The Definitive ‘Best Beer of 2014’ List. Really. Kind of.

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The flip of the calendar means many things: a fresh start, new resolutions and most important, an end to all those “best of 2014” lists.

But not quite.

Surely you’ve now read about where your favorite movies, TV shows, books, podcasts and celebrities rank in order of something wonderful or awful in 2014. But for the subjectivity that is necessary to form each of these, is there any kind of (slightly) objective consensus that can offer a clearer view?

This is particularly difficult when it comes to “best beer” lists of 2014 for two reasons:

  1. While movies, TV shows and books are uniformly released across the country, beer is not. Everyone in the U.S. can see The LEGO Movie at the same time, if they wish, but as a product, beer doesn’t offer that opportunity.
  2. In addition to distribution restrictions, many best beer lists gear toward locally-produced brews. At a time of 3,000+ breweries, this certainly makes sense, especially for regional newspapers or other outlets.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find 2014’s best beer or best brewery. In fact, it’s easier than you think.

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Your Glassware Did What? A Sensory Experiment of Time and Temperature

mad scientistBeer may be my passion, but in recent months, I’ve come to learn that a beer can sometimes only be as good as the vessel in which you enjoy it.

A shaker pint glass does the trick in a pinch, but when it truly comes to experiencing a beer to the highest degree, it’s important to consider what you pull from your cupboard. While I’ve shared my thoughts previously on the importance of glassware, I’ve was recently presented a serendipitous experience to explore how the method of drinking our beer impacts our senses.

And honestly, I think this latest experiment offers a rather curious take on the matter.

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What This Maple Bacon Ice Cream Stout Taught Me About Our Expectations of Beer

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We all are individual snowflakes.

Our identities are unique, enhanced by our various shapes, sizes, thoughts, beliefs and whether we say “soda” or “pop.” Our backgrounds and histories ground us and help us become the people we are today.

But the winter that forges us doesn’t last forever. The climate from which we create our individuality ebbs and flows like seasonal temperatures as we grow and are exposed to the world. What makes us different in winter inevitably changes come spring, when snow melts and we find ourselves less an individual snowflake and more a drop of water, careening toward everyone else, where we join together as a flowing mass.

As beer drinkers, our tastes are personal but were still part of the larger group – the beer-drinking community. As a single person, we are able to determine our own shape and preferences, but it’s hard to shake the pull of others.

Last week, I took part in a shoot for Brew Dogs, the Esquire TV show featuring Scottish brewers James Watt and Martin Dickie. They visited Durham, NC to film an episode in which they wanted to brew the most “calorific beer ever.”

I wanted to be a part of the shoot to support Durham and Fullsteam, my favorite, local brewery, who hosted the eclectic pair. As I left, I had a feeling an event like this – by no fault of James, Martin or Fullsteam – can cause our beer-loving, individual snowflakes to melt.

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January 2014 Beertography

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Let’s keep this train rolling.

I’ve got another batch of beer photos to share as I commit to a monthly effort to produce beer-specific images. If you’re interested, you can go back to see previous posts from 2013:

Below you’ll find some of my favorite, recent shots, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 and I typically shoot right where I drink.

Big Boss Deuces Wild – All In

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Starr Hill Double Platinum – Turn it Up to 11

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Ithaca Beer Nut Brown – Feeling a Little Nutty

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Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero – The Ultimate Battle
A quick note about these pictures: I made this series of shots with the help of The Missus as part of an Instagram contest for silly beertography shots. These pics weren’t taken with my iPhone.

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Got any photo tips or stories to share? Please post them below. I’m excited to see what I come up with next month!

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

This is What Happens When You Visit Three Breweries and THEN Go to Dogfish Head: Beergrimage 2014

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Click to enlarge, if you dare.

WARNING: #Longread

I make no qualms about the purpose of this blog. The title is poking fun at the idea of hosting a beer blog – I’m not drunk when I’m producing content. I swear, mom. There’s a very real reason why I do this.

Part of that reason is my adoration for Dogfish Head, which launched what I assume will be a life-long love for all things beer. All the details are here, if you feel so inclined.

That said, sometimes it’s important to let yourself go a little. Sometimes you’ve got to have fun. Sometimes, you’ve got to go on a Beergrimage.

It’s a time for friends, but no time for check-ins. It’s a reason to be silly, but no reason to get stupid. It’s an opportunity to celebrate beer. For the third year in a row, that’s what a buddy and I did, this time accompanied by Friend of the Program Josh from Short on Beer, who also offers a recap on his blog.

This year’s trip wasn’t just to Dogfish’s Rehoboth Beach brewpub, as in year’s past. We put a new spin on the effort, turning it into a mini beer road trip. Fun abounds.
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Why So Serious? Have a Laugh with Clown Shoes Beer

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Piling out of their tiny car, they stumble one after another. Smiling faces with grins from ear to ear. Their faces white, noses red and feet hidden somewhere inside oversized contraptions more suitable to be used as flippers than footwear.

These clowns aren’t here to dance or juggle. They’re here to get you buzzed.

For the first time, I’ve delved into the lineup of Clown Shoes beer, the pun-loving Ipswich, Mass. brewery. Perusing a local Total Wine, I picked up two of their offerings to give them a shot.

But is the joke on me? … Let’s find out if I got the last laugh.
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Beertography: When Only Drinking Beer Just Won’t Cut It

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Inspiration always strikes at odd, often random times. Although, I suppose that’s kind of the point.

Yesterday, John Kleinchester of Beertography.com announced winners of one of his most recent beer/photography contest. He hosts them often, usually partnering with a brewery or other business to promote the cross-section of beer lovers who also happen to love the still image, too.

Per usual, Friend of the Program Oliver, of Literature and Libation, had a winning entry. He’s kind of good at the whole beer photo thing.

All this is to say that I thought it might be a good time to do a follow-up post to my original beertography share. Below you’ll find some of my favorite shots I’ve taken in recent months, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd.

As a New Year’s resolution, I’d like to start creating a monthly beertography post, which will certainly challenge me creatively. I hope you’ll help keep me to it.

All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 and because I typically shoot right where I drink, my inventiveness is mostly kept to a minimum:

Stillwater Classique – Keep It Classy, Baltimore

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Sixpoint Autumnation – Fall in a Can

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North Coast Old Rasputin – Dark as Coal

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The Bruery White Oak – Oak on Oak

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Coors Light – College Campus/Saturday Morning

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While this isn’t necessary of a beer, I just love this picture because it reminds me of home:

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You can check out more pictures of beer (and more than beer) over at my Instagram page. My name is bryandroth if you want to look me up.

Got any photo tips or stories to share? Please post them below.
+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Six-Pack Project Guest Post: What to Drink in Michigan

six pack-beerThe Six-Pack Project rolls on today, as we have a new collection of beer choices from all over the country. The latest round offers a couple new efforts for the collaborative project, including our first guest post.

Curious what kind of great beer we’ve got selected for you? Let’s first start with a quick recap of what the rules of the Six-Pack Project are all about:

  1. Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  2. Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  3. Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  4. Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.

As always, you can check the full archive on the Six-Pack Project page and read this round’s submissions here:

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Guest poster and Michigan resident Mark Graves

Today’s post on This Is Why I’m Drunk comes from Michigander Mark Graves, a friend of the program who lives near Lake Michigan and began his craft beer convergence in 2009 when he traveled to the Founders Brewing taproom in Grand Rapids.

“I had a tall glass of Dirty Bastard and was blown away by the texture, flavor and ABV,” he said. “Since then, I’ve made it my beer-drinking mission to only drink craft beers, preferably those made in Michigan. I’m on a ‘buy local’ kick that’s lasted a few years so far.”

I’m happy to have Mark here represent Michigan and he’s got a really eclectic collection that covers the western part of the state. If you’re interested in helping out with central or eastern Michigan beer selections for the Six-Pack Project, let’s connect on Twitter.

You’ve come here for the beer recommendations, surely, but stick around for Mark’s great eye in capturing some incredible beertography.
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DuClaw Brewing Double Naked Fish

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The chocolatey profile of a well-made stout stands strong on its own, but when a brewery mixes things up a little, good things happen.

DuClaw’s Double Naked Fish is the first and only beer I’ve had from the Maryland-based brewery, but it’s a dandy. It’s a souped-up version of regular Naked Fish, a chocolate-raspberry stout. It stands at 84 on Beer Advocate.

With an expected deep, dark pour, Double Naked Fish gives off an amazing aroma of straight dark chocolate and raspberry. This marriage is strong as neither is overpowering and both are distinctly noticeable. It’s like boozy candy, although without any harsh alcohol aroma for a beer that stands at 7.6 percent ABV.

duclaw naked fish beerThere is just a hint of coffee on each smell, which is layered with vanilla cream and tons of toasted sweetness from Pale Ale and Caramunich malts. This beer smells as if you took a Lindemans Framboise lambic and mixed it with a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout – a “black and tan” combo I highly recommend.

The taste of the beer is thinner than I expected – not nearly close to a chewy stout – and a touch of acidic bitterness at the front of each sip comes from a healthy dose of Goldings hops and the use of chocolate-raspberry coffee. While the smell of this beer was perfectly balanced, the main flavor is most definitely raspberry over chocolate. But not by much.

Each aftertaste lingers with bitter, high-cocoa content chocolate and roasted grain. Not quite coffee. Double Naked Fish clinged to my tongue, making it hard to shake that flavor until my next sip.

Double Naked Fish stats:

  • Malt: Pale Malt, Roasted Barley, Caramunich Malt, Chocolate Malt, Chocolate
  • Hops: Goldings
  • Adjuncts/Additives: Chocolate-raspberry coffee
  • ABV: 7.6 percent
  • Brewery: DuClaw Brewing Company of Bel Air, Maryland

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Westbrook Brewing Lineup: McCullough, Gratzer and Cap’n Skoon

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My adoration for Westbrook Brewing beers has been previously documented, but because the Mt. Pleasant, SC-based brewery doesn’t ship near me in North Carolina, it’s a rare opportunity that I’ll get my hands on a bottle or two.

So I was lucky to recently get my hands on three.

I’ve mentioned before how this was a brewery to watch out for. The time may have already come for Westbrook in South Carolina, but wherever you catch them, don’t hesitate to stop and sample early and often. Here are a few of their offerings I was lucky to taste and you’d be so lucky to find if they still exist in someone’s cellar or fridge:

McCullough

mccullough webThis is the second offering from Westbrook’s “Bearded Farmers” series. Their first, Hughey, was amazing and had I not been forced to fight against McCullough’s insane amount of carbonation, this beer would have topped it.

That said, the immense amount of foam flowing out of my glass was the only thing to complain about.

This farmhouse-style saison is like a boozy cupcake, with aromas of sweet banana, sugar and honey billowing from its intense carbonation. There’s just a little pepper-spice bite thanks to the inclusion of rye and three different kinds of peppercorns.

McCullough was fermented with three different strains of Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that offers just enough barnyard funk to make the beer a little tart, but never sour.

More info on McCullough

Gratzer

The qualifications over what makes a proper American session beer may be debatable, but I’ll be damned if this beer shouldn’t be a part of the conversation.

At 3.4 percent ABV, Gratzer (pronounced “grate-sir”) is a true session-style. While it’s historically an ale, it is clear as day like any translucent pilsner. Made with 90 percent oak-smoked wheat malt, there’s no missing the taste of smoke from this beer.

Smokey flavor is aggressive to the point where it’s impossible to miss, but light enough that even a sensitive palate shouldn’t be completely turned off.

Typically, this style of beer is made with an IPA-level amount of hops, but you may not notice them aside from a little earthy/floral smell. Smoke is what you want and smoke is what you’ll get with this.

What impressed me most was how truly refreshing this beer was. I sipped at it while sitting outside in the sun, a perfect setting for this brew.

More info on Gratzer

Cap’n Skoon’s Ballistic Stout

skoon webMade as Westbrook’s second anniversary beer, this 10 percent behemouth reminded me a little of the Westbrook-Evil Twin collaboration, Mini Growler Stout, although not nearly as sweet.

Skoon’s booze profile is a bit heavy in the aroma and can’t be missed. There’s chocolate and cinnamon in there and just a hint of tobacco.

On the tongue, Skoon tastes of very bitter chocolate with a leathery dryness that left my mouth feeling a little taxed after half a bottle. That said, the aroma really helped to carry me through because it smelled so damned good. The bitterness is robust, but jabs of an espresso flavor make it pleasant.

More info on Cap’n Skoon

 

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac