When visiting Washington DC this year, my wife and I were lucky enough to join a tour of Bluejacket Brewery led by their Beer Director, Greg Engert. It was fascinating to see how a brewery optimized for experimentation, patience, and quality control at the expense of the volume of beer produced per day was designed and operated.
The tour culminated with a tasting of Bluejacket's Barrel-Aged Double Mexican Radio imperial stout, sipped alongside barrels that were aging the beer for future releases. The beer was remarkable, and enjoying it with my wife at Bluejacket after learning about the brewery and how the beer was made from Greg, made it my favorite beer of the year.
Image courtesy of The Garden Brewery.
My favorite beer this year was a NEIPA, discovered 4,000 miles from New England.
I'm a digital nomad. I travel around the world and work remotely from wherever I happen to be that week. This spring was spent in Croatia, a country not typically known for its dank hop bombs. So what was so special about Garden Milkshake IPA, in a place that prides itself on two-liter plastic bottles of pilsner?
It was the visit to the local brewery after a rainy day. The cozy outdoor garden, covered and full of heat lamps. The juicy burgers and crispy fries. The bartender that recommended the perfect beer even though we didn't speak the same language. The live music, foreign and captivating. The, well, experience! It wasn't that this beer tasted better than anything I had this year. It was the great time that I had while enjoying it. It was the drinking, not the drink.
Good beer isn't always about taste. It's about enjoying a beverage with your closest friends and family. Having a laugh and not taking yourselves too seriously. It's about kicking your feet up and enjoying being with someone, doing something (or nothing at all!).
Beer is the journey to a good time, not the destination.
Last year I moved away from Brooklyn, returning to the great, supple land of my birth: the Upper Midwest. Now I live in Madison, WI.
Earlier this year my wife and I bought a house, a bit of a fixer upper in the shadow of Madison's now defunct Oscar Meyer plant. One colloquial name for my neighborhood is Weinerville. I tell everyone I can about that fact.
Since the very day we moved in, I've been crossing items off the [endless] home improvement project list. So long as I don't need a chop saw, table saw, or any large scale power tools for the job, I like to pair my projects with beers. I s'pose the impulse is an homage to my father's side of the family. They're big drinkers and big home improvers.
Early on I drank classics—Two Hearted, All Day IPA, Leinenkugel's Original, Grain Belt Premium, and so on. But a month or so ago things turned a lot more awesome. My fellow Wisconsinites, Hacienda, little brother to Door County Brewing Co., started sending their cans from beautiful Bailey's Harbor down to Madison.
Since then I've kept a steady supply of Hacienda in the fridge, whether from the brewery directly, next to which I celebrated my birthday this year, or from my go-to beer stores around my new hometown. Of the Hacienda beers I've tried, It Just Does Weird things is my favorite, though I'm a pretty big fan of Everything Eventually and The Floor is Guava, too.
Gage Siegel • Head of Brewery Relations | Slushie Guy • Black Project Slushied Sour
Gage's tattooed arm doing what it does best: holding a slushie.
There's a lot of great beer in the world. Hell, we've got more than 7,000 breweries in the US alone. And with all that beer, it's not often that a beer comes around and is truly innovative, new, or fresh in some way. This year gifted us Brut IPA's most notably, but as another year trucked on where summer was dominated with Frosé's, I was excited to see craft breweries getting in on the slushie beer game.
Some folks, like Trillium and Foolproof, brought slushie machines into their brewery. Some bars got on board and made their own adventurous creations, like The Well in Brooklyn and Finn's Manor in Denver.
I'm an avid slushie drink lover. (Sidebar: I don't give up once it starts getting cold. I'm not a quitter. I drink slushies year round.) You can bet I went out of my way to try as many beer slushies as I could in 2018.
But out of all the slushie beers I downed, the Black Project Shadow Factory made into a slushie was my favorite beer of the year. It was delicious, bright, and a completely new flavor. Plus, I love the concept of taking this fancy beer that folks would wait in line for and turning it into a slushie. So good. It was amazing, big ups to the folks at Finn's Manor and Black Project, I hope to have another creation next time I'm in town.
Image courtesy of Stillwater Artisanal.
The brewing world is full of collaborations. Many breweries thrive on collabs with other breweries to help get their name out into different regional markets and just spread their beer as far as possible. The fact that these breweries are willing to work together rather than in complete competition is one of my favorite parts about the beer industry.
My favorite beer this year took the idea of brewery collaboration and pushed things a little further. It wasn't a collaboration between two breweries. No, it was a collab between a brewery (Stillwater) and a rapper/chef (Action Bronson).
Stillwater 7000 is a dry-hopped sour ale brewed with muscat grapes, designed to fit the tastes of Bronson. Bronson is much more of a wine guy than a beer guy, so he worked with the folks at Stillwater to make a beer that splits the middle. What they ended up with is a great semi-tart sour ale that's easy to drink and tastes great. Pairs great with Bronson's music as well.
Suneet Bhatt • Growth Advisor | Ideas Man • Kingfisher Red
Suneet's father lays alongside his granddaughter.
My favorite beer for 2018 and maybe beyond? Kingfisher Red.
My father was not a big beer guy. He wasn't a big alcohol guy in general. What he was was the kind of guy who made sure his house was stocked to the nines with things that would bring other people joy. Desserts. Snacks. And booze in all colors, shapes, and bottle sizes. It was true of his home in NJ. And even truer of the flat he and my mom made a home from December through March every year for the past decade, in the dry state of Gujarat, in the dry city of Ahmedabad, in his incredible country of birth -- India.
He died there on February 4, 2018. While sitting beside my mom, his wife of 49 years. I found out late at night that he had died, and inside of 24 hours I was on my way around the world to see my mom and see my father's body, as we prepared him for his transition.
After all that travel, after all that emotion, after all that ... a few days into my trip, while we started to pack up Daddy's things, we opened up a locked cabinet in the guest room. Behind a lock, behind another lock, was his liquor collection (in this dry state, in this dry city—which he was legally allowed to own, given a permit he had purchased). Among the bottles of liquor (including a $200 bottle of Glenfiddich I had gifted him 7 years earlier, that he hadn't yet opened, and is now mine for some future moment) was a case of Kingfisher Red. It was like he knew I was coming. And like he had saved it for me.
Sometimes the greatest experiences have nothing to do with the item we're consuming, but everything to do with the context within which it was consumed. Kingfisher Red is crisp and brings a subtle palate depth to a traditional crisp lager (via malt and oak notes). It pairs perfectly with all of your favorite spicy flavors from the Indian subcontinent. For me, the Kingfisher Red, sipped while sitting on my Dad's swing on his balcony, from his glass, with his favorite snacks in a small bowl by my feet ... was the most powerful, inspiring, memorable and meaningful beer I've ever had. It's my favorite beer of 2018.