2012 was a very different year for craft beer from 2011. In 2011, we saw an incredible number of breweries and brewing companies open in our region and a flurry of new beers were released. It got to the point where we were attending two or more openings/releases in a night at times. 2011 truly was an exciting time to be in New England and we inadvertently made our Top 11 Craft Beers of 2011 list totally Northeast-based. Oops, our bad. If you were here, though, you would have understood.
We still saw some new kettles come on line in 2012, but this year was more about established brands putting out some delicious new stuff. There's no doubt that brewers are putting out great, locally-made beer here in New England, but this year we found some inspiration from all across the country. In addition, we saw many new establishments carrying more and better craft beer. All in all 2012 was a good year!
So, with that said, let's get on to the Drink Craft Beer Top 12 New Craft Beers of 2012...then, afterwards, let us know what you really enjoyed in 2012 on Twitter (hastag #CraftBeer2012), on Facebook or in the comments below! (Note: This is not a rank-ordered list.)
Downeast Cider House Original Blend
We can already hear the dissension, “But this is a cider!” Yep, it is. 2012 was the year that cider hit in a big way...which makes sense, given our history with the apple. What used to be a novelty that your one weird friend would drink is now all the rage and a super-fast growing cousin of the craft beer industry. And, in our minds, no one represented the face of this new guard more than the boys from Downeast Cider House. It’s a juicy, yet not too sweet, cider that comes in cans and on draft. It mixes great with several different types of beer. They presented it just like beer, in cans and on tap, so the adoption of this drink was easy to beer drinkers. And we were sold on it ever since we got a secret test bottle way back in late 2011. To be fair, local cider-makers Bantam Cider, Urban Farm Fermentory, Farnum Hill and many others are all making great ciders as well. But in cider, to us, 2012 belonged to Downeast.
Mystic Brewery Vinland One
In 2012, we launched our first beer festival, Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale. And who better to make the official fest beer than Massachusetts’ own saison brewery? Launched at Summerfest, Vinland One took locally-sourced to a whole new level when Bryan Greenhagen and the Mystic crew made a beer with yeast cultured from Massachusetts plums. Pale, light, clean and refreshing with an underlying hint of plum, this brew took attendees back to the days when beer was fermented by local, naturally occurring yeast. Since being bottled, this has definitely been one to pick up and enjoy.
Stone Enjoy By IPA (12.21.12)
We’ve led off this list with a few game-changing libations and that’s not going to stop here. While we’ll be the first to say that some in the beer community take freshness a little too far (I’m sorry, but your 3 week old IPA is just fine...trust me), it’s definitely still important. We’ve seen too many dusty bottles of delicate styles of beer that we know are waaaaaay past their prime on store shelves. We may know better, but the casual consumer probably won’t and she’s not going to be too happy when she pops open that stale, 11-month-old bottle of pale ale. Stone used their status as one of the biggest and most influential companies in the industry to take a stand on this topic and got a huge amount of attention for their effort and the resulting beer. The Stone Enjoy By IPA series puts the expiration date of their super-hoppy IPA front and center as part of the name of the beer. And this sure is a beer for those who love hops. Be on the lookout if Stone says it’s coming to your city, though. Between the brewery’s intention for this beer to be consumed fresh and the attention it’s gotten across the country, it’ll come and go quick!
Idle Hands Bourbon Barrel Aged Triplication
Pouring their first beer at the end of 2011, 2012 really saw Idle Hands Craft Ales turning some heads. On top of their standard line-up of Belgian-inspired ales (which are delicious) they put out some real head turners, including Oh BABY!, Charlton Rouge, Dubbel Dimples, Blanche de Grace and more. But the one that we really couldn’t leave off this list barely made the cut-off for 2012: Bourbon Barrel Aged Triplication, their trippel aged in barrels. One smell and smooth, vanilla bourbon almost smacks you upside the head. Take a sip, though, and it’s a liquid of masterful balance with the oaky tannins and vanilla from the barrels lying down nicely with the fruity esters and sweetness of the beer. We popped one of these on New Year’s Eve with friends and everyone loved it, not just the craft beer drinkers. We wish we had more!
Sixpoint Resin Double IPA
While Sixpoint started canning their until-then only kegged craft ales and lagers in 2011, 2012 saw a change possibly even bigger...they brought on a new brewmaster! German born and trained Jan Matysiak took over for founder Shane Welch (he has stepped into a role of focusing more on the business side of his brewery). While Jan has been brewing in the States for a while, this is the first time that many East Coasters got to try his beer and Sixpoint’s Resin Double IPA was his first new beer for Sixpoint. A chewy, full-bodied, almost-creamy beer the bitterness hits you after a few seconds and damn! The name is appropriate as its resiny, coating your mouth with hoppy goodness! This is one we kept coming back to all year. And the 12oz slim tallboy can? It’s just a fun little plus. Hey, people say we eat and drink with our eyes, and this can is a good way to start the drinking.
New Belgium Shift Lager
In 2012 we found ourselves in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area a couple of times for a friend’s wedding. While there, we of course tried a ton of the local beers and were supremely impressed by what’s going on in the region. We also drank a ton of New Belgium’s latest year-round offering, Shift Lager. This is what many would call a pre-prohibition lager and is what my father would call “a beer that tastes like beer” (he’s a big time craft beer drinker, but still remembers back before this whole craft beer thing was going on like it is now). This is a beer made for a bachelor party, hanging out before a wedding, or just hanging out with the guys. If you’re going to drink a quite a few and don’t want to think too much about it, this is a great go-to brew. The good part? It’s tasty enough that you definitely can think about it if you so choose, and you’ll be quite happy!
Enlightenment Ales Illumination Farmhouse IPA
Enlightenment Ales is Massachusetts’ latest nano-brewery. We met founder Ben Howe back in 2009 when he was an assistant brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company and he’s obviously learned quite a bit from CBC’s Brewmaster, Will Meyers. Enlightenment’s flagship is a Biere de Champagne but our favorite thing he put out this year was his hoppy Saison, Illumination Farmhouse IPA, showcased for one of the first times at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest. Oftentimes we find that this style has two competing flavor profiles, but Ben’s version has spicy yeast and fruity hops playing together in a way that would have had farmhands of yesteryear drinking the hell out of this beer!
Maine Beer Company MO Pale Ale
In 2011, Maine Beer Company’s Lunch IPA was all the rage...and everybody knew it. If word got out that Lunch was available on tap or at a store, you better cut work and get over there if you wanted some. Cut to 2012, though, and we’ve found another new Maine Beer Co. beer that we like even more. Being a pale ale, MO obviously attracts a bit less attention. But we were sucked in by the awesome hop aroma and flavor with less hop bitterness. Also, at 6% abv it was a little more drinkable. Finally, as a pale ale it didn’t have quite the same amount of malt behind it, which was nice. A showcase of hops. Thanks Maine Beer Co!
Lagunitas DayTime Fractional IPA
Does it seem to you that the craft beer industry is finally peeling away a little bit from the 10%+ abv imperial beers? Are you starting to seek out, and find, more full-flavored, lower-alcohol beers? That’s certainly how it seems to us. While we’re lucky to have a dedicated, high-quality session beer producer in Massachusetts we’re stoked to see other, less focused brewers picking up the mantel as well. Lagunitas was one of those in 2012, putting out DayTime IPA, what they call a “fractional IPA.” Crisp, dry and aromatic with super fruity hops, this is one that you can definitely drink during the day that won’t lead to an early bedtime. We’re excited by anybody who wants to brew a great, lower-alcohol option...but if they want to put a ton of hops in it? Well then that’s something we’ll definitely smile while we try it.
Night Shift Somer Weisse
A little under a year ago (March 2012 to be exact) Night Shift Brewery introduced the Boston-area to their unorthodox beers like a honey & tea wheat ale, a rye, agave nectar & habanero pepper beer, a rosemary, rose hips & pink peppercorns saison and more. All of their offerings deliver a complicated set of ingredients with impressive balance, showing a deft brewing hand and years spent perfecting recipes. With that said, one of Night Shift’s beers really captured our attention in 2012 and we drank it over and over again. With Somer Weisse, Night Shift showed they were incredibly capable of brewing an impressive sour beer. Hovering between 5% - 6% abv, it was a tart and refreshing beer perfect for summer drinking. And drink it we did (and continue to). When they released Ever Weisse and, later, Mainer Weisse they showed everyone that Somer Weisse wasn’t a one-time sour fluke, they really knew how to make tart beer. But our hearts and taste buds have continued on with this old mainstay.
Our love of session beer is no secret. We drink a lot of beer over here at Drink Craft Beer and we can’t be wearing out early after having a few beers, which sometimes makes the big imperial stuff a bit tough (they’ve got their time and place, don’t worry!). As lovers of session beer, and being in Massachusetts, there is one man who does it like nobody else. Last year we had a toss-up between Notch Brewing’s Saison and Pils for our Top 11 of 2011 list. This year, we had an easier choice (we couldn’t select our Coffee Milk Stout collaboration beer we made with Notch) and there was one new Notch beer that we drank way more than any other. Notch Tafelbier was a sub-3% abv brew that delivered on flavor with a distinctly dry Belgian profile, a nice hop kick and just a touch of tartness. This beer took session to the next level and showed just how small you can go with alcohol and still deliver an awesome beer. We look forward to it this summer!
Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale
Back in 2007 we went on a road trip throughout the Great Lakes region, stopping at a ton of breweries, talking with brewers, checking out awesome beer bars and coming home with a much of beer we can’t get in Boston. One of our favorite stops was Founders Brewing Company (at their old location). We hit the taproom up three days in a row where the most interesting beer on tap was Frangelic Stout, a rich stout with hazelnut tones. And let’s keep in mind both Breakfast Stout and Founders’ much-hyped Kentucky Breakfast Stout were on tap. Unfortunately once we drove out of town, so did our chance to drink this amazing elixir. So let’s fast forward to 2012 and, lo-and-behold, Founders releases Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale as part of their Backstage Series. While not the same beer (the brown ale is 9% abv while the stout was about 4.5%, along with the obvious style difference), it clearly received the same treatment. We made sure to pick up a bottle and it definitely delivered on returning us to those awesome bar stools back in Grand Rapids. This was a great beer that we had to give props to Founders for. Now how about you guys send some six-packs of Frangelic Stout this way?
Now that we've told you our favorites of 2012, what were yours? Craft beer is just a matter of taste and taste is hugely personal, so we want to know what you liked! With so many new beers coming out all the time, did we miss anything? Let us know what you really enjoyed in 2012 on Twitter (hastag #CraftBeer2012), on Facebook or in the comments below!