As with any exceptional wines and spirits one has over the course of a lifetime, the best beers should linger long after the last sip, lip smack, and smile. They might conjure a specific moment in time, or a specific place or person. They might tell a compelling story or carry a powerful message. They might or might not be flavored with rocket pops. But they should be transcendent and bulletproof to the wastebasket of our brains — no amount of time passed muddling that sublime feeling.
In a year when some breweries closed and others bought golf courses, when hazy IPAs matured and New Jersey‘s governor did exactly the opposite, a cornucopia of new beers came out (and promptly got checked in).
So, what new brews impressed and refreshed in 2023? Here, we looked to those who produce the beverage professionally, asking beer makers across the country about their favorite releases in the past 12 months and what about these titles made them most memorable.
Suarez Family Brewery Be It Known
“The amazing depth of flavor packed into this take on the modern cask old ales currently made in England is astounding. The deep, rich malt profile and luxurious nitro pour absolutely nail the assignment. It’s a gorgeous and artfully crafted beer, and it’s a lot of fun to drink.” —Lee Lord, head brewer at Narragansett Brewing Co., Providence, R.I.
North Park Beer Company Kiwi to Bogey
“I know North Park has been bona fide, and, frankly, they don’t need more awards — I am kidding. But I do think they need to be talked about more. They are making some of, if not the best, beer right now. I have not had one of their beers that hasn’t awed me. They also have one of the best teams of people you could meet. I have been on record saying that I am not a huge fan of lagers (sorry, not sorry), but Kiwi to Bogey really stood out to me this year. This New Zealand-style pilsner is dry hopped with Rakau, Nelson Sauvin, and Motueka, all grown by Freestyle Hops, who are putting out some of the best hops in the world. Combining these amazing hops with the skills of the brew team at North Park, let’s just say it makes for a stunning beer. The hops really shine through with notes of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, hints of Sprite soda, and stone fruits. All the sweetness is cut by a drier finish, leading to a well-balanced hoppy lager with the perfect amount of bitterness.” —Skip Schwartz, head brewer, WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley, Colo.
4 Noses Brewing Company Hopwave Haze
“Having imbibed more Dale’s Pale Ale than possibly any other human on the planet, 4 Nose Brewing’s Hopwave Haze is another example of a great American pale ale. Brewed with Citra and Motueka hops, Hopwave Haze has aromas of oats, citrus, and light fruitiness, and flavors of oats and light citrus with a crisp dry finish. The 4 Noses brewery is conveniently located right between Denver and my home in Boulder. It’s a great place to stop when passing through.” —Juice Drapeau, senior head brewer, Oskar Blues Brewery, Lyons, Colo.
Amalgam Brewing The Modern West
“I traveled a lot this year and tasted several outstanding beers along the way. I found myself obsessing over XPAs while traveling in the Southern Hemisphere and Belgian pale ale while in Antwerp. Oh, and of course, crisp helles while spending time in Germany. In general, I gravitated toward balanced and lower-alcohol, yet flavor-forward, beers. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I like to think the pendulum is swinging back this way as indicated by the number of pale, light tasty beers I met in 2023. A ray of hope shining through the haze. The standout beer for me was shared during an amazing collaboration day with the team from Bierstadt Lagerhaus, when Phil Joyce pulled out his The Modern West IPA from the Amalgam Brewing project he co-founded with Eric Schmidt, and that he brews on the Bierstadt kit. This beer, although 6.6 percent ABV, drinks like a beer closer to 5 percent. Decoction mashing and most importantly the use of the floatation tank help to create a clean and refreshingly unique IPA. This West Coast IPA is all about sublime drinkability, like a smooth pale ale packing plenty of modern hoppy deliciousness. This is something special when I’m talking about an IPA I tasted on a pils brew day with Bierstadt!” —Matt Brynildson, brewmaster, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, Calif.
Alesong Brewing & Blending Island Rhino Suit
“Matt Van Wyk and his team at Alesong Brewing & Blending are some of the best, and undersung (get it?), brewers in the country. And this stout in particular was one of my favorites from the Oregon producer. They focus exclusively on barrel-aged beer, and this iteration on the classic Rhino Suit imperial milk stout, using toasted coconut and rum barrels direct from Barbados, is a showstopper. The chocolate, molasses, coconut, and vanilla character are all perfectly integrated. If you haven’t had a chance to try their beer and you enjoy decadent, yet balanced, barrel-aged beer, I would make it a priority.” —Robert Fulwiler, director of brewing operations, Meanwhile Brewing Co., Austin, Texas
Cantina Cantina Silian Rail
“No surprise to anyone that knows me, but I love light, low-ABV beers. That’s why my favorite of 2023 has to be the Silian Rail kolsch by Cantina Cantina out on the North Fork of Long Island. The perfect summer beer (year round, really) and a style that I feel like a lot of folks ignore, it’s perfectly balanced between fresh grain and a floral hop bite from the Tettnanger. When I first got into beer, I was overly critical from a sensory standpoint. But, sometimes, we just need a beer that doesn’t make us think too hard. The simplicity that Silian Rail provides lets you enjoy it without thinking. Exemplary and delicious!” —Andreina Uribe, cellar person at Grimm Artisanal Ales, Brooklyn
Russian River Brewing Company Small Batch: Peach Beer (2022)
“My favorite beer I had in 2023 was from Russian River. Now that may not be a huge surprise since they are known for the most anxiously awaited beer each year, Pliny the Younger IPA. But my favorite beers from them are not their hoppy IPAs (although I do love me an STS Pilsner). I think their best beers are their barrel-aged wild beers. They are, all of them, masterfully created. And my favorite last year was the most recent vintage of Peach Beer from the Small Batch Series, with hints of wood and mild funk, overlaid by an amazing peach fruit flavor. Balanced and delicious, I wish I had one right now.” —Fal Allen, brewmaster, Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Boonville, Calif.
North Park Beer Company Waka Waka Waka
“Tommy Kennedy, HOMES’ owner, and I had been talking about doing a California trip for a few years to visit all our West Coast brewery homies. The pandemic messed that up for us, but we were finally able to make it out this past April. All the breweries we hit were amazing, but North Park opened my eyes to West Coast pilsner or California pilsner or whatever you want to call it. It is one of the few fleeting moments you get in this industry where you try something that just makes sense, everything falls into place, and it takes you by surprise. Waka Waka Waka was one of the many amazing WC pils I had while I was there, but it was the first and I was really blown away by it. It contains all of the hop flavor I want in a New England-style IPA, while also having the drinkability and crispness of a Czech pilsner.” —Nick Panchamé, head brewer, HOMES Brewery, Ann Arbor, Mich.
nebuleus sangiovese + syrah
“The first thing that impressed me about this blended saison refermented on Sangiovese and Syrah grapes from Yakima Valley from Portland’s nebuleus was the acidity balance from their culture and blending techniques. Then the wonderfully jammy flavor of the wine grapes combined with the brandy barrel comes through and you know you’re in for a treat. After drinking it at a bottle share I completely rethought my approach to aging beers on wine grapes. It also doesn’t hurt that nebuleus owners Tim Crook and Rachel Olen are two of the nicest brewers I’ve ever met. Their beers can be a bit difficult to obtain but 100 percent worth it, especially if you like the funkier side of things.” —John Flaherty, founder and head brewer, Wanderment Brewing, Denver
Moksa Brewing Co. Double Barrel Aged Pastry Mode
“I had the pleasure of experiencing an amazing American imperial stout from Moska Brewing during the Denver Rare Beer Tasting earlier this year. Moska’s Double Barrel Aged Pastry Mode pours a luscious dark brown, a perfect visual to prepare the taste buds for the decadent flavors to follow. The beer delivers a bevy of delightful flavors and aromas. You get coffee, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, Cognac, vanilla, coconut, bourbon, and you even may detect a bit of hazelnut. It’s a big, memorable beer with a satisfying warming effect from the 16.9 percent ABV. Perfect for sipping and savoring.” —Terence Sullivan, product manager, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif.
Bizarre Brewing Skitch
“Colette Boilini and Derek Brown are Bizarre’s owners, and they are putting their impressive Seattle beer experience — the couple worked together at both Fremont and Holy Mountain — to work at their new brewery in the Magnolia neighborhood, focusing on creative, low-alcohol beers like Skitch, a dry-hopped light lager spunded for natural carbonation. This late-summer sipper is brewed with German pilsner malt and rice and hopped with Anchovy, Citra, and Saphir. It’s light and crispy, with notes of mandarin and watermelon.” —Rachel Nalley, head brewer at Golden Handle Brewing and co-owner of Community Pint, Spokane, Wash.
Human Robot Brewing Smoked Rösten
“When it comes to folks who are brewing both articulate examples and inventive adaptations judged more so on technical execution and genuine innovation and less so on their application of adjunct ingredients and evocations of nostalgic intellectual property theft, Human Robot has been leading the campaign in reminding beer lovers of what can be done with the Consecrated Quadrinity of malt, hops, water, and yeast, with some of the highest-rated and universally respected Czech, German, and American styles being poured across four locations in Philadelphia. Being lucky enough to visit their 5th Street taproom during a Philadelphia district Master Brewers Association meeting, head brewer Andrew Foss played host during the unofficial field trip of out-of-town brewers who almost instinctively flocked to the Human Robot headquarters to pick his brain all night and enjoy the revered tap list of ‘Crispy Boy’ fodder. A standout beer to me was Smoked Rösten, a smokey helles lager with aromatics akin to a bonfire all wrapped up in a balanced pale lager with spicy noble hop bite and bready malt backing. A lovechild between their original Rösten Helles and Rauchschloss smoked amber lager, Smoked Rösten obtains all its subtle smoke aroma and flavors not from the traditional approach of wood-smoked malt, but from repitching Rauchschloss’s yeast into a fresh batch of Rösten wort — a practice that Foss and Human Robot use as a nod to smoked beer OGs Schlenkerla of Bamberg. Beyond being one of the most enjoyable and memorable new beer experiences I’ve had in 2023, it was also a stark and welcome reminder that beer drinkers can find fun, new craft beer encounters without falling into the caricature of novelty releases crowding the shelves these days.” —Brad Beneski, director of business development, Wallenpaupack Brewing Company, Hawley, Pa.
Wild East Brewing Co. Leap Year
“Like a lot of brewers, I am nothing if not an insufferable nerd and have watched so many faces glaze over when I start talking about lager. Craft lagers are really having a moment, finally, but in looking to make a perfectly balanced and crushable yellow beer that could make our brewery a million dollars, we can lose sight of the fact that lagers have traditionally been a canvas to showcase the more subtle and interesting aspects of the ingredients we put in them. I got my hands on a can of Leap Year hoppy lager from Wild East shortly after it dropped and it was an immediate standout after a summer soaked in crispies. Like all of the lagers they make it is crisp and refreshing and flawless in technique, but unlike a lot of other lagers I’ve had in quite some time, it had a super-interesting hop character from the use of Hopsteiner’s HS-17701, now called Alora. The aromas of sweet tart citrus and the flavors of yuzu and peach that play perfectly with the base beer really set a new standard of what modern lager can and should be, for me.” —Mike Kulha, head brewer, Sound + Fury Brewery and Kitchen, Brooklyn
Ghost Town Brewing Kryos
“Yakima Chief Hops and NZ Hops joined up early in 2023 and released for the first time ever Cryo versions of New Zealand hops. Ghost Town had the honor of being the first California brewery to brew with these, and rightfully so, as their hoppy beer game is dialed. When I cracked open a can of this IPA made with Nelson and Riwaka Cryo, as well as Nectaron, it was exactly what I had hoped for. The aromas of Nelson and Riwaka punched through, but in a more refined and concentrated way. The Nectaron worked to beautifully balance the punchiness with a soft and refined peach and apricot backbone. As a huge lover of New Zealand hops myself, this marks the genesis of a new world of hops that YCH and NZ hops will create and Ghost Town led the way.” —Brennan Perry, owner and head brewer, Tenma Beer Project, Oakland, Calif.
Freak Folk Bier Lo-Tech
“In July, my friends took me on a brewery tour up in Vermont for my bachelor party. One of the stops was Freak Folk Bier in Waterbury. The first beer I tried was Lo-Tech, a hoppy pale lager. It was immaculately poured with a deep white fluffy head. The floral and citrus hop character complemented the crisp, biscuity malt perfectly. I could tell a lot of love was put into this beer.” —Danny Sump, director of brewing operations, Bright Ideas Brewing, Westfield, Mass.
Counterweight Brewing Co. 12° Tmave
“A lot of people seek out the top-notch IPAs at Counterweight Brewing, located in Cheshire, Conn., but there is an excellent lager program as well. With lots of lagers to choose from, the new 12° Tmave has quickly become one of my favorites. What makes this Czech dark even more special is that taproom employee and overall amazing person Manny Collazo helped take the lead on it. Semisweet chocolate and lightly roasted coffee is balanced by a subtle sweetness. Coming in at 4.5 percent ABV, it’s unbelievably drinkable. If you’re in the area, stop by the taproom and say hi to Manny and enjoy a pour. It’s also available in cans, so you can enjoy it with friends and family.” —Josh Superchi, co-owner, Iron Furnace Brewing, Franconia, N.H.
“My first time having a beer from Hércules was back in 2018 and I have been a fan ever since. Not only are they continuously cranking out world-class beers, including traditional lagers and wild ales, but they have a beautiful facility that I was able to visit back in 2020 (highly recommend). At a beer festival this summer I was able to try one of their newest wild beers, Brettpública. I’m a big lager gal and was excited to try a twist on the style. This Brett pale lager is a blend of their pilsner that was aged in wood barrels for 18 months and a young pilsner. While the Brettanomyces leads the way with notes of leather and barnyard, you still get the freshness of a Czech lager. The blend of these two styles is well rounded and [they] complement each other well. This was definitely a crowd favorite at the festival and hands down my favorite beer of 2023. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this style from Hércules and all the other new beers they’re coming out with.” —Amanda Mailey, brewer at Magnanimous Brewing, Tampa, Fla.
Second District Brewing Cinnamon Vanilla Huy
“Second District brewer Ben Potts’s approach to this variant of Huy seems artistically deliberate: measured like a chef in dashes, not handfuls. Anything can be overdone, but it’s a thing of beauty to be done just right. Huy is a Vietnamese coffee stout. Silky, sweet, and bold. We planned a guest tap stout event for daylight savings this year. I had all hopes that 2D was planning on releasing this beer. To my surprise a riff of it was made with the additions of cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans. Something already pretty perfect became exceptional. A touch creamier with just enough room for spice to nudge its way in and not overpower the bones. You can drink one and enjoy the flavor. You can drink two and tell the person next to you everything about it while waiting for your third.” —Kevin Margitich, owner, Hidden River Brewing Company, Douglassville, Pa.
Russian River Brewing Company RnD Series: Docta-Ron
“The one beer that really stood out for me in 2023 was a New Zealand IPA on tap at Russian River in Windsor, Calif. For me, drinking a beer on draft at the source of creation tends to be more memorable than store-bought, packaged beer, and this one, made with Dr. Ron Beatson from NZ Hops and enjoyed back in May, was truly divine! The unique earthy character and slight dank terroir of Southern Hemisphere hops played exceptionally well with Russian River’s choice of clean house yeast, revealing notes of cracker and light-toasted sourdough bread, with a crisp, dry finish. Having owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo there hosting us, a group of visiting brewers from across the country, made the experience especially delightful and memorable!” —Sean Lawson, founder, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Waitsfield, Vt.
Human Robot Brewing Ritual Herbs
“The best beer I had all year was Ritual Herbs, a German-style pilsner by Human Robot. A super- clean Old World lager accentuated by just enough Spalt hops to make it drink like a dream. This beer is crisp and quaffable and shouldn’t be overanalyzed. I had it about a month ago while I was at their brewery with some friends celebrating the successful launch of our podcast, The BrewedAt Podcast, and felt a warm sense of contentment as they started going down too easily. Sometimes the best beer is just the right beer in the perfect moment.” —Richie Tevlin, former head brewer, Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, Pa.
Monday Night Brewing Chef Series: Meherwan Irani
“I have the good fortune of living in Nashville these days, and I have been introduced to some awesome breweries down here. One that I continually visit is Monday Night Brewing’s Preservation Co. taproom. A beer they recently released is a collaboration with James Beard Award-winning chef of Chai Pani and more, Meherwan Irani, who is known for his remarkable and unique Indian food. It’s a wheated rice lager with turmeric. As someone who is favorable to creative plays with the delicacy of light lagers, this beer calls to me and is spectacular. It’s remarkably clean and refreshing. It has a sweetness from the wheat and rice; the turmeric provides a light earthy aroma, citrus notes, and a subtle yet wonderfully fitting bitterness. I have not had the good fortune to pair it with chef Irani’s cuisine, as recommended, but it would be a beautiful complement to numerous Indian dishes.” —Chip Samson, co-owner, Shaidzon Beer Co., West Kingston, R.I.
BKS Artisan Ales Hops of Gold
“I have a group of close friends who are now living in many different corners of the U.S. This past March (I remember it clearly, since Princeton was wrecking everyone’s brackets), we split the travel and met up in Kansas City for a long weekend of beer and barbecue. One of our stops was BKS Artisan Ales, which served me my favorite new beer of 2023: Hops of Gold Double IPA. Featuring Motueka SubZero Hop Kief, a liquid Cryo hop product from Freestyle Hops, Hops of Gold delivered exceptionally bright citrus and tropical flavors, making it a most memorable IPA experience, even among today’s competitive landscape!” —Daniel Gadala-Maria, head brewer, Finback Brewery, Glendale, N.Y.
*Image retrieved from Adam Radosavljevic via stock.adobe.com