10 Best Beers of 2016 (So Far)

Drink Lists
10 Best Beers of 2016 (So Far)

It’s been a hell of a year so far for beer at Paste. We’ve orchestrated half a dozen massive blind tastings, working our way through hundreds of individual beers to find the king of certain styles. We’ve jet-setted to some of the most prestigious beer festivals and events to quaff rare, limited brews. And we’ve had the honor of reviewing new and seasonal beers from some of the best breweries in the country. And it’s only June. While I’m sure the second half of the year will be just as fruitful as the first, we figured it’s time to take stock and celebrate the beers that have knocked our socks off so far. So here you go, the 10 Best Beers of 2016 So Far.

Urban Chestnut Stammtisch

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Missouri’s most underrated brewery soared to the top of the charts during our recent blind tasting of Pilsners with Stammtisch. The brewery specializes in German beer styles, and Stammtisch is a fine example of what they can do, delivering a “perfectly balanced bready, grainy flavor” and a degree of malt complexity you don’t typically find in the style. It’s floral, clean, hoppy and incredibly drinkable. And it’s the best pilsner we’ve had this year.

Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw (Blue Label)

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Try to say the name of this beer three times fast. It makes sense that the best Belgian quad we had during our blind tasting actually came directly from Belgium. Van De Keizer is a dark strong ale full of toasted malt and rye bread flavors. There’s even some cocoa in there, along with notes of pitted fruit. Our take from the tasting: “It’s assertive without being obnoxious and rich without being cloying. Van de Keizer simply does everything well.”

Stone Enjoy By 05.04.16 Black IPA

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Oh, black IPA, the yin/yang of hybrid beer styles. We worked through a lot of them during our blind tasting, but Stone’s Enjoy By 05.04.16 rose to the top. It was also the highest ABV beer of the tasting at 9.4%. We love the Enjoy By series, but the Enjoy By Black might be the best of the lot. This beer is lighter than most other black IPAs, and you’ll find boat-loads of fruit notes, especially the tropical variety, along with a subtle malt bill that plays a superb supporting role.

Angry Orchard The Old Fashioned

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Okay, this technically isn’t a beer, but what the hell, we’re putting it on the list because we like it. We liked it so much that we declared it the winner of our massive cider blind tasting. And it surprised the hell out of us, as we expected the winner to be something funky from a small, artisanal cidery that grows their own heritage variety apples on an acre of rooftop in Brooklyn. Angry Orchard is the biggest cider-maker in the country, and you know what? They know how to make cider. The Old Fashioned is a cider made from a blend of American apples that is then aged on oak with tart cherries, orange peel and bourbon barrel staves—the broken-down pieces of a whiskey barrel. Our reaction from the tasting: “The result is a very complex, subtle and wonderfully executed cider that drinkers might not initially understand, because they’re expecting it to be so much more brash… The Old Fashioned simply doesn’t come off with a ‘bourbon’ quality. Rather, it uses disparate elements—light, neutral oak, zesty citrus, a hint of vanilla and supple tannins—to create a wholly different impression, almost as if it had been aged in a crisp white wine barrel.” In other words, this cider is the real deal.

Boneyard Beer Company Bone-A-Fide Pale Ale

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You’d expect our blind tasting of American pale ales to be competitive, and you’d be right. There were so many good beers, and yet, like they say in The Highlander, there can be only one. Bone-A-Fide was that one. The beer did so well, one taster gave it a rating of “100,” which pretty much never happens. Here’s what he had to say on his tasting sheet: “Gorgeous hop aroma/flavor. Huge floral, tropical fruit and honey malt flavors. Fan-damn-tastic.” The flavors aren’t just big, though, they’re staggeringly complex. You get waves of tropical fruit (pineapple, passionfruit) on the nose, along with citrus, but also an almost peppery spiciness. It’s sweet without being cloying, light of body without being watery, hugely flavorful while being drinkable. It barges in and puts your taste buds on notice.”

Revolution Brewing Straight Jacket Barleywine

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Revolutions’s Straight Jacket beat out style archetypes like Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot to earn top honors in our barleywine blind tasting. It’s an outlandish style to begin with, full of incredibly rich, robust flavors, but even with an elevated playing field, Straight Jacket stood out from the crowd. Our thoughts from the tasting: “There’s a stupid amount of flavor in this beer—it’s like you’re drinking it straight out of the barrel, and each barrel still had a quart of whiskey in it when the beer entered.” No surprise then that Straight Jacket also won gold at Chicago’s Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers.

Moonlight Brewing Death and Taxes

We found this beer at Firestone Walker’s Invitational Beer Festival, which pulls all of Firestone Walker’s favorite breweries together for a hell of a celebration. We sent two writers to the festival and had them come up with a list of their favorite beers. The problem? Every beer was their favorite beer. You can read the full list here and then do everything you can to try to taste all of them.

If you only have the attention span to track down one, make it Moonlight Brewing’s Death and Taxes, if for no other reason that because of the contribution that its brewer has made to the world. Death and Taxes is a black lager that’s always available at the Invitational. Brewed by Brian Hunt, who has been brewing beer for as long as anyone in this country, working at Jack Mcauliffe’s New Albion Brewing in California in the ‘70s. Our writer John Verive puts this history into perspective with his notes on this beer: “Death and Taxes is a testament to his experience and skill as a brewer. Dark and malty with a roasty bite that matches an assertive hop bitterness and dry finish, Death and Taxes drains effortlessly from your glass, even on sweltering summer days.”

Maine Beer Company Dinner DIPA

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There’s plenty of hype surrounding Maine Beer Company and their double IPA, Dinner, which is considered one of the best double IPAs in the country. Sometimes, it’s hard for a beer to live up to all that good press. But Dinner comes through. It is, quite simply, a phenomenal DIPA, and we were psyched to get to review it earlier this year. Here’s what our writer, Jim Vorel had to say: “It was, to my delight, one of those IPAs that announces its presence the second you pry the cap off, as a whoosh of hop aromatics come barreling out like grinning spirits pouring from the opened Ark of the Covenant. Only, you know, with less face-melting. Taste bud melting, on the other hand…”

And that’s just the nose he’s talking about. If you can find it, get it. Actually, get a bunch of it and send us another bottle.

Green Flash Cosmic Ristretto Baltic Porter

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Another beer that reviewed really well, Ristretto is a bit out of left field for Green Flash, which is known best for its super hoppy beers. But this beer is the product of Green Flash’s Genius Lab program, where every employee has the chance to submit recipe ideas to be brewed on a five-barrel pilot system. Packaged as Cosmic Ristretto Baltic Porter with Espresso, this beer is the first graduate of the program to join the San Diego stalwart’s year-round lineup. The term ristretto refers to a short shot of espresso that uses half of the amount of water with the same load of ground beans, and the beer delivers on its namesake’s concentrated flavor. Our writer, Don Ayres had this to say about the beer: “Coffee is obviously the first thing you taste, but there are additional roasted notes from the chocolate malt and sweetness from Belgian candy sugar. An addition of lactose helps to fill out the body of the brew, and it also takes away some of the bitterness from the espresso. Clocking in at 8.2% ABV, it’s probably not a good idea to sub it in for your morning cup of joe, but you might be tempted as there’s nary a hint of booziness.”

Threes Brewing Superf@ckingyawn

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A high ABV, hoppy beer from New York City with a name that’s actually meant to poke fun at the current fixation the craft beer community has about Northeast hoppy beers, SFY pours clear, with an extremely floral nose packed with tropical fruit notes. It’s 9.5%, but far from boozy. Our reviewer was dumbfounded by the big hits of juice followed by a “tame pine bite. After all is said and done, we called this beer a “bigger version of Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine,” because it has the same color, same nose and almost the same mouthfeel. Maybe the best part—Threes Brewing is set to can this beauty soon.

Tree House Brewing Company Green

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In just three years, Tree House has made a name for themselves with IPAs like Julius. Green is yet another stellar IPA from the brewery, and one that mimics the Northeastern IPA style in its hazy color. As soon as it hits your nose, you get mango, papaya, orange, and pineapple. A nose as fruity as this can bring you to a tropical place, even on the coldest days. You get all that fruit on the front end of the sip and then the beer transitions from juicy to a “resinous malt backbone, making Green so incredibly rounded. Our reviewer said it was as good as an IPA can get, which is why people line up for hours four days of the week to try and get their share.

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