This week, Brew Blog -- our project to expose you to interesting beers you may want to try -- turns a year old. To celebrate this anniversary, we've combed through the past year's posts to recap the most outstanding offerings we found.
Though we'll surely get some angry comments about omissions anyway, it should be noted that this is not some sort of "Best Beers in the World" list; we're just giving you the rundown of what we've stumbled upon in the past year:
10. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, from North Coast Brewing Co. It's a bit of an obvious pick, but with winter approaching, it's fitting to remind you that Old Rasputin is precisely what an imperial stout should be: thick and smooth, not syrupy. The aroma is warm, full, like a good cup of coffee. Each sip feels sweet at the front of the mouth and then seems to activate each row of taste buds all the way along the tongue.
9. Kilt Lifter Scotch-Style Ale from Moylan's Brewing This one was malty, creamy, just hearty enough -- all the things you buy a Scottish ale for -- with the added bonus of having been boozed up a bit. If you want an education in Edinburgh yeast (the yeast byproducts were really on display here) or if you just want an adventurous imitation Scotch ale, this is a great option.
8. Island Creek Oyster Stout from Harpoon We spent the entire drinking time wondering if the interesting and subtle flavors we were finding were in fact provided by oysters, and never did reach a confident decision. Regardless, this hearty stout was good. Clean and cool, those interesting perhaps-oyster flavors made the beer refreshing in a way a stout normally isn't. We thought it not so much a flavor as a feel.
7. Vintage Ale from Fuller's Frankly, we'd never had an 8.5 percent-alcohol beer feel this smooth. This brew also was interesting in that it was backward, in a good way. Normally, a beer will reveal its sweet flavors first, then shift to its bitter layers when swallowed. This variety started crisp, with plenty of hops, then melted into a mild sweetness and finished with a perfect balance between hops and malt.
6. Le Freak from California's Green Flash Brewing Co. To simplify, Le Freak is a Belgian beer with hops supplying the bitter flavors rather than the bitter/sour/sweet esters associated with Belgian yeasts. But that's not the full story with this crazy experiment that crosses an IPA with a trippel, and the complex flavors are best experienced on one's own palate.
5. 16th Anniversary Wood-Aged Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing Co. If you're going to pony up double digit dollars for a brew, it had better deliver. This one does. A woody, sweet smell gave way to a mellow smoothness at the start of each sip, and lulled us into thinking it wasn't an IPA. But the bitter kick showed up strongly at the end, after a few seconds, and was pleasantly dampened by mellow, oaky flavors when it arrived.
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4. Cappuccino Stout from Lagunitas Brewing Co. Each sip of this beer was a new journey, and seemed to have an outer coating of bitterness with a milky, coffee-tasting, sometimes malty filling. It finished differently each time -- sometimes coffee-bitter, sometimes hops-bitter, sometimes sweet and smooth. The flavors kept up a thrilling and agile rotation.
3. Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale from North Coast Brewing Co. The most endearing quality of this dark Belgian imitation is the thick, malty jacket the ample alcohol wears. It's just so incredibly smooth. This beer is unapologetically sweet, with some subtlety, and so, so tasty.
2. Hop Rod Rye from Bear Republic A fifth of the grain mix in this beer is rye, and its presence made the punchy flavors even more robust. In the finish, the rye mingled slowly with the hops, creating an amazing aftertaste that wasn't really a taste at all -- it was more of a scent, floral and sugary, drifting up from the throat as we exhaled. It was a unique and wonderful sensation.
1. Stash IPA from Independence Brewing Co. The aroma of the Stash, when we tried it on cask, was amazing -- very floral, fruity and strong. One drinking companion mentioned apple pie. We definitely got some orange scent. The hops soon made an appearance, and were satisfyingly robust, but the bitterness never felt acidic, and the finish was surprisingly rich and full-bodied, not harsh and hop-dominated.