Belated Year End Musings – 2023 in Beers

Well, it’s been approximately three years since I’ve done one of these, which says something in and of itself, doesn’t it? Even at its height, few people ever read this blog, and I’m pretty sure no one will see this except for bots or some sort of future AI archeologist researching their doctorate on blogging dead enders. Blogs are well and truly dead these days (sorta, if you don’t count stuff like Substack, but even that is a niche market, to be sure), and even successor social media is in the process of self-destructing. But, as much as I appreciate readers (including you, future AI readers!) and feedback, it’s never been entirely about the audience either.

There are many reasons to write beyond what the audience wants to read (hell, I’ve never been one to chase trends or popular topics, even though when I accidentally stumble on one, I tend to see the difference in results). So I might not do so as often, but it’s still a useful exercise.

Obviously, much has happened in the last three years, too much. Even limiting it to one year might be overwhelming, but when you laser focus on one subject, like, say, the beers of 2023, the idea becomes more palatable. Yeah, yeah, there’s more important stuff going on in the world these days, but beer is a least fun (I won’t belabor the point or try to rationalize the importance of beer, but I think you get my point).

The Blogging Reversion to the Mean

After a lockdown-fueled increase in blogging, things have reverted to the slower pace of pre-pandemic writing (which was, shall we say, already slackening). I’m sure blogging will continue at the leisurely pace I seem to be settling on… Maybe more if I don’t do the long mega-posts that I’ve been doing more of over the past few years. I’ve got a few posts in the ol’ drafts folder that I’ll probably get to someday soon. Ish.

The Ascendance of Lager

The rise of lagers has been a theme of the past few of these yearly recaps, but sometime in the last few years, the slow rise has turned into the absolute ascendance of lager. It’s gotten to the point where I should probably stop just calling it “lager.” There’s a multitude of styles encapsulated in that generic label, and it’s also worth noting that there are plenty of unsexy ales that I’ve also been pursuing more and more these days (i.e. Bitter, Altbier, Mild, &c.) Funnily enough, it’s the middle ground of 6-10% ABV beers that seem to be suffering the most for me. My fridge is typically filled with two main classes of beer: sessionable lagers (and occasional sessionable ale) and barrel-aged monstrosities. Conspicuously absent? IPAs (which, to be sure, I still love and pursue, but nowhere near as much these days). Speaking of which:

The Death of Haze

Alright, that might be overstating things a bit. But after a solid decade of chasing hazy NEIPA styles, I’m starting to circle back to clean West Coast IPAs more and more these days. Combined with the lager focus, I’m drinking less and less haze these days. I think the pendulum is starting to swing a little less in either direction these days, settling on an equilibrium that includes both takes on the style. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. People have been speculating on the rise of craft lagers for well over a decade at this point, but Haze and IPA does seem to still dominate the overall craft market. Still, for this sample size of one, lagers seem to be rivaling IPA, and it’s encouraging that there are plenty of lager-focused breweries putting out great beer these days…

Beer Flavored Beer

I’ve already hinted at this above in the lager section, but it’s worth reiterating. The early days of craft and the incredible growth that started around 15 years ago coincided with an experimental ethos that often resulted in the use of wacky ingredients or processes. This is still quite prominent today, and it’s nice to stretch boundaries and try something weird every once in a while, but I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s one reason why lagers and “beer flavored beer” have become a bigger part of my beery diet (flavorful but crisp and clean styles). The only real exception in my book comes from barrel-aging (i.e. bourbon flavored beer) and maybe, sometimes, vanilla. I occasionally go for a fruited sour, but not those chunky kettle sour fruit slushies that will explode if you don’t refrigerate them. But even when it comes to sours, I find myself gravitating towards gueuze-style blends (rather than fruited variants). Given the popularity of pastry stouts and fruited kettle sours, I’m clearly the outlier here, but that’s where I’m at.

The Return of Travel

Obviously the past few years have not been great for traveling, but things have gotten better, and thus I’ve been taking more road rips (even just day trips are more common these days) and doing visits to places like Asheville, and so on. I’ve never been a huge traveler, but the pandemic times were clearly not helping. Nature is healing, etc…

Taking Breaks From Alcohol

This will be the tenth year since I’ve started doing this sort of thing, and it’s worth noting that I’ve been gravitating away from simply substituting other alcohols for beer (i.e. it doesn’t really help as much to just substitute wine or bourbon for beer, even though I usually consume less alcohol/calories when I do that).

One surprising help in this is the rise of non-alcoholic beer, which might feel like cheating, but we’re often talking about 1/3 of the calories (if not an even better ratio) and no real alcohol (they usually specify less than 0.5% ABV, so let’s say minimal alcohol.) It really does help scratch that itch for having a couple of beers, and it’s something I started doing more in 2023 (and will be continuing in 2024). It has a real benefit to health and even beyond that, it’s valuable as a sorta palate reset. Every time I come back from one of these brief hiatuses (even ones as short as two weeks), I always experience a sense of renewal and newfound respect for well crafted beers.

Top 20 Beers of 2023

At this point, I usually do a top “new to me” beers of the year sort of thing, but as blogging has declined, this has gotten somewhat awkward. It used to be that nearly everything on the list would have a corresponding blog post, but now only a handful will (the rest I’ll just link to Untappd).

Standard disclaimers apply: this is a list of beers that were new-to-me in 2023. New this year: I’m limiting breweries to one beer (otherwise this would just be a list of like 5 breweries). N.B.: It’s not an all time favorites list, so if you don’t see something on here, then maybe I didn’t try it this year or perhaps I already had it in a previous year (and it’s worth noting that we’ve got a three year gap, so it’s quite possible that I’ve had it but never mentioned it). Or you’ve just got awful taste, it could be that. This is a naturally arbitrary exercise, but I always have fun with it and enjoy making lists like this. Lists are American! So here goes nothing:

Revolution Double Barrel VSOJ takes number one slot in top beers of 2023

Of note here: Only one imperial stout? That’s interesting (it’s tied for the number of Helles lagers on the list, which would be bone chilling to an earlier version of myself), but probably indicative of revisiting certain beers I love in 2023 (which don’t qualify for the list). Also, only one Saison – another former stalwart of these lists. Barleywines, Czech Dark Lagers, and Pilsners seem to have picked up the slack. Also worth noting that for all my kvetching about the death of Haze, there are two beers that look like damn chicken broth on this list.

That just about covers it. Here’s to 2023 in beers! Insert your toast of choice here.

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