Yesterday, we looked at the “best” breweries of 2015.
Today, we use the same unscientific process on the best beers we might have enjoyed last year.
To do this, I used a collection of 2015’s “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from blogs to newspapers and prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2015 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation. There are more city/state best beer lists than we could shake a pint glass at.
That left me with an eclectic group of lists, ranging from three to 25 beers. In all, there were 193 total beers to analyze with a handful of beers vying for best of 2015.
Nine made the cut.
Breakdown of Styles
Before we get to individual beers, here’s a chart to represent the styles of beer from all lists. No surprise, IPAs are king. Last year, from a different collection of lists that tallied 170 beers, there were 55 total IPAs/DIPAs/session IPAs. In 2015, there were 74, which included a couple “pale ales” like Lagunitas CitruSinensis Pale Ale. My apologies to label purists like Tony Magee, but a pale ale with 7.9 percent ABV is falling into IPA category for these purposes.
No apologies for lumping wild/sour together, either. These two monikers are used so interchangeably among lists it made sense to leave it that way.
Aside from IPAs, the biggest jump in style – no surprise – was gose, which had five beers included in last year’s listing and reached 12 this time around. Part of that is certainly attributed to the sheer volume of goses that appeared commercially in 2015, but also the type of people ranking beers. Lists sourced from brewers or beer writers deep in the weeds of the industry (more in this year’s analysis than last) definitely skewed a little different than IPA or imperial stout-laden crowdsourced options.
Best Beers of 2015
For my TL;DR crowd, let’s get right to it:
|19th Anniversary||Firestone Walker||Strong Ale||13.8|
|Grapefruit Sculpin||Ballast Point||IPA||7|
|Hop Hunter||Sierra Nevada||IPA||6.2|
|Easy Jack||Firestone Walker||IPA – session||4.7|
|Pinner||Oskar Blues||IPA – session||4.9|
|Death By Coconut||Oskar Blues||Porter||6.5|
All but one of these beers were picked three times across 16 lists. The one cited the most?
Oskar Blues Death By Coconut, which showed up four times.
From what little anecdotal evidence I’ve gleaned, people who like coconut love this beer, but it’s not exactly like we were lacking for coconut flavors in our alcohol. What is different about this beer is it’s wide release and timing. It started showing up among winter warmers and holiday spiced ales, so perhaps it was unique enough to get attention. It’s certainly done well on rating sites, with a 98 on RateBeer and 92 on Beer Advocate.
The name leaves nothing to the imagination, so if you’re rating beers and you get this because you like coconut, I can imagine there’s a good chance it does well for you, which might explain its appearance on four lists, two of which were crowdsourced on Reddit and the Full Pint website.
You’re may think being named four times across 193 beers isn’t impressive, but consider finding any commonality should be rare in the first place. While we can be subjective about the best movies and TV shows of 2015, we’re all still watching the same ones. There are literally thousands of options that could have been applied to these lists instead, so when we have about 150 different beers appearing across 193 total picks, it’s pretty good.
Let’s also get an awkward introduction out of the way: Firestone Walker Easy Jack was a 2014 best beer. But because of quirks of distribution and production, it was selected among three 2015 best beer lists (Wine Enthusiast, Paste, Fortune). That included groupings that specifically cited listing beers that were only new in 2015.
If IPA is the most important style to U.S. drinkers, and session IPA is the hottest trend within that style, does that make the highest regarded session IPA (and a “best beer” for two years) one of the best beers in the country? Whatever you answer, it’s hard to not be impressed with what people think of Easy Jack.
If anything, I feel this collection of nine beers is a fair representation of the beer culture in the U.S.
We have an obligatory ABV-bomb, IPAs (of course) and beers playing on a wild collection of ingredients or sweet flavors. These are the beers that reflect our tastes and trends. Even if some think American drinkers are swearing off “extreme beers,” the truth is what was once extreme has just evolved.
Throwing the kitchen sink with a high ABV was trendy 10 years ago, but what about today’s coconut-forward porter? Or a Belgian wit with spices and passion fruit? Or a imperial milk stout with cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg? The idea of “extreme” is just defined differently now.
@WillGordonAgain I think we’re seeing *less*, but also perhaps in a diff way. Being radical was an American reaction to put our foot down.
— BryanDRoth (@BryanDRoth) December 30, 2015
Speaking of which, Easy Jack isn’t the only repeating member of this list. Kind of.
Stone’s Xocoveza stout, which was a different recipe last year, is back in 2015. The brewery saw such positive reaction to the new version that it’s now going to be a regular seasonal release.
One underlying factor of these picks is showing that for many legacy breweries, innovation is key. My selection of 2015 best beer lists that focus on widely available beers is telling in this regard, but Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and Stone don’t just accidentally show up. As “local” becomes more pivotal in the industry, these breweries are still racking up points on Beer Advocate, Rate Beer and in the livers of U.S. drinkers.
- The average ABV of all 193 beers was 7.5 percent, nearly one standard deviation above an average craft beer ABV of 5.9 percent.
- The lowest average ABV was from the gose and berliner weisse-loving crew at DC Beer, which compiled 6.54 percent. The highest went to Justin Kennedy for his list at Vinepair, amassing 9.5 percent. (Kennedy’s list doesn’t include Jack’s Abby Nectarine Sour, for which I couldn’t find a listing of ABV)
- Paste released two different “best beer” lists in 2015. The one I used was from mid-year because it listed a collection of beers presented regardless of background of style. Unlike 2014, their 2015 year-end list was based on favorite beers separated by specific styles instead of overall.
- Fortune’s list was a collection of who’s who – Sierra, Oskar Blues, Stone, Ballast Point – and then Edmund’s Oast, a brewpub in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve only been once, but can assure you both the food and beer (and the handful of beers made there) are legit.
- One-third of Draft Magazine’s picks were from trendy styles of 2015. Six selections were “wild” and two were “gose.”
- Across the board, one common denominator for many beers was a style amped up with herbs, spices or other adjuncts. Best of the bunch: a kolsch made with juniper, ginger and aged in bourbon barrel gin barrels.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac
For reference, the lists from which I compiled data:
- Draft Magazine
- Wine Enthusiast
- Aaron Goldfarb
- Paste Magazine
- Serious Eats
- Utica Observer-Dispatch
- First We Feast
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
- Full Pint
- Kaedrin Beer Blog
- DC Beer