Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
Before we get to the mildly-anticipated Beermonger Top 5 Beers of the Year list for 2013, a quick note: in last week’s column of notable Christmas Ales I gave Hardywood’s Gingerbread Stout an honorable mention, which led ARLnow.com commenter Truth to say “You’re high, go home” in response.
The thing is, Truth had a point: I was trying to focus on beers that were and might have still been available in our part of the state, and with it not being available up here and having written a tasting note for it just before last week’s column ran, I decided to give it the honorable mention. In the context of the column I stand by the call, but in hindsight I should say that were it available in Northern Virginia this year, Gingerbread Stout would have been right at the top of my list, and I should have taken a moment to clarify that. Moving on.
This week I’m taking some time to shine a light on five outstanding beers I’ve had during 2013. As a heads-up for those who missed last year’s list: my Beers of the Year list is fairly arbitrary, taking into account not only those beers that made the biggest impression on me, but those that I feel have a certain importance or are special beyond being rare/high ABV/cellared, and the like. With that, let’s start the list with…
5. Maine Beer Company King Titus/Red Wheelbarrow: I think I’ll stop putting Maine Beer Company brews on this list when they give up the habit of sending great new beers our way. I’m cheating a little by mentioning two Maine beers this year, but I just couldn’t leave either out. Red Wheelbarrow is a recent release — a Red Ale with a bolder, citrus-fruity hop character compared to their piney, earthy Zoe Amber Ale. King Titus Porter has become a staple in the Arrowine beer department over the course of 2013, with a balance of rich, roasty, hoppy, malty, dry, and sweet characteristics.
4. Stillwater Classique: This is a version of Stillwater’s Premium (my pick for Beer of the Year 2012) that doesn’t have the same veracity of Brettanomyces, but is more easy-going. After trying Classique on draft at an event early in 2013, I was thrilled to finally start receiving the packaged version later on in the year. The canned 6-packs that Classique comes in are not only perfect for shotgunning (as was the brewer’s intention), but signal a shift in what we expect from “gypsy” brewing. In a category dominated by hard to come by, high-powered, often prohibitively expensive single-bottle beers, Classique stands out as a Session Ale that can bring a wider audience into the fold.
3. Dogfish Head 61: This is probably the inclusion on the list that I’ll take the most heat for, and I’m ok with that—because I love this stuff. A version of 60 Minute IPA with Syrah grape must from vineyards in California, 61 has all of the earthy hops of 60 with some of the assertive bitterness cut by a punchy vinous note that makes it a little too easy to throw back. No four-pack of 61 lasted more than an evening or two in my home this year. Many beer fans are wary of any crossover between wine and beer, and hating new Dogfish Head brews is becoming something of a spectator sport on forums and social media sites, but for me 61 proves that Dogfish still has its chops when it comes to developing and following through on good ideas.
2. Great Lakes Silver & Gold IPL: The 25th Anniversary release from Great Lakes was a sensation this year. Silver & Gold IPL (India Pale Lager) managed to add the sharp string of hop bitterness of an IPA to a refreshing, smooth Lager without losing any of what makes both styles great. I know I’m not alone in hoping that Silver & Gold is brought back, either as a yearly release or a new addition to Great Lakes’ year-round lineup—the sudden appearance of other “IPL”-style beers from other breweries proves the demand is out there.
1. Bluejacket/Stone/10 Barrel Suede Imperial Porter: Of all the special releases this year, none lived up to and exceeded its expectations for me more than Suede. Brewed at Stone in San Diego along with Tonya Cornett of 10 Barrel Brewing Company in Bend, Oregon and Megan Parisi of the recently-opened Bluejacket restaurant and brewery in the District. An Imperial Porter infused with avocado honey, jasmine, and calendula flowers, Suede pulled off an impossible trick: not only was it an outstanding Porter (perhaps the best of the year in and of itself), but it incorporated its unexpected flavors and aromas perfectly. Smooth on the palate, elegant, complex, unique and most importantly delicious, Suede was a remarkable beer that also functioned as a shot across the bow of the beer world that DC has, at long last, arrived.