Dec 27, 2016
The Experts Select: The Best New Beers of 2016
As we hurl toward (or because of) the end of 2016—a long year that snatched away David Bowie, forcing us to scatter the stardust of The Man Who Fell to Earth across Suffragette City, and presented Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States, forcing us to scatter from the hate-spewing starfarts of The Unpolish-able Turd Who Rose to Cheeto Jesus—there is only one question to ask ourselves pertaining to the last twelve months:
Should we even 2017? I’m … tired.
No. Try again.
Um, which sports championship comeback win was more dramatic, the Chicago Cubs’ or the Cleveland Cavaliers’?
Uh, which new TV show did we watch harder, “Better Things” or “Stranger Things”?
Will we ever play Pokémon Go again?
Fine! What was the best new beer of 2016?
The craft-beer boom shakalaka continued in 2016, with America’s brewery count crossing the 5,000 mark—5,005, to be precise—at the end of November, a new record high. (About a year ago, it topped 4,131, what had previously been the all-time high set back in 1873.) Now, to proclaim that I’ve sampled beers from all, most, or even one-quarter of these breweries would be blatant bulldoody. But if I was to heave a load in such a deceitful way, I would likely also speak on the many great new beers released in 2016 that I tasted, and select some of them as my favorites.
This hypothetical list would feature all of the hottest styles of the moment: the limited-edition canned IPAs as cloudy as Apple’s i and exuding more juice than Omar Epps; the gorgeously complex wild ales introduced to Brettanomyces yeast or acidifying bacteria; the well-executed pilsners and other flavorful low-alcohol lagers; the refreshingly tart German-inspired sours; and the barrel-aged, shit, everythings.
But me, I’m no charlatan, swindler, trickster; I am not a crook! No, I’m just … tired. So I’ve asked my sprightly (and sincere!) panel of local industry experts, including brewers, writers, and bar owners, to pick their standout beer releases from 2016.
As for me, it’s time for a safe slumber on my soft pillow of unique political viewzZzZzZ. I’ll see you in 2017. Maybe.
Luponic Distortion IPA, Firestone Walker
While New England–style IPAs continue to be all the hazy rage—and steady residents in my fridge—Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion, which features a different hop bill every quarter, proves that you can brew an IPA turbo-blasted with dynamic flavor and aroma while keeping it as crisp and clean as seltzer. Once more, Matt Brynildson proves he’s one of America’s finest hop-forward brewers. — Joshua M. Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course and Complete IPA
Misère Au Borinage, Holy Mountain Brewing
In a year filled with doom and gloom, Holy Mountain was a constant bright spot. I first encountered them when a friend visiting Seattle shipped back a box of beer. I was immediately blown away by the subtly and workmanship that Mike Murphy and Colin Lenfesty were capable of. A couple of months later, they were in New York City doing mini-launch events at Spuyten Duyvil and Tørst and I got to try a lot more. I honestly love all of their beers but Misère has been my favorite from the start. A seamless patchwork of incalculable flavors, aromas, and textures, it’s just fucking mind-blowing. Like all of their stuff, it’s a deceptively easy-drinking beer. Don’t expect to be hit over the head with heavy-handed flavors but the complexity is there if you choose to dig in. More beers like this in 2017, please. — Justin Kennedy, writer and producer of “Beer Sessions Radio” and “Steal This Beer”
Luppolo, Oxbow Brewing
This is an Italian-style pilsner, essentially an homage to Birrificio Italiano’s Tipopils. Luppolo is like its Italian inspiration in that its refreshing, dry, quite hoppy, and good for chugging. Good pilsners are hard to make, and that’s why I find them to be so impressive. They’re delicate and nuanced, and there is very little to hide behind. As much as I enjoy a great double IPA or barrel-aged sour, I primarily drink pilsners and love them above all else for their perfect simplicity. Working closely with Oxbow as a sales rep, Luppolo has been a great addition to my list of go-tos. — Aiyana Knauer, bartender at Tørst and specialty sales representative at Union Beer Distributors
The Cut: Apricot (Perfection 7/27/16), Casey Brewing and Blending
The fact that I got to try my favorite beer of 2016 was sheer luck. The bottle was courtesy of a crew of great “regulars” from the Albany area who come down to Tørst several times per year. It was so good I’m now disappointed; disappointed that I know how amazing it is, and I don’t have access to more! Some insight on what makes this brewery and beer so delicious: Casey’s wort is brewed at a neighboring brewery, then transported back to undergo a mixed fermentation in oak. In this instance, the beer was then refermented in oak with a tremendous amount of fresh Colorado apricots, to the tune of three pounds per gallon, which is an insane amount of fruit. Beautiful complexity, perfect acidity, and amazing balance considering all the bold flavors and aromas in play. This beer is stunning. — Mike Amidei, beverage manager at Tørst
Tools of the Trade, Industrial Arts Brewing
When Industrial Arts dropped this extra pale ale earlier this year, it was a highly anticipated event that satisfied and then some. Pale in color with a beautiful creamy head; citrus, passionfruit, and piney aromas; and a satisfying body that finishes dry, I could drink this showstopper all day long. At such a low ABV, Tools of the Trade shows off Jeff O’Neil’s mastery of hops. He coaxes out delicate flavors that satisfy the palate in a way that makes you want to experience it again and again. — Katherine Kyle, general manager of Blind Tiger Ale House
Dangerous Precedent, Kings County Brewers Collective
Choosing a favorite new beer of 2016 was hard with so many great new beers released this year. But what I can tell you very easily is what my favorite new brewery of 2016 was, and that was Kings County, the first brewery to open in Bushwick, Brooklyn in over 40 years! Bushwick used to be the hub of New York City brewing. Now my friends have brought it all back with their awesome brewery that has a beautiful taproom and amazing beers. It’s hard to pick a favorite beer from KCBC, they’re all so good. My homebrew shop and local homebrew club The Brewminaries even made a collaboration red IPA with them called A Nightmare on Troutman Street. I loved that beer but I’m going to go with the IPA Dangerous Precedent. Unique aromatics with a less-bitter, more-hoppy flavor profile, Dangerous Precedent is crushable and even better KCBC’s first beer released in cans. Even though you can get crowlers of beer at the brewery, I love being able to go to my local bottle shop Covenhoven for those keeping track at home—to get some Dangerous Precedent to drink on my Brooklyn rooftop with my girlfriend. I love this town! — John LaPolla, co-owner of Bitter & Esters
The talented crew at Greenpoint Beer & Ale has been making vastly under-acknowledged beer for a couple years now. Earlier in 2016, they decided to create their own magnificent take on the popular New England-style IPA and named it Instant Credibility—perhaps a sarcastic commentary on what it takes to be noticed as a small brewery these days, perhaps a hilariously playful jab at the current trends of the beer world, perhaps a bold proclamation of what may occur after your first sip, perhaps all or none of these. Whatever the case, the beer itself was beyond exceptional, a hazy beauty rich in both bright tropical fruit and savory greenhouse character that successfully placed Greenpoint on the map as producers of some of the finest IPAs in New York City. It was even rereleased in cans at the brewery later in the year, doubling down on the joke. Let’s hope 2017 sees many more batches of this magical beer. Keep an eye out! — Ian Ljungquist, bar manager at The Well
Pantry Porter, Industrial Arts Brewing
With the holidays upon us there is no time for sitting still. Juggling Christmas shopping, work, visiting family, baking pies, making presents, and remembering to eat dinner requires copious amounts of coffee to get moving and a few beers at the end of the day to wind down. Or in my case, double-fisting the two! My choice beer for such hectic holiday times would naturally be a porter or stout, and in 2016 the best of these styles was hands down Industrial Arts’ Pantry Porter. Coming in at 5.3 percent, it’s deep-roasted coffee and chocolate flavors are not too rich and not too bitter, allowing for this to be my go-to winter session beer. I’ve been a fan of Industrial Arts head brewer and owner Jeff “Chief” O’Neil since my first sip of Ithaca’s Flower Power. Through his career at Ithaca, Peekskill, and now Industrial Arts, his knack for creating beautifully aromatic, juicy IPAs is well deserving of all the awards in the land, and what he is best known for. While I will happily slug down those any day of the week, it was Pantry Porter that took my admiration for him to a new level. — Jen Maslanka, general manager at Spring Lounge
Stoop Sale, Kings County Brewers Collective
2016 brought so many great new breweries to the New York City area, one being Kings County, a favorite of mine to pour at the bar. The Bushwick brewery collaborated with longtime local homebrewer Phil Clarke to make a kölsch as part of the NYC Brewers Pro-Am in early summer that gets my pick. It was briefly lagered after dry-hopping with New Zealand Wai-Iti hops, which means it takes longer to turn around than just a standard ale. It tasted smooth, crisp, and delicious, with a subtle hint of lime from the Wai-Iti. — Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43 and host of “Beer Sessions Radio”
Visible Spectrum, Finback Brewery
In the dog days of our long summer, Finback’s Visible Spectrum, brewed with oats and mango and dry-hopped with Citra and El Dorado hops, gave me all the deliciously hazy hoppiness I love in an IPA coupled with the wall of tropical flavor that reminds me of my tiki-inspired bachelor party. This drank like a tall, refreshing glass of mango juice from beginning to end, and was the perfect beer to sit on the porch on those sweltering 90-degree days. Finback pulled out all the stops this year, and this hoppy adjunct IPA was the best of the best. — Nigel Teekasingh, beer buyer at Astoria Bier & Cheese (Ditmars)
Tools of the Trade, Industrial Arts Brewing
The Hudson Valley is near and dear to my heart being that I grew up going up there and to this day I hike and backpack the area regularly with my wife and with my brother. At this new brewery in the area, Chief, as Jeff O’Neil is known, is crushing it with great hoppy pales and IPAs. This pale is hoppy and dry and easy to drink which makes it easy to go back to again and again. Also, Tools is what I call a naked beer. It’s a stripped-down, back-to-basics beer that shows the quality of the makers. There’s no huge alcohol percent, huge hop bombing or huge added flavor to hide behind. It stands naked and proud, ready for all comers. Terrific shit. — Ben Wiley, co-owner of Bar Great Harry, Mission Dolores, The Owl Farm, Glorietta Baldy, and Cardiff Giant
Turbulence, Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co.
If you would have asked me what was my favorite beer of the year a few months ago, I probably would have said the Barrier and Carton collaboration SS-C.R.E.A.M. Fermented with kölsch yeast like Carton’s Boat Beer and dry-hopped like Barrier’s Money IPA, there was a lot to love about SS when it dropped in cans early summer. I might have also said Gun Hill’s Roll Call series of East Coast IPAs. Since Chris Prout took over as brewmaster, Gun Hill’s beers have reached a whole new level of excellence and this series is a perfect example.
But with the year almost over I have to go with a double IPA that recently came calling in tallboy cans and quickly became a go-to for many of our regulars, myself included: Greenpoint Beer & Ale’s Turbulence. Pouring a hazy orange with blasts of tangerine and pineapple aroma that are perfectly restrained by soft resin and pine flavors, Turbulence was built to be a crowdpleaser. Head brewer Erik Olsen says cans will return at some point and I can’t wait to get it back in stock both in Covenhoven’s fridge and my own at home. — Robert Sherrill, beverage program manager at Covenhoven
Over the course of a year that heralded increasing fervor toward turbid IPAs and fruit-accentuated wild ales, my favorite new beer was the unassuming pale ale Depth Perception, conceived and designed by Anthony Sorice, a brewer for LIC Beer Project who with this collaboration showcased his brewery-in-planning, Root + Branch Brewing. Depth Perception adeptly layered notes of stone fruit and candied orange with a soft, balanced bitterness. Owing its full-bodied mouthfeel to a grain bill including flaked oats and wheat that also supported a robust double dry-hopping of Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Comet, and Simcoe, the auspicious inaugural 40-barrel batch augurs well for what is sure to be another exciting contributor to the blossoming New York brewing community. — Brian Winget, beer manager at Barcade New York
The Discreet Charm of the Framboisie, Brooklyn Brewery
2016 was a year that mostly seesawed between existential gloom and wild-eyed terror. But it happened to be a good time to be a beer drinker. Among my highlights: a lot of time spent drinking on comfortable couches; stumbling upon a can of The Alchemist’s Focal Banger; being delighted time and again with the work of New York City’s score of excellent brewers; and watching and drinking along as Sand City Brewing, from my hometown of Northport, Long Island, became a true destination brewery.
But the brightest star in my beer sky this year came from my current home, Brooklyn Brewery, with The Discreet Charm of the Framboisie. It was a classic summer seduction: tart, witty, inclusive of a strange amount of fruit (fifteen pounds of raspberries in each bourbon barrel; mind your own business for my romantic history), a little bit funky where it mattered, and sadly, over all too soon. Regardless of what 2017 brings, I’ll always have fond memories and a well-hidden bottle or two of my dear Framboisie. — Tim Rozmus, copywriter and bar manager at Brooklyn Brewery
Qualify Pils, Suarez Family Brewery
I don’t think the pilsner style gets much love but in my opinion it’s the most important style a brewer can make. Unlike many other styles there is no hiding place for off flavors or un-welcomed nuances in a pilsner; it shows exactly where a brewer’s skill level lies. That being said, I have to say my brewery and beer of choice respectively is Suarez Family Brewery and Qualify Pils. A smooth, clean, crisp pilsner with beautiful subtle German hop notes, Qualify is very easy to drink and enjoyable with a dry finish, maybe even a little lemongrass on the nose. I think Dan and Taylor Suarez are taking lagers to a new place, a place I hope they take my tastebuds to every step of the way! — Patrick Donagher, owner of Alewife NYC, Fools Gold, and The Jeffrey
25th Anniversary Double IPL, Otter Creek Brewing
2016 was the year of cloudy beers with flavor profiles resembling juice more than beer. Otter Creek touched on this trend of New England-style IPAs but with two major twists. First the brewery made a lager, which can be on the lighter side with a crisper body. But not 25th Anniversary, a big-bodied lager with an impressive fullness in the mouth, and the flavor fruity and juicy upfront with a citrus-like sweetness. The second thing it did was to bring back big IBUs. Clocking in at 75, this beer’s bitterness is impressive and maybe even a little assertive at times, with a sharp and resiny bite which lingers on the palate. The combination of Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, Galaxy, Columbus, and Sorachi Ace hops resulted in a near perfect beer which hits high on all the flavor levels you want in a hop-forward beer. —Ryan Bedford, craft-beer manager at The Double Windsor
ZAP, Grimm Artisanal Ales
Lauren and Joe Grimm have figured out how to make IPA candy ’cause that’s just what this is! I had the pleasure of tasting this double IPA the day it was canned while attending one of Flagship Brewing’s Women in Craft Beer Society meetings. Hearing Lauren speak about her and Joe’s vision and process in making this beer was such a treat! Big and juicy with floral notes of rose, lychee, mango, and sugared orange blossom, these delectable flavors hide the 8 percent ABV and make ZAP sessionable—so long as you don’t have to operate heavy machinery the next day. The Grimms, time and time again, prove that they are world-class brewers. I’m thrilled they’re making some of the best beer in this lovely Brooklyn of ours! — Alicia Mekelburg, co-owner of Mekelburg’s
Like most right now I’m a sucker for two things in the world of craft beer: canned IPAs and new breweries. So when Jesse Ferguson, formerly of Carton and Other Half, finally opened the doors to his own spot in East Williamsburg and dropped an IPA in cans on day one, I knew I had to snag as many as possible. Lots of new breweries have hiccups with their first round of beers, but Premiere exhibited a seasoned mastery of brewing skill. It was everything I want in a beer: juicy aromatic hop character, just-there bitterness, an appropriate ABV, and smooth beyond smooth. I grabbed a lot of cans and it was my after-work beer for a solid month ’till the supply ran dry. It held up that whole month, too, keeping that big punchy hop character. I’ve definitely been craving more since that last can emptied, so Jesse, if you’re reading this, bring that beat back! — Gage Siegel, success manager and social media robot at BeerMenus
MC2, Equilibrium Brewery
Most things that hail from upstate New York are truly amazing and this double IPA made in Middletown is no different. Hazy, unfiltered, aromatic, and yes, hazy, MC2 is a true juice bomb that ranks up there with anything coming out of Vermont or Massachusetts. The beer is fruity, resinous, and sneakily crushable despite its high ABV. Guaranteed to creep up on unsuspecting drinkers, even experienced veterans such as myself. Not to be missed. — Dan McLaughlin, owner of The Pony Bar and Kiabacca
Kindred Spirits Lactose IPA, Alefarm Brewing and Warpigs
Lots of awesome new breweries opened this year in and around New York City and that rules! I’m loving Suarez Family Brewery and its crispy little beers, Interboro doing both the beer and spirits thing, and Kings County being the first in Bushwick in 40 years! But there was one beer made far from Brooklyn that stood out above all the others I had this year: Kindred Spirits Lactose IPA.
Earlier this year I had two Warpigs friends in town visiting from Copenhagen and both brought me their newest collaboration with another mutual friend of ours, Andreas, who had recently opened his own Danish brewery called Alefarm. Now I’d had Andreas’ beers living in Copenhagen, where I worked at Fermentoren, when he was just starting out. Even early on you could tell his beers were legit and awesome. So I was stoked that my buds brought me a few bottles, since we can’t get it in the states! I shared both bottles with friends and every single person agreed with me: THIS BEER WAS THE BOMB! Super fruity with mango and passionfruit flavors, a creamy mouthfeel, addictingly crushable, clean, and smooth, I hope we can get their beers here soon! — Kimberly Mercado, manager at Brouwerij Lane
Beach Zombie, Kings County Brewers Collective
I was happy when another brewery opened in New York City this year—especially one in Bushwick, so close to the bar. I first fell in love with Kings County with its Dangerous Precedent IPA. But what really got me was the strawberry-guava Berliner weisse Beach Zombie. To have such a tasty beer at such a low ABV and be delicate at the same time, it’s quite a thing to behold. This beer was brewed with over 900 pounds of fruit; roughly one pound of fruit per gallon. The guava, strawberry, and lactic acid combine into a refreshingly tart tropical-fruit punch. I happily drank a lot of these at Kings County’s super cool taproom. — Eric Sturniolo, beer buyer at The Wilky
Patersbier, LIC Beer Project
Originally patersbier, or “Father’s Beer,” was a low-alcohol table beer that brewing monks drank for sustenance and nourishment, not intoxication. It’s a rare style to find in Belgium, much less Queens. But LIC Beer Project does a fantastic job with its interpretation. It’s a soft, elegant golden ale that smells like spicy noble hops and tastes like freshly toasted grain. Each sip provides a complex array of grass, clove, white fruit and vanilla. Exquisite. — Anne Becerra, Certified Cicerone at Taproom No. 307 and Treadwell Park
Suarez Family Brewery’s Palatine Pils was the most picked new beer of 2016 among our panel—here’s why, from the experts:
Greg Doroski, head brewer and partner of Threes Brewing
I love the pilsner style and Suarez Family Brewery is making some of the very best beer in the country right now, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my favorite beer of 2016 was its Palatine Pils. Clean and crisp with a perfect balance of doughy-crackery maltiness and noble hops, this beer highlights Dan Suarez’s focus on technique and his vision as a brewer. It’s one of those beers that doesn’t necessarily scream for your attention at first glance; it’s just good, and comfortable in what it is. But after a few sips you can see how there are layers that deserve closer attention.
Chris Balla, beverage director at Grand Army
While I won’t speak of a national movement towards a pilsner-lager renaissance, it seems New York is having a small one of its own, sparked primarily by very talented brewers wanting to make beers that they want to drink, which unsurprisingly tend to be light-bodied and of a German persuasion. Hill Farmstead alum Dan Suarez has a remarkable sensitivity to beer’s elemental ingredients, and this pilsner—nicely bready, with restrained Bohemian-style bitterness—is a perfect showcase for his skill. While simple lagers like this will hardly disrupt the present fever for IPA, I hope Dan will continue to disrupt the trends with offerings of such dazzling simplicity.
Benjamin Pratt, co-owner of As Is NYC
It’s been a great year in New York for new beers. Picking just one out of the bunch was difficult but for me I have to go with Palatine Pils from Suarez Family Brewery, which is currently making some of the most delicious, balanced, and sessionable ales and lagers I’ve had in a long time. While the current trend is hoppy, hazy, high-ABV double IPAs, Dan Suarez, who cut his teeth with Hill Farmstead, is focused on more quaffable and delicate beers. I enjoy juice-bomb IPAs as much as the next person, but I’ve lately felt a bit palate-fatigued on such big beers.
For me, Palatine is the closest thing I’ve had to a perfect pilsner, which is not an easy thing to achieve. It’s deliciously light and crisp, but at 5.2 percent alcohol not insubstantial. The lack of filtration creates a mouthfeel and malt intensity that is lacking in many other American-made pilsners and is extremely satisfying to drink. The recipe is all German pilsner malt with two varieties of German noble hops, true to form. The noble hops give it a bright, refreshing, and slightly grassy finish. After a few sips it’s hard not to notice how everything is in balance and the flavors are perfectly married without any roughness or competition.
Ben Sandler, co-owner of The Queens Kickshaw and Wassail
I first met Dan Suarez and his wife Taylor Cocalis six years ago at a Murray’s Cheese beer pairing class that they were leading. At that point I was in the process of planning Kickshaw and though I didn’t manage to stay in close contact with Dan over the years, Taylor was instrumental in connecting us with chef-fromager Tia Keenan who created our grilled cheeses that would eventually become synonymous with us. Today, Kickshaw is the only place in Queens that’s part of the Suarez distribution area and that means we can carry beautiful beers like Palatine Pils, a full-bodied pilsner complex in flavor and perfect for drinking on a hot day when you want a beer that doesn’t require any thought but demands your attention nonetheless.
Lead image of Dangerous Precedent via Kings County Brewers Collective Instagram. All other images, save for the Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co. can (from @bkbeerguy) are from the breweries’s official Instagram handles.
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