2015 in review: My year in beer

Given that I have a “Beer Fridge” tab on this site, it’s no secret I’m something of a beer aficionado. And I have the Untappd account to prove it.

As it happens, if you pay $5 for a monthly membership with Untappd, you can download an Excel file of all your beer sampling. I’ve spent more money for less entertainment than this, so I thought I’d see what my 2015 looked like, beer-wise.

I sampled 230 unique beers over the past year. At least 30+ of these were samplers at breweries and restaurants. Many were had on vacations and business trips. Some were homebrews – mine and others.  This was out of 254 total beers, by the way – I tend to sample different beers somewhat regularly rather than chug six-packs, which I think is certainly for the best.

So what did I learn from my year in beer? To my surprise, I had a lot of India Pale Ales in 2015 – 20 different ones, in fact, including my own homebrewed Space Hopera IPA. These are pretty hoppy, and not for everyone. I also had 12 Imperial IPAs, which basically double down on hops, and 12 pale ales, which aren’t quite IPAs but can still pack a hop bite.

This was kind of interesting, because I don’t think of myself as a “hop-head,” in beer terms. But the American craft beer scene is pretty hop-heavy, so it’s not all that surprising. I also had 13 different saisons this year – a Belgian farmhouse style that’s one of my favorites – and 12 different ciders, too.

In terms of locale, the vast majority of beers I tried were made in the U.S. I traveled to Canada over the summer and ended up sampling 13 Canadian beers, and my trip to England in the fall resulted in another 10 from there. I had 10 Belgian beers – I freakin’ love Belgian beer – and five from Mexico, largely during work trips to Los Angeles, where Mexican craft brewers are making well deserved inroads. I also had beers from France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Spain.

My favorite breweries of the year (and in general) were Brooklyn Brewery, Ommegang, Allagash and Hill Farmstead, all standbys here in the northeast. I also had a lot of Boston Beer Company’s brews – you may know them as Samuel Adams – and the bulk of those were quite good. Samuel Adams may not hit it out of the park like other craft brewers, but I’ve found their beers consistently above average. I also had a fair amount of Alaskan and North Coast Brewing beers, again thanks to West Coast trips.

Two beers received a 5-star rating from me, another two got a 4.75-star rating, and 16 got a 4.5-star rating. To me, these are the beers you’re super-excited to see on the menu, the ones you bring to parties and gatherings and evangelize the heck out of.

Here’s my top 20 beers of 2015. If you like beer, give ‘em a shot:

Five stars:

  • Alchemist Heady Topper (Double IPA)
  • Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine (Double IPA)

4.75 stars:

  • Allagash Curieux (Belgian tripel – 2015)
  • Brooklyn Intensified Coffee Porter

4.5 stars:

  • Allgash Black (Belgian-style stout)
  • Allagash Saison
  • Bell’s Hopslam Ale (Double IPA)
  • Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (2014 and 2015)
  • Brouwerji Het Anker Cuvee van de Kaiser – Blauw (Belgian strong dark ale)
  • Chimay Rouge (Belgian Trappist dubbel)
  • Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA (Double IPA)
  • Einstok Icelandic Toasted Porter
  • Hill Farmstead Abner (Double IPA)
  • Hill Farmstead Everett (Porter)
  • Hill Farmstead Harlan (IPA)
  • Mikkeller Beer Geek Vanilla Shake (Imperial oatmeal stout)
  • North Coast Brother Thelonious (Belgian strong dark ale)
  • T-Rex Dans la Merde (Belgian strong pale ale – homebrew)
  • Trappistes Rochefort 10 (Belgian quadrupel)
  • Vanderghinste Oud Brune (Flanders red ale)

The highest-alcohol brew I had was Anderson Valley’s Huge Arker Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, with a whopping 13.5% alcohol by volume. And the hoppiest beer was DC Brau’s On the Wings of Armageddon, with 115 IBUs (international bittering units). Neither made the top 20, but both were great.

The bulk of my ratings were in the 3- to 4-star range, with 3.5 stars being my personal “would have again” standard. There were a few clunkers, of course. In the interest of fairness, here’s the five worst beers I had this year:

  • Heineken
  • Ballantine XXX Ale
  • Twisted Tea Hard Iced Tea
  • Mythos Lager
  • Miller Lite (a whopping 0.75 stars)

Overall, I’m fortunate enough to be able to enjoy all these, and I had fun doing so. I hope that if you enjoy a good beer, you’ll find this helpful. And please remember to enjoy responsibly and don’t drink and drive and all that stuff, OK?

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