28 December 2008

My Year in Review: Beer

I know, the last thing this blog needs is yet more talking about beer to the exclusion of other topics. But beer reviewing is a very ephemeral activity, in which I pour a beer, type out a few descriptions of its characteristics, assign the whole thing a numerical score according to BeerAdvocate's formula, and move on. If I buy a single of beer A and a case of beer B, they each get pretty much exactly the same amount of space on the blog in terms of review, so it's hard to look at the blog and really get an idea of what I really enjoyed and made an impact on my daily beer consumption activity and what I admired on a technical level but didn't find compelling enough to buy or drink again.

So I've decided to make a list of five beers in no particular order that I enjoyed enough to devote a bit more space to -- these are beers that made enough of an impression on me that I am either still drinking them now or beers that I am still thinking about as comparison points for other beers.

(Note: these are not the five best beers I drank in the last year, just a selection that I think deserve special mention. For example, Stone RIS will not be found on this list, despite being one of the best brews I have ever consumed.)

Bell's Expedition Stout: When Shana told me that she was considering moving to Kalamazoo, MI for grad school, my first thought was that Bell's brewery was located there. And since moving to this city at the beginning of October, I have consumed a pretty large quantity of Bell's beer, from their summer release Oberon when I first moved here, to their Winter Ale freshly brewed today. Big Porch Ale is a yearly release that deserves mention as a great daily workhorse inexpensive brew, and Two-Hearted is one of the finest IPAs in existence, but my RIS-loving heart will always belong to Expedition Stout. It's too expensive to drink every day, but the amazingly thick mix of chocolate malt and fine hops is a delicious confection that I savor as long as possible every time I drink it. It's not for everyone, but it's just perfect for me.

Brasserie des Rocs Grand Cru: The best Belgian I've had since moving to Kalamazoo, and that's saying something. This brewery used to make Abbaye des Rocs, one of my top-rated beers on BA, although I've heard that production has been halted and I haven't found it in a couple of years. This Grand Cru is an able replacement, though, with a dark nutty Belgian flavor that is about as complex as that Abbey ale, and totally worthy of inclusion at any home feast. I made this my Thanksgiving beer this year, and it paired with the amazing dinner of turkey and dressing (and fried okra!) perfectly, At 750mL of 10% ABV, it's a bit of a wallop, but definitely worth sharing with a good friend if you're not up to it yourself.

Spanish Peaks American Pale Ale: Other than Bell's Oberon and Big Porch, this is probably the beer I've consumed in the greatest quantity over the last three months. My local beer store sells this at $4.99 a six-pack, which makes it one of the best values I've seen in a long time. Sure, it lacks the complexity and punch of some of the greater beers I've had, but it's very nearly a note-perfect pale ale, a technical task worthy of note and worth a place in any beer fan's fridge.

Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale: It's hard to brew a brown ale that's interesting, as the style itself seems to lend itself to a certain mediocrity. But this one manages that difficult task by upping the hops and giving itself a bigger bite. This is the kind of experiment that could be a huge mistake, but Dogfish Head avoids the trap of overhopping the beer by increasing the flavor of the other ingredients to keep this a very balanced beer overall. I haven't had a lot of this beer lately, but my favorite bar back in Huntsville kept this permanently on-tap where I could pretty much consume my weight in it. (Honorable mention in the "brown ale that is much better than it has any right to be" is Bell's Best Brown Ale, which achieves the same end not by upping the hops but by upping the "nutty" flavor profile and giving the brew the kind of complexity not normally found in brown ales. If I hadn't already sung the praises of Bell's, I might have stuck Best Brown in place of DFH in this spot.)

Yuengling Lager: This is as cheap as Bud Light in Huntsville but seemingly unavailable here, and it's the beer I'm missing most in this area. I know it's a basic uncomplex lager, but it's smooth, clean, and has a sweetness that made it my go-to beer when I could get it. It's the only beer that I'll happily drink straight from a can, and when I could get it for $8.69 for a twelve-pack of cans it was an amazing deal.

So there you have it. Five beers that I enjoyed enough to want to talk about during 2008. I have a much wider selection here in Michigan than I did in Alabama, so my consumption will likely be much different in 2009 than in 2008, but if next year is as good as this year, it'll be a great time to explore the hobby.

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