Last year for the first time I cannonballed into the crowded space of End of Year Beer content. I return this year, to offer a glimpse of some of my favorites of this busted, janky, calendar year. I did a data pull from Untappd, and this is the least amount of unique ticks I’ve had in a given year since I first got on the app in 2013. But that’s what happens when you subtract nearly all beer festivals and most bottle shares from 10 months of the year.
With that said, I was fortunate to drink several great things at my wedding in February, and squeezed in a fair amount of small, outside, distanced bottle shares this summer.
This list is in no particular order. The beer does not have to have been bottled/canned in 2020. This is merely the beers I personally enjoyed most that I consumed this calendar year. Also sprinkling in some of my favorite beer memes from 2020. Skol!
3 fonteinen – robijn, (season 18|19) blend 79
Probably my favorite lambic this year. Robijn was the best kriek to come out of 3F since older paper labled bottles of Scharbeekse. It was the type of cherry that feels sublimely fulfilling the way only LPK has offered before it.
Barclay Brewing – Dimensions of Time 4
Part of the releases for Barclays Black Stave Society, Dimensions of Time 4 was aged in several high profile barrels including WLW and OWA. This variant was my favorite of the 5 that were released. It has a great balance of maple and vanilla with neither running the show, but both playing harmoniously together.
Revolution Brewing – Very Special Old Ryeway (VSOR)
Revolution is the Alpha and Omega of Chicago barrel aged barleywines, ryewines, and others of that ilk. This style is truly where they shine most. VSOR conjured up some of the same things we loved about VSOJ, though I think anyone would tell you VSOJ still reigns supreme as the best thing Revolution has released to the general public.
Transient artisan ales – kamigoye Vanilla
I’m a sucker for beers named after semi-obscure japanese wrestling moves. This was a sneaky good beer this year by a brewery that despite many successes in different brewing styles, is still underrated, in my opinion. Plenty of barrel and vanilla that punches in the class of BCBS Vanilla, Henna Vanilla Caviar, and other higher touted vanilla stouts.
Half Acre Beer Company – Xtra Dubl Benthic
Four years ago, Half Acre changed the perception of what their stouts could be. Though Big Hugs had been a perennial ‘nice to have’ beer around the winter season, it had frankly fallen behind in the pastry arms race. Benthic arrived and cannonballed Half Acre back into the 5 star stout territory. While they’ve iterated on new variants ever year, Xtra Dubl Benthic punctuated this years release of variants. It’s the best BA coconut beer I had this year, and every bit as good as last years Top 10 beer, BA Coco Vibes. In case you’re wondering I’d put Anchorage Blessed second to Xtra Dubl but both are close.
Editors note: I fully was planning to put Half Acre’s Catch Hell in this spot but it was replaced having Xtra Dubl fresh. Both are exceptional though.
Off Color Brewing – CHicago Craft Gin Week Is a Real Thing
I’m a sucker for good gin barrel wilds. Over several years, Off Color has earned a cult following for its sporadic gin barrel releases. Going back to Papillon and Gin BA Yuzu Fierce, they’ve made other drips here and there in this niche category like Gin finished Radiolara and Over Market Rate. This beer doesn’t have botanicals that are as pungent and assertive as others from the past. The acidity is a bit more assertive but this mix plays well, and we hope it will become a staple release for Chicago’s most charming and eccentric brewery.
Saint errant Brewing – gorilla cookies
8oz cans of stout can be little sneaky guys. They’re these dinky little cans with a cartoon primate dessert, but inside hold a hazelnut cinna cacao nib surprise, that punches way above its price point. In 2019, Saint Errant began offering their stouts in these 8 oz cans. This was a welcome way to take on some sweet stout on a Tuesday night by yourself, and I appreciate the size option.
Hop Butcher for the world – Double Blazed Orange Milkshake
Double Blazed Orange Milkshake has become the highest rated annual beer to come out of this suburban based contract brewery. This is the creamsicleiest orange vanilla beer there is. Hop Butcher seems to routinely do more triple NEIPAs than anyone in the region. I can’t help wonder if Triple Blazed Orange Milkshake might be on the horizon
Phase three Brewing – Eunoia Batch 3 (toasted Marshmallow)
Last year I wrote about how Side Project’s Derivation 13 was the first vanilla beer in a long time that took me back to the feeling of drinking early Bourbon Vanilla Dark Lord. Eunoia 3 did the same. A thoroughly complete and fulfilling vanilla experience.
3 fonteinen – zenne y frontera Blend 5
This was one of the few beers I took on our COVID shortened honeymoon. More akin to Zenne batch 1 than Zenne y Solera, blend 5 brought that signature Drie Fonteinen funk along with some unexpected stone fruit characteristics. Kind of reminded me like a less acidic Fou or a more complex version of De Garde’s The Flor. I believe this is the most widely produced Zenne so far, and if you haven’t dabbled in the sherry lambic yet, this is a great place to start.
This years list is more Chicago-centric than last year. I think that largely stems from not attending any beer festivals and many many less bottle shares than normal. That said, Chicago is a fantastic local market that I’d match up with anyone in the country as far as well rounded world class offerings.
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