This will be my last Talking Head post for the foreseeable future, so I'll close out 2009, like most years, by recalling the best of the year from a Georgia perspective, and casting an eye to the great things to come.
Best of 2009. Here are my Top 10 beer moments of the past year, including my favorite new beers.
1. The Rebirth of Sierra Nevada - Not content to sit on his well-deserved laurels, craft beer pioneer Ken Grossman (or some of the youngsters that have taken hold of the reins) busted out in a big way in 2009, with two new year-round gems, Torpedo Extra IPA and Kellerweis, that are destined to be classics, a slew of hop harvest seasonals that included an "estate" beer brewed with barley grown on site, and the late-year release of Life and Limb, a collaboration with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Here's hoping for more of the same in 2010.
2. The Beermuda Triangle - Octane Coffee Bar and Lounge has one of the best beer selections of any bar in the city, much less, any coffee house. Being joined by a top-notch brewpub (5 Seasons Westside) and beer store (Hop City Craft Beer and Wine) within a literal stone's throw made the corner of Marietta and Howell Mill Road a swirling vortex of beery goodness.
3. Ommegang Adoration Ale - Among the best interpreters of Belgian style beers in America (thanks to their close association with Duvel), Brewery Ommegang has stepped up with a Christmas beer that stands with the best from the Old World. Fruity and spicy like a holiday wassail, with a cheek-flushing warmth, Adoration should be a regular winter warmer for Belgian beer lovers.
4. Hops Freed in Alabama - Our neighbors to the west overcame entrenched parochialism and good-ole-boy politics to become the latest state to overturn their 6% ABV cap on beer, opening another market for quality beer in the South. The change is a win for Georgia beer drinkers, too, since it clears away another distribution obstacle in the region and makes travel to Alabama seem less like exile from civilization.
5. Great Divide 15th Anniversary Wood Aged DIPA - Great Divide Brewing Company's anniversary ale seems to hit all the cliches of the moment without being trendy. Fruity esters of pineapple and cherry, deep grainy malts, and the sweetness of oaky vanilla all balance the solid punch of piney, resiny hops to perfection. A little boozy when it first came out, it is reaching perfection about now, and I have seen bottles of it sitting all over town. Snatch it up.
6. Smuttynose Maibock - Burnt out on the barrel-aged, high-gravity, hoppapalooza of the American craft beer scene? Looking for something traditional, but not boring? I have your beer. This German-style seasonal from New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing Company may not set your world on fire, but in a way, it did mine. No big fruity aromas, roasted malts or pine-sap hops, just bready grains, a bit of honeydew sweetness, and a gentle tang of lemongrass in the finish. Beauty in simplicity and a joy to drink.
7. Lagunitas Brewing Company- I have tooted these guys' horn before, but its hard to resist when they continue to turn out such great beer at such reasonable prices. Their excellent limited edition beers this year included the crisp, solid Correction 2009 IPA and A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale, a wheat beer that redefines the American pale wheat category. They even threw in A Little Sumpin Extra for good measure. Keep smokin' what you're smokin' guys.
8. Beer in the Media - It seemed like craft beer was making headlines all year long. Coverage of the aforementioned barrel-aged and hopmungus beers was found in everything from the New York Times to the Early Show. The much-touted "Beer Summit" at the White House gave craft beer brewers and advocates plenty to bitch about, as did Anat Baron's documentary, Beer Wars, which explored the rigid three-tier system that stifles competition in the beer industry. Scotland's BrewDog Brewery made the news twice, once for its "irresponsible" 18.2% ABV beer, Tokyo, then took it to a whole 'nother level with Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the current ABV beer champ coming in at 32%. Closer to home, Love at the Pub recounts the history of the Brick Store Pub, but more importantly, explores the relationship between drinking and community, a connection that is too often dismissed as trivial.
9. Yorkshire Stingo - At over $10 for a pint bottle (550 ml actually), this is one does sting, but Samuel Smith's strong ale is a winner. Smooth but muscular, like a good cognac, with earthy, estery essences of apricot, apple, red grape, cherry, and tangerine. Graham cracker-like malt and a touch of toffee are balanced with some woodiness and herbal hops that dry out the middle and hold through the finish with no overbearing sweetness or off-putting astringency. Wonderful stuff.
10. St. Somewhere Lectio Divina - This was my first Beer Pick of the Week for 2009, and a revisit this month just confirms and strengthens my earlier love. Somewhat amorphous in style, it is classified as a Belgian pale ale, but it is relatively dark and shares characteritics of biere de gardes, dubbels, and Flemish sours, as well. Tart and dry, with a light, vinous body, it carries notes of caramel, leather, and fruit essences, along with grassy, herbal hops. Maybe it is the power of suggestion, but this beer tastes like Florida.
Looking Forward to 2010. It looks to be another good year for Georgia craft beer drinkers. Here are some of the highlights.
New breweries are popping up all over the Southeast, thanks to the still expanding craft beer market and the new ABV limit in Alabama. Georgia's 4th brewery is already up and running in Hampton, of all places, where Jailhouse Brewing Company has begun distribution of their wheat ale in kegs to some local accounts. They also have an IPA in the works. Monday Night Brewery has gotten federal approval of its labels and hopes to begin distribution in 2010. In North Carolina, Fullsteam Brewery is nearly ready to begin production of its line of plow-to-pint beers, and Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City should open soon, as well.
The Porter Beer Bar in Little Five Points kicks off a month of Where the Wild Beers Are with a tap takeover by Allagash on Friday. Allagash will have 10 of its best offerings on tap, including Hugh Malone, Fluxus, Odyssey, Interlude and Curieux. The following Friday, Smuttynose will take over with a full slate of its beers. The wild things continue Jan. 12th-16th with Firkin Madness, featuring a different cask ale each night. And on the 22nd, importer B. United will take over the taps with its selection of craft beer from Italy, Great Britain, Belgium, and Germany.
The party people at SweetWater Brewing Company already have three big parties lined up for the new year. The Better-Late-Than-Never Christmas Party takes place January 31 from 3-6 p.m. at the Brewery, with Rolling in the Hay providing the tunes. In March, it's the inaugural Brew Your Cask Off, with some 80 guest brewers from local restaurants and bars, distributors, the media and non-profit organizations brewing casks under the watchful eye of Sweetwater's brewmasters. Tickets are on sale now. Finally, the SweetWater 420 Festival makes its annual appearance in Candler Park the 3rd weekend in April, with 2 days of bands, brews, and environmental news.
No rest for the bleery. See ya 'round the taps. Cheers!
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