tannins and a rousing acidic bite. In this new age of sour beers, Red Poppy is a touchstone of the trend’s history.

La Trappe Isid’or
Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven
Belgian Pale Ale
Isid’or is beautifully orchestrated: It proves that a beer can be complex and quiet at once. Soft toasted bread crust offers a perfect counter to sugary orange and clove, while playfully vibrant bubbles make the beer pop. It’s luscious and refreshing at once—an ephemeral example of a classic, everyday Belgian style.

Quelque Chose
Unibroue
Belgian Specialty
Part kriek, part sour brown, Quelque Chose is a fireside companion and a summer cooler in a single bottle. Whether served hot to draw out rich cherry, vanilla and mulling spices, or cold over rocks for a perkier tart, candied-cherry swallow, this versatile beer is an imaginative creation unlike anything else out there.

Sweet Action
Sixpoint Craft Ales
Cream Ale
The session beer conversation got loud this year, but no quaffable brew surprised us as much as Sweet Action. Bending the classic cream ale style, this beer packs a dank, tropical hop punch that rivals an IPA, but maintains the style’s hallmark crisp finish. As highly hopped, lighter beers continue to trend, Sweet Action is the best we’ve seen yet.

The Gambler
Short’s Brewing
Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer
Joe Short completely re-envisioned the “cigar beer” when he crafted The Gambler, an IPA aged with a blend of black tea leaves. The result is unreal: The tea imbues the resinous, citrusy IPA with smooth smoke and sweet tobacco, creating the spot-on sensation of drinking beer while pulling from a robust cigar. Although it’s yet to win an award from the American Lung Association, we like to think The Gambler’s innovative approach to beer is as delicious as it is health-conscious.

Summer 2010
Almanac Beer Co.
Specialty Beer
In the middle of wine country, NorCal newcomer Almanac brews beers with a vintner’s ethos. Its first release of 2011 is Summer 2010, named for the time it went in the barrel. Designed to pair with the lighter, fruitier flavors of summer fare, this extraordinary brew is a vibrant Belgian-style golden ale aged in red wine barrels with four varieties of Sonoma County blackberries. It gracefully breathes and transforms like wine, showcasing blackberry, pineapple and apricot with each sip.

Débutante
Stillwater Artisanal Ales/The Brewer’s Art
Saison
Brewed with heather, honeysuckle and hyssop, Débutante is a fresh take on the traditional approach to spicing a saison—in short, it’s the most interesting collection of spices we’ve seen in the style. Its peppery, floral aroma is familiar, but the additions stand out in the flavor: Classic juicy orange and musty hay effortlessly blend with earthy heather, honeysuckle florals and minty hyssop, making this beer a shining example of a Belgian style re-imagined and perfected.

Tavern Ale
White Birch Brewing
Other Smoked Beer
A beer recipe once served at an historic local pub—a dark malt brew heated with a smoldering loggerhead, then laced with nutmeg, cinnamon and a dash of rum—is the inspiration behind owner/brewer Bill Herlika’s Tavern Ale. Designed as a smoked imperial brown, Tavern Ale billows campfire smoke over a bed of oatmeal flecked with raisin, creating a perfect liquid clone of an oatmeal cookie. •

If you want to check it out on their site, you can do so here.    It seems that barrel aged brews are getting some love, but not the typical bourbon barrel aged brews, but those beers that use wine barrels and begin to blur the lines between Wine and beer.  Is this a good thing?  Well, I’ve had a couple of brews that were aged in Chardonnay barrels, and even a bourbon that was aged in Port barrels, and I can say that I am definitely a fan.  I think if it is done properly, it can produce some very pleasing and complex flavors that really begin to explore the boundaries of what beer can be.  I must say I definitely prefer this to the sour craze that was in full swing last year.

What do you think about this list?  Any surprises?  Let us know in the comments! 😉

-Don

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48 Comments on “Draft Magazine’s Top 25 Beers of 2011”

  1. November 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I’ve only had a few on this list, but have <3'd the ones I have had. . . gives me a list to go to the beer store with next time!!

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

      I agree, and I noticed that there was a NBC Beer on the list too! You guys and gals sure are making some waves in the beer world! Good on ya!

  2. November 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    More like 24 beers and a cider! Apples aren’t grains, my friends.

    Also, I’m intrigued by Newcastle in the can. The different packaging might be a difference-maker.

  3. November 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Newkie Brown, really? That’s a bit of a surprise, I’ll have to hunt down the can’s myself but I venture to guess there are better Brown’s out there nowadays, ex. Smuttynose Old Brown Dog. Although they ignored the OBD I do have to give them credit for hitting up on White Birch Brewing, one of the 603’s newcomers that I need to head home to try out.

  4. November 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    I’ve had a decent number of these beers, like 9. What’s too bad about these lists is that unless you work for a magazine like Draft or spend every penny and waking hour on trading for beers, you’ll never make your way through this list. A lot of these beers are long-gone.

    That said, I’ll probably post a year-end list soon enough. 😉

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      Lists! Love em, or hate em they’re always gonna exist. And they are like crack for bloggers! 😉

  5. November 1, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    I’ve only had seven of those. Looks like I’ve got some work ahead of me . It’s good to see WWBR getting some national press; everything I’ve had from Crooked Stave so far has been excellent. Definitely one of the rising stars in craft beer.

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      There are a few of those out there. Some of the new breweries just get it. They go all in and are making some great beer! Uinta is one like that in these parts.

      • November 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

        Oh yeah, I’m a huge fan of Uinta, especially Labyrinth and Cockeyed Cooper.

        • Don
          November 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

          I love both those beers. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hear their Oaked Jacked is a fantastic pumpkin beer.

      • November 2, 2011 at 11:09 am #

        Don, Joe from Uinta just emailed me. He’s going to be in town on the 13th and 14th. I’m going to try and meet up with him on the 13th when he’s at Bittercreek. He’s at 13th Street Pub the next day. They’re introducing Hop Notch, a 7% IPA, to our market that week. People are saying good things about it. Looking forward to trying it.

  6. Greg
    November 1, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    I purchased a growler of Brooklyn’s The Concoction up in VT. I wasn’t able to sample it, only smell it in a glass because the place where I purchased it can only sell, not sample. Anyway, THE SINGLE MOST HORRENDOUS BEER. EVER. Wow, it was horrible. Just to be sure I had another beer dude come over and he hated it as well. The whole growler, minus a few sips, went down the drain. Terrible. That said, I’ve not had any of these other beers. I’ve had Newcastle, just not in cans, that might be worth looking for, as well assome others on the list.

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      I have no idea what the Concoction is supposed to taste like, but do you think it might have been infected?

      • Greg
        November 1, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

        No, I’m sure it wasn’t. I read the description and it was intriguing, the smell was OK. The taste, yuck. Some of the descriptions on beer review sites exactly mimicked what I tasted. One of them was it tastes like a band-aid smells, and that was spot-on. Surprisingly some liked it, but you’ll always get that. From reviews I saw, most hated it.

        • Don
          November 1, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

          Interesting. Jim did a post a while back about a beer that tasted like a bactine covered band aid, and the majority of our readers thought he got an infected one. I can’t imagine anyone going for that flavor! https://beerandwhiskeybros.com/2010/01/28/o-nogne-this-didnt-end-well/

        • johnking82
          November 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

          I concur.

    • November 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

      Greg, you’re not alone. This beer was gross. Honestly, listing that beer on the Top 25 Beers of 2011 is nonsense and makes me question the judgment of these folks. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion and we all have different tastes, but…. wow.

      • Don
        November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

        Perhaps it is the pull of Garrett Oliver. You know, like Picasso could doodle any piece of crap and people would call it brilliant! Maybe there is just some love for the Brewer here?

        • Greg
          November 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

          Totally plausible. I have to constantly remind myself that, more often than not, I’m let down by Brooklyn Beers, I’ve pretty much stopped buying them.

        • Don
          November 2, 2011 at 10:55 am #

          Frankly all the stuff I’ve had from Brooklyn has been pretty pedestrian. Not a lot of WOW there.

  7. November 1, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Thanks for posting something about BEER Don (unlike some people!)

    Judging by this list, I’m really behind the 8-ball. Newcastle is the only one I’ve tried and there are definitely better browns than that–Smutty Nose’s Brown Dog and DFH’s Indian Brown Ale, come most readily to mind. Oh well, I’m not gonna let it keep me up at night.

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      Did you have it in the can (previous postings today excepted, no pun intended)? It makes a huge difference to the beer, without light infecting it.

      • November 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

        Nope, only bottled. I would think that a brown ale would have a bit more shelf-life than, say, your average Pilsner though.

        • Don
          November 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

          Actually, I don’t know the stats on that but they do say that beer in a clear vessel will begin to skunk in as soon as 25 minutes exposed to light. When I think of all those clear bottles under the fluorescent lamps of the display case it gives me the heebie jeebies!

  8. Don
    November 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    I’ve technically only had 3 on the list, but I have a La Trappe in the bunker getting a little age on it before I crack it open.

  9. November 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I’m not sure what to think of this list. I’m sure the beers are all great, but it seems weighted toward Belgian varieties in limited distribution (both production and geography). I’m in CA and most of these breweries don’t distribute out here. I’m going to make a wild guess that draft magazine is published and written by folks on the East coast.

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

      Duh! 😉 I’ve had 4 of them, and most I can’t get either, but that is nothing new being in Idaho.

  10. johnking82
    November 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    I will say, some of the better beers Ive had this year are from White Burch.

  11. November 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    I have a bottle of the White Birch Tavern Ale in my fridge. Picked it up on a whim during my summer vacation. Gonna have to give this one a try ASAP!

    • Don
      November 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Good on ya G. Let us know what you think, now that it has made a “list”!

    • johnking82
      November 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

      they have a series where there interns or brewers make a specific beer, fantastic.

  12. Matthew
    November 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

    I’ve kind of had one. I had the Deschutes version of the Collaboration No. 2 White IPA. I like my beers hoppy and this was phenomenal. I found it interesting that this list said that the Deschutes version was too hoppy, because everything I’ve read about the Boulevard version is that it was a good beer, but not hoppy enough to be called a White IPA.

    Regardless, I have one in the cupboard that will be shortly making its way to the fridge.

    • November 1, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

      I’ll second that. I did a side-by side tasting with a couple of friends, and the Deschutes came out on top. The Boulevard definitely had more fruity/spicy notes, however, so you could say it was the “whiter” of the two.

    • Don
      November 2, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      Sounds like a good place to start on the list!

  13. Brandon
    November 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Sublimely self-righteous is an amazing black IPA. It’s hands down the winner in that category.

  14. Tom
    November 1, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Interesting list.
    Glad that Joe Short made the list as one of my most memorable beer tasting experiences was a bottle of the Imperial Back Licorice Lager from his 2007 Imperial Series on a Friday evening around 7:30 PM on July 25th, 2008 next to the river at the Michigan Brewers Guild’s Summer Beer Festival….sorry I got carried away.

    Looking forward to trying Odell’s Friek, as it is just hitting the shelves here in AZ.

    • Don
      November 2, 2011 at 10:52 am #

      Wow, look at the recall on Tom! Must have left a lasting impression. I love it when a beer does that.

      • November 2, 2011 at 11:27 am #

        I’m hearing that Odell Brewing’s Friek will be making it’s way out to Idaho this year, too. Can’t wait to try it. I had a taste of this year’s batch this summer—right out of the barrel when it was quite young. It will be interesting to compare.

        • Don
          November 2, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

          I love getting “treats” when you go to the brewery! My most recent was some Sneaky Pete from Laughing Dog straight out of the bottling tank! That was awesome! Although I’ve never had anything out of the barrel. That would be a fun experience!

  15. November 2, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Great beers mate! You might be interested in trying some of the beers from The Bruery out in Orange County, CA

    Great Blog though, definitely going to be a reader!!!!

    http://www.facebook.com/adpints

    • Don
      November 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

      Thanks Justin. We have each had a couple beers from the Bruery, but we are far from knowing them intimately. One of Jim’s favorite fall beers is Autumn Maple. Thanks for stopping by.

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