best beer moments of 2014
This was created in conjunction with the Four Firkins blog
Beer is as diverse as those who drink it. From sweet and rich Baltic porters to puckering and funky aged sours, the range of flavor that is achieved within this storied beverage is wider than any other drink in the world. Thanks to creativity, skill, precision, and finesse on the part of the brewer, along with microbiology and patience, no two beers are identical.
History is incomplete if it is not told by everyone, and 2014 was a historic year for craft brewing. Asking women what their favorite beer moments of the last year were unearths the heart of this growing sector of discerning drinkers.
It may seem misguided to ask those who taste dozens of newly released beers in one year about favorites, but don’t think of this as a shopping list. Listen to what is valuable to these women. A community of drinkers who enjoy beverages that are appealing rather than polarizing. Craftsmanship and artistry: the idea of enjoying the handmade and from-scratch. Pure, raw enjoyment layered with nostalgia. Drawing lost styles back into the fold. And looking forward to the future of brewing.
Christine Celis, Founder, Gypsy Collaborations //. Austin, TX
Christine Celis has brewing in her blood, but you shouldn’t only think of her as the daughter of a brewing legend. Her latest project, Gypsy Collaborations, emphasizes brewing as a community endeavor. The majority of her passion lies in Belgian beer, so her response comes as no surprise.
“The beer I really enjoyed was the Wild and Funky from BOM Brewery. He [Bert Van Hecke, owner] is the only one in the world that bakes his malts with salts or coriander or whatever he can think off.” Christine appreciates this well-developed sour because it never approaches vinegar. “It has a great nose and gives you that great puckering sour I like.”
“Wild and Funky Ale has three mixed fermentations which piqued my curiosity!” Beyond their house-made malts, BOM also uses lactobacillus and brettanomyces, cultivated on site. Porter, champagne and white wine yeast come together to create the wild element.
“But then, he uses the Poiret Apple and Pear syrup which has been around since I was a child! My parents used to eat this on sandwiches or crepes. This syrup gives it a specific apple sourness after fermentation.”
The idea of playing favorites doesn’t sit well with Ginger Johnson. “I prefer to talk about and promote the idea of go-to’s. Favorites indicate a finality I find unappealing and limiting. Go-to’s indicate flavors and goodies you go back to over and over again.”
She is guided by four principles:
“1. The one in front of me. The beer in front of me (whenever, wherever) is the one I will partake of therefore making it a great choice.
The next one. If I’m in the mood for beer, then bring on the next one – wherever and whatever that one may be.
The one fresh on tap. Whatever brewery, as long as the tap lines are kept clean and the beer has been properly cared for since it left the cellar at the brewery.
The one you’re buying me. Hospitality is always appreciated and no place for snobbery (really – there’s no room anywhere for snobbery in any scenario).”
For Ginger, beer is all about fellowship, and she avoids taking it too seriously.
“It’s simple, delicious, and humble. It’s complex, multifaceted and tasty. Above all, it’s beer, people. No more, no less. Just beer…Enjoy it for what it is, how it brings people together, and put the rest of the crap out to pasture. Life’s too short to not enjoy it. Drink what you like. I’m buying the next one.”
The United Kingdom has become more knowledgeable about beer thanks to Melissa Cole. Winner of Imbibe Magazine’s Educator of the Year, beer evangelism is her passion. Melissa continues to be surprised that women are often overlooked within the craft beer world. She works to change this through education.
“The beer that really blew me away last year was Brew By Numbers 01|08 Wai-iti and Lemon Saison. From the nose to the finish it is one of the freshest, most enjoyable beers I’ve ever drunk. A symphony of tinkly lemon notes, coming from both the hops and the lemon zest, with an underlying treble note of sweet wheat and passion fruit, it is one of those beers that I could drink all day.”
Among the passions of London’s Brew By Numbers is bringing bygone styles into the foreground. The parallel idea of inviting women, history’s brewers, back to the business of beer with a discussion like this, is hard to ignore.
Lauren Salazar, Wood Cellar manager; Kim Jordan, CEO and co-founder; Jenn Vervier, Director of Sustainability; New Belgium Brewing //. Fort Collins, CO
Jenn Vervier and I connected via phone last week about the topic of favorite beers. She was initially stumped. It is a difficult question. After all, who mentally catalogues beers by release date? “Once I found out what you were writing about, I knew that I had to ask the two best beer women at New Belgium!”
“My favorite beer? Too easy. Well, unless I start really thinking about Belgian Gueuzes and Krieks, but I’ll stick to my FAVORITE US Craft Beer- that’s easy- ABRAXAS! Abraxas by Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis is my ultimate beerlove. Unbelievable- really everything I love in a beer (again, a non-sour)- it’s a Mole-spiced Imperial Stout with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, vanilla beans and cinnamon- heavenly!!”
Kim Jordan attempts to recreate an experience rather than finding the next great beer. To her, classic beers with old friends is the key. “A big part of what I love about a beer is the context: who I’m with, where we are, what we’re eating, what we’re listening to. For me it might be Duvel Green from their brewery. Or Pliny with Vinnie and Natalie [Cilurzo].”
Avid writer, blogger, and Bison Brewing staffer Ashley Routson has been a major player in the beer industry for years. As such, she has earned the nickname The Beer Wench, and her writing has appeared on craftbeer.com and on the Whole Foods Market blog.
“The last thing a beer writer wants to admit to is bias. But, let’s not kid ourselves. I’m just as human as the rest of the beer enthusiasts in the world.” Her bias is one many drinkers and brewers can relate to – loving a beer in part because of the people behind it.
“My favorite beer of 2014 has to be anything and everything from my good friends (and neighbors) The Rare Barrel. They are not just one of the most amazing breweries in the world––they are amazing people. Extraordinary beer plus extraordinary people equals an extraordinary experience––and I’ve experienced nothing less than extraordinary at The Rare Barrel. If I had to play favorites, which I hate doing, I’d have to go with Apropos of Nothing––a golden sour beer aged in oak barrels with elderberries and lavender. It literally tastes like unicorns and rainbows.”
Allyson, as it turns out, is quite democratic. When I posed the best beer question she polled her small brewpub staff. “Two of them each pointed at a different beer from the Schell’s Noble Star series,” she laughs, “At the same time.”
The series, from August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm, Minnesota, debuted in the summer of 2013 and brought three more selections to market last year. These beers are an extreme departure from the historic beers that August Schell has been delivering to seasoned German drinkers for over 150 years. The birth of the series can be credited to the current owner, Ted Marti, and son, brewer Jace Marti. Over the span of years and with great precision, old, defunct cypress tanks were painstakingly refurbished to become healthy, living vessels appropriate for ageing Berliner Weisse and its variants.
I met Allyson and her partner Sara Lee over a pint and I asked her to nail down her favorite. She cited the Black Forest Cherry, an obsolete style called Marzen Weisse with 52,000 pounds of sour cherries added during aging. The incredible fruit character and pungent sourness are simply excellent. “Overall I love what Jace [Marti] is doing, and I can’t wait for the Starkeller Peach to come out.”
Tara Alcure, Sales, Green Flash Brewing; Membership Committee Co-Chair, Pink Boots Society //. Minneapolis, MN
Not many people can say that they grew up learning the ins and outs of the three-tier system firsthand. Tara Alcure was raised by a father whose company would go on to become part of the largest craft distributor in Minnesota, just as she was developing her own love of beer. After her transition from local distribution to sales at the hop-crazed universe that is Green Flash Brewing, you might expect her response to drip with bitterness. Not so.
“This was a difficult question for me to answer – it’s hard to pick just one. But I really enjoyed Schell’s Dawn Of Aurora.” Admittedly a Berliner weisse lover, Tara enjoys the fruitiness of this beer. “The hints of peach, pineapple, and lemon made this beer really enjoyable. It finished off with a perfect tart finish that was not overly dry.” It doesn’t hint at its 7.5% alcohol content, according to her, and was surprisingly refreshing.
Dawn of Aurora is the fifth sour introduced in the Schell’s Noble Star Collection. It debuted at Madison’s Great Taste of the Midwest this summer, but was then called Champagner Weisse (a term frowned upon by the TTB). Since it hit shelves, many critics have dubbed it their best yet. “I look forward to more of the Noble Star Collection.”
“Spending four months of the year backpacking around Europe provided my best beer of 2014 as an international beer: A long day wandering around a foreign city, trying to speak the language, not very well might I add, had me craving a beer! In search of a craft beer bar, I found myself lost in yet another small side street in Barcelona. Ready to give up but with one last look around me, I found the bar! After tasting some various beers on tap, courtesy of the wonderful bartender, I was craving something a little more. I wanted a bold and hoppy beer and 10 Toe Discount was exactly that. A 7.2% ABV IPA collaboration from Siren and ToØl was perfect for my current state!”
Lillian Chatham lives in Denver and her world is positively steeped in beer. Her passion for hops led her to this amarillo-hopped IPA aged on cedar, even in an unlikely place.
Caroline Wallace, writer and co-founder, Bitch Beer //. Austin, TX
“While there were many fantastic new beers released in 2014, none occupied as much real estate in my fridge as Hops & Grain PorterCulture. It’s a refreshing Baltic porter that’s easy drinking enough to enjoy in the sweltering Texas summers, but still hits the spot during the colder months of the year. Plus, you can’t beat that regal purple can.”
Mary Bauer, Head Brewer, Lagunitas Brewing //. Chicago, IL
This year Lagunitas Brewing out of Petaluma, California opened a second brewery in Chicago. The expansion has greatly increased brewing capacity and distribution, and has also granted many new brewing opportunities. One of those positions was filled in April when Mary Bauer became head brewer.
“One beer immediately came to mind,” she explains. “It was brewed in Petaluma – a wet hop beer, limited release called Born Yesterday. Even though I didn’t brew it, I was really proud of this beer.” She goes on to speak about the components – Amarillo, Mosaic, and Equinox wet hops – as though describing a memorable meal.
“It has a wonderful tangerine-grapefruit aroma with pine, and a crisp finish plus malty sweetness.” Next October, the Chicago area will be treated to Born Yesterday, if harvests go as planned.