Its that time of year where we reflect on the past 12 months and consider what happened and whether it was good or bad. Oh, and we make a bunch of lists. Here are mine:
Best of 2008
Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron. Aged in a giant vat constructed of Palo Santo wood, a dense aromatic wood from Paraguay that is more commonly used for wine, this strong brown ale has a remarkable vanilla-oakiness and a deep, roasted malt character. Building the 10,000 gallon tank, the largest wooden beer vessel built in the United States since Prohibition, proved to be its own special challenge. Procuring such a large amount of the wood was difficult since there are few large pieces, and it is over three times as hard as oak, dulling saw blades and defying nails and screws. It's an interesting story, but how does it taste? Terrific. Like a great single-malt whisky, it seems to draw out the earthy, woody essence of the roasted malt. Herbal elements of licorice, tobacco and coffee bean are held aloft by a raft of softly sweet vanilla, molasses and cherry. Warm without being boozy, and delightfully complex, it is a treat to have it in the regular rotation from Dogfish Head.
All-malt lagers. On the other side of the beer spectrum was the introduction to Georgia of several American Pale Lagers, pre-Prohibition style all-malt lagers that are truer in style to their German antecedents than typical American macrobrews. Only one of these is technically new this year, Schmaltz Brewing Companys Coney Island Lager. Full Sail Brewing Companys Session Lager has recently arrived on shelves and beer store coolers in its distinctive 11.5-oz. stubbie bottles. Konas Longboard Lager is one of several styles that Kona began distributing this summer. Any of these are perfect for toting to a party where they can be enjoyed by anyone who likes beer (except maybe for some obnoxious beer snobs). Biscuity malt taste and subtle bitterness without any vegetal sourness or dull finish give it great drinkability (no, not like Bud Light).
Terrapin Side Projects. Brewer Spike Buckowski finally got his own brewery in Athens and with it the luxury of space for experimenting with small batches of unusual beers that he has always wanted to make. He hit the ground running and has already put out three of these with a fourth on the way in January. While the first two were enjoyable enough, he hit one out of the park with his wheatwine. These offerings seem to get better and better, and I cant wait for Volume 4, a porter made with two kinds of cocoa. Such one-off projects are increasingly popular and a great way for breweries to generate excitement and keep things fresh. Sweetwater has recently begun a similar project, known as the Dank Tank, and Atlanta Brewing Company plans to release an anniversary beer this year.
Stone Brewing Company in Georgia. More than a dozen breweries began distributing in Georgia for the first time this year including (in no particular order) Yuengling, Kona, Magic Hat, Full Sail, Dieu du Ciel, Weyerbacher, Boulder, Duck-Rabbit, Struise, Southampton, Fordham, and R. J. Rockers. However the one that excited me most was the over-hyped but worthy beers from Stone Brewing outside San Diego, CA. Its beers define West Coast-style American craft ales and all are worth checking out, especially the Arrogant Bastard, the IPA, and the Smoked Porter. Stone just announced that it is making its 11th Anniversary Ale available on a regular basis in January. It will be called Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. You probably cant appreciate it.
Worst of 2008
Anheuser-Busch InBev Merger. There was much gnashing of teeth and wailing when this was announced. I paid little heed. I figured it was just a business deal and little would change. But despite putting Anheuser-Busch up front in the name, InBev has reportedly already begun dismantling the St. Louis-based company, no doubt feeling tremendous pressure to make back some money (the company bought millions of shares of A-B stock at a premium price just a few months before the stock market plummeted). It was very bad timing, and the result may be disastrous for A-B if not InBev.
Chilada-style beers. Hey, lets take a beer cocktail they drink in Mexico using fresh ingredients, recreate it in the brewery using artificial ingredients, and sell it to unsuspecting gringos. Guess what? It worked. Miller and A-B had big hits with Miller Chill and Bud Light Lime, proving P. T. Barnum true yet again.
Top 10 Beers I Had This Year:
1. Peche Mortel (Brasserie du Ciel) Stunning coffee imperial stout from Canada.
2. Gamma Ray (Terrapin Beer Company) Heavenly wheatwine, sweet, spicy, and boozy.
3. Double Simcoe (Weyerbacher Brewing Company) Hoptastic!
4. Saison Imperiale (De Proefbrouwerij) Flowers, honey, spices, and fruit.
5. Smoked Porter (Stone Brewing Company) Smoked beer that doesnt taste like a campfire.
6. Hugh Malone (Allagash Brewing Company) Nails the Belgian IPA concept cold.
7. Motorboat (Sweetwater Brewing Company) Whatever it is, it is tasty. Make more.
8. Palo Santo Marron (Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) see above.
9. Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company) Juicy!
10. Doppelsticke (Uerige Obergarige Hausbrauerei) Altbier might be the next wave in American craft beers.
(Image courtesy Dogfish Head)
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