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Top 100 Rated Beers of 2017

Delve into the best beers of the year as judged in BC's Official Review.

#100

91
by David Sapsis
Phantom Bride IPA
Belching Beaver Brewing Co.

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#99


91

by Sean Coughlin
Pulp Friction Grapefruit IPA
Motorworks Brewing

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#98

91
by David Sapsis
Bone-A-Fide Pale Ale
Boneyard Beer

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#97

91
by Joseph Formanek
Sour Saison
New Belgium Brewing Co.

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#96

cape-may-coastal-evacuation.jpg

91
by Richard Wong
Four Seasons Autumn '17
Mother Earth Brew Co.

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#95

91
by John C. Tull
Funke Hop Farm
Sudwerk Brewing Co.

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#94

91
by Rodney A. Tillinghast
Kolschy Clouds
SØLE Artisan Ales

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#93

91
by David Sapsis
Bourbon County Stout Original
Goose Island Brewing Co.

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#92

91
by Brad Darnell
Jomax
Wren House Brewing

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Brewer Q & A


#91

92
by Sean Coughlin
Overly Friendly IPA
Holy City Brewing

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Brewer Q & A


#90

92
by Michael McGuire
Roxanne
Southbound Brewing Co.

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#89

92
by Dan Preston
Casey
Equilibrium Brewery

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Brewer Q & A


#88

92
by David Sapsis
Postcard Porter
Diebolt Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#87


92

by James Link
Double D Double IPA
Fordham & Dominion Brewery

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Brewer Q & A


#86


92

by Jason Johnson
Independence Pass Ale
Aspen Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#85


92

by Tracy Hensley
Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout
Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A

 


#84

92
by Michael McGuire
Strawberry Beards Forever
Holy City Brewing

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Brewer Q & A

 


#83

92
by Jason Johnson
Stone Ripper
Stone Brewing Co.

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#82

92
by Randy Scorby
Stone Mocha IPA
Stone Brewing Co.

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#81

 

 

92
by Sal Mortillaro II
RecreationAle
Terrapin Beer Co.

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#80

92
by Brad Darnell
Local's Stash Reserve Series:
Rum Barrel-Aged Dark Ale w/ Ginger and Lime

Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.

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#79

92

by John C. Tull
Juicy Watermelon
New Belgium Brewing Co.

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#78


92

by Lyn Howard
Grevensteiner
Brauerei C. & A. Veltins

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#77


92

by Nelson Crowle
Buffalo Bill's Strawberry Doppel Weizen
Buffalo Bill's Brewery

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#76

92
by Sean Coughlin
Midnight Espresso
Motorworks Brewing

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#75

92

by Susan Ruud
Hefe Berry Lime
Widmer Brothers Brewing

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#74

92
by Brad Darnell
Local's Stash: Raspberry Belgian Style Quad
Crazy Mountain Brewing Co.

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#73

92
by Sal Mortillaro II
Stash IPA
Independence Brewing Co.

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#72

92
by Dan Martich
Hardywood Gingerbread Stout
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

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#71

92
by John C. Tull
Dank IPA
pFriem Family Brewers

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#70

92
by Brad Darnell
Rider
Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

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#69

92
by Susan Ruud
Cliff Top Bock
Cliff Top Brewing Co.

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#68

92
by Susan Ruud
Bocholt
Brouwerij Martens

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#67

92
by Sal Mortillaro II
Last Leaf Maple Brown Ale
Starr Hill Brewery

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#66

92
by Rodney A. Tillinghast
Hoppyum IPA
Foothills Brewing Co.

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#65

93
by Jason Johnson
This Season's Blonde
Aspen Brewing Co.

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#64

93
by Rick Franckhauser
Orange King of Hop
Starr Hill Brewery

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Brewer Q & A


#63

93
by Brian Eichhorn
Dragon's Milk Reserve Triple Mashed
New Holland Brewing Co.

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#62

93
by Richard Wong
Blood Orange Wheat Ale
Full Sail Brewing Co.

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#61


93

by David Sapsis
Beavers Milk Nitro
Belching Beaver Brewing Co.

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#60

93
by Jason Johnson
Sour Reserve
Upland Brewing Co.

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#59

93
by Pat Mulloy
Darken
Upland Brewing Co.

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#58

93
by Nelson Crowle
Sin Tax
Mother Earth Brew Co.

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#57


93

by David Sapsis
Berserker
Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

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#56

93
by James Link
Black Lager
Devils Backbone Brewing Co.

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#55

93
by Pat Mulloy
Boughs of Barley
Cape May Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#54

93
by Joseph Formanek
Standard Lager
Fulton Beer

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Brewer Q & A


#53


93

by Randy Scorby
Tundra Wookie
Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

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#52

93
by David Sapsis
Vladislav Russian Imperial Stout
Diebolt Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A

 


#51


94

by Lyn Howard
Glorious
Lord Hobo Brewing Co.

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#50


94

by Sal Mortillaro II
Festie Oktoberfest Lager
Starr Hill Brewery

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#49


94

bxy Jim Koebel
Cuvée des Jacobins Prestige
Brouwerij Omer Vander Ghinste

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#48

94
by James Link
Lune de Miel
Unibroue

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#47

94
by Susan Ruud
Drifter Pale
Widmer Brothers Brewing

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#46

94
by Joe Formanek
Better Life Choices IPA
Atwater Brewery

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#45

94
by James Link
16 Point IPA
Devils Backbone Brewing Co.

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#44

94
by Michael McGuire
Blackbeard's Breakfast
Heavy Seas Beer

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Brewer Q & A


#43

94
by Michael McGuire
Mystery Ship
Southbound Brewing Co.

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#42
paradise-by-holy-city-brewing-co.jpg

94
by Sean Coughlin
Paradise
Holy City Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#41

94
by Dan Preston
MC²
Equilibrium Brewery

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Brewer Q & A


#40

94
by Joseph Formanek
Insurrection
Fulton Beer

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Brewer Q & A


#39

94
by Lyn Howard
Warehouse Pils
Starr Hill Brewery

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#38

94
by Joe Formanek
Osiris Pale Ale
Sun King Brewing

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Brewer Q & A


#37

94
by David Sapsis
21 Anniversary Ale
Heavy Seas Beer

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Brewer Q & A


#36

94
by Lyn Howard
White Caps
Cape May Brewing Co.

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#35

94
by Michael Heniff
pFriem Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
pFriem Family Brewers

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#34

94
by Jim Koebel
Morning Wood
Funky Buddha Brewery

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#33

breckenridge-autumn-ale.jpg

94
by Jason Johnson
Free Time
Upland Brewing Co.

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#32

94
by Michael Heniff
Dryades
NOLA Brewing Co.

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#31

94
by Richard Wong
Brewery Lane Series: Oak Aged Saison
Breckenridge Brewery

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#30

94
by Susan Ruud
Kiss From A Gose
Peace Tree Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#29

94
by Susan Ruud
Blonde Fatale
Peace Tree Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#28

 


95
by Joe Formanek
Pawpaw
Upland Brewing Co.

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#27

95
by Josh Weikert
Grateful Pale Ale
Starr Hill Brewery

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#26

paradise-by-holy-city-brewing-co.jpg

95
by Richard Wong
Kentucky Cream Barrel Aged Pale Ale
Full Sail Brewing Co.

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#25

95
by Sal Mortillaro II
Luau Krunkles
Terrapin Beer Co.

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#24

95
by Richard Wong
Mo Honey Mo Problems
Mockery Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#23


95
by Randy Scorby
Stone 21st Anniversary: Hail to the Hop Thief
Stone Brewing Co.

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#22

95
by Michael Heniff
MILF
Mother's Brewing Co.

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#21

95
by Richard Wong
Apple Pie Pale Ale
Garage Brewing Co.

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#20

95
by Richard Wong
Sesiόn Cerveza
Full Sail Brewing Co.

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#19

95
by Tracy Hensley
Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout
Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#18

paradise-by-holy-city-brewing-co.jpg

95
by Pat Mulloy
Cherry
Upland Brewing Co.

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#17

95
by Michael Heniff
Hoppyright Infringement
NOLA Brewing Co.

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#16

95
by Sean Coughlin
Declaration
Reformation Brewery

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#15

95
by Randy Scorby
Alaskan Brewing Amber
Alaskan Brewing Co.

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#14

95
by Sal Mortillaro II
Reviver Red IPA
Starr Hill Brewery

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#13

95
by Pat Mulloy
The Scupper
Cape May Brewing Co.

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Brewer Q & A


#12

95
by Pat Mulloy
pFriem Flanders Blonde
pFriem Family Brewers

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#11

96
by Sean Coughlin
Cursed Kettles
Upland Brewing Co. & Prairie Artisan Ales

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Brewer Q & A

 


Brewery Impressions
by Upland's Pete Batule, head of brewery operations.

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe?
This collaboration beer was a team effort with our friends at Prairie Artisan Ales. Matt Wisley and I (from Upland), along with Michael Lalli and Todd Holder from Prairie, developed the process and recipe.

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
This was our first adventure into creating a sour beer through both kettle souring and wood aging. These processes, combined with a primary fermentation with Brettanomyces, led to a very different flavor profile than many of our other beers.  

What makes this beer truly World-Class?
For us, being very curious, constantly experimenting with ingredients, and improving our process are integral pieces of our brewery's ethos. From my perspective, what makes Cursed Kettles stand out among other beers is the fact that we used an unconventional process for souring and that it creates a truly engaging tasting experience. The layered acidity, mild funk, and dark fruit character all meld together, and these flavors evolve as you experience the beer.  

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
Right away, you get aromas of dark cherries with biscuit and raisin notes that come from a spectrum of toasted malts. The acidity is also really nice and balanced, making it very drinkable. It has a refreshing tartness and mild funk of Brettanomyces, while the finish is dry and tart with lingering dark fruit.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
We only made one batch of this beer and it sold out almost instantly. It’s gratifying to know that people are really enjoying the beer. 

 


Judge's Second Opinion
by Sean Coughlin

It should come as no surprise that Cursed Kettles was one of The Beer Connoisseur's top-reviewed beers of 2017. Upland Brewing in Bloomington, IN is one of the most highly regarded breweries in the Midwest, and is responsible for some of the most coveted fruited sours in the world as well as an excellent portfolio of year-round beers ranging from Champagne Velvet (Pre-Prohibition Lager) to Dragonfly IPA.
 
On top of that, this beer was brewed in collaboration with Prairie Artisan Ales (Tulsa, OK), another heavy-hitting brewery that hit the ground running in 2012 with unique barrel-aged and Brettanomyces-centric beers. This beer is a perfect example of the magic that can happen when two creative breweries collaborate. The marriage of Upland's specialty (fruited sour ales) & Prairie's (Brettanomyces) resulted in a beer to remember!  
 
Cursed Kettles is a barrel-aged fruited sour ale that was evaluated as a Wild Specialty Beer (2015 BJCP Category 28C) from the BJCP guidelines. Dark cherry notes are complemented by toasted malt, lactic twang and a small hint of oak. The aroma is complex to the point of making you return to it between every sip to continue exploring. The beer is light brown in color with an orange hue and some haze. A tightly packed, light khaki head holds together well for a sour.
 
The flavor offers great complexity as well, featuring raisin and cherry with a hint of leather and rich melanoidin malt flavors, a well-balanced tartness, and a refreshingly dry finish. The oak character is minimal in flavor and lends a light tannic presence that accentuates the beer's dryness. The body is medium and carbonation is lively.  An excellent example of a Wild Specialty Beer that puts the focus on the fruit with supporting roles from complex malt and fermentation profiles without letting the barrel character get in the way. A bit more acidity would be welcome but, overall, this is an exceptionally well thought-out and brewed beer.  
 
When you drink a truly remarkable beer, you may be able to recall it months later as if it were in a glass directly in front of you. Cursed Kettles is a beer I will still be thinking about for years to come.  

 

#10

96
by Randy Scorby
Four Seasons Spring '17
Mother Earth Brew Co.

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Brewery Impressions
by Mother Earth head brewer Chris Baker

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe?
“Spring” was a collaboration between Mother Earth and our friends at The Bruery in Placentia, CA.  Dan Love, Patrick Rue, Kevin Hopkins and I had a conference call to discuss what style of beer we wanted to make and Patrick suggested a Saison, something that he has a lot of experience with, and then adding in fresh kumquats. It was a great idea, and to put the Mother Earth stamp on it, we decided to dry hop and draw out the citrus notes from the Kumquats. I then wrote the recipe and kept in contact with Patrick throughout fermentation. It was truly the definition of a “collaboration” as each brewery brought ideas to the table that melded together into a great beer. One of my favorite moments was when checking in with Patrick during primary fermentation. I updated him on how the beer was doing and his reply to me was, “Let it Rage!” Awesome…

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
I think the standout in the beer is the play between the dry hop, the fresh pureed kumquats, and the yeast profile. The acidity from the kumquats and the dry, spicy nature of saison yeast complement each other beautifully to create a clean, crisp and refreshing finish. The dry hop and kumquat also work well together to create a balanced citrus character that doesn’t come across like a traditional dry hopped beer, instead bringing out more from the kumquats. Everything in our industry is about balance and it often takes similar characters from several ingredients coming together to create a great final experience.

What makes this beer truly World-Class?
Two great breweries working together, playing off of their strong suits in making something that they love. I really enjoyed working with Patrick and it was very clear from the beginning that this beer was going to be something special -- and it continues to evolve in the bottle! Just brilliant.

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
I’ve made a lot of Saisons in the past and typically I try to hit all the big flavor categories: spicy, peppery, fruity, dry, acidic, funky. This is the first time that I feel that I have really touched on every profile the way I wanted to. Personally, I like the citrus notes and how they’ve developed since we created the beer. The beer was released at the 2017 spring equinox and it still continues to grow and develop into something deeper and more intriguing. We had the idea to leave it unfiltered using a yeast that doesn’t drop out of suspension, thus scavenging oxygen, preserving the beer and continuing to create carbonation and an effervescence fitting of a Saison.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
Creating this with The Bruery allowed us to capitalize on multi-state distribution where both of our breweries already have presence. Knowing that we were getting it out to our mutual fans both near and far gave us a hint that it was going to be very popular. Lately we’ve been creating a lot of IPAs, dark beers, and barrel-aged beers, so this brought a once a year change of pace to our Four Seasons program, which is predominantly barrel releases. It has also really been enjoyed by our Tap House regulars as well as the faithful wherever they may be pouring a glass. I definitely qualify as a faithful fan and this is one of my favorites.


Judge's Second Opinion
by Randy Scorby

When I reviewed Spring ’17, a collaboration between Mother Earth Brew Co. and The Bruery, my first thought was: "Can a dry-hopped Saison and kumquats play well together?" The answer was not long coming: Oh yeah, they can. The brewers did an admirable job of integrating the kumquats into a beer style with complex yeast character that already includes citrus esters, as well as complementary black pepper phenols, without becoming lost.

This beer delivers on all levels for a standard-strength fruit Saison. The balance of black pepper, orange-like citrus, bready malt character, fermentation esters and kumquats works extremely well together and each element complements the rest. The kumquats are slightly more noticeable in the flavor than in the aroma, and the light residual sweetness that they contribute is offset by refreshing hop bitterness and a pleasant dryness in the finish. Saisons are considered artisanal ales in Europe, as this style was originally brewed in Belgium, but are known in the United States as Farmhouse Ales.

Some of the most challenging beers to brew are those with adjuncts, particularly when trying to integrate fruit into a style that already has fermentation as well as hop-derived ester character. All too often the adjuncts, in this case fruit, overwhelm the base beer style. A well-constructed fruit beer is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, with some, there is an unfair and undeserved stigma attached to fruit beer (or beer with most any adjunct). Some of my fellow beer enthusiasts consider it fruit punch and struggle to find the enjoyment in it. 

However, beer can certainly include more than just the four traditional ingredients, and skillful brewers such as those who created Spring ’17 were able to artfully combine these ingredients to create a well-balanced and extremely enjoyable dry-hopped fruit Saison.  

Having enjoyed more than my share of offerings from Mother Earth Brew Co. and The Bruery, the high quality of this collaboration does not surprise me at all. Both of these breweries have been on the beer scene relatively the same amount of time, and neither of them is bashful about a little risk-taking, and they both push the envelope to create brews that are complex, harmonious and, well, quite tasty. 


 

#9

rodenbach-fruitage-by-brouwerij-rodenbach.jpg

96
by James Link
Fruitage
Brouwerij Rodenbach

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Brewer Q & A

 


Brewery Impressions
by Brouwerij Rodenbach master brewer Rudi Ghequire

BC: Who came up with this beer’s recipe?
I came up with the recipe for Fruitage after visiting the U.S. and talking to consumers about wanting an approachable, easy-drinking offering while still being distinctively Rodenbach in balance, flavor and taste.

BC: What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
The liquid is a blend of aged and young Rodenbach beer, combined with cherries and elderberries. Thanks to its high acidity, the beer is also very palate-cleansing and thirst-quenching. It’s well-balanced and the fruit adds a layer of flavor that's not over the top, while also having a nice sour finish. Also, the packaging is unique – it’s one of the first Belgian beers offered in a can format, and the first time Rodenbach is available in a can in the U.S.

BC: What’s your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, etc.)?
To start, its delicious flavor. The fruit flavors in the beer make it extremely refreshing, but it's also perfectly balanced and distinctively sour, the way all our Rodenbach beers are produced. My favorite part is seeing the looks on consumers' faces when they taste it for the first time. I see a smile on the faces of our long-time fans, as well as consumers who are new to our brand -- even non-beer drinkers!

BC: How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
We’re very pleased with the success we’ve had with the introduction of this beer this year – consumers really embraced it, as have our distributors, and we ended up selling out of Fruitage this year.


Judge's Second Opinion
by James Link

Brouwerij Rodenbach, originally a family brewery founded in 1836 in Roeselare, Belgium, is world famous for its award-winning sour beers. 

Their beers cover a range of flavors and strengths. One of the newer renditions is its Rodenbach Fruitage, a burgundy-colored beer with a slight haze and a pink-tinged head made as somewhat of a session beer at a gentle ABV of 4.2%. Although light in strength, this beer is robust in flavor and aroma -- showcasing a red fruit blend that contributes to a rich potpourri of aromas, which marries well with lactic and acetic fragrances. 

Cherries and elderberries are dominant in the flavor profile and their sweetness balances nicely with the tartness from the spontaneous fermentation employed by the brewers. The body is thin, and the beer is dry and refreshing.


 

#8
Double Bass Mocha Double Chocolate Stout Starr Hill Brewery

96
by Dan Martich
Double Bass Mocha Double Chocolate Stout
Starr Hill Brewery

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Brewery Impressions
by Starr Hill head brewer Robbie O'Cain

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe?
This beer was developed by the Starr Hill brewing team, led by Brewmaster Robbie O'Cain. The base beer, Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout, was originally part of the draft-only Debut Series in January 2016. The Mocha version was brewed as part of a limited release variety pack this November called the Box of Chocolates Stout Variety Pack.

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
For the base beer, it's all about the balance struck between the chocolate aspects of both the malt and the cocoa powder. Coffee can be tricky when adding to beers that already have a strong attribute (such as chocolate), as it can overtake those original attributes. This beer successfully takes two bold flavor characteristics and melds them together without any one aspect being overpowered by another. Again, it's all about balance.

What makes this beer truly World-Class?
This really comes down to the execution. Having a perfect recipe doesn't necessarily lead to a perfect beer. From additives to packaging, shipping to oxygen control, the execution was tremendous throughout the entire process of this beer. Flavors are subjective to the beholder, but execution is much more objective. This is particularly true given that this beer is brewed only with natural ingredients like cocoa powder, vanilla beans and locally roasted coffee, which create an experience and flavor that simply cannot be captured by use of extracts or flavorings added to this beer.

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
The flavor is the best, for me. That mocha characteristic, which can often be difficult to identify between chocolate and coffee together, is very well defined and both aspects enhance one another. The coffee isn't muddled, but rather a rich, true mocha -- especially when compared to a sugary or artificial flavor.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
This beer was released in November 2017 as part of our Box of Chocolates Stout Variety Pack. Overall, it's been amazing to see the response from fans about this pack in terms of reaction and how fast it went off shelves. Stouts are obviously not a huge volume driver as a style, so doing a variety pack could have been a risky move. But it seems like people are really interested in something different, particularly with a lot of IPA packs out there now. This limited release pack includes 3 variants of our Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout such as peppermint, chipotle, and mocha. Similar to other variant packs we've done before, there's often a split consensus over favorites in the pack with about 1/3 of folks ending up in each variant's camp. Everyone's got their own favorite!


Judge's Second Opinion
by Dan Martich

Double Bass Mocha Double Chocolate Stout by Starr Hill Brewery is being evaluated as a Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer (Category 30A) from the 2015 BJCP guidelines. 

The base beer is an imperial stout, which pours a very dark brown that's nearly opaque. A short cascading effervescence, reminiscent of a Guinness, develops in the glass after a vigorous pour. The dark tan head slowly builds the crown of this pleasant-looking beer. 

A soft aroma of roasted coffee salutes you up front, with little to no hops, and very low fruity esters. If you dig in, you’ll also smell a lactose sweetness that is reminiscent of a nice cup of coffee with milk and sugar.

The flavor of roasted coffee is followed by a milk chocolate note that is smooth and drinks like a malted shake. A pleasantly soft malt character is beneath this, and this beer’s finish is short with a semi-dry aftertaste. Light licorice notes develop as it warms.

The body and carbonation give it a creamy mouthfeel that is appropriately balanced. With all the dark roasted malts in this beer you won’t find any astringency, which exemplify the brewmaster’s capabilities. Finally, there’s a slight alcoholic warming quality to remind you that this is a big beer, without overwhelming the rest of the brew. 

Balance, balance, balance -- this beer embodies it. The flavors and aroma are in harmony with the base beer and complement the added coffee ingredient. An expertly made beer and highly drinkable. Quite perfect to make ice cream with, or to enjoy by the fire. Cheers!


 

#7

96
by Joseph Formanek
La Trappe Quadrupel Oak-Aged
Trappist Brewery Koningshoeven

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Brewery Impressions
by Brewery Koningshoeven brewmaster Lodewijk Swinkels

BC: What’s your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, etc.)?
Its fullness and complexity of aromas, and it seems there is a new aroma to discover every time I drink one.

BC: Where does this beer’s name come from?
From the regular La Trappe Quadrupel. As this beer spent over 12 months in oak vessels, we added "Oak-Aged" behind it. La Trappe was the first brewery that brewed a Quadrupel and named it that way; only later did it become an official beer style. 

BC: Is this your “desert island beer?”
No, I don't think I would survive the island if that was my daily brew! 

BC: Can you describe this beer in 10 words or less?
Strong, sweet beer with lots of oaky, fruity, boozy aromas. 


Judge's Second Opinion
by Joe Formanek

Belgian beer styles have held a warm place in my heart for many years. From the time that I started to appreciate finer beers 30-some years ago, I have typically gravitated towards Belgian-style beers such as Dubbel and Tripel as a special treat. I remember the first time that I ever saw the regular La Trappe Quadrupel and trying it -- I was immediately hooked. I enjoyed this beer tremendously, but I would consider it more of a dessert beer at the time due to a perceived high sweetness level that is further enhanced by the high alcohol content.

Then, in 2009, the brewers at Bierbrouwerji De Koningshoeven took it to the next level and started producing special, limited-edition oak-aged versions of this wonderful elixir. Each batch uses different sources of barrels, which are then expertly blended together to deliver a unique offering. The bottle that I had the honor to evaluate was from Batch 25. This version was blended in August 2016, which happened to be the 25th year of La Trappe Quad brewing, and was considered a 33B Specialty Wood-Aged Beer using the 26D Belgian Dark Strong Ale base in the 2015 BJCP Guidelines. Beers in the Cat 26D style should deliver a mouth-filling, richly aged malt character along with associated Belgian fermentation notes that expand with age. The barrels used for the aging should also add their own characteristics to the finished product. This beer hit the mark extremely well in all of these aspects, delivering a delicious treat for the senses from start to finish.

From the second that you pop the cork, the rich aromatic complexities of sweet raisin, plum, fig, alcohol, vanilla, aged caramel, malt, oak, Belgian esters and phenolics are all readily apparent and inviting. There are a lot of words needed in order to capture the complex essence of this aroma.

The flavor mirrors the aroma quite well, with a moderate level of the aged malt and fermentation characters noted in the aroma coming through in the flavor. The medium body and rather low level of sweetness for style -- along with a slight wine-like tannin note and light-moderate carbonation -- combined allow for a dangerously easy-drinking brew considering the level of alcohol present! The finish is quite dry for the style, and the aftertaste retains the same flavor characters this beer conveys up front, but it is quite warming due to the alcohol presence. The alcohol is mainly good old ethanol – not a lot of higher fusel alcohols present. As mentioned in my earlier review, the oak barrel notes that are present do marry well with the character of the beer, never becoming a predominant flavor.

Putting it all together, the overall package delivers a remarkably smooth drink for the style while still maintaining those delicious Belgian Quad flavor complexities. Importantly, the perception of sweetness seen in the standard Quad is reduced in this Batch 25 Oak Aged Quad, thereby helping the drinkability and overall enjoyment. La Trappe Oak Aged Quadrupel Batch 25 is definitely a keeper and is highly recommended, either to partake in now or to cellar for future enjoyment. This is a live beer and further aging could deliver even more deliciousness! Cheers and enjoy!


 

#6

96
by Pat Mulloy
Below Decks
Heavy Seas Beer

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Brewery Impressions
by Heavy Seas brewmaster Christopher Leonard

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe? 
Below Decks was a fairly well received Barleywine we made a few years back. We aged a portion of it in Cabernet wine barrels, which turned out great. So, when we were given an opportunity to purchase a large amount of red wine barrels as part of another project, we jumped at the chance. The original Below Decks was brewed with American hops. For this version, I reformulated the beer as an all-English ingredient version (Marris Otter malt, Fuggle and Kent Goldings hops).

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style? 
While I've had English Barleywines that were aged in whiskey, brandy and other fortified wine barrels, I don't know that I've ever had/seen one that had been aged in American red wine barrels. We aged this beer for a much longer time than we normally do with our Uncharted Waters series beers (18 months vs. 6-9 weeks), so barrel impact was quite noticeable. Also, as a blend of beer aged in barrels that held three different red wine varietals (Cabernet, Syrah, Pinot Noir) with the prior contents of each barrel unknown to us, this beer is definitely one-of-a-kind.

What makes this beer truly World-Class? 
Great question. A lot of passion and care went into the production of this beer. English Barleywine is easily my favorite guilty pleasure beer style. So, I wanted to make sure we did everything in our power to make this beer turn out spectacularly. Extended aging, along with careful, deliberate blending of approximately 90% of the barrels we had filled, provided us with a beer in which we have enormous pride.

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)? 
The red wine barrel treatment really pops in the nose. It provides an interesting contrast to the toffee-like sweetness, as if someone took a fortified wine and gave it a dry wine aroma.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans? 
This beer harkens back to our roots. While our biggest-selling beers are (American) IPAs, our brewery is rooted in English brewing traditions. Some of our longtime fans remember earlier versions of this beer and were excited to see what twist we would put on the 2016 edition. It's a beer folks will cellar for years and, hopefully, pull out for comparison if and when we brew it again.


Judge's Second Opinion
by Pat Mulloy

Drinking Heavy Seas' Below Decks is like enjoying a visit from an interesting old friend. It entices with slightly sweet layers of aromas as red wine, alcohol, vanilla, sugar, treacle, and dried fruit weave in and out, evoking the kind of biscuits one might eat in an oak-paneled library on a winter evening with a fire roaring in the fireplace. With a little imagination, you can smell a hint of wet tweed, some library mustiness and traces of evergreen.

This beer is a beauty to look at. I’m stuck with a Duralog, but the flames give the beer an interesting red wine to rose tint around the edges as streams of bubbles slowly work their way surfaceward. The cap is pinkish-white and brief but a swirl of the glass reveals legs that sparkle in the firelight. Let the beer sit in your mouth a few moments and roll it over and under your tongue and around your mouth. The flavors are complex and layered, melding fruit, grape and vanilla red wine-barrel flavors with English Barleywine's characteristic dark dried fruit, nuts, brown sugar and treacle.

As it warms, more flavors come out. Just the right level of bitterness emerges on the finish to balance the alcohol and the mild sweetness. The bitterness kicks the beer up a notch and keeps it from being cloying. The alcohol is big but not hot or harsh. You notice it as a gentle warmth creeps through your body as you finish off the bottle and suddenly realize that it’s the beer waming you up – and not the Duralog.

Some beers are liquid bread – this is more like a meal in a glass, but it is a very good one. Drink this beer alone, in a quiet place, slowly and before a fire, and you will discover it is transformative. It takes you places. 


 

#5

97
by John C. Tull
Four Seasons Winter '16
Mother Earth Brew Co.

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Brewery Impressions
by Mother Earth head brewer Chris Baker

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe?
Daniel Love (MEBC Founder/CEO) and I are responsible for this recipe. The idea to write a breakfast stout recipe came to me while visiting Boise for the first time several years ago. Dan and I were doing market research and checking out potential locations (for our second production brewery) when we decided to have dinner at a local pizza joint with a great tap list. I tried Barley Brown’s breakfast stout for the first time and fell instantly in love with the style (and their beer!). I went back to San Diego on a mission to brew a killer beer that would live up to my experience from Barley Brown’s. After several iterations and pilot brews, we dialed the recipe and scaled up for a small, 20-bbl batch that turned out fantastically.

This is just where the story begins because to start, the recipe was a lower-ABV breakfast stout and not what we eventually aged in bourbon barrels. Because we were so excited about the new recipe, we decided to make an imperial version using a double mash technique that creates a more viscous and higher-gravity product. We scaled up the recipe again to full production, brewed and then aged the finished beer for 8 months in bourbon barrels before transferring onto coffee and then waiting it out for the right balance of coffee, chocolate, and oats -- the perfect breakfast stout.

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
I believe the stand-out characteristic of this beer is the balance between chocolate, coffee and the base beer. The double mash technique really lends itself well to an oatmeal stout, which is the base of a breakfast stout, and I think that we nailed chocolate and coffee notes without either being overpowering. The coffee came from a local roaster that worked with us on blend, grind and roast to get us exactly what we wanted.

What makes this beer truly World-Class?
Again, I think it comes down to balance. A breakfast stout has a lot of things going on, and if anything is too heavy or missing entirely, the breakfast stout profile can be easily lost. Also great brewers make great beer. Our team in Vista went the extra mile to make sure that everything went as planned; they really knocked it out of the park. I couldn’t be more proud of them, and I am happy to say that this is the rule and not the exception to how we do things at both of our breweries. The accolades validate what I know my team is striving for each and every day: the perfect pint for any occasion.

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
I really enjoy the subtle yet noticeable coffee profile. The beer has a ton of chocolate, roasty and earthy notes that come from our customized blend. Also we added chocolate during the boil, which is accentuated by the coffee addition. Every ingredient plays off the others to create complex notes of coffee, chocolate, vanilla and toffee.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
This beer sold out very quickly, and while we’ve hung on to some to open for the right occasion, the response was fantastic. Usually when a keg randomly goes on tap at the tasting room, it's gone in a few hours. I wish we had more!

Judge's Second Opinion
by John C. Tull

A good Russian Imperial Stout can really set the brain into overdrive with a menagerie of flavors and aromas. The combination of dark roasts, high alcohol strength and a good balance of background hops provides a stage for potentially wonderful flavor and aroma combinations that very few styles can achieve. When done well, this beer style sends a blast of sensations that weaves a very complex tapestry of olfactory and palate goodness. Mother Earth Brew Co. managed to not only make a wonderful Russian Imperial Stout, but they turned the knob up to 11 by infusing it with a perfect balance of coffee to create this breakfast stout. 

Often, coffee can really destroy a beer with heavy, vegetal flavors and aromas and a green, unroasted coffee character. In a competition, I am worried when I have to judge a coffee beer. It is more often than not that the coffee simply overpowers the base beer and just does not work very well. But Mother Earth has managed to crack the coffee code by bringing in just enough coffee expression and really good coffee character with none of the vegetal bad stuff. As a result, their Four Seasons of Mother Earth Winter Breakfast Stout rises to the top as one of the best beers that I had the pleasure to review in 2017.

This beer expresses itself with a velvety smoothness as well as flavors that include rich chocolate, roasty notes, coffee and stone fruits, with additional vanilla and caramel notes in the aroma. All of these characteristics create a complex interplay that gives the palate, nose and brain a really enjoyable workout, one that keeps you reaching for the glass for another sniff and quaff.

I would highly recommending this beer if you can lay your hands on it (this was the 2016 version I reviewed). Kudos to Mother Earth Brew Co. for producing this wonderful beer!


 

#4

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97
by John C. Tull
Brewery Lane Series: Barrel Aged Imperial Cherry Stout
Breckenridge Brewery

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Brewery Impressions
by Breckenridge head brewer Carl Heinz and cellarmaster Eddie Varela

Who was responsible for this beer’s recipe?
This was a collaboration among our brewers and cellarmen.

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
We brewed this imperial stout with real sweet-sour cherries from Yakima Valley, which added bright fruity notes. What really sets it apart is that we aged half the batch in port wine barrels and the other half in whiskey barrels, then we blended it all back together. The mellow port flavors contrast with the bright cherry flavors in a very cool way.

What makes this beer truly World-Class?
This beer has an interesting blend of flavors -- from the cherries to the malts and beyond to the wine and whiskey barrels. There’s a lot going on, but it all works together really well.

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
Even though it’s strong (9.5% ABV), it’s smooth and easy-drinking. We also like the mix of roastiness with the sweetness of the cherries and the soft undertones of port.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
Everyone who tastes it freaks out – in a good way. We’ve gotten great feedback – from the expert craft drinker to the wide-eyed novice.


Judge's Second Opinion
by John C. Tull

Each year that I have had the good fortune to serve as a judge for The Beer Connoisseur, there have been a couple of standout beers that really blow me away. In 2017, Breckenridge Brewing provided me with one of those beers in their Barrel Aged Imperial Cherry Stout. They achieved near-perfection in this rich, intricate blend of aromas and flavors, making this beer a clear stand-out from the field.

This Russian Imperial Stout infused with cherries and aged in a barrel generates an incredible mix of stone fruit, chocolate, coffee, pithy wood, some nuttiness and other aromas and flavors. The cherry fruit infusion is intense, jumping out in the aroma, but balancing well with the roasty and complex flavors of the base style such that it does not dominate or become a distraction. The barrel-aging adds vanilla and hints of wood, but it does not overpower either the beer or the fruit. Instead, it complements and enhances the beer by adding another layer of complexity without becoming overbearing or bringing noticeable alcohol flavors that sometime linger in barrels and find their way into barrel-aged beers. All of these components blend elegantly in the beer.

Breckenridge Brewing’s Barrel Aged Imperial Cherry Stout delivers aromas, flavors, and palate sensations that are uncommonly available in any other beer. The cherry addition and wood-aging show a degree of brewing artistry for which Breckenridge Brewery should be quite proud. If you can find a bottle of this beer, do not hesitate to grab a bottle or more. Otherwise, you will have passed up an exceptional beer that should not be missed. 


 

#3

97
by Pat Mulloy
The Partner Ships Series: Stone Brewing Co.
Heavy Seas Beer

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Brewery Impressions
by Heavy Seas brewmaster Christopher Leonard

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe? 
Peter Wiens, (then) Stone Brewing's East Coast Director of Brewing Operations, and I went back and forth a bit on this collaboration. We quickly agreed that an Imperial Brown Ale would be an interesting take on both breweries' strengths while being a somewhat adventurous challenge.

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style? 
Our goal was to create something that didn't really exist out there. While there are certainly Brown IPAs on the market, I don't know of any brewed with molasses.

What makes this beer truly World-Class? 
We walked a fine line in designing this beer. We knew that we wanted an extremely complex, unique and unusual beer with many layers of flavor and aroma. I believe we succeeded in doing so in an amazingly well-balanced package that is still incredibly drinkable. All of the components come together in a way that make this beer fascinating -- at least to me. When a beer invokes that type of introspection, it provides an additional level of cerebral enjoyment that I think folks seek out in World-Class beers.

BC: What’s your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, etc.)? 
Oh, the balance on this beer is unreal. There are so many flavors and aromas dancing around with each other, especially with the introduction of the blackstrap molasses. The molasses' subtle flavor influence enhanced the beer better than Peter or I had imagined it would. Also, molasses has a high calcium content. Adding it to the boil affected the fermentation in a manner that softened the perceived bitterness to 90 IBUs.

BC: How popular is this beer among your faithful fans? 
I think this beer was highly anticipated by our fans. Getting to work with such an accomplished brewery as Stone meant expectations were high. Hopefully we didn't disappoint!


Judge's Second Opinion
by Pat Mulloy

I have always considered Brown or Black India Pale Ales an absurd concept, but this beer created fissures in my wall of prejudice. I am drinking this outside in the sunlight and it’s a stunningly beautiful brilliant chestnut color under a luxurious light tan foam cap with good retention that invites you to jump right in. Streams of bubbles rise moderately fast to replenish the cap.

The aroma immediately captures my attention because the brown ale character works well with (rather than fights) the IPA character. Resin, floral, berry and citrus hops lead, joined by light chocolate, nuts, a hint of brown sugar, a light malty sweetness and a trace of alcohol. The fermentation character is clean.

The brown malt flavors and the hop citrus and fruit flavors work together like the flavors in the old 7-Up candy bar. You bite in and begin with dark semi-sweet chocolate, plum, light fruit, cherry, berry, nuts and hints of cola balanced by a medium-high hop bitterness. The bitterness alternates between a dark chocolate bitterness and a citrus rind bitterness depending on where the beer is in your mouth. The foam persists and the bitterness in the foam has a slightly different character than the bitterness in the body.

The brewers use just the right mix of malts – nothing is burnt or harsh, but the malt character is strong enough to work with the hops without overwhelming them. This wonderful Brown IPA has a down comforter-type texture. It is something you crawl into and get cozy as the smooth alcohol heat gently and gradually warms you up. I would buy this beer for its texture alone, but when combined with the complex and layered flavors and aromas, this beer skyrockets into the World Class category. The beer pays the IPA's homage to the hops while enriching that character with rich brown ale malts.  


 

#2
Vintage 2015 by Brouwerij Rodenbach

97
by James Link
Vintage 2015
Brouwerij Rodenbach

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Brewery Impressions
by Rodenbach master brewer Rudi Ghequire

BC: Who came up with this beer’s recipe?
Vintage 2015 is aged for two years and is unblended – something that consumers had always asked us to produce. Every year, I have the privilege to select the single foeder (from our 294 foeders) containing the best beer. All beer for the vintage comes from that single foeder – this year it was foeder #195, which we used for Vintage 2015. 

BC: What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
The uniqueness of Rodenbach comes from the aging of our beers, and no two vintages are the same as the foeder matures beer differently with every passing year. This is thanks to our 200-year-old yeast strain and foeders that are 150 years old, and the micro flora that has been naturally cultured within the foeders. 

BC:  What makes this beer truly World-Class?
It's quite an honor to be one of the most awarded beers globally. We’re very pleased that consumers have enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed making it.

BC: What’s your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, etc.)?
It’s highly complex and extremely well-balanced at the same time, so we’re very proud of this beer. It drinks like a fine wine, but it has the refreshment of a beer. Even though we only produce small amounts of our vintage beers, it's wonderful to share the best of the brewery with our great fans.

BC: How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
Every year, our fans look forward to the new year’s vintage offering – in fact, I get many emails every year from fans who collect them and do a flight of Rodenbach Vintages from years past. While it’s meant to be enjoyed now, many age the beers even further and find great pleasure in collecting a bottle every year.


Judge's Second Opinion
by James Link

The second World-Class beer from Rodenbach in 2017 was its Rodenbach Vintage 2015. Unblended with younger beer and aged in oak for two years with a 7% ABV, Vintage 2015 has a complexity that few can emulate.

Some of the oak foeders employed are more than 150 years old and untreated, thereby allowing bacterial cultures collected in the raw wood to have their way with the unfermented beer, resulting in a wine-like, aged red ale that is both tangy and fruity in character. The body is medium, well attenuated and finishes dry.

As beer connoisseurs we must simply delight in the fine assortment of beers brought to us by the master brewers of Rodenbach, and in 2017, they produced many wonderful additions to their repertoire.


 

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#1

cape-may-brewing-the-topsail.jpg

98
by Dan Martich
The Topsail
Cape May Brewing Co.

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Brewery Impressions
by Cape May head brewer Brian Hink  

Who was responsible for this beer's recipe?
When we first started our barrel-aging program, a lot of the wort was pulled from core brands as we slowly started building up our barrel stock to house 60 wine barrels worth of souring beer. The Topsail was the first beer to go into barrels a second time so I had a little more time to figure out what I wanted to do with this one. Prior to blending The Keel and emptying the barrels, we brewed up a simple golden base beer with an expressive yeast characteristic. The base beer for the Keel had a firm malt backbone, but very little in the way of esters and phenolics, so I wanted the beer going into these second-use barrels to be on the opposite end of the spectrum and let the yeast do all the talking to see what kind of flavor interaction we'd see in the barrels due to the Brett and friends. 

What sets this beer apart from other examples within the style?
I think the alcohol content really makes The Topsail stand out. A lot of sour blondes or golden sours are in the 5-7% range, but The Topsail sails in at 9.9% alcohol by volume, and I think that really helps contribute additional mouthfeel and complexity to the beer. It has a fullness to the beer despite its ridiculously low finishing gravity, and I think a portion of that comes from the alcohol content. There's the slightest hint of a warming quality because of it, and I think that really melds nicely with firm acidity and upfront sourness. 

Our original sour cultures came from our friend Al Buck over at East Coast Yeasts, and they were a hearty bunch and really did a nice job making some world-class sour beers. But by selectively harvesting, culturing and pitching these microbes we’ve come up with a great house culture that has started to really shine on subsequent batches, which is really starting to offer a unique take on these beers.

What makes this beer truly World-Class?
I think it's a great example of each component working in a harmonious blend. We thoughtfully planned out the base beer: the barrel choice for this project was based off the successful lineage of the barrel's history, and the artwork was the culmination of a years-long series with each bottle building off each other. Our design and marketing team really knocked it out of the park with this beer – really making it the perfect package with the liquid inside. The team effort really shines during the packaging runs on our sour beers – usually around 2,000 bottles are filled by our production team: hand-filling, capping and waxing each bottle. This labor of love really comes across in the finished product, and that is what defines a World-Class beer – not something any one person could achieve, but a culmination of a number of working parts.

We had several barrels in play for this blended sour blonde ale, and during the blending trials the entire production team was super excited about the direction the beer was taking – we knew pretty early on we had something special on our hands! In fact, we were so happy with how this blend was progressing we actually withheld the best/most representative barrel of the bunch as an inoculant for future projects, and having recently sampled that barrel, I can't wait to use that soon to start a spin-off from this beer. 

What is your favorite aspect of this beer (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.)?
I love how vinous and fruity the beer is despite it being bone dry. It finished below zero degrees plato, so almost wine levels of dryness – yet you would never know that based on the mouthfeel and flavor profile. It's also wildly complex, going from tart and sour to fruity and vinous, to refreshing and enticing all in the matter of a few sips. Now that it's been bottled and conditioned for a year, the flavors are continuing to develop and evolve. Originally, the balance leaned more to the tart/sour end of the spectrum, but now, thanks to the stressful conditions of being bottled up under pressure, the Brett is starting to show off a little more, bringing the balance back ever so slightly to the funk end of things. Still present is that juicy vinous note, and I just really love this beer.

How popular is this beer among your faithful fans?
The Topsail has definitely gotten some stellar reviews and great accolades, which has made everyone here at Cape May Brewing Company exceptionally proud. It's been a popular choice for cellaring, and The Beer Connoisseur's stellar review of it has given this beer the opportunity to grow in popularity even more. It's mainly sold out of our brewery in Cape May, only making its way out to a handful of our best accounts, and that adds just another reason to visit Cape May: America’s Oldest Seaside Resort. 


Judge's Second Opinion
by Dan Martich

The Topsail by Cape May Brewing Company is being evaluated as a Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer (Category 28B) from the 2015 BJCP guidelines.  

The aroma of ripe pineapple, green mangoes, red apples, ripe pear and light citrus fruit esters makes this beer very fruit-forward and inviting. The subtle grainy malt character is secondary to the bouquet of fruit. Sink your nose into the glass, and you'll find the straw and hay notes of this typical sour ale.

Poured into a chalice glass, this beer is a light-golden hazy yellow and is crowned by a thick and foamy white head.

The first sip reveals a medium-light ripe pineapple note with a nearly imperceptible hop flavor. This beer is well attenuated and finishes semi-dry. The balance is toward the tart/sourness without overwhelming the palate, and the fruitiness keeps this beer active throughout every single sip. This beer is fun; it’s alive, young and freshly flavored. The oak barrel and mustiness that most blended sours are known for are positively absent. 

The medium-light body and high carbonation accentuate this world-class beer's refreshing character. The astringency from the Brettanomyces strain may at times come across as alcoholic warming, which makes it hard to imagine that you're actually drinking a 9.9% ABV beer. This beer drinks more like a 4% ABV, given its light palate sensation.

In closing, you'll want to seek this beer out. The refreshing fruity notes make this a summertime favorite. I can see anyone enjoying this beer in a backyard, by the shore, lake or mountains with chargrilled veggies, fruit or white meat fish to complement the fruity notes of this stellar brew.


Comments

worthel's picture
So,I'm a member, but I must pay another two bucks to read the rest of this article? Are you kidding?
Editorial Dept.'s picture
Hello Worthel, Our magazine articles are premium content and are reserved for premium subscribers. We researched your account and it does not appear you have purchased a premium subscriptions. If you feel this is in error, you may complete a customer service ticket by clicking "account services" at the head of the website. Cheers! BC

Comments

worthel's picture
So,I'm a member, but I must pay another two bucks to read the rest of this article? Are you kidding?
Editorial Dept.'s picture
Hello Worthel, Our magazine articles are premium content and are reserved for premium subscribers. We researched your account and it does not appear you have purchased a premium subscriptions. If you feel this is in error, you may complete a customer service ticket by clicking "account services" at the head of the website. Cheers! BC

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