A ‘Definitive’ Guide to the Best Beer of 2016

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Ask friends and family. Look around the Internet. Talk to a stranger on the street. It seems just about everyone is over 2016.

But it wasn’t all bad, right? We drank some good beer.

With start of a new year, it’s time to reflect on the great ales and lagers we enjoyed in 2016. Just kidding. It’s only IPAs and imperial stouts.

What has become an annual tradition, I’ve compiled a collection of “best” American beer lists as a way to better determine some ground breaking brands found across the country. For all the subjectivity that goes into creating lists to rank our favorite movies, TV shows and more, I try to find some objective consensus to provide a clearer view of what pleased the palate of drinkers.

To do this, I found a collection of 15 “best beer” lists from a variety of sources, from social media to prominent magazines. Criteria for selection was simple: a list had to focus on 2016 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward a wide geographic representation.

That left me with 155 total beers to analyze with several clearly separating themselves as 2016’s best.

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The Myths We Tell

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We love drama. We love emotion. We love stories.

Hardwired into our sociology, humans are drawn to the narrative arcs we create to highlight the challenges and successes – real or make believe. Storytelling is part of who we are:

…human beings are natural storytellers—that they can’t help telling stories, and that they turn things that aren’t really stories into stories because they like narratives so much. Everything—faith, science, love—needs a story for people to find it plausible. No story, no sale.

But how those stories are constructed is just as important as why they’re being told.

As the beer industry has matured in recent years and businesses work to separate themselves from each other, crafting a story and message that runs through an overall brand has become almost as important as crafting a good beer. People want something to connect to beyond their pint glass.

Through this same effort, however, those in the beer community have created broader stories that extend past individual businesses into the ethos of what beer – or, often, “craft beer” – is supposed to be about. Mostly, it creates a perpetual “us vs. them” scenario discussed among beer lovers who shower praise on The Small Guys, hate on The Big Boys and show anger or indifference to those caught in between.

Certainly, there are many facets to the political and business side of the industry that rightfully rile people up. But when we home in on these topics and put our blinders on, there are stories we have so easily accepted we fail to see the partial fallacy of a “black and white” scenario.

There is plenty of gray to go around.

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We are More Than Beer, Beer is More Than Us

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There’s an undeniable truth I have needed to come to terms with in recent years, despite what my loving mother and father may tell me otherwise.

I will never be the most famous Bryan Roth, let alone the most famous within a 12-mile radius.

That honor probably goes to Bryan Roth, professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, literally down the road from where I live.

There’s also Bryan Roth, co-founder of Geocaching HQ, which popularized the adventurous activity of finding hidden items placed all over the world.

There is also Bryan Roth, the poetfootball star and highlight reel lacrosse player.

Somewhere along the line, there’s also me, Bryan Roth, the beer lover.

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Stretching Your Dollar: Is Elasticity Craft Beer’s Biggest Threat?

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Every story started deserves an ending.

Remember my last post and the inner struggle between a local beer and national one? The difference of a couple bucks was enough. In lieu of a beer brewed within a short driving distance, I bought the new Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, made with Neomexicanus hops. The price certainly helped, but the promised experience of enjoying a beer created with what is essentially “experimental” (read: new) hops pushed me over the edge.

Also, I’m still not buying the $11 bottle of “imperial amber ale” brewed several miles from where I type this.

At the core of my decision was the reason I’ve become so adamant for craft beer in the first place – quality and variety. As Greg Engert recently pointed out, we shouldn’t let the sole idea of “drinking local” cloud that search:

We began by decrying the lack of variety, the lack of quality, and the lack of full-flavored drinking experiences offered by the industrial lager. Now, the desire to drink local brews has reached a fever pitch, often blinding publicans and craft beer drinkers alike from what should ultimately guide our choices: Is the beer of the highest quality? Is it bereft of off-flavors? Is it delicious? In short, is it superlative and memorable?

This is especially important when considering today’s beer consumer is focused on aspects of variety and new experiences. So what does this have to do with how we spend our money, anyway?

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Stretching Your Dollar: Local Brews and the Beer Economy

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I’ve lost track how often I do it – standing alone, head bobbing back and forth from one beer to another.

It seems absurd, but in reality, it’s also a growing “problem.”

Do I want to spend $8 on a 22-ounce bottle of locally-produced pale ale or stout or $6 on a seasonal specialty beer from a national brand?

For me, like many beer enthusiasts, “drinking local” is more than a mantra thrown around. It’s a key part of my passion toward appreciating beer. I like knowing exactly where a beer came from, but also that I’m supporting a small, local business.

But the fact of the matter is a penny saved is a penny earned and this is an expensive hobby.

More important, this kind of cost-benefit analysis is pivotal for the vast majority of shoppers: those unlike me, who don’t overthink the malt and hops in a beer. Often, the choice is simple – find a good beer for a good price. Or, rather, find a good price and plan for the best.

So why is this something to worry about, anyway?

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Beer’s Eye View: March 2014 Beertography

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It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time for my regular roundup of beertography from the last few weeks.

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 unless otherwise noted. The space where I shoot my photos – around the house – offers somewhat limited opportunities for pretty backdrops, which is why I think this latest batch upped my inventiveness to create images that will stand out.

Lucky for you, March was able to provide inspiration for two of my all-time favorite beertography shots. I hope you enjoy them too…

Lagunitas Cappuchino Stout – Late Night Jolt

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Saranac Chocolate Orange Ale – March Madness

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Brewers Art Resurrection – Zombeerfied

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Goose Island Sofie – A Beer at Magic Hour

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As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

I look forward to brainstorming some new images for April. I’m always looking for tips, tricks and other suggestions for beertography, so fire away below!

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

The Unspoken, Unwritten Truth: ‘Alternative’ Beer Reviews

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It’s that time again. As the first Friday of a new month, it means I’m participating in “The Session,” a monthly event where beer bloggers from around the world collectively write on a predetermined topic. February’s post is a special kind of challenge, offered by Friend of the Program Oliver at Literature and Libation:

I ask all of you to review a beer. Any beer. Of your choosing even! There’s a catch though, just one eentsy, tiny rule that you have to adhere to: you cannot review the beer.

Oh, OK.

Since I can’t write a review, it’s time to use that “pictures are worth a thousand words” cliche yet again, like I did to share thoughts on why America is(n’t) ruining beer, why those “crazy feminists” are good for brewing culture and on going pro in the beer business.

Can’t say you didn’t ask for it, Oliver.
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The United States of Hopiness: A State of the IPA

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My fellow Americans,

Today in America, a brewer began crafting a new recipe that will be enjoyed by millions.

A distributor took a truck full of beer to bottle shops, bars and restaurants.

A beer lover stood in line for hours, waiting for the chance to buy some rarity that will add a notch on their belt few others can claim.

Today, as we sit here and reflect on the bounty of choices we have when it comes to our beer, one thing is clear: the passion of Americans drive this industry and right now and that passion is all about hops.
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