Welcome back to Tap Trail Reviews, it has been another stellar year for beer. We are clearly still on an upward trajectory in both quality and quantity. There are so many superb beers out there that it is tough to taste even one percent of them in a year. Fortunately we’ve been able to taste some awesome bottles and cans over the course of the past year or so. We thought it would be fun to look back a bit and recap some of our most enjoyed and highest scoring beers.

Remember that we use the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) to get to our scores. This 50 point score takes into account all the important factors of a beer, appearance (3), aroma (12), flavor (20), mouthfeel (5), and overall impression (10). I have grown to appreciate just how subjective beer can be, you can sit with a few friends and try the same beer, but you will likely all pick up different, unique notes to that particular beer.

It is generally easy to determine if a beer is good, or not so good, but it is important to dig a little deeper and determine what makes a beer good, and what can make a beer truly great. Is it the depth of aromas? Is it the crisp refreshing carbonation? Is it the intensely developed flavor? Each component is capable of pushing a beer over the top, when you take each component together, the sum of the parts really makes up a great beer. Join us in our journey of the best beers of the year, we’re going to start with some honorable mentions, then rank in order, starting with 10, and ending with the best reviewed beer of the year. Last year’s favorite was Cascade Blackcap Raspberry, what will come out on top this year?

Honorable Mentions —

TRVE Life’s Trade, Omnipollo Abrahadabra, Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin

#10 — Toppling Goliath pseudoSue — 41/50

Just a fantastic example of the American Pale Ale. Clean and smooth malt foundation supports a crisp and juicy hop profile that leaves you wanting to come back for more. Wish it were available locally, but I have found Ballast Point Grunion to be a close 2nd.

#9 — Fremont Field to Ferment: Citra — 42/50

This years fresh hop beer crop was one of the best in a long while. Fremont’s rendition singularly utilized four unique hops in four separate releases. We enjoyed each, but I give the edge to their Citra offering, it was full of juicy citrus and balanced with a subtle floral component, showing yet again why Citra is such a beloved and popular hop.

#8 — Prairie Birthday BOMB! — 42/50

Regular Prairie BOMB! (if you can call it that), has long been one of my favorite stouts, brewed with espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chile peppers. It is a world class beer in its own right. This version adds house made caramel to the mix and pushes it to another level, if you’re after liquid fudge look no further.

#7 — Melvin Hubert MPA — 43/50

Another fantastic Pale, no fresh hops in this one, but it is very easy to see why this one is such a go to beer for many. Brewed a little stronger at 6.0%, but chock full of CTZ, Simcoe and Citra hops, say no more.

#6 — Sierra Nevada Beer Camp — Moxee Moron — 43/50

This “Imperial Session IPA” was the collaborative product of Bale Breaker, Barley Brown’s, Black Raven, Melvin, Odell and Sierra Nevada. And boy did they nail this one, a piney, citrusy, resinous, and earthy IPA. Here’s to hoping they bring this one back next year like they did with Beer Camp: Tropical IPA earlier this year.

#5 — Crux — Freakcake 2016 — 43/50

This big boozy sour beast of a beer is a unique delight. Most Oud Bruin’s do not possess the intense layers of oak, Bourbon, dark fruit, and sour tang that this one does, cheers!

#4 — Oskar Blues Barrel Aged TenFidy — 43/50

What happens when you take one of the best Imperial Stouts out there and throw it into Bourbon barrels? Pure deliciousness, this full-bodied, intense stout brings wonderful barrel notes of vanilla, coconut, Bourbon and oak. More should (hopefully) be available soon, so stock up if you see it in the wild!

#3 — Off Color Barrel Aged Dino’smores — 44/50

This is another example of what can happen when you age a great base beer in even better barrels. This full bodied s’more stout is made with graham flour, marshmallow, and aged in Willett Rye Whisky barrels for a whopping 18 months, bringing intense barrel notes of spicy rye and oak balanced against a sweet a lingering base.

#2 — Melvin 2×4 — 44/50

Here’s a beer that has been climbing the ranks of IPA’s for quite some time, it has also seen a meteoric rise in availability, going from a 1/6bbl on tap once or twice a year to being available in every store in the county. The good news is that the beer has remained unchanged and is as good as ever, full of Columbus, Centennial, Citra & Simcoe hops, this is truly one of the best.

#1 — Perennial Sump — 44/50

I’m a sucker for a great coffee beer and this one is at the top of the mountain for me. A full bodied imperial stout loaded with intense darkly roasted coffee and chocolate notes, this is a Speedway on steroids and a perennial favorite for this taster. Cheers!

Looking Back & Ahead

2016 was another great year for beer, we had a fantastic rise in breweries both locally and nationally. Now is perhaps the easiest time to get a fantastic fresh beer from just outside your front door. Last year we saw a bunch of flavored beers from industry giants like Ballast Point (Pineapple Sculpin, Peppermint Victory at Sea, Mango Even Keel, etc…), New Belgium (Citradelic). We also saw a bunch of collaborations, with so many breweries out there it is nice to see breweries coming together to release some awesome joint effort beers, one even made it into our top 10 of the year from the Beer Camp Series.

Looking ahead to 2017, I think that we will continue to see both quality and experimentation grow. Some experiments will be out of pure curiosity, while others will be out of necessity. With hops becoming more and more scarce (especially the trendy ones), I think we’ll see breweries explore some less hoppy styles, we’ll see more lagers, more saisons, and yes, more sours. These beers utilize less hops, but still contribute wonderful flavors and complexion.

Also looking ahead, don’t be surprised to see smaller package sizes, especially on barrel aged beers. Thankfully the 22 oz format seems to be dying, it has long been the worst value in beer ($/oz), and is often a daunting package size for a 14%+ Barrel Aged Stout, unless of course you are sharing it. I think we’ll see a smart shift to 12 oz bottles for more and more beers such as Lagunitas Hi-Westified Imperial Stout (just released), and hopefully some Firestone Walker Proprietors beers (Parabola, Sucaba, etc…), even the 16 oz cans that have come from Evil Twin for Even More Jesus and Imperial Biscotti Break have been a welcome addition, we’re going from $18 / 22 oz = $0.81 / oz down to $4 / 16 oz = $0.25 / oz. That’s a nearly 70% reduction in cost.

Predictions —

Less Hops — At least in the traditional sense, we continue to see less and less bittering hops, as IPA’s continue to be juicier and hazier, and more delicious.

More Lagers — Clean, crisp, refreshing, these are all great things. Keep an eye locally for at least a couple breweries to put out Lager cans in the first quarter of 2017.

Smaller Sizes — = Smaller Price = Lower Entry Barriers. I for one will not be missing the 22 oz Bomber, though I am sure many, many breweries will cling to it. It is my hope that some of the larger breweries can continue to have success with smaller package sizes, and send strong signals to the rest of the marketplace to follow suit.

More New Breweries — Both locally and nationally, expect to see new breweries down the street and on the shelf. We are going to see the entry of a number of large Midwest breweries to the marketplace as early as January. New Holland (Holland, MI), just launched last week, and Founder’s will be here January 1. Who’s next, Surly, Great Lakes, Bells?

Embrace the Haze — It took me more than a while to get with the Haze craze. I tip my hat to how well Structures has done it locally, and I also quite enjoy offerings from Trillium, Other Half, and more on the East Coast. The West Coast arguably started the IPA Craze, now the East Coast, is redefining it. Isn’t it great how quickly things can change?

I hope you enjoy the reviews as much as I do, keep an eye out for some great new things next year, and thanks for reading throughout the year, cheers!