2016 in review: The year in beer

Before I head off to the New Year’s Eve revels — I believe this year they’ll involve viewing The LEGO Movie with the family, followed by a debate over whether to stay up to watch the ball drop on the telly — I thought I’d do a quick roundup of my year in beer, following the tradition established last year.

According to Untappd, the beer aficionado’s social media app of choice, I checked into 226 new beers over the past year, out of a total of 257 total beers. That’s compared to 230 unique beers and 254 in total for 2015. In other words, I really, really like trying new beers, and don’t repeat myself very often.

Once again, American-style India Pale Ales — those super-hoppy beers — topped the style list, with 31 different ones sampled this year. No surprise here, as most breweries will do at least one IPA, if not several; it’s kind of a craft brewer must-have. I also had 13 American pale ales, which are slightly less bitter but still have a very noticeable hop character, and ten “imperial” or double IPAs, which as you can imagine, punch you in the face with hops.

My actual favorite beer styles are largely Belgians, and I had several different kinds this year, including 19 saisons and 11 Belgian tripels. These are far less hoppy, typically far more alcoholic, and much more subtle and flavorful, a lot like wine. I also went on a bit of a cider kick this year, notching 17 different ciders.

The vast majority of the beers I tried were domestic, though I had a few Bahamian beers over spring break on Exuma Island, and beers from Belgium (of course), Canada, China, England, France and Sweden also represented. Most of my beers came from New York and California — again, not surprising as I live in the New York City area and travel to Los Angeles for work frequently. I also got to sample some local brews in Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington state on my travels.

So which breweries stood out? I rather liked Bantam ciders in Massachusetts, of which I didn’t have nearly enough. I quite enjoyed the selection at Brouwerji West in San Pedro, Calif., and at Big Slide in Lake Placid, N.Y. I visited the Brasserie Saint James brewpub in San Francisco and was transported to Bruges thanks to their fine Belgian styles. And I’ve always liked the beers from places like Allagash, Brooklyn Brewery, New Belgium and Ommegang.

And as for my best beers of 2016? There were no five-star beers this year — the way I rate ’em, that’s Holy Grail territory, so not a big deal. Here are the ones I rated 4.75 stars on Untappd:

  • Loirette 5,5, a Belgian blonde style from France’s Brasserie de la Pigeonelle
  • Black Chocolate Stout (2010), an imperial stout from Brooklyn Brewery that I saved for six years and cracked open when MJ-12: Inception launched.
  • Sip of Sunshine, a double IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Vermont, which I believe I first had in 2015, but worth mentioning again here as I rarely repeat, and this one is worth repeating.
  • Sorry Not Sorry IPA, a 4 Hands/Bale Breaker/Stone Brewing collaboration that ranks right up there among the best IPAs.
  • Trade Winds Tripel, a Belgian style tripel from California’s Bruery.

I thought about highlighting the worst as well, but frankly, my heart’s not in it. I’m a rank amateur homebrewer, but I recognize that brewing takes a lot of work and a lot of artistry. Just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean others wouldn’t enjoy it.

I don’t really have any beer goals for 2017 in terms of sampling, though I hope to get some more homebrews going. I had a couple batches that didn’t pan out this year, though my Autumn on Ganymede ginger saison was pretty darn good. I’ll be looking to get something interesting brewing before spring.

With that, I’m off to celebrate the end of 2016 and hope for better days for everyone in the year to come. Have fun and be safe tonight, and may the new year bring you happiness, fulfillment and hope.

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