Reflection, A Year In Craft Beer

It’s been quite the ride. Another year gone and the oceans of craft beer from the past 12 months surges it’s way into memory and some into oblivion. This blog if anything for me is all about recollection, whether it be about experiences or simply tastes that stood the test of time in the otherwise spotted rinse cycle that is my memory. In honor of those that deflected forgetfulness this year, I have decided to have the first ever “Upright Drunk Best/Worst of Awards…Show…Ceremony…Thing”… Keep in mind that anything you read in this blog is completely self serving and though I value your outlook on craft beer, life, Donald Trump… I take that last one back… my opinions are just that, mine. So if you agree or if I have inspired you to make your own list, awesome. If you gonna hate, well, as a good friend of mine once said, “Bitches gonna bitch…” Aaaaaand here are our categories for…….

Biggest Surprise Beer of the Year goes to (drum roll)… Ballast Point Brewing’s Calm Before the Storm. So what’s the surprise you might say. It’s Ballast Point, and one should almost always expect greatness. And I do, but like the Grapefruit Sculpin the year before, I was not prepared for the curve ball that had me swinging for the fences with CBtS. They are slick over there in sunny San Diago (I know it’s Diego… Anchorman joke) and they hit you with a dark beer expectation being that it is obviously related to that gem of a brew in Victory at Sea. So imagine my surprise when my flight of Ballast Point brews from the nights tap takeover yields a light hued creamy sumbitch batting cleanup. “WTF is that?” I exclaimed. That my friends was a cream ale with coffee and vanilla. That was my mind blown all over the north facing wall. That, was craft beer revelation. 

Biggest Surprise Let Down of the Year goes to… and its a tie. Now before I divulge this pair of “Why did I put this in my mouth?” total disappointments, I have to preface that there may be a very good reason for my utter displeasure that may or may not have a chance for redemption in the future, but for now they are burnt into memory as they were. First the Molotov Lite from Evil Twin Brewing. Beer in a can? Hell yes. Evil Twin Brewing? Again, yes. What heinous aromas released I was not expecting and as first impressions go, this was not good. Expectations were high due to my adoration for its big brother the Molotov Cocktail, a 13% ABV behemoth of an Imperial IPA brewed with the amazing Simcoe hop (and just), so it had a long way to fall. And fall it did. Moving on to the next bit of heartache this year. The Stochasticity Project: HiFi+LoFi Mixtape from Stone Brewing. Now before you grab your torch and pitchforks allow me to explain. Like the Molotov Lite, the aromas were immediately off-putting and the sediment in this one was very unattractive. The flavor was bitter in a non hop forward kind of way. This one, like the ML, I believe was introduced to some beer spoilers. Infections kill beers, and it goes to show that even the most coveted breweries are not exempt from the infiltration of those terrorist microbes. Maybe one day I will give them another shot, but it may take some convincing.

Barrel Aged Reflections and Honorable Mentions

It almost seemed this year that you couldn’t throw a bottle cap without hitting a barrel aged something or other coming out of every brewery. I’m not complaining of course. The nuances that the barrel adds to our brews either make or break an experience. Here are some of my favorites from this past year, barrel aged and otherwise. Goose Island hits us again with yet another amazing variety of Bourbon County Brand Stouts that define the genre. Honestly, I do not know of anyone who does it better and more consistently than the Goose. Clown Shoes rocked some palates this year with a couple barrel aged sumbitches that caused for a standing ovation. The Crasher in the Rye will leave you exhaling some serious fumes. Stay away from open flame. Rexx, the imperial red ale that was aged in bourbon barrels is a game changer and unique to experience. You can’t talk about barrel aged beers this year and not mention some of the palate manipulators at Deschutes. Anytime I pick up one of their wax dipped wonders I turn in to a little kid waiting for Christmas. They gave me The Abyss, Black Butte anniversary (any year), The Stoic, Not The Stoic for hops sake. Jubel, The Dissident, Mirror Mirror, the list can make a grown man, well to be honest, very drunk, but hopefully upright. A steady diet of Pliny the Elder was my pleasure along with a lucky happening upon the very special Heady Topper. Amazing IPA’s that will always be at the top of the heap. If you can find yourself one of those then jump on it along with a Silva Stout from Green Flash and Southern Charred from Arrogant Bastard Brewing (apparently not Stone Brewing anymore). Barrel aging is showing no sign of going away and should probably be its own category. 

Best Brewery

Everyone has their favorite brewery that is ingrained in the souls and livers of all that partake in the craft beers. This is not a sentimental pick for Best Brewery of the Year. This is based on the experiences that this brewery has provided consistently this year and every year for that matter. Without further adieu, The Upright Drunk’s pick for Brewery of the Year is Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits. More than one tap takeover in these islands gave us an intimate look at the BP lineup. They amped up their production of the Grapefruit Sculpin and shocked the world with the expectations shattering Calm Before the Storm. They jumped on the session IPA bandwagon with their interpretation called Even Keel which packs a hop punch on par with the bigger ABV boys. They pioneered their Homework Series which highlights the home brewing achievements of the deserving. Then I’ll be damned if they didn’t hit me with some sour brews that knocked my socks off, if I were wearing socks at the time. They brought back Victory at Sea with a vengeance and for the first time in Hawaii we actually got to celebrate Victory at Sea Day where the peanut butter, toasted coconut, and peppermint variations made their way here for our enjoyment. Along with the classics that they pump out every year I can’t think of another brewery that is as consistent and fulfilling as this San Diego house of hops. What else would you expect from a billion dollar brewery?

Most Anticipated Beer of 2016

What do we have to look forward to this year? Craft breweries have pushed the boundaries of barrel aging and have squeezed every last bit of lupulin out of the hop, so what can possibly get this heart muscle thumping? Dogfish Head has promised to up the production of my favorite brew, 120 Minute IPA, and with Arrogant Bastard going out on its own we can definitely expect some punishing brews from them. I am very much looking forward to getting my mitts on a Hopocolypse Black Label from Drakes Brewing but there is one above all that has me on the edge of my seat. I will be in Santa Rosa, CA this February for the white whale brew known as Pliny the Younger. It takes but a mild suggestion from a friend, barely a whisper and plans have been set in motion to brave the air in flight to the welcoming doors of Russian River Brewing. I have no words for the anticipation. This is what “The Search” is all about.

Best Beer of the Year

And finally, the Best Beer of the Year. This was a hard one. It was like trying to choose what my favorite breath of air was this year, quite literally there were a number of beers that made me feel alive. The one this last year though, that is still a reoccurring bit of lust in the liver, was the versatile, ever expanding, end all be all beer of 2015, Hopocolypse from Drakes Brewing Company out of San Leandro, CA. I raved about my visit to Drakes this year in February and have been fondly reciting it’s glories all year. They served a barrel fermented version at the brewery that was just another version of awesome. Their Black Label version is on the high anticipation list for this coming year and I will not rest until it is had. 

Thank you all for coming along with me on this journey through the brew landscape of 2015. I have nothing but high hopes for this year to come so get out there and support your local breweries because that is where you are going to inspire the ones who will one day brew the best beer you’ve ever had. Cheers brewthren.

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