Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 Beer in Review*

In lieu of properly ringing in 2011, I thought it appropriate to look back at the year in beer for 2010 with the benefit of a week's perspective. As an added bonus, this will allow me to avoid predictions that will no doubt be wrong. There’s no better way to do that than hand out some imaginary hardware, my way of saying thanks (beyond giving breweries my hard-earned money) for making good beer.

Honorable mentions to a few brewer-specific nights at bars and restaurants. Stone’s tap takeover of Churchkey was probably overkill (delicious overkill), but the 07/07/07 Vertical Epic aged in red wine barrels still haunts my dreams. Evidently I’m not alone in that.

Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes (BFM) poured a number of odd beers at Pizzeria Paradiso, including an amber ale brewed with smoked tea leaves. BFM’s La Douze is an American pale ale that undergoes a secondary fermentation and is then laced with sea salt. The end result is hoppy, salty, and funky. It’s one of the few beers I sought out and ordered on multiple occasions.

The Founders night at The Big Hunt and the Bells stout night at Meridian Pint were more proof that Michigan might be the most underrated state for beer-making. Any variation Founders Breakfast Stout and Bell’s Harry Magill's spiced stout were probably the best I had in that style in 2010, although a cellared 2009 Babayaga from Pretty Things was also excellent.

Speaking of cellaring, perhaps the best value, and easiest way to start, is to buy Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale, which retails for $4.99 (750ml) during the holidays, and then leave it in a cool, dark place (back of the closet would work, I use the unfinished part of my basement) for 12-24 months. As of January 2nd the Washington, DC Trader Joe’s still had it in stock. I opened up a 2008 bottle on Christmas Day 2010 and was greeted with the best Belgian Strong Dark Ale I can remember. I got notes of figs, plums, and roasted malts, with just a kiss of hops, and the yeast gives off a nice bready mouthfeel.

Best Local Beer: I’m unsure of how to define local. This region (DC/MD/VA) claims Dogfish as local, but it’s made in DE, about 2.5 hours away by car. Nonetheless, the beer that stood out to me above all others, and was readily available at bars, stores, and festivals, was Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA. A nice mix of grapefruit and pine from the hops, but balanced by a bready, malty sweetness somewhere between caramel and cane sugar, I think this beer holds its own again any other IPAs out there. Churchkey poured a wet-hopped, oak firkin of Loose Cannon during DC Beer Week that was still remarkably balanced while showcasing even more fresh hops.

Best Beer: Despite the goodies above, there was one beer I kept on coming back to, especially during the warmer months. I was curious to try this beer when I heard that it had beaten out German, and other, producers at beer cups and festivals. I bought 6 packs of other beers, but this was the only one I bought a case of. This beer is low in alcohol by volume (just 4.8%) and low in alpha acids from hops, so imperfections have nowhere to hide, and yet the beer is flawless. Schlafly Kolsch-style Ale, take a bow! Crisp, delicate, refreshing, sessionable: everything I look for in a beer. And I see that Schlafly will be bringing some of their offerings to Rustico in Ballston on January 11th. I’ll be there. Stop by and say hi.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2011.


*Puns! Always with the puns.