2010 has been quite the year in that greatest of man’s accomplishments: beer. Microbrew in the USA has gone through a number of trends and currently its focus seems to be on the limited release. In a way this is the model of wine, with yearly vintages, one-offs and seasonal offerings all priced accordingly. These are normally sold in 22oz bottles, though there are those that come in larger, or smaller, vessels. The most impressive of the limited releases this year (at least that I tried – in no way is this post even remotely meant to be comprehensive) was from Sierra Nevada who celebrate their 30th Anniversary this year.
Sierra Nevada's Fritz and Ken's Stout
Fritz and Ken’s Stout, the first of the four 30th Anniversary beers from Sierra Nevada, was hands down my favorite new beer I’ve had this year. A collaboration between Fritz Maytag (of Anchor Fame) and Sierra’s Brewmaster this is one of the best stouts I’ve had in ages. Kind of like a kicked up Anchor Porter, with this almost sweet stout beginning (like say Deschutes Obsidian) but then this chalky, bitter finish. I’ve never experienced anything quite like that. The second of the four releases was Charlie, Fred and Ken’s Bock the first two being instrumental homebrewers, part of the early days of craft brewing in America. While I’m not a big fan of bock I’ve tried a fair number and wasn’t really into this one at all finding it pretty boring and not worth the premium of a limited edition beer. Jack and Ken’s Black Barleywine was the next release andwas pretty good, though I’ve had far more interesting barleywines for sure. The ‘black’ bit though is interesting, basically it had more malt than a normal b’wine so had more body and an almost smokey aspect. Worth trying IMO. The last of the anniversary beers, Our Brewers Reserve, Grand Cru, was the second best of the four and another truly great beer, a blend of their Bigfoot Barleywine and Celebration Ale aged in Oak with a bit of their fantastic Pale Ale added for measure. A toast to thirty years of Sierra Nevada and here’s to thirty more!
The Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary was celebrated at Brouwers (my favorite beer drinking establishment in the Seattle area) on a Monday in November with all four of these beers on tap. Of course they ended up having numerous other beers so I ended up only having the Stout and the Grand Cru. These were both if anything even better on tap – it really brought out the chalky porterness of the stout and the layers of complexity found in the Grand Cru. Of the speciality beers they had I ended up trying their Organic Estate Ale which was served cask conditioned. This was another limited edition they had put out this year and I’d liked this a lot in bottles; I think that Sierra Nevada is doing great stuff with their hoppier beers – they’re not gonzo hopped but are nicely bitter and well balanced. This beer on tap retained the features of the bottle but was almost creamy, really unlike anything I’ve had from a cask.
New Belgian's Eric's Ale
My second favorite new beer from this year is Eric’s Ale from New Belgium. Sour beers are a relatively recent obsession and thanks to New Belgian’s copious amount of limited releases both in bottle and draft only plus Brouwers annual Sour Beer festival I’ve been able to try quite a few. I think this is the best tart sour beer I’ve had in a bottle and is well worth trying if you are curious about the style. I’ve had it on tap two or three different places this year as well, so its clearly around in that format which is of course the way to go. Brouwers has a great relationship with New Belgian and I’ve been able to try many of their sour experiments that were one offs or ones that may someday make it to bottle. They are also well acquitanted with the trend in the limited, or special releases and I have tried many of them, especially from the Lips of Faith series. Many of these special release, whether on draft or in bottle from this year were excellent. The Transatlantique Kriek, a hybrid sour cherry lambic initially brewed in Belgium and then finished in Colorado is particularly worth trying as is their La Folie Sour Brown which is less tart than Eric’s Ale but sour and rich. A series always worth checking out.
Deschutes Breweries Hop in the Dark
Deschutes is among my very favorite breweries and have really led the way in the limited edition beers. Their Abyss and Dissident from last year were my favorite beers that year which I’m happy to say have also returned for this year. While not quite as exciting as those beers were this year they put out several quite interesting releases. Hop in the Dark, I actually had tried on tap the Deschutes Brewery in Portland which made it to bottle this year. Its kind of a cross between a porter and an IPA, but not quite as malty as your average porter and not gonzo hopped. I guess officially its an overhopped “dark ale”, which of course they are claiming is a new style; a “Cascade dark ale”. This “Cascade” style seems to mean a non IPA style with nearer to IPA level of hops.
More interesting was their Jubel 2010, which as a beer that’s released once a decade is a true rarity. The story goes that they a keg of their always fantastic Jubelale was stolen and then abandoned out in the snow overnight. Upon recovery they tried the beer out and discovered that it had basically undergone the “ice beer” process concentrating the beer and kicking up both the alcohol content and the complexity. So they try to replicate the process every decade as a celebration of the brewery. It has a sort of barelywine aspect but not quite the pedigree of a well made b’wine and frankly I’d say I prefer the standard Jubelale which is strong, and interesting yet quite quaffable. Still very worth trying and definitely an interesting tipple.
The Reserve Series (Abyss, Dissident, Mirror Mirror and Black Butte XXn) as I stated earlier are among my favorite (sadly the double aged Mirror Mirror and the Bourbon barrel aged Black Buttle XXn doesn’t do much for me, which is more the pity as the source beers (Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter) are among the best in their class) and Deschutes ships the bottles with a Best After date and seal the caps in wax to preserve them for aging. I’ve got a bottle in my fridge of Abyss from 2009 which is now past its best after date and I’m highly looking forward to trying out. Just waiting for 2011 to begin to crack that wax. The Dissident, after a couple of year haitus has just made it to shelves again and I highly recommend seeking it out.
Anchor Brewing's Christmas Ale
Winter beers are a tradition of most micro-breweries and are among my favorite beers of the year. These are usually stronger beers, a “winter warmer” as it were and the brewers really pull out the stops. Many breweries whose normal beers don’t do much for me make my favorite winter beers. But Anchor Brewing, who are to my mind the best micro-brewery in America have made for decades now the most interesting winter beer: Our Very Special Ale. Its uses a different tree as an ingredient each year and yes some years are better then others but it’s always something to look forward to. This year’s was creamy, a bit sweet but very drinkable and a fine addition to this amazing tradition. Times probably about up for finding this one, but grab it if you can.
Brouwers Cafe during the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary celebration
There was of course tons more beers that I tried this year, especially draft only that I’m not including in this post. I had lots of great things at Brouwers especially this year, trying beers from their Hardliver Barleywine, Big Wood, Sour Beer and Sierra Nevada festivals among many other trips there. No other thing makes me wish I lived in Fremont more, though I’d be a lot poorer and a lot drunker. Visit them if you ever are in the area, I know I’ll be there as often as I can.Equally worth the mention is Bottleworks, the beer store that owns and operates Brouwers. There is no better source for hard to find, limited edition and imported beers. Many of the tipples I tried this year were source from that great store.
While incomplete that’s at least some of the highlights from my year in beer. A good year overall with many interesting and new experiences. The limited edition beer trend is hard on the wallet but is quite rewarding. Now time to pop a top as we start drinking into 2011.