01 January 2010

The Session: New Beers Resolutions AND My Best of 2009

I meant to write and post this a couple of days ago, but my work schedule lately has been pretty punishing, and I've been a bit lazy otherwise, plus we had some friends up from Tennessee last night and spent most of the day with them, so this is a bit of a quick-and-dirty version of this post. Nonetheless, I think it'll be fun to get it done, and hopefully the speed will help me to not overthink my responses.

This month's Session is all about reflecting on the old year and preparing for the new. In the words of The Beer Chicks:

So we want to know what was your best and worst of beer for 2009? What beer mistakes did you make? What beer resolutions do you have for 2010? What are your beer regrets and embarrassing moments? What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?

I'm going to take these in somewhat random order.

What beer mistakes did you make?

Nothing really springs to mind on this one. There were certainly beers that I would rather not have tried this year, but I always feel that any beer is worth trying once, just to be able to say you've had it. There were a couple of times that I bought singles for review, only to crack it open and start writing it up and realizing that I'd already reviewed it. My reviews were pretty consistent, though, which at least made me feel a bit better about it.

What beer resolutions do you have for 2010?

This is probably the big one for me. My beer resolution for the year is this: just drink the damned thing. I'm something of a beer hoarder, always collecting new sixers and singles for review, and I end up with dozens of bottles sitting around that just wait expectantly for me to open them and write about them. It's not that reviewing a beer takes a lot of time or is an incredibly onerous procedure, but sometimes I just feel like I am just not in the mood to do it. But then the bottles pile up, so my number one resolution for the new year (beer-related, anyway) is to work harder to either review the singles that I have in the house, or just drink the damned things and review another bottle later on.

Note that I'm not talking about cellaring beers here, as that's a valid reason to leave a beer undrunk. These are just endless singles sitting around the house that I keep meaning to review but... ooh, look, shiny!

What are you hoping to change about your beer experience in 2010?

I'm definitely going to be homebrewing more, if only for the decreased cost in day-to-day drinking that that will bring. Last year I started working at a beer store for the first time, which has been a learning experience in a lot of ways that are not always readily apparent, but buying six-packs of commercial beer can be costly, at least in the quantities that I consume it. I'll be moving to all-grain brewing with my next batch, and hopefully that will also help keep my costs down while making my quality even higher.

I'm also planning on visiting some more breweries in the area this year. My visit to New Holland was one of my best single beer-related evenings of 2009. Between that and regular access to Bell's, I've definitely decided that I'd like to visit more of the great breweries and beer locations in Michigan. Dark Horse and Arcadia are less than an hour away, and I'd really love to someday go far enough north to get to visit Short's. Not to mention Founders, which is still on my to-do-list.

So we want to know what was your best and worst of beer for 2009?

I'm not going to bother with a worst of '09 list, as I simply didn't have enough bad beer to be worth it, plus I prefer to focus on the positive rather than the negatives. Instead what follows are the ten beers that I first reviewed during 2009 that I enjoyed the most. I'm not going on a strict numerical rating scale from my BA account -- this is just my personal recollection as I'm sitting here right now.

In no particular order:

1.) New Holland's The Poet, on cask at the brewery. This thing is great in bottles, but approaches pure perfection on cask. A thick brown head on an opaque black body, dry roasty chocolate malt character... this was simply an amazing beer.

2.) Old Towne Emancipation Double IPA, on-tap at the Nook in Huntsville. Alabama's beer culture has been suppressed for far too long by the 6% ABV limit, and Emancipation is a definite sign of great things to come from Alabama's breweries. Thick, malty, with a creamy body and tons of crisp hops, this is not the greatest DIPA I had all year, but it's a fine brew and a welcome addition to Old Towne's roster.

3.) Short's Cup A Joe Cream Stout, bottle. Of all the Short's beers I had this year, this one is the one I'd most like to emphasize. Coffee beers tend to be either too bitter or too syrupy sweet, but this one hits that perfect sweet spot and makes a delicious creamy coffee beer that I could drink by the gallon. If Short's can continue to expand and keep up this level of quality, this will be a brewery to watch in years to come.

4.) Founders Backwoods Bastard, bottle. If there is a Scotch Ale that can hold its own against Skullsplitter, this is it. Beautiful oaky body with a malty but dry finish. Need I say anything more?

5.) Stone Smoked Porter, bottle. I don't really need to tell you how awesome Stone is, do I? If they have a beer that might even edge out their RIS and Ruination in my opinion, it's this one.

6.) Anderson Valley Boont ESB, bottle. From my original review: Somewhat sweet, notes of caramel, rich with grainy malt. Yeasty on the finish. Almost a primer on what a good American-made ESB can taste like. This might have been my biggest surprise of the year, and has been the beer that I've been recommending most fervently for those looking for a good "amber-colored" beer. It's a fine ESB, totally worth seeking out.

7.) New Holland Dragon's Milk, bottle. I might have bought more bombers of this than any other beer I bought this year. Rich, chocolatey, with notes of coffee and a nice dry finish. BA lists this as an American Strong Ale, but hand this to anyone who loves a great stout and they'll be happy. Also awesome: their seasonal Night Tripper.

8.) Bell's Hopslam, bottle. I didn't review a lot of Bell's stuff this year, so this one kind of has to stand in for all the amazing Bell's beers I drank but didn't review. And Hopslam can stand for a whole lot of great beer -- it's a strong DIPA with just enough honey malt to give a great sweetness. A fine beer from one of the country's great breweries.

9.) Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout, bottle. A perfect blend of blueberry sweetness and roasty stout goodness. Dark Horse is one of the smaller breweries in Michigan, but they make a whole lot of really amazing beers, of which this is just my example.

10.) Weihenstephaner Vitus, bottle. This has been a very USA-centric beer year for me, but this beer from the oldest brewery in the world is a decent stand-in for my import drinking. Vitus is a great Weizenbock with a nice citrus aroma and flavor mixed with a roasty aftertaste.

Overall, 2009 was a great beer year for me. It's possible I'll be spending a month in Prague next year, which will definitely give me access to some beers I haven't had before, and certainly I'll be trying a lot more complex homebrews. 2010 will also be the year I turn 30, which is both frightening and inspiring. I guess we'll see what the next twelve months brings, but for now I think I've said all I can say. Happy drinking!

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