Another orbital cycle has passed, which means its time to take a step back and reflect on where we are and where we’re going. There are always things to dislike about a given year, but rarely do I come down on beer as being one of those things, which is nice, since this is a beer blog and all. So what happened this year?
- The End of Novelty? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. But the fact remains that I’m drinking more repeat beers than ever. This is to be expected, as I’ve been at this for a while, but even beyond that, there are annual releases I look forward to drinking every year, and sometimes I will even *gasp* buy a four (or six) pack and drink all of them. There are tons of people for whom this is a trivial occurrence (and who are no doubt confused if they’re reading this), but I spent several years as a total novelty whore, where basically every beer I drank was different and a repeat beer seemed like a moral failure. That is silly, of course, and I’ve moved on. I regret nothing, and both approaches are fun, and it’s not like I don’t go in for new, novel beers or anything.
- The Rise of Lambic? One thing I’ve found myself reaching for more and more over the past couple of years is Lambic and in particular, Gueuze. This goes along with the above, since what is regularly available is usually something I’ve already had, and yet I do keep reaching for these beers whenever I get a chance. I’ve definitely reviewed more lambic in the past couple of years, but there’s still less opportunity to do so. I’ve also found that lambic purchases contributed to:
- Aged Beer Coming to Fruition? The past couple of years have seen a lot of aging experiments come to fruition. For instance, this year I reviewed a host of vintage Victory and Dogfish Head beers that had been sitting in my cellar for 5 years or so (there were a bunch of others that I never got around to posting about either). Of course, only some of these were intentionally aged beers, and not all were of good aging stock, so results were mixed. But then, aged beer results have always been mixed in my estimation. My general advice remains: Aging beer is fun, but if you’ve only got one bottle and you’re debating whether to drink fresh or age it, drink it fresh. One exception to this seems to be Lambic though. I haven’t done much formal evaluation of this, but informally, I’ve had some aged lambic (in the 3-15 year aged range) and seen some fascinating results. As such, my cellar is filling up with lambic to age.
- The Rise of the Local Beer Release? Ok, so this one isn’t particularly new at all, but I was talking with a friend recently about good beer distributers in PA and realizing that I pretty rarely go to them anymore. For the uninitiated, PA law changed at the beginning of 2017 to allow distributers to sell singles or 4/6 packs (previously, you had to buy a case if you wanted something – a ridiculous law that basically meant I never went to beer distributers), but while I’ve popped in to a few of them from time to time, I find that I still get most of my beer from local brewery releases (or travel to other brewery releases, as with Operation Cheddar, or muled releases, or trades, etc…) The only thing I really go to package stores for anymore is lambic. Doesn’t mean I won’t pick up something else while I’m there (always in the mood for some BA Firestone Walker, etc…), but still.
- The Decline of Blogging? The rate of new posts here has also been slowly dropping over the past couple of years, but has seen a more steep decline of late. This is partly due to some of the factors discussed above: less novelty and more repeat beers means less reviews to blog about. Plus, I’m starting to run a little dry when it comes to writing up a new beer. There’s only so many quick brewery profiles or style recaps to go through, and sometimes a beer’s backstory isn’t all that interesting. I’ve got a backlog of reviews right now, of course, but I’ve been slow to pick them off. This might augur more general or creative writing about beer, which could possibly be in the cards, but wouldn’t be as frequent as reviews. Then again, blogging in general has been in steep decline for, like, a decade, and it’s not like anyone is reading this (if you are, thanks!)
- What happened to Homebrewing? No homebrewing all year. I had hoped to turn that around this fall, but I got sick at the wrong times and it just never aligned. I still hope to rebrew Crom Approved and that oak-aged Scotch Ale that I’ve been threatening for a while now (tentatively named Barlennan, a particularly nerdy reference – if you get it, we really need to be friends).
- Other Stuff: I took another break from beer this year, and I still find this a very valuable exercise. From a health perspective, though, I had a not so great year. I’ve managed to right the ship by the end of the year, but I suffered through a weird toe injury (that prevented exercise) and then I had a cold and ear infection that have lingered on for far too long, which makes drinking and general health a bit challenging. Still, I’m hoping the new year will really get me going again. I’ve ticked some great stuff this year, but less in the way of walez, bro. Not complaining at all, just a note. Ratings inflation continues unabated, and I never managed to induct a new class of A+ beers, but perhaps we’ll just make that a bi-annual event anyway.
So it’s been an interesting year in beer. In accordance with the decline in blogging and increase in repeat beers, my top “new to me” beers of the year list is shrinking. This year, I’m only slotting in 25 beers with reviews… though I will have a list of unreviewed beers that I had a shares, etc… Standard disclaimers apply: this is not an all time list, it’s a list of beers I had and reviewed this year, so if you’re favorite isn’t on it, that might just be because I reviewed it in a previous year, or perhaps I haven’t had it at all. Or maybe I had it and hated it and you have bad taste. I’ve also tried to limit brewery appearances so as not to be a list of the 20 best Hill Farmstead beers I’ve had this year. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. After all, lists are American! So let’s get on with it.
- Lawson’s Finest Liquids Apple Brandy Fayston Maple Imperial Stout (Imperial Stout)
- Tree House Julius (IPA)
- de Garde Oude Desay (Saison)
- Victory Red (Flanders Red Ale)
- Burley Oak 100 (DIPA)
- Levante South Pacific Hop Cartel (DIPA)
- Burial The Persistence Of Memories (DIPA)
- Upper Pass First Drop (American Pale Ale)
- Barrel of Monks Monk de Soleil (Saison)
- Pretty Things Our Finest Regards (Barleywine)
- Hill Farmstead Sue (American Wild Ale)
- Casey Saison (Saison)
- Rare Barrel Wise Guise (American Wild Ale)
- Boon Vat 79 Mono Blend (Gueuze)
- Founders CBS (Imperial Stout)
- Tired Hands The Emptiness is in Bloom (Saison)
- Bottle Logic The Spice Must Flow (Pumpkin Beer)
- Oude Mûre Tilquin à L’ancienne (Lambic)
- Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale)
- Fantôme Vertignasse (Wheat Beer)
- Bissell Brothers LUX Rye Ale (Rye Beer)
- Tired Hands Only Void Bourbon Barrel Aged (Imperial Stout)
- Firestone Walker Bravo (American Brown Ale)
- Interboro Premiere IPA (IPA)
- Civil Society Fresh (IPA)
Beers that where I had small samples and/or never wrote a review, but an impression was made regardless.
- Hill Farmstead Aaron (Barleywine)
- Modern Times Monsters’ Park Aged In Nicaraguan Rum Barrels With Cherries & Vanilla (Imperial Stout)
- Anchorage A Deal With the Devil (Barleywine)
- Cycle Trademark Dispute: Hazelnut (Imperial Stout)
- Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th (Imperial Stout)
- Other Half/Monkish Twice Baked Potato (DIPA)
- Casey Fruit Stand – Bing Cherry (Saison)
- Voodoo Tenacious Wee – Woodford Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy)
- Angry Chair Dulce de Pepe (Imperial Stout)
- OEC Antioch (American Wild Ale)
I may need to make some real deals with the devil if I am to land that caliber of beer again. Or, you know, like, try. I could do that. And not risk my immortal soul. Or something. There are a few things I drank last year (even including stuff from way back in the middle of the year) that I still haven’t written up at all, but I guess they can wait until next year. So it’s been a fun year, and hopefully many more to come. Enjoy your beer folks!