It’s tough to describe the feeling we get when we come across a new beer. It happens to us quite a bit; we’re fortunate enough to get to try a lot of new beers. And yet, every new beer that comes across our desks is so full of promise and hope; it’s like we’re holding 12 ounces of Christmas every single time. Of course, not every beer lives up to that sense of hope. Just like with Christmas, not all presents can be winners. Sometimes, your aunt gives you socks. But occasionally you crack open a new beer and it fulfills that initial sense of hope, exceeds all expectations and ultimately, earns a place on a list like this, where we get nostalgic about the absolute best new beers we drank all year. So here you go: a 12-pack of killer new beers.
Coming out of Three Floyds’ annual Dark Lord Day, Bourbon Vanilla Dark Lord (BVDL) has always been the headline variant, at least since 2011 when Brandy Vanilla was released. This year however, Three Floyds decided to switch it up to celebrate their 20th anniversary with a second variant that stood toe-to-toe with BVDL, French Vanilla Militia (FVM). FVM is Dark Lord that has been aged in Armagnac barrels with vanilla, cocoa nibs, and coffee added. While we have all learned to love the marshmallow mouthfeel of BVDL, the cocoa and coffee provide additional dimensions creating a fudgy mouthfeel on the frontend, and a touch of bitter coffee on the backend. As the beer warms, the vanilla and Armagnac barrel create a s’mores-like coating in your mouth as the coffee and cocoa become complimentary flavors.—Jason Stein
What happens when two of the biggest names in the Florida craft beer scene work on a collaboration beer together? Well, Rare Scooop, that’s what happens. Corey Artanis of 3 Son’s has become known for many of his adjunct stout treatments, one being the treatment he uses for his Neapolitan Stout Double Scoop. For Rare Scooop, 3 Sons and Cycle brewed a stout together that was aged in bourbon barrels, and received a Neapolitan treatment, creating one of the most unique adjunct stouts you’ll ever try. The nose gives off notes of vanilla cream, baked goods, and molasses. The mouthfeel will blow you away, as all three flavors are clearly present, coming in waves. First starting off with bourbon chocolate, then vanilla, and finally a lingering strawberry flavor. Let’s hope this wasn’t just a one off from the two; a stout like this needs to be released again! —Jason Stein
Named after the infamous South Park character, ManBearPig (MBP) was released in 2016 after five years of planning. Back in 2013, head brewer Curt Rachocki filled bourbon barrels with maple and honey sourced from local purveyors, laying them down to rest for over a year. That gave him plenty of time to perfect the recipe that would become one of the defining beers of 2016. While the plan was originally to include bacon in the recipe, Curt settled on smoking applewood and hickory malts himself to get the flavors he envisioned for MBP. For a beer that includes a number of distinct ingredients, it’s incredible how each are able to meld together to create such a unique brew. You get an aroma of oak, honey, maple, and a faint tobacco quality from the smoked malts. The mouthfeel follows suit, as you get a little bit of each flavor, as they flawlessly complement one another, finishing off with that chewy-deep barrel character we have become accustomed to from Voodoo’s barrel-aged beers. —Jason Stein
A best of list would not be complete without mentioning Hill Farmstead. While 2016 was a year where we saw a number of old favorites come back, beers like Art, Aaron, and Beyond Good and Evil, one new addition stood out among the rest, and that beer was Clover. To honor a member of the Hill family, Shaun Hill blended three of his best beers—Ann, Art, and Flora. While each of the three are outstanding on their own, Clover is on another level. It’s an incredible interplay of aroma and mouthfeel we have learned to love from Hill Farmstead. The floral and fruit, the funk, and of course the wine-like delicateness…You can pick out where each of the three beers played their part in creating one of the best of 2016.—Jason Stein
Stillwater Artisanal Ales
If you’re only going to drink one beer, might as well make it a 13% ABV imperial stout. Don’t let the “what-the-kids-are-saying” name and neon confetti-strewn can fool you, On Fleek—a collaboration between gypsy brewers Stillwater Artisanal Ales and Casita Cervecería, brewed at Two Roads brewing Co.—is a serious beer. The beer pours jet black with a substantial, rich mocha colored head. Notes of chocolate, coffee, vanilla and roastiness are more subdued than you might expect from such a big beer though any lack of aroma is made up for in taste. The cocoa characteristics are complex; it’s hard to pin down exactly one form of chocolate, but suffice to say there’s a lot going on. Dark fruits, anise, smoke, espresso beans, all wrapped in a warming boozy blanket…this beer challenges the palate and exits with a lingering, viscous and velvety mouthfeel. —Matt Sandy
Nothing Gold is Bissell Brothers’ “hoppiest beer to date,” which is saying something for a brewery known for pushing the New England-style IPA boundaries. Their second double IPA offering is available in the warmer months. And, while you wouldn’t necessarily equate DIPAs with lying by the beach, the inviting aromas of papayas, mangos and pineapples evoke an equatorial ambiance. Nothing Gold pours like orange juice, thick and turbid and the nose is a bouquet of tropical fruits. Any exotic fruits you missed on first whiff you’ll discover upon first sip. That lush fruitiness is complimented by a smidge of spiciness and a resinous piney finish along with a creamy mouthfeel and surprising drinkability for an 8.2% hop bomb. -Matt Sandy
It’s so hard to make this proclamation about a beer that I was only able to taste once, but Creature Comforts Duende might have been the best IPA (in this case, DIPA) I drank in 2016. And keep in mind, I’m talking about a year where we blind-tasted 247 American IPAs at one point. I wonder how many I would have sampled in total, throughout 2016. 300? 400? The numbers are absurd. This very limited offering from Athens’ Creature Comforts may or may not ultimately be #1, but all that matters is that it’s legitimately in this conversation. It’s one of those beers that straddles the line between styles, boasting the massively fruity, juicy hop character of modern American IPA, but sitting at 8% ABV—technically DIPA territory, but still very drinkable and hop-driven. Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe combine to create a profile with gigantic citrus and stone fruit flavors, bursting with juicy orange and apricot and peach. Beers like this are why we’re so excited for Creature Comforts’ ongoing series of brewery exclusive releases—we just pray that one day they’ll have access to enough hops to make something like Duende on a larger scale. Not knowing if and when I’ll ever get to drink this beer again is legitimately upsetting. —Jim Vorel
Summit was a brewery that took us very much by surprise when we blind-tasted pilsners back in June. Suffice to say, they’re putting out some very underrated takes on classic lagers, and the crown jewel is this 30th anniversary beer, an unfiltered pilsner. As we wrote then: “It’s complex in every area that we want to see complexity—clean maltiness with bready and toasted notes, coupled with floral and distinctly lemony citrus hops, in excellent balance. There’s even an odd note that is almost like a touch of salinity, of the sort that one might see in a lot of current American goses, and a fruity yeast note that has a bit of banana-like ripeness. It doesn’t really taste like a ‘new’ beer; it tastes like a beloved beer that some German-influenced brewery has been making and honing for decades.” —Jim Vorel
Recipe for any given Side Project beer: Wild yeast, wine barrels, succulent fruit and a couple of drops from the secret tincture of magic liquid that brewmaster Cory King keeps on a chain around his neck, 24 hours a day. But really, you knew a Side Project beer would be present, because there’s just something about them. I’m not saying it has to come from a witch doctor-like application of hoodoo and enchanted herbs, but I’m not saying it doesn’t, either. Pulling Nails is hard to even describe in composition, which is another thing one gets used to with Side Project, so I’ll simply cite the brewery description: “Oude du Ble that was aged in French Oak for one year & then aged on Apricots, plus 14-Month-Old Foedre Beer, plus two-year-old Missouri Spontaneous Blonde.” I don’t know if either of the other two beers in the blend have been released separately, besides the Saison du Ble, which unsurprisingly finished at #1 the last time Paste blind-tasted saisons. But the result is as complex as you would expect it to be, with wonderful, juicy apricot flavors that never get too “obvious” in their assertiveness, enhanced by moderate tartness and light, nuanced funkiness. It’s a case study in how Side Project takes modern archetypes to the next level. Someone else would make an apricot sour and call it a day. Side Project blends three beers with very different profiles to create something approaching perfection. —Jim Vorel
Breakside has only been represented in a few of our blind tastings at Paste, but they’ve got a truly enviable batting average so far. Fitzcarraldo is quite the unique beer, and we were slightly generous in including it in our ranking of Belgian quads because it’s a cuvee, but the majority is indeed made from a Belgian strong dark ale. That majority was aged for a rather ridiculous 18 months in Knob Creek bourbon barrels, soaking up over-proof whiskey, and yeah—there’s no missing that in the final product. It is, however, by no means one-note. In fact, tasters were perplexed by the intensity and the complexity on display here. Cruising through the tasting sheets, you find all kinds of descriptors for the fruitiness: “raisin, stewed plums, port wine,” etc. Belgian yeast is restrained after such a long aging, but dances on the periphery of notice. Regardless, this is a very big, expressive beer with no shortage of character. It would probably be especially great a couple of years from now. —Jim Vorel
This barrel-aged imperial stout from Avery, treated with cocoa, coffee and vanilla, is pure wish-fulfillment for drinkers looking for a decadent dessert treat that still maintains a bit of structure and class. On the nose, this beer is absolutely rocking the chocolate additions. It’s like nothing so much as an expensive chocolate liqueur, or perhaps chocolate-covered espresso beans, an aroma that suggests untold richness. It’s like what I imagine would happen if you took a gallon of Founders Breakfast Stout and reduced it in a pan until it had the consistency of pancake syrup. On the palate, it’s not quite syrup-thick, but it’s close. As on the nose, this viscous stout is packed with chocolate—cocoa is the signature flavor by far, which isn’t surprising given that they incorporated it in two different ways. It’s positively fudgey cocoa, like drinking raw brownie batter. The coffee addition is there, but it’s hard for it not to be swept away in the chocolate and booze. And oh my yes, there’s booze in this thing, although the barrel is actually more subtle than you’d expect in such a huge beer, with very little overt oakiness. It’s impressive that the booze doesn’t overpower in the flavor department, instead adding strong dark fruit impressions such as raspberry. In truth, this is exactly the type of imperial stout I usually don’t like, because they seem too artificial and too cloying, but Avery does it just right. —Jim Vorel
Stone Brewing Co.
Like most hopheads, we’ve enjoyed Stone’s regular Enjoy By IPA ever since its first release, but it was a pleasant surprise to try this beer and come to a realization: Enjoy By Black may have surpassed its original inspiration.
This offering is seriously hoppy. A plethora of fruit notes explode from the glass—tropical fruit in particular, but also a delightful stone fruit character that reminded some tasters of apricot. It’s admittedly lighter on the “black” side of the equation—dark brownish red in color, really, rather than true black—and this is reflected in the malt flavors, which are more like the stage for hops to dance upon. Search enough, though, and you’ll find just enough cocoa and nutty malt impressions on the back end that you would realize this wasn’t simply an IPA, drinking it blindfolded. It’s also remarkable how well that ABV is hidden. When we blind-tasted black IPAs, there were beers on the table in the 7% ABV range that tasted boozier than this 9.4% offering.
The nose on this beer is a beautiful thing—we may like this hop profile even more than the one in the original version of Enjoy By. It reminds us that in the end, “black IPA” is a style that each brewery essentially gets to define for itself—it’s malleable to the personal style of a brewmaster, and there’s no right answer. Whatever you want to call it, we’re happy to refer to it as our new favorite black IPA. —Jim Vorel