It would be easy to call 2020 a wash. Without the ability to travel to breweries, browse beer shop aisles, and attend the endless events the craft beer community provides across the country and world, looking back at the year in beer took us deep into our photo streams and tasting notes. Tasting and ranking our favorite beers of this unusually challenging year had its many roadblocks. But then, as tends to happen to any beer geek in a bind, we found a way — going to great lengths to source, sample, and online shop for hundreds, possibly thousands, of beers throughout the year.
The major takeaway for 2020 was collaboration, not only between breweries, but between those breweries and their communities. Benefit beers like Black Is Beautiful saw more than 1,000 brands unite in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and social equity, while many others participated in campaigns such as I Voted, People Power, and All Together.
Classic brands made comebacks as Covid-19 had us shopping in bulk at grocery stores and seeking the comfort of budget-friendly throwbacks. Yet, without fail, innovation still reigned supreme. Everything from experimental hop varieties and techniques to candy-flavored kettle sours made their way to our tasting table — as well as intricate barrel-aged blends that took years to make.
And so, with the pandemic’s wrathful tide threatening us still, let us remember that beer brings us together, and there is no time like the present to enjoy it. Dust off those 750s, drink safely and locally, and when you’re ready to try something new, consider the following selection of the 50 best beers of 2020, tasted and ranked.
50. 3 Floyds Gumballhead
Walking-through-a-brewery aromas of warm grain, and a blissful bouquet of hops, set the stage for this simply sweet and tasty wheat beer from the bold and brazen 3 Floyds. Likewise on the palate, crunchy granola meets malt sweetness, plus a bite of orange. With Gumballhead, 3 Floyds went soft, while still keeping its edge.
49.Victory Sour Monkey
Crowd-pleasing sour beers aren’t easy to come by. Sour beers that nearly reach double-digit ABV? It sounds impossible, but here it is. Tropical aromas and Belgian spice on the nose lead into a hint of sweetness akin to Golden Monkey. The tartness cuts through, but softens again as it settles into its pilsner malt base. Gentle, friendly, and refreshing, it’s an impossible combination of sour, crushable, and high-ABV.
48. Union Craft Brewing Cold Pro Gose
Cold Pro is a gose made with winter in mind. Brewed with cranberry and cinnamon, it was originally introduced at the end of 2019 and came back again in 2020. Zesty winter fruit aromas are followed by a hint of salty sea breeze air. The first sip is an electric zing of red sour candy that shocks the palate, followed by a cozy baking spice finish. While the Northern hemisphere fears the coming chill of January, Cold Pro reminds us that winter can still be fun.
47. Fort Point Beer Co. Dipper Double IPA
San Francisco, Calif.
Clear IPA? A bold move by Fort Point Beer Co., and one that we appreciated as its secrets revealed themselves: Bread crust on the nose, pink grapefruit and OJ on the palate, plus a note of toasted bread. The body is so light and crisp, and the sweetness so barely there, that its flavor belies its 8.6 percent ABV. A triumph of a double IPA in accomplishing brightness and balance of fruity aromas and flavors with a strong but subtle malt backbone, and a lingering citrus pith on the finish (but the fruity part more than the bitter part). A celebration of both boldness and subtlety.
46. River Rat Astronaut Sauce
As recently as a decade ago, a NEIPA from South Carolina would have been an anomaly, even an impossibility. But like Elon Musk sending men to space in less time than we could say “International Space Station,” the NEIPA has proven itself untethered by geographical boundaries. And like humans making video calls from space, Astronaut Sauce momentarily amazed us with its spot-on hazy and juicy qualities. Citrus and peach aromas (Amarillo, Citra, Bitter Gold, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops) spin in orbit around the pale and pilsner malt base, as well as flaked wheat and oat.
45. Randolph Beer Cheap Sunglasses Mexican-Style Lager
Cheap Sunglasses pours clear, glistening, and gold, with a sulfuric note reminiscent of Corona. The aroma makes way for floral noble hops, cornbread, and citrus on the palate, followed by a lovely lingering nutty flavor on the finish. This lager has so much flavor for something so light and refreshing. Carbonation is bright and bubbly like a sparkling wine. We’re always on the lookout for American-takes-on-Mexican lagers, and in the humid heat of summer 2020, when this lager found its way to us, it was immediately memorable.
44. Oxbow Pinkette Grisette
It wouldn’t be fair to save all the rosé-all-day fun for wine drinkers. With Pinkette Grisette, Oxbow allows even the serious beer nerds among us to let loose and drink pink, in this case a mixed-fermentation farmhouse ale aged in stainless with whole cherries. Light, funky, fruity, and fun, Pinkette Grisette is almost a bubbly embodiment of everything 2020 wasn’t, and in retrospect, that’s precisely why we loved it.
43. Pfriem La Mure BA Ale 2019 (Blackcap Raspberry and Marionberry)
Hood River, Ore.
Lambrusco-like, with deep, rich purple-red inky hue, where La Mure departs from the sparkling red wine is the nose: blue cheese. An unmistakable earthy funk laces through tart berry and stone fruit pits, in a light and pillowy, chewy carbonation. La Mure is not an “easy” beer, but it is a delightfully challenging one that is dark, weird, and endlessly compelling. Drinking this tastes like you’ve accomplished more than you have — like you’ve eaten crackers with funky cheese and fruit, and perhaps chased with the aforementioned wine.
42. Springdale Brig Mocha Stout
Lighter and more refreshing than a hot mocha latte, this stout is sweet, roasty, a little creamy, and definitely crave-worthy. Cocoa and cold-brew coffee flavors meld in a velvety texture that one staff member called “a home run with an almond biscotti.” It’s a welcome treat for any stout lover.
41. Hop Butcher for the Word Beef Dipped
Simcoe has turned to syrup in this sweet, juicy, extra-flavorful double IPA from Indiana’s boundary-pushing hop darlings. Local brewers love Hop Butcher for its high-octane explosive exploration of hop flavors, and if there’s one thing we can expect from this lupulin-obsessed crew, it’s consistent inconsistency. That is to say, this brewery is always bringing something new to the table, with each hop combination and every batch of beer keeping us and the rest of the world guessing.
40. Lord Hobo Angelica Hazy IPA
Wheat IPAs are a quiet novelty, uncommon yet never boasting. Such is the case with Angelica, which calls itself a hazy IPA but uses a portion of wheat in the grist. It pours the hazy gold color of sunrise — then wakes the senses with dank, juicy hop aromas. On the palate, this beer is all beermosa — citrusy, bubbly, and crisp, with soft carbonation. Angelica must be a morning person.
39. Sixpoint Brewing and Victory Brewing Cosmic Handshake Sour IPA
Brooklyn, N.Y. and Downingtown, Pa.
Although somewhat of a misunderstood bunch, sour IPAs are for those who favor tartness over sweetness as much as they appreciate the full spectrum of aromas and flavors that hops provide. A stellar execution is Cosmic Handshake, a sour NEIPA that pushes both sweet and sour to their delectable edge.
38. Ratio Beerworks Major Nights Lime Gose Salted Sour Ale
Fruited gose had a good year, not least of all thanks to this Margarita-invoking salted lime gose from Denver’s Ratio Beerworks. Its golden straw color, cloudy appearance, and wheaty nose smell at first like a classic German gose, but a little saltier and with a lime twist. Lime juice ups the acidity a bit, while also providing the juiciness of sour gummy candy.
37. Battery Steele Looming Illusion
You’d be hard-pressed to find a juice bar with a drink as delicious, or fruity, as this. In this variant, the beer is conditioned on raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries, and is graciously dosed with a hint of Tahitian vanilla. The illusion here is that this beer is not a zesty fruit juice or cocktail, but a gose — a humble German-style wheat beer with fruit.
36. Bradley Brew Project Unicorn Girls DDH Bru-One Hazy Pale Ale
Bradley Beach, N.J.
While its name is a mouthful, this variant batch of Bradley Brew Project’s Unicorn Girls is soft on the palate, pillowy, buoyant with aromas of citrus, berry, and melon. This variant uses Bru-one hops (along with Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic, and Huell Melon). The grist gets its softness from oats and wheat, and, of course, lactose. That it accomplishes this much flavor in such a relatively low ABV makes this American pale-ale-meets-smoothie IPA even more impressive.
35. Athletic Brewing Free Way NA DIPA
ABV: < 0.5%
Free Way is a fantastic IPA … that isn’t an IPA. The non-alcoholic beer champs Athletic Brewing did it again with this citrusy, resiny, chewy grain flavorful brew that balances malt, hops, and moderation.
34. Monday Night Brewing Hop Hut Series: Everything Now IPA
Galaxy, Sabro, El Dorado, Vic Secret, and Idaho 7 hops party on your palate in this hazy and juicy New England-style IPA from Monday Night Brewing. The nose is sweet nectar, and the palate is a medley of ripe peach, mango, and pineapple.
33. Market Garden Brewery Shandy
Of all the many shandies currently on the market (and trust us, we tried many), Market Garden’s lemony treat was the standout favorite of the summer — and for that matter, the year, since 2020 time is different. Its difference is in the recipe: It’s a blend of pale wheat beer and sparkling lemon soda, made with lemon juice and lemon peel, bringing a fresh new flavor to a time-honored classic.
32. WeldWerks PB&J Berliner
Nostalgia was a vibe this year, and this even showed in craft beer consumption trends. While we first tasted this peanut butter and jelly-inspired fruited Berliner Weisse in late 2019, revisiting it in 2020 reaffirmed our bashful suspicion: It’s delicious. The PB&J flavors come from peanut flour, strawberry puree, and milk sugar. These flavors were then wrapped up in a tart wheat beer, kettle-soured at WeldWerks’ often inventive, rarely (if ever) disappointing playground of flavors.
31. Interboro Can It All Be So Simple: Strata
Strata was the “it” hop of 2020, and it is used beautifully in Interboro’s Strata IPA. The nose takes “juicy” tropical fruit aromas to new heights, while the palate is less full-throttle. Instead, a balance of fruity and herbal notes take hold. The palate-cleaning carbonation is on point for this style, which can tend to get murky. This one is tasty and refreshing.
30. Weathered Souls Check Fall Saison
San Antonio, Texas
Collaboration defined the year for Weathered Souls, so it’s only fitting that in a year unlike any other, the San Antonio brewery made a saison unlike any other with Austin’s Jester King. Weathered Souls’ Check — an 8.9% ABV fall saison pours yellow-gold. Belgian yeast and citrusy aromas mingle with an almost smoky Scotch note. Flavorful and juicier, and certainly more citrusy than a traditional saison, it has a tingling, warming heat that would go nicely with a campfire.
29. Moody Tongue Toasted Rice Lager
Created by a chef-turned-brewer, Moody Tongue’s Toasted Rice Lager is as much a culinary exploration on its own as it is a beer that begs to be paired with food. Light and tangy with refreshing effervescence, it takes inspiration from regional Chinese cuisine, and seeks to cleanse and cool the palate for spicy dishes from Shanghai — or Seamless.
28. Roadhouse Brewing Co. Family Vacation Cream Ale
If you’ve never been blown away by a cream ale, jump on the train to Roadhouse Brewing’s Family Vacation: Crisp carbonation sets the tone, followed by a touch of sweet grain flavor and deepening grain flavor, before the bubbly finish. A light, lingering bitterness is over all too soon.
27. Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
It’s hard to believe this beer has been around for over a decade. Daisy Cutter celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, but no matter how many years pass or variants are released, this Chicago-brewed pale ale is as timeless as a daisy. The reason it’s significant in 2021 is that gradually, then suddenly, Half Acre began appearing on our local grocery store shelves. The ability to access this alongside oat milk and White Claw variety packs is nothing short of a Covid miracle. As for the beer, it’s dark golden bordering on amber in color. Herbal, floral, dry, and bitter in the best way possible, there’s nothing hazy about this crisp, cutting pale ale that pairs as well with lunch as a lazy afternoon.
26. Wallenpaupack Hawley Hefeweizen
Hawley Hefeweizen stacks up against its German inspiration, with classic wheat-beer yeast aromas of banana bread, cloudy-before-it-was-cool appearance, and fluffy head foam. We had the pleasure of tasting this flagship of the rural Pennsylvania brewery several times this year, which renewed our appreciation for Hefewiezen.
25. Anderson Valley Black Rice Ale
Rich in roasty aromas and flavors, and yet so light and sessionable, this crushable brown ale made repeat appearances in our refrigerators throughout quarantine. The year-round offering is a treat year-round — lockdown or otherwise.
24. Arrowood Farms Lion’s Tooth 2019
A farmhouse ale in both style and authenticity, this is a beautiful expression of native yeast — Brettanomyces in every way you want it to be, with earthy, funky, fruity character, and without the “horse-blanket” farm smells with which this yeast is often associated. Digging into the upstate New York beer farm vibe, the ale is brewed with “foraged” dandelions — likely those plucked from Arrowood’s very own land. It’s finally bottle-conditioned with local New York wildflower honey, and despite it’s dry, crisp, refreshing taste, our memories of this beer are forever sweet. Flaked oats, malted wheat, pilsner, and rye create a light and spicy base.
23. Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
Creamy caramel comes to mind as this copper-colored IPA fills the glass, topped off with a thick, tan head reminiscent of a Guinness. The aroma is malt-forward at first, giving hoppy amber-ale vibes. Malt-forward fruity and toasty flavors, as well as bold bitterness, are barely related to today’s hazy IPA. But that citrusy, grapefruit-bitter finish is washed over by sweet citrus and malty goodness, lacing the cheeks and sides of the tongue with absolute pleasure. This ain’t juice, but it’s worth the squeeze.
22. Aslin Beer Co. Green Hell IPA
Hazy, cloudy, and intensely herbal, with tropical fruit and floral aromas followed by pepper and potpourri on the palate. I could see this being polarizing, but I love that they lay on the spice. Fresh dill dominates the notes as it opens up, reminiscent of a classic rye.
21. Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops 2019
An austere-sounding, barrel-aged imperial stout from New York City’s craft beer OG, Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops is a lot less intimidating when you taste it. Roasty chocolate and oaky vanilla notes are accompanied by a boozy, tangy, Four Roses peppery tang that’s unmistakable to fans of the Kentucky bourbon brand. This is a limited-release beer that is still showing up in shops, so seek this out for bourbon lovers on your holiday list.
20. Non Sequitur I Voted Today
Between Covid-19, natural disasters, and, of course, the U.S. presidential election, 2020 has felt like a stream of fever dreams. Never was that dream so brightly interrupted as when we tasted — repeatedly — Non Sequitur’s hoppy pale ale, I Voted Today. It’s a light-and-easy, lemony-citrus lift in hard times. What makes it even better is Non Sequitur’s nomadic but committed devotion to causes it cares about. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from this and every beer produced by the brewery this year — its first year in business, by the way — is being donated to community organizations.
19. Schilling Beer Co. Alexandr Czech-Style Pilsner
Freshly mashed grain and blowoff buckets, that sweet scent of brewery, is what drew us to this beer first. This beer tastes like pilsner malt scooped out of the grain bag, pre-milled and dusty, washed down with the beer you made out of it. Schilling Beer Co. is one to watch, not least of all for its devotion to craft lagers like this one. Czech pils isn’t as common in the States as it should be, so we were pleasantly surprised to see this available online at our local beer shop — and assuredly pleased when we drank it.
18. Grimm Artisanal Ales Color Field Berliner Weisse
Pretty as a picnic in spring, consider this Grimm’s mini-mixed-culture Berliner Weisse-style ale. Its subtle blush hue and soft bouquet of aromas from hibiscus, rose hips, and chamomile lends a leafy, berry-like tartness. The best part of this beer is its delicacy — it’s a gentle caress of tart, floral, daytime drinking. Pretty, delicate, and low-ABV — not so tart that it needs food, not so light-bodied that it’s seltzer — this is a lovely in-between beer for a picnic in the park or post-bike-ride treat.
17. Burlington Brewing Co. Uncanny Valley NEIPA
Fresh-squeezed orange juice opacity and fragrance make way for fruity, hoppy, and fresh flavors on the palate. This is a hazy IPA that has the thick mouthfeel you’re looking for in a hazy IPA, without going full-bore milkshake. Instead of melting-smoothie-ice- cream sweetness over your tongue, it offers smooth fruit, a quick zip of tart orange, and some hints of passion fruit and peach. Not sweet, not heavy, and not too boozy (despite its slightly high 7 percent ABV), Burlington’s Uncanny Valley is proof that you don’t have to go to Stowe or Greensboro Bend for a delicious Vermont-brewed IPA.
16. Hudson Valley Incandenza Sour IPA
Raw white wheat gives an edge to the grist in this sour IPA hopped with show-stopping Citra and its berry-forward friend, Mosaic. Hudson Valley came out strong with the emerging style, and this lemony, fruity gem is still one of best sour IPAs around.
15. Jolly Pumpkin Bam Biere
Bam Biere has quietly been sleeping in the back of our minds — we always knew it was there, but until this year, we’d all but forgotten just how outstanding this farmhouse ale is. It’s effervescent and bright, with a medley of pilsner, pale, and wheat malts among the grist. Classic Cascade and Crystal hops give it lemony zest. And two months in oak gives it a smooth resting place, as well as oaky spice. The beer — named after Bam, the eponymous brewery dog — is also due for an introduction to those seeking a low-alcohol, low-calorie sparkler that is full-flavored without full-feeling. The only thing we’re full of is admiration, and a renewed appreciation that’s long overdue.
14. Threes Brewing Wandering Bine Saison Ale
Truth be told, several Threes beers competed for a spot on this list, spanning juicy IPAs to foeder lagers. It came down to this: 2020 was the year the entire VinePair staff fell in love with Wandering Bine. Those of us who have long admired this mixed-culture saison were delighted to see our fellow staff members sharing photos of it on Instagram. It is one beer that brought us together, even while we’re apart.
13. Jack’s Abby House Lager Bier
Every year, we sing the praises of Jack’s Abby Copper Legend, the Massachusetts-based brewery’s Oktoberfest seasonal beer. It’s something we look forward to so much, we often forget about Jack’s Abby’s other outstanding lagers such as this one — the brewery’s house beer. House Beer is a Helles-style lager with unexpectedly fruity aromas of strawberries, bubblegum, and purple flowers. Then there’s the palate: fresh corn tortilla, a touch of sweetness, and plantain chips. If you’re looking for a golden lager to drink with dinner, this is it — but try it without food first.
12. Tree House Summer
While deep in the throes of a NYC quarantine, where windows are blocked by buildings and sunlight comes at a skyscraper-high premium, we were privileged to get a taste of Summer, Tree House Brewing Co.’s candy-sweet, citrusy double IPA, previously only available on draft at the brewery, where we see no clear route to for a long while. (Line culture? Only if it’s toilet paper.) A pleasure assault to the senses, it’s smoothie-soft and packed with passionfruit, mango, and orange character owing only to malt, oats, and lots of hops. This happy beer, in its sunflower-clad can, serves as a little reminder that someone, somewhere, is making delicious beers for our Zoom happy hours, and that one day, we’ll see the sun.
11. East Brother Beer Co. Bo Pils
From Richmond, Calif., comes this Bohemian-style pilsner with squeaky-clean fermentation, bready malt and floral hop aromas, and a touch of malt sweetness on the palate. The finish is soft, without any harsh bitterness, but with a noble-hop bite. This beer is crispy as a bag of chips, and thirst-quenching, too.
10. Allagash Coolship Resurgam
Among the impressive qualities in this feat of an American coolship is the fact that it does not give any hint of being from anywhere that isn’t Brussels or Wallonia, Belgium. Like a traditional lambic, Resurgam is a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old batches of beer and is made with aged whole-leaf hops. It’s one to age in your beer cellar, but then again, there’s no time like the present to drink your cellar.
9. Cerebral Brewing Tactical Maneuver Foeder Helles
What’s not to love about oak-aged lager? Foeders always get our attention, especially when we know they’re from a brewery that treats them well (and makes beers with them that treat us well). Cerebral does this repeatedly. This year, Tactical Maneuver was a standout for its bready aromas, lightly spiced herbal-citrus flavor, and rounded-out slight sweetness that’s become characteristic of this niche style — one that we’re glad to see is catching on.
8. Maine Beer Co. King Titus Porter
Medium-bodied, roasty, nutty, and just a bit chocolatey, this is perfection in a porter. Clocking in at 7.5 percent ABV, everything about Maine Beer Co.’s seasonal beer is well balanced. Like Maine Beer Co.’s Lunch, King Titus is also named for an eponymous creature — this one a silver-backed gorilla from Riwanda’s Virunga volcano mountain range. (The mountain range and its wildlife are protected and studied by a foundation that Maine Beer Co. supports.)
7. KCBC Superhero Sidekicks IPA
ABV: 6.9% ABV
Looking back over the course of the year, this IPA is one we returned to again and again — having it delivered, riding our bikes to pick it up curbside, and ordering it outside while dining in the middle of a NYC street. It pours a hazy, bright pale yellow, with a fruit-packed nose full of orange, grapefruit, tangerine, and a pungent hop character. The palate is light-to-medium-bodied and soft, with thoughtfully calibrated carbonation. The moment it fizzles and fades — leaving tart orange and a hint of bitterness in its wake — we’re ready for another.
6. Brown’s Brewing Calavera Imperial Stout
Brown’s has been a bright spot on our radar this year. The family-owned and -operated brewery produces a wide range of approachable styles, such pale ales and IPAs named for family members (Carla and Joann, we’re looking at you). But it was Calavera that stopped us in our tracks. This imperial stout is aged with ancho chile, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and cacao nibs. Our panel appreciated its use of adjuncts without barrel aging, which allows each ingredient to stand out. Moreover, it does so without the syrup-sticky mouthfeel that tends to accompany so many “pastry stouts.” Calavera is fresh on the palate, and velvety-smooth — it’s a wonderful Covid-era beer to sip outside by a fire.
5. The Referend Bier Blendery Berliner Messe: Agnus Dei 2018
A pale golden color, oaky fruit aromas, and mouthwatering acidity only begin to describe this beer-wine hybrid. Agnus Dei, which the Referend calls a “spontaneously fermented Berliner Messe pale wheat ale,” has a lot to say. It’s 100 percent spontaneously fermented in the state of New Jersey, but even before that, it’s spontaneously acidified in a process called “elevage,” borrowed from the wine world. That’s certainly not the only time the two worlds overlap: After initial fermentation in neutral oak, the beer was re-fermented in open stainless steel with New York Vidal Blanc grape juice pressed from a late-2018 harvest. The liquid then moved to barrels (Pineau des Charentes puncheons, to be precise), where it sat for another 18 months. Bottling included dosage of New Jersey wildflower honey.
Panlists found this complex and zesty creation “bright in every way,” offering traditional sour beer rustic character while creating a category of its own. This is more than lovely to enjoy on its own, although we drooled at the possibility of pairing it with food. It has a savory note that had some of us yearning for funky, forest-y mushrooms to answer its umami side. Who is the Referend? That’s a question only the Referend can answer. What we can tell you is this: Although relative rarities, its large-format, oft-fruited, funky beers with poetry on the labels catch our attention around this time each year. This is one of many intriguing bottles from the mysterious brewery.
4. Goose Island Bourbon County Kentucky Fog Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Yes, the Birthday Bourbon County was impressive, as was the Anniversary and every other version of this anticipated annual bourbon-barrel-aged stout. But this, the Kentucky Fog variant, was the best Bourbon County Stout of the year. The take on the London Fog blends Earl Grey, black tea, honey, and Bourbon County Stout, resulting in a sensory experience unlike any other we’ve had. Bergamot, black tea, and a slight lemon-lime note swirl on the nose, while floral and citrusy notes carry over to the palate with a touch of tannin. Of course, waiting there is the rich cocoa and vanilla bean of Bourbon County Stout, all mingling in a medley we came back to again and again. We truly hope to get our hands on another bottle soon.
3. Other Half All Riwaka Everything
As far as our beer drinking is concerned, the most “unprecedented” part of 2020 was how much Other Half beers we drank. Also unexpected were the amount of Riwaka-hopped IPAs we tasted throughout the year. The unusual hop was introduced to us beer geeks over a decade ago by Hill Farmstead, and while it remains a relative rarity, has been popping up (hopping up?) around the U.S. this year. Other Half’s Riwaka ode packs layers of this hop oddity into its alluring aroma, at once dank and herbal and almost gasoline-like. The flavor has pungent herbs and tropical fruit, with a smooth, almost viscous texture. Shocking, yet delicious.
2. Pure Project Lief Oak-Aged Sour
San Diego, Calif.
Lief is, as far as we’re concerned, a San Diego lambic. The Belgium lambic-inspired Lief is similarly a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old spontaneously fermented ales aged in oak. Before any of the blend saw barrels, the wort was taken on a lambic camping trip, where it was inoculated with wild yeast and microorganisms indigenous to Mt. Laguna. Spontaneous fermentation gives this beer tartness and complexity. It’s spicy, salty, and even has a custardy quality akin to lemon curd. The acidity is bracing but not harsh. It has lingering notes of salt and pepper, and it begs for a pile of Belgian frites.
1. Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale XXIV
Paso Robles, Calif.
It’s hard to believe this barrel-aged blend is not an adjunct stout. In fact, it’s not a stout at all, but a blend of barrel-aged strong ales from select lots of Firestone Walker’s cellar: 16 percent Parabola Russian Imperial Stout, 16 percent Smoked Imperial Walker’s Reserve porter, 26 percent Stickee Monkee Central Coastal Quad, 27 percent Velvet Merkin milk stout, 11 percent Bravo imperial brown ale, and 4 percent Tequila Helldorado blonde barley wine. The highly anticipated 24th anniversary blend of six vintage ales is a triumph in many ways. Rich layers of chocolate frosting and vanilla bean tantalize the taste buds as vividly as the real thing, reminiscent of creamy French vanilla ice cream with chocolate mousse. All this is lifted with a fruity character. Although many barrels were used in the making of this final beer, no additional adjuncts were added. It, along with other labels in Firestone Walker’s Vintage Series, reminded us how amazing this brewery is. Happy 24th. We cannot wait for what 25 has in store.