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Top 12 Craft Beers of 2012

Author // Jeff Wharton

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.

Downeast Cider Original Blend

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.

Lagunitas DayTime Fractional IPA

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.

Notch Tafelbier

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!

Drink Craft Beer: 2012 in Review

Author // Jeff Wharton

There’s no doubt that 2012 was a big year for Drink Craft Beer! Last year was the year that we really took the bull by the horns and decided to see how far we could really take this company we started from meager beginnings back in 2006. Just how big did we go? Well let’s take a quick walk back through time and we’ll paint you a picture.

January

OK, we admit, we got off to a seemingly slow start. But we took a lot of meetings, talked with a lot of people (read: pestered a bunch of brewers) and this is when the groundwork for the year was laid. It’s not the fun part, but it’s necessary.

That said, January was the month we started writing about craft cider, and we even brought on a dedicated writer: Sarah, our cider writer! Since then, we’ve deepened our affection for this historic beverage and have had ciders at both of our festivals.

February

In February we held our biggest event to-date at that point! Over 550 people came out to the Taza Factory Store in Somerville for our craft beer and chocolate pairing event, “Can’t Keep ‘Em Apart: A Beer & Chocolate Love Story." With Taza donating chocolate and space and Slumbrew, Narragansett, Peak Organic and Sixpoint donating beer, we raised over $1800 for the Great Boston Food Bank - about 4,570 meals worth of donation! It even got covered on Boston.com!


March

March...well March was a prep month. Plus it was St. Patrick’s Day. We were busy. Let’s leave it at that.

April

In April it was up to Maine, something we would end up getting quite used to, to brew a collaboration beer with one of our favorite local brewers, Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing Co. After weeks of brainstorming and testing ingredients, we brewed and casked our true breakfast stout: a coffee milk session stout on cask! Coming in a little under 4% abv, this was truly one that you could have a couple pints of and not ruin the rest of your day. We launched it to a packed house at Lower Depths in Boston’s Kenmore Square and kicked the cask in just over an hour. We even had awesome coffee/beer mugs made up for the occasion! Chris said it would never be brewed again...but maybe if we all bug him enough it’ll make another appearance?

Notch Brewing & Drink Craft Beer Mugs

May

In May, we made some new friends in the form of the folks over at Grand Ten Distilling. If you’re not familiar, Grand Ten is a new distillery over in South Boston. It’s run by two cousins, one is a chemistry PhD and the other is an MBA. The split the work as you’d expect two people with those qualifications to. Spence, the distiller, is heavily influenced by time he spent in France and loves the tradition of their liqueurs. And their product shows it. They make possibly the best gin we’ve ever tasted (seriously, we use it a lot...especially in craft beer cocktails).


We hung out with them one night and worked (which I use in the lightest sense of the word) to pair their Wire Works gin with craft beer, doing a new take on the ancient practice of Kopstootje, or a shot of gin with beer. Check it out for yourself!

They’re great guys and we’ve since been back many times, including to make 2 hop liqueurs with Spence. One used an obscene amount of Sorachi Ace hops, the other had a dangerous amount of Chinook!

June

In June, while it may not seem huge, we had a revelation, and it’s name was Shandy! Take about equal parts craft beer and quality lemonade, combine and (if you’ve picked the right beer) you have a delicious sessionable concoction perfect for the hottest of days and the longest of all-day barbecues!

This made a huge difference in our summer as we were able to drink great beer, and still last all day as more and more of our friends seem to be getting yards...which inevitably means cook outs. Also, it helps that we can drink and it doesn’t hurt our skills at baggo, a favorite summer pastime of ours.

July

Nothing big really happened in July...oh, except that we launched our first craft beer fest! Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ales was a huge success, thanks to our volunteers, the brewers and all the awesome folks that came out. We had 25 brewers, all from New England and all of them brought at least one farmhouse ale or saison! All three sessions sold out and we had 1200 attendees drinking awesome summer beer on Friday night and all day Saturday. We also had B. Good and Culinary Cruisers serving up awesome grilled burgers and hot dogs, as well as Taza Chocolate and Quinn Popcorn on hand sampling. Damn this was a great event!

Drink Craft Beer Summerfest Crowd

August

In August we launched a post about our five rules to rare craft beer that generated a lot of discussion on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere. While not everybody agreed with us (and that’s fine, we don’t pretend to be the autocrats of craft beer), many did on many points. The idea was to get a discussion going as it seems a portion of the craft beer audience is moving more into a ticker mentality of chasing down everything new and hyped. We just wanted to remember that beer is supposed to be fun and social. To recap, Drink Craft Beer’s 5 Rules to Rare Beer can be summed up as:

  1. Don’t be greedy
  2. Don’t sell it
  3. Drink it now
  4. Share it
  5. Beer should be fun

September

In September we made another new friend, Chris Olds bar manager at Park Cambridge. After Devon had a couple great experiences with their beer cocktails he was a convert to the idea of craft beer cocktails. The folks on bar there told him there were a whole bunch of off-menu beer cocktails available and, resultantly, our curious nature took over. Next thing we knew, we were hanging out with Chris at Park before opening, mixing up cocktails so that we could tell the world about the awesomeness available here.


October

In October, Devon and I used Columbus Day to go up to Portland, ME to check out the growing scene up there. We ended up hanging out with the folks at Urban Farm Fermentory for the morning and saw the great set up that they have over there. They’re turning out some awesome spontaneously fermented cider and doing all sorts of neat stuff to it. They also make some killer kombucha!


After a delicious lunch of burgers and beer at Nosh, we met up with Heather and Nathan from Rising Tide Brewing and checked out their new brewery, which is huge. It’s a good thing their new space is so big, because the beer rocks and we see big things for this husband and wife team! 

We did a quick stop at Allagash Brewing to pick up some of their new House Beer, which unfortunately was sold out, but we ended up capping off the day by grabbing dinner with Heather and Natchan at Novare Res Bier Cafe, a joint that never ceases to amaze us, and even had a surprise chance to finally meet Craig, proprietor of the Pour Farm Tavern in New Bedford, MA. Great trip all around!

November

November was a busy, busy month! First, we went up to Maine again (we’ve been in Maine a lot this year it seems) to brew the Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest official beer with Peak Organic Brewing. Nut Your Average Ginger, a harvest brown ale with local ginger, hops, malt, honey and then some France-sourced chestnut puree, turned out great and was a hit at the fest. Not to mention we had a great time with Jon from Peak Organic as well as Josh from Puritan & Co. (the chef there, Will Gilson, supplied the honey for the beer from his family farm) and his girlfriend Stevie, and Brooks, the head brewer at the brewery we used to make the beer. Check the video:

Later in the month was our second beer fest ever, Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest. We again featured 25 New England brewers who this time each brought at least one beer featuring a fall or winter seasonal ingredient. The diversity of offerings was incredible, with fresh hops, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Christmas spices, cider, rosemary, nuts and so much more all used to brew beers or ciders. Again, we couldn’t have done it without our awesome volunteers, the brewers or the 1500+ attendees that came out. These things just seem to keep growing!


December

As December just wrapped up, we look back at it and are just trying to get ready for 2013! We hit 200,000 followers on Twitter. We announced our next fest, Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops. We’re lining up some other great stuff for the coming year.

So we hope you all enjoyed 2012, we know we did! And, also, let’s look forward to what 2013 has coming for us. It’s going to be a big one! Thanks to everyone who helped make 2012 such a banner year for Drink Craft Beer. When we launched this thing in 2006, we never thought it would grow so big, but we’re stoked and flattered and, honestly, just overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten. Thanks again, keep reading and drinking craft beer, and we hope to see you at Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April!

Enlightenment Ales Illumination Farmhouse IPA [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

Back in 2009 the Craft Brewers Conference (the national industy event for the craft brewing industry in the U.S.) was in Boston. Cambridge Brewing Company (CBC) was chosen to brew the official Symposium Beer for the event, which would be distributed to all of the attendees. They now distribute this brew, called Audacity of Hops. At the time, though, they didn't have a bottling line, so they partnered with Mayflower Brewing Company for the production. Tons of Massachusetts brewers came out to join in on the act and we all had a great day. While I was over at Mayflower, though, I met an assistant brewer from CBC named Ben Howe. Ben still works at CBC as a bartender but, since then, he's gone on to recently found Enlightenment Ales, a nano-brewery focused on the Biere de Champagne style as well as other farmhouse styles.

Enlightenment Ales Illumination Farmhouse IPA

As a frequenter of CBC, I've kept in touch with Ben over the years and, when I mentioned to Will Meyers (Brewmaster at CBC) that we were launching Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale, he said I had to talk to Ben. Well, I'm not going to question a man like Will, so I called up Ben and asked what he had that would work. Ben was playing with a test batch of Farmhouse Ale at the time and thought that it would be perfect...so we signed him up without having any idea what he would bring, but knowing the beers he had brewed under Will had been great. What he poured at Summerfest was a delicious blend of spicy saison yeast and delicious hops. Not too bitter, but tons of flavor. Now, a few months later, he's bottled it and it's available all over Eastern Massachusetts. I picked up a bottle at Craft Beer Cellar, so let's check it out.

Just like the first experimental batch of this I had at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale, Illumination is a super hazy, almost milky looking straw beer. But don't let that put you off! The apparent thickness? That's flavor, and it's from the yeast. The head is huge and serves to let the whole room know that you're drinking a beer that smells like hops, saison and deliciousness.

It's tough to tell off the bat who's winning this one, the hops or the yeast. The farmhouse yeast that Englightenment uses has quite a pungeant aroma of spice and a little banana. That said, there is a wonderful, fruity hop aroma that comes off this that can't be beat. In the end, I'm going to have to say that the two play together in a synergistic (yep, I used the word "synergy") way that makes both even better. The yeast has a drying, estery effect that almost seems a little chalky. The hops are fruity and full. Together, the beer has a wonderful smell that just makes me want to drink it!

This is one of those brews that is a great blend of two styles. Too often, when a brewer combines styles, one of them is dominant and the other is an after thought. In the case of Enlightenment's Illumination, though, the hops and the yeast come together to make a style I wish had always been around...and I'm sure farmhands of yore would have drank with much enthusiasm. The hops? Fruity, tropical and light on the tongue. The saison? Spicy, dry and refreshing. The high carbonation that comes with the saison style, as well as the estery, spicy yeast help to accentuate the hops and showcase them in their best light. In the way that vanilla makes chocolate a better flavor, I firmly believe that saison makes hops take on a more interesting character, done right. And this one is done right. Bring this to your next special event, as the 750 ml format is great for looking fancy, and your host will love you. Or just enjoy it by yourself on a slow night. We won’t judge.

Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

Stone Brewing Co. has long been a leader in the craft beer industry. They’ve helped lead the way in brash, highly hopped IPAs and marketing that talks about, to paraphrase, “if you don’t like it, you’re just not good enough to get it.” Founder Greg Koch, aside from helping to come up with and continue those arrogant sounding marketing tactics, has been a champion of the industry and way to make it better for consumers as well as brewers. A recent cause Koch and his company have taken up is beer freshness. Now, many people will print a “best by” date on their bottles. Some will even be good about ensuring that stores keep up with that date and see that stock is rotated correctly. But Stone has now gone one further, creating a beer whose entire existence revolves around promoting freshness. 

Stone Enjoy By 12.21.2012 IPA

The “Enjoy By...IPA” series is a rotating series where a super-hopped double IPA is released in limited quantities into a few markets at a time. This way, Stone can ensure that it’s being sold through the retail channel long before it’s “best by” date has passed. And, to make sure the consumer knows about this freshness dating, they’ve put the date right into the name. So, in Boston, I was able to pick up an “Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA.” And, wouldn’t you know, that coincides nicely with the end of the world (according to a few gullible people who misinterpreted a several thousand year old calendar). So, with that in mind, lets check out how this super fresh beer is.

With a crystal clear, barely darker than straw-colored body and a barely off-white head, Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA looks exactly like an IPA! The color is maybe slightly orange at times, depending on the light. The said, the head recedes fairly quickly, leaving me with a thin film on top of the beer and a ring of head around the edges.

“Enjoy By” is all about the hops and I know that from just sticking my nose in the glass. Tropical aromas, oranges, pineapples and other citrus abound. Malt? Well I feel like Stone would say that’s for people who aren’t as worthy. Because, and listen close, this is for those of you who are of a hoppier persuasion. Soft round edges? Matured flavors? No thanks, this is all about the purity of essence of thousands of little flowers that grow on vines and the sacrifice they make to make beer so delicious.

So I may have waxed poetic (or at least as close as I get) there for a moment, but my first sip of Enjoy By confirms my thoughts. This beer may as well be bubbly, cold hop tea because that’s all I get from it. The bitterness is strong, but not quite overwhelming. The mouthfeel is a little oily from all the hops. But the flavor is back to those tropical fruits again, all from that glorious little flower we call humulus lupulus. This is delicious, and I’m definitely enjoying it. Would it be as good on December 22? Probably. But I get the point that Stone is making and applaud them for it, even if they used a little hyperbole...sometimes you’ve got to to get your point across. Also, as we all know, Stone loves hyperbole and bombast.

If you live in the Boston-area, chances are you’re going to have to wait until the next time this one comes by because it came and sold out quick. But, if you live in other places that Stone distributes, just keep your eyes out for news of Enjoy By coming to your city, because this is a delicious IPA!