On the sixth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...
Six Beers Worth Drinking
A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)
Four Years of Marcus;
Three Scummers Picking;
Two albums to look forward to; and
A fat guy in a jersey
I like beer. Always have. Always will. These days, though, there are so many different brews from which to choose, from crazily-hopped mega-IPAs to fruit-forward Belgians to chocolately stouts, pumpkin ales, crisp lagers, insane combinations of habanero and hops, and literally hundreds of other unique options. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink, if only he could figure out where to start.
If you're me, you let your nose be your guide, leading you to a wonderland of high-IBU ales. For your tasting pleasure, here are six beers that I particularly enjoyed this year. Your results may vary, especially if you're not a raving hophead.
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack
Though Beer Advocate describes this beer as an American Black Ale, the label tells us that it's a Black Rye IPA. I'll trust the people that market it to tell me what it is, thanks. The entire Firestone Walker IPA family (Union Jack, Double Jack, and Wookey Jack) is tasty, if a bit pricy, but Wookey adds a unique roasted malt flavor and spiciness from the rye to the IPA's hoppy character, to great effect.
At 8.3% ABV, Wookey's got a kick. Just a couple'll make you feel all warm inside. And the Beer Advocate folks give it a 95, so it's a quality buzz, too.
Ballast Point Sculpin
My local packie just started carrying this San Diego beer this year. (I don't have a local packie, as we don't call them that here in Virginia. I just really like that description of a liquor store, so go with it. We're actually talking about Wegmans.) It's my go-to celebration quaff, because it's terrific (Beer Advocate gives it a stratospheric 98) but also because it costs $17.99 a sixer. I do okay financially, but I ain't made of bitcoins.
I'm a sucker for the SoCal IPA style, with its citrusy flavors and big hops, and Sculpin is at the very top of a competitive roster of those beers. In another year, Green Flash IPA might make it into this sextet, but I didn't get to have many of that terrific pour in 2014.
Pliny the Elder
I'd heard the stories of this Santa Rosa, CA double IPA for years - it's the stuff of beer-lovers' legend, a perfect 100 from Beer Advocate, and only available in one bar east of the Mississippi River - but I hadn't had one until a few short months ago. My wife and I traveled to California specifically to hunt down Pliny. (She thinks we went for our anniversary. Please keep this secret between us.)
As I drank it, I found it hard to separate the hype from the actual product. I knew I was supposed to love it, in order to establish my beer geek cred. And I did, truly - it's a phenomenally balanced Double, with less of the sweetness that can overwhelm many in that class of beers. It's among the best beers I've ever had, and a must-drink given the opportunity. But it's not the best, and I didn't receive total enlightenment when I drank it.
Guess I'll need to find a Heady Topper for that.
The great and wonderful Pliny isn't the best beer I've ever had, but Brooklyn Center, MN Surly Brewing Company's Furious just might be. Surly describes Furious as a hybrid of American IPA and English ESB styles, and the beer's amber color and balance of sweetness with bitterness testifies to the success of that mix. Furious starts with an incredibly smooth, sweet taste and finishes with a crisp, bitter hoppiness.
Surly is a small, regional purveyor (though Friday's opening of a new facility in downtown Minneapolis hearkens good things for beer lovers outside the Midwest), so it's hard to find anywhere beyond Minnesota and Wisconsin. I satisfy my jones every time I travel to the Twin Cities by getting to the airport three hours before my flight home and bellying up to the bar at Ike's, which has it on tap.
Baar Goldmandli Zuger Spezial Hell
In a huge upset, and a big departure for me, I actually enjoyed a helles this year. To be sure, some of it had to do with the location, but only some of it. On a business trip to Switzerland, I drank more than a few Baar beers with my colleagues. At 5.0% ABV, it was a perfect session drink, a just dry enough to offset the sweetness that usually chases me away from that style.
Long Trail Limbo IPA
Finally, we close with a beer that was new to me this year, but quickly became my drink of choice for weekday relaxation. I've long been partial to Long Trail, one of the finest breweries in the state of my berth, but Limbo knocked my socks off when I first tried it, drawn in by a particularly well-stacked display at Wegmans.
Technically a double IPA, Limbo represents a new direction for Long Trail, who hadn't done much in the way of IPAs previously. Brewmaster Dave Hartmann describes the beer's taste as 'kickass', and it's hard for me to quibble. If you visit me, it's a better chance than not that this is what I'll serve you. Get some, it's terrific.
Among many other things (dipshittery, randomness, sporadic posts), this season of Gheorghe is about sharing. Let's use the comments to discuss the beers that got you through another year. Unless they're Belgians, in which case I'd rather hear about TR's polyps.