This is an overdue post, but one which I had to do if I am going to begin regularly acknowledging the best of the best. Every year, there are beers that I come across that manage to not only stand out, but stand above the rest And so, here is a rundown of all the beers that I sampled in 2014 that met those criteria.
To be clear, this list acknowledges the best beers that I sampled during the course of the year. It does not necessarily accord to when these beers were first released. Only those beers that ranked a 9.5 or higher were included, and only those that made a truly great impression.
So here goes…
1. Russell Nectar of the Gods Wheat Wine: Starting this list out right is one of the best beers I’ve had in recent memory. As I said in my review, the beer is wonderfully complex, delivers strong fruit esters and notes of vanilla, and has a smokey, whiskey finish. While I’m not always a fan of bourbon barrel aged beers, the sweet and smooth malts of this wheat wine were wonderfully complimented by the process. Best of 2014!
2. Affligem Blonde: 2014 was the year that I fell in love with Blondes, owing to the Battlefields tour the family and I took to Belgium and France. And Affligem was my favorite by far, and something that I have since convinced my local beer stores (Cascadia and Metro) to start carrying. Consistent with a Belgian pale, this beer employs crisp malts, a yeasty backbone, and a slightly sweet quality that is well balanced and very drinkable. Definitely a favorite of the year, as well as one of my all-time favorites!
3. Goose Island Matilda Belgian Style Pale Ale: Another great beer of 2014, one which combined several of my favorite styles and influences. These included elements of a Flemish Red and a Trappist ale – the sour and oaky notes of the former with the strong malt and yeasty effervescence of the latter. Having only learned of this brewery in 2014, I’ve come to understand that they do great work, and this is definitely their best so far!
4. Townsite Cardena Belgian Quad: Since I first gained access to their wares in 2012, I’ve been impressed by everything Townsite has produced. In particular, their Hulk Series has always be known to deliver the kind of stuff I like, and this one was no exception. In addition to being deliciously malty, dark, fruity and sugary, it’s got a well balanced flavor due to just enough citrus hop bitterness. It’s a lot like a barley wine, but except with the infusion of the telltale Belgian yeasts that give it an added distinctive flavor.
5. Le Terroir Wet Hopped Sour Ale: I’ve become a fan of sours in recent years, and this one was one of the better ones I’ve had. Consistent with this Wallonian style of beer, this brew has the deliciously tart, fruity and earthy qualities sours are known for. These are all balanced by just enough Amarillo and Citra hops, resulting in a nice herbal infusion on top.
6. Cantillon Kriek 100% Lambic Bio: Cantillon is a family-run Belgian brewery famous for their commitment to Krieks, Lambics, Guezes, and other traditional Belgian styles. And this brew is one of the better ones I’ve had from them yet. The nose and flavor are packed with sour cherries, brettanomyces yeast, and some serious oaky flavor. All of this adds up to an intoxicating nose and flavor that is exciting and lingering.
7. Green Flash Palate Wrecker Hamilton’s Ale: Imperial IPAs are quite the hot ticket these days, and something which can easily be overdone. But Green Flash’s managed to be powerful without being overwhelming. Despite its alcohol and hop strength (9.5% and 100+ IBUs), it manages to be quite drinkable and refreshing. I’ve been back to this brew a few times and it always manages to deliver.
8. Dieu du Ciel Rosée d’hibiscus: This was my first sampling from the Dieu du Ciel brewery, and also one of the best brews I had during the course of the year. Combining a wit base with hibiscus was certainly an interesting combination, making for a smooth, yeasty base that is accented by a slightly acidic, fruity flavor that was reminiscent of Sorrel (one of Jamaica’s most famous beverages).
9. Page 24 Reserve Hildegarde Blonde: Yet another regional blonde ale that I enjoyed while in Paris, the esoteric appeal of the name alone was worth the price. But in addition, it was also a pleasingly tasty and refreshing ale, with a nicely balanced flavor that is gently malty, lightly hoppy, yeast, and with a hint of spice. And unlike most of the other blondes enjoyed on that trip, this ale was actually brewed in France (St. Germain Brewery, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region), rather than being a Belgian import.
10. Kwak: Yet another Paris sampling, Kwak is a regional favorite rom the Eastern Flemish town of Dendermondethat is famous in part for the glass it is served in (a shortened version of a yard glass). A lovely ruby-red in color, this beer has a nice malty and semi-sweet base, and some light fruit esters that call to mind apple, cherry, and plums. The pint of this that I enjoyed in Paris was the first time I ever tried (or even heard of) this beer, and now I am busily trying to get it here at home!
11. Dieu du Ciel Rigor Mortis ABT: This beer was my second sampling from Dieu du Ciel brewery, and immediately made the list! Overall, this beer combined the best of two worlds that are already great on their own: a barley wine and a quadrupel. This comes through with notes of figgy pudding, sugary malts, raisins, plums, a yeasty backbone, and a slightly spicy finish.
12. Muskoka Legendary Oddity: This sampling was a lovely drinking experience for two reasons. One, it was a lovely beer. And two, I genuinely miss the Muskoka brewery since moving to the west. It combines many distinctive Belgian-style elements, which include the sharp yeast and slightly sweet malt flavor of a Tripel, and the sweet and sugary notes of barley-wine. It tops this all off with an infusion of juniper that gives it a slight, gin-like essence.