It wasn’t easy, but during the delicious beer year that was 2009 I managed to taste every beer in the world. Well, OK not quite. But I tasted plenty, and from spankin’ fresh IPAs to spicy Belgians to face-altering sour beers, it was nearly impossible to choose the five best. Again, my job is very, very hard.
A lot of wonderful new beers hit the market, pushing boundaries and becoming new favorites. They’re not all new per se; some are new to D.C., and some are pretty new but might have come out in 2008. But the main point is that these five are all delicious and worth seeking out. So, because I love countdowns more than Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest’s unborn son, here are the Top Five Beers of 2009. Let the discussion begin.
5. Goose Island Matilda – You know what’s even better than a great Belgian beer? One that doesn’t have to travel 5,000 miles to get here. What makes America the best beer country in the world is that you can find nearly every brewing style (not to mention that we’re making up new styles every other week). With serious allspice notes and a mild touch of funky-sweet apricot, Matilda is one of the best Belgian golden ales you’ll find on either side of the Atlantic.
4. Duck Rabbit Schwarzbier – Yes, lagers can be dark! And in this case, they can also be thick and chewy, and practically burnt with roasted malt. That’s why my second-favorite part of sharing this six-pack was telling my friends that it was a lager. My favorite part? The grill marks.
3. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale – When it comes down to it, IPAs are my favorite, and I suspect many of you share this disposition. This summer seasonal tastes like the lovechild of Stone IPA and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, with honey sweetness and grapefruit bite that give way to a blanket of bitter hops. Summer can’t come soon enough.
2. Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge – 2009 was the year sour beer came to town, and the horse it rode in on was Cuvee des Jacobins. Cherry sweetness meets uber-tart pucker, all wrapped together in a barrel-aged package. If soda could taste this good, I’d drink soda for breakfast.
1. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA – And here we are. Of all the beers I tried in 2009 — including the ones I can’t remember — this is the beer I want, all the time. Stone’s regular IPA is a big, bludgeoning bottle of eau de hops. Cali-Belgique is that same beer with a Belgian yeast strain replacing the ol’ Stars and Stripes, and the effect is something like when Jimi Hendrix covered “All Along the Watchtower.” The basics are still there — you won’t miss your hops — but the crazy yeast shows up with wafts of strawberry and tropical fruits, going completely Jackson Pollock all over your basic IPA canvas. Don’t call it a Belgian IPA. This is American beer: flavorful, bold, creative, and above all, as good as it gets.
Wait, wait, don’t tell me: You disagree, right? Did I miss your favorite beer? Or commit some other woeful folly? I’m sure I did, but don’t just sit there and fume — flex those keyboard muscles and say something!