When it comes to beer, there are a ton of choices out there, with more being added everyday. Each month, we round up some of our fave new finds. Some of the brews we did full reviews on, while others are just special gems we found on tap while we were out and about that we think you should know about.
Check out our favorite beers from December here.
By no means a comprehensive list of everything new that came out in January (we can only drink so much!), here are some of our favorites that we’d recommend you grabbing a pint of while you’re out with friends, or picking up a few bottles of at your local bottle shop.
Discover something new this month that you absolutely love? Be sure to tell us about it in the comments!
If you’re familiar with Council’s other Beatitude beers, “imperial” is good way to describe this barrel-aged Boysenberry version. Not only is it twice the ABV, but it’s also a lot more sour than those other brews. If you’re new to sours beers, we recommend you start with the non-barrel-aged offerings first. They offer a good introduction to the style that’s more tart than sour, which makes them a bit more approachable for most folks. However, sour fans should consider giving this brewery-only imperial release a good long look. It’s truly a stunning beer and last time we checked, it’s still available at the brewery’s tap room.
This month we did a blind tasting of 102 of the best non-barrel aged beers out there. The winner was River North Brewery’s Mr. Sandman. River North sent in no fewer than four stouts for this tasting, all of which were interesting in some way. Mr. Sandman is the closest to a “standard” imperial stout, being the same base beer used in their coffee variant, Nightmare Fuel. The latter was also included, and proved divisive in the blind tasting because there was just so much coffee in it. The beer is one of those rare beers that comes along and no one at the table has anything negative to say about it. It excels not by being specifically unique but by assembling a pitch-perfect composite of all the flavors you want in a big, motor oil imperial stout. Dark fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry intermingle gently with dark, bittersweet baker’s chocolate. Sturdy roast provides a drying counterpart to molasses-like caramelization. Booze—there’s definitely booze, no doubt about that. And like so many of the other great stouts, the x-factor is textural, as Mr. Sandman perfectly balances a decadently creamy mouthfeel with surprising, dangerous drinkability. You could nurse one of these all night, or you could just as likely consume it all too quickly. That’s what being a great imperial stout is all about.
Surly’s darkness came in second place in our stout tasting. This one is no particular surprise, as Darkness has consistently been considered one of the best non-barrel aged stouts in the country over the years, but we imagine that Surly will enjoy the feather in their cap all the same. Burly and rich, but balanced, Darkness is a synthesis of everything that craft beer geeks tend to like about this style: Roast, cocoa, dark fruitiness, dried fruitiness, and of course booze. A silky, creamy mouthfeel gives way to prominent cocoa flavors, what one tasting sheet referred to as “German chocolate cake,” sans coconut. Booziness is considerable, but not overwhelming—rather, it’s one of those beers that rolls down your throat and begins warming your chest. Like the Westbrook that precedes it, Darkness also feels like it could reasonably be a few ABV points bigger than it actually is, which is likely a testimony to how well the brewers know their craft. Dried fruit impressions of raisin and perhaps fig are a signature note here, but the whole of the beer is more than the sum of its parts.
Turntable is named in honor of the city’s rock ‘n’ roll history, a Czech-style pilsner branded as “a reissue of a classic style.” The beer is effervescent, and more golden than straw colored. The aroma is complex: grassy and floral like a traditional pils, but a touch earthiness with a citrus element like orange peel. The flavor profile, unsurprisingly, is a similarly delicate dance between these notes, mostly working a mildly sweet but earthy interplay, but with a crush of orange and floral hops that balance out the grains. That touch comes from American Sterling hops, a similar variety to the Saaz commonly found in European pilsners.
Graham really enjoyed Creature Comfort;s Koko Buni this month: Koko Buni, a winter seasonal from Creature Comforts, sounds like a dessert beer. It’s a milk porter brewed with cocoa nibs, toasted coconut, vanilla beans, coffee…all of which sounds sweet, and it smells like milk chocolate when poured into the glass so you’re thinking you’re about to drink a candy bar. But you couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, Koko Buni delivers huge milk chocolate notes up front, with a velvety mouthfeel, and then some sort of dark fruit kicks in (maybe raisins) before a wave of light, coffee bitterness sweeps through. After a few sips, the chocolate takes a back seat and the coconut steps forward, all nutty and subtle. That sounds like there are a whole bunch of sweet things going on in this beer, but Koko Buni is not a dessert beer by any means.
It’s a “black and white” IPA (get it? Shades of Grey?), meaning the breweries took the two sub-styles of IPA and squished them together in some sort of vivisection-like experiment. In theory, you’ll get the maltiness of the black IPA and the Belgian spice of the white IPA. And that’s pretty much how it plays out. The beer pours a copper brown with a large, creamy head and excellent retention and amazing lacing. The hops and malt are perfectly balanced with hints of pine, caramel, black malt, and just a touch of citrus. It would be easy for any part of the beer to have become overwhelming, but this truly was a beautiful, well-balanced brew.
Almanac officially opened its brand new tap room in San Francisco this month. One of its taproom-only brews is Nectarine Cobbler. The sour blonde ale was actually a mistake, but one that turned out oh so wonderful. Think the tartness of nectarines paired with baking spices to give it a flavor that can only be described as a piece of pie in a glass. This one was delicious treat, and made battling the opening week crowds totally worth it.
Deschutes doesn’t play any tricks with Red Chair—no gimmicks or experiments—it’s just a solid execution from beginning to end. The brewery’s year-round Mirror Pond is a fine pale, but we’d choose Red Chair in a duel any day of the week. Sadly, it’s seasonal, only available during ski season, between January and April. Drink it while you can.
There’s no denying that Frederick H. is a refreshing brew built for sour lovers. And here’s something interesting: I usually like to enjoy my sour beers in a closed room with no other distractions, but this particular beer is actually really good with food, particularly spicy sausage. I could see it with pork chops, or a hearty stew too. A refreshing, summer-friendly sour that’s also good with heavy, winter food? That’s versatility in a bottle.
21st Amendment released its Blah Blah Blah IPA in cans this month. The brew, which was previously available on draft and in some select mix packs, is loaded with kettle hop additions of Equinox, Moteuka, Mandarina, and Bavaria hops, and then dry-hopped with two-pounds of hops per barrel with Citra, Mosaic, and the last Idaho 7 hop. All those hops are balanced with malt to create a pretty fantastic IPA. If you see this one out and about, definitely pick up a six-pack (or 10).