Here’s an understatement for you: 2014 was a great year for beer.
Seriously, it’s hard to put into words just how awesome American craft beer was this year. IPAs got sessionable, then they got fresh-hopped, breweries collaborated like hip hop moguls, older (let’s call them classic?) breweries reinvented themselves with ambitious experiments while young breweries helped push the envelope of style and taste…there were hundreds, probably thousands of new beers hitting the shelves and taps all year long, challenging our palates and expectations day after day. It’s an exciting time to be alive.
True, there are a fair number of social injustices and the health care system in this country is ridiculous, but the beer is soooo good. I don’t know about you, but our cup is half full. Full of really, great beer. Literally. We sorted through as many new releases as was humanly possible and came up with what we think is a pretty damn good list of new beers that hit the market this year. The best list, in fact. Hell, let’s just call it, “The Best New Beers of 2014.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
20. Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout
Style: Coffee Stout
This one snuck up on me. Don’t get me wrong—I like a good coffee stout. I just don’t expect much from the style. Sierra Nevada’s new Coffee Stout came in a mix pack that, honestly, I purchased so I could try the brewery’s new Boomerang IPA, but I found myself searching the empty box for more of this simple stout. It’s a masterful example of the style—slightly sweet, milky, roasted, malty. It’s not an imperial, it’s not barrel aged, it’s not a farmhouse ale brewed with sage or pumpernickel or the yeast found on the shoe of George Washington. It’s just damn good. -Graham Averill
19. Monkish Brewing Selah
Style: Farmhouse Saison
Picture via Craft Beer Kings
Visionary brewer Henry Nguyen may refuse to brew an IPA, but don’t think he’s scared of hops. His Belgian-style ales frequently feature judicious applications of new hop varieties, and all the stars aligned when he brewed his light, dry saison Selah—a honey-gold farmhouse ale dry hopped with aromatic mosaic hops and bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces. When fresh, the earthy and tropical Mosaic flavors dominated, but in the months since the beer’s initial release, the brett character has gracefully developed as the hops have faded into balance. Selah is lightning in a bottle. -John Verive
18. Cascade Pumpkin Smash
Style: Pumpkin Wild Ale
This beer arrived a few days too late to participate in our 2014 pumpkin beer tasting/ranking, which was a good thing for every other entry: This “sour quad” would have been the consensus #1 beer, I have no doubt. On paper, it sounds absolutely insane—a soured quadrupel, aged in rum barrels with spices and pumpkin? But oh my, what a flavor bomb this thing is (in a good way). The way the brewers and blenders at Cascade managed to capture flavors at this level of intensity but still keep them all well-balanced with one another is almost miraculous. It will be an immediate front-runner for best pumpkin beer of 2015.—Jim Vorel
17. O’so Bourbon Barrel Imperial Night Train
Style: Imperial Porter
The original Night Train porter spawns variants like Tapout stores spawn over-aggro douchebags. Difference is, you actually want to spend a little time with every member of the Night Train family. O’so released a bourbon-aged version of the standard strength base beer a while ago, and it was pretty great. This beast, though, was only recently unleashed at a special release party at the brewery, along with blackberry and poblano pepper variants. The jury is still out on the latter two, but this “regular” version is sublime. Toffee, chocolate, and charred oak are expected, and present in spades, but there’s a wonderful toasted coconut presence that just sends this beer over the top. Miraculously, the body remains light enough to be damningly drinkable. -Josh Ruffin
16. Half Acre Heyoka IPA
Paste was already drooling over Half Acre’s Heyoka back in February, long before it won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Fest, so that win simply confirmed what we already knew—this is one of the best new IPAs of the year. A real American classic, it’s not one of the new breed reveling in really funky, tropical fruity hops. Rather, it’s a great, classic West Coast IPA, filled to the brim with orangey citrus, pine, and maybe a touch of mango. As we wrote at the beginning of the year, “it’s the kind of beer you can smell from a couple feet away.” -Jim Vorel
15. Three Weavers Stateside
Three Weavers Brewery is one of the newest, most exciting breweries in L.A.’s exploding craft beer scene, and veteran brewer Alexandra Nowell (Sierra Nevada, Drakes Brewery) has crafted an eminently drinkable pale ale with the hoppy aroma of a full-strength IPA. Nowell coaxes an array of resinous citrus flavors from classic American hops and layers the pungent aromas over a sparkling light body. It’s a beer tailor-made for Los Angeles, and it won’t bore you or fatigue your palate even after two or three (or four or five) pints. -John Verive
14. Allagash Saison
Style: Belgian Farmhouse
Oh look, a year-round “shelf turd” saison. Big whoop, right? Listen, this is Allagash’s first new year-round beer in 10 years, so we think a parade is in order. On top of that, it fills what had been a glaring gap in their flagship portfolio—a Belgian-style brewery without an easily gettable saison? For shame. And this is a great one: falling distinctly on the American side of the spectrum, the beer is dry and effervescent, with a distinctly peppery hop profile. At just over 6% ABV, it’s also light enough for warmer months, yet sufficiently robust. Well done, Allagash. Now how about bottling Session Brett? -Josh Ruffin
13. Lagunitas Born Yesterday
Style: Pale Ale
The star of an in-office tasting of 2014’s fresh hop ales, Born Yesterday is one of the more aptly named beers we tasted this year. With samples bottled only a day or two before they arrived in the Paste office and shipped in an ice-packed box, there’s pretty much no way they could have been fresher. Overflowing with tropical fruit flavors, Born Yesterday is like a paean to the possibilities of fresh, green hops and why bottled-on dates are so important.—Jim Vorel
12. Toppling Goliath King Sue
Style: Imperial IPA
The hop savants over at Toppling Goliath occasionally brewed this beer—a ramped-up version of Citra pale ale Pseudo Sue—for taproom consumption or special events only; it was spoken of in whispers outside of Iowa. But this past year, they released it in a single bottling run, and the beer lost none of its potency. While not the most streamlined or balanced beer, TG knows how to squeeze the most out of their hops, and King Sue is the ultimate example. It pours like a glass of orange juice, the Citra hops’ tropical fruit and catty character going full frontal, and will ruin your palate for a week. -Josh Ruffin
11. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin
San Diego, Calif.
Ballast Point’s Sculpin is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the West Coast IPA style, and the grapefruit infused variant has long been a local favorite at the brewery’s tasting rooms. Finally bottled in 2014, the bitter-on-bitter blast of grapefruit pith on top of a melange of tropical hop flavors somehow makes Grapefruit Sculpin even more quaffable than the original. There is perhaps no better beer to pair with a plate of fish tacos and a San Diego sunset. -John Verive