For the last round this year of our national retailer beer panels, we asked panelists to recall the best beers they drank in 2017. These reviews include brief tasting notes and a rating. If you’re a retail or off-premise professional who would like to learn more about participating in our panel, please contact Managing Editor Kyle Swartz at (203) 855-8499 ext. 2225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beer Rating System
Five Stars (93-100 points): A top-flight beer. Superior in taste and character, providing an outstanding price/value relationship.
Four Stars (86-92 points): A highly appealing beer at an excellent value. A beer for which customers will keep coming back.
Three Stars (80-85 points): An above-average beer at a reasonable price point, which many consumers will enjoy.
Five Star Beers
(100) Brasserie Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise 2007 (Belgium). Once popping the cork you can smell intense raspberry jam from 4 feet away. The pour is a beautiful deep red. No surprise the nose is just bursting with raspberry and slight hints of barnyard funk. Lou Pepe Framboise is an absolute perfect balance of sour funky wild fermented Lambic and big bright fruit. The raspberry just does not quit truly an amazing experience. There is a reason many consider Cantillon one of the greatest breweries in the world and this beer is the perfect example. 5% ABV.
(99) Hill Farmstead Double Nelson DIPA (Vermont). Brewed exclusively with Nelson Sauvin hops, and easily the best IPA I drank all year. The use of Nelson gives such a beautiful fruity wine character; it truly is a unique and enjoyable drinking experience. Beautiful sauvignon blanc and gooseberry with a touch of earthiness. If only Nelson hopped beers were more easily found. 8% ABV.
(99) Westbrook Brewing Co and Evil Twin Brewing Maple Bourbon Barrel-Aged Mini Growler (South Carolina). A revisit on a previous collaboration. This version was aged in maple bourbon barrels. Pours black with no head. Aroma is all bourbon. Liquid dessert, lots of chocolate, coffee and maple, slightly boozy. 10.5% ABV.
(99) Side Project Brewing Fuzzy (Blend #2) (Missouri). Blonde American wild ale aged in Chardonnay barrels with peaches. Pours light yellow with a thin white head. Aromas of funk, peach and barrel. Taste is like biting into a fresh peach. Fruit lingers on and finishes with a slight funk tartness on the end. Clean and refreshing and close to perfection.
(98) Hill Farmstead Anna Saison (Batch 08/05/2016) (Vermont). Anna pours a very effervescent bright yellow, leaving a beautiful stiff, white, fluffy head. The nose is a beautiful tart grassy lemon. The balance and complexity on this beer are amazing. The palate is wonderfully tart, grassy and earthy with a slight honey finish. Extremely refreshing, this saison is great to sip on during a nice sunny afternoon. Anna is easily one of the greatest saison’s in the word, let alone New England. 6.5% ABV.
(98) Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine 2005 (Delaware). Shout out to Jim’s Pub of Connecticut for opening their cellar on this and other nights. The strong, sweet, dark fruit flavors held up impeccably. Lots of plum and raisin. Boozy but smooth at 15% ABV. Grab any remaining bottles of the 2017 and stash them in your cellar.
(98) Trillum PM Dawn (Massachusetts). The best coffee stout I’ve ever tasted. Made with grounds from Barrington Coffee Roasters down the road from this world-class brewery in Boston. Coffee flavors leap from the glass and pamper the palate, along with luxurious dark chocolate. Notes of vanilla, caramel and espresso. Trillum continues to amaze.
(98) Midnight Sun Berserker 2012 (Alaska). Chocolate syrup, rum and Bourbon-soaked chocolate cake, not sweet though, balancing toasty bitterness, damp and charred barrel, lightly-burned chocolate eclair, toasted chocolate biscuit. Incredibly complex malt profile, relatively dry finish, full-bodied. Absolutely incredible. Don’t age longer — drink now.
(98) Ballast Point Unfiltered Sculpin IPA (San Diego). How do you improve upon one of the legendary IPAs? Throw in extra hops. Pours a slightly hazy golden orange. The nose is a beautiful mix of tropical and stone fruits with a slight hint of west-coast pine. Contrary to what one might think, the extra hop addition keeps bitterness low and helps the fruit shine through. Notes of mango, peach and citrus, finishing with slight bitterness for balance. 7% ABV, 70 IBU.
(98) Het Anker Gouden Carolus Indulgence 2016 — Cuvée Sauvage (Belgium). Coriander, white grape, tangelos, little bit of coconut suntan lotion, red and green apple, spicy ginger, medium+ acid. As complex and delicious as Belgian beer can get.
(97) The Alchemist Pappy’s Porter (Vermont). Big dark chocolate, lush coffee flavors! A dense, thick body with a forward-yet-lingering bold hop bitterness. 5% ABV.
(97) Dieu du Ciel! “Rigor Mortis” ABT (Quebec). Poured opaque copper/brown in trappist glass. ½ finger off-white head with good retention. Aromas of dried dark fruit (fig, plum, raisin) with some caramel/molasses malt notes and slight boozy hints. Rich, viscous mouthfeel and crisp carbonation. Sticky/sweet prunes, chocolate, with a slight woody note. Alcohol quite apparent but very pleasant. Yeasty vinous character kicks in as well. Lots going on here. Amazingly balanced and complex. Another outstanding effort from north of the border. 10.5%
(97) Almanac Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch (California). Currently my favorite American sour brand. Strong fruity cherry flavors above that tart sour backbone with vanilla notes that tie it together perfectly. How do they make sours so smooth? Like all their releases this goes down far too easily.
(96) Upright Brewing Billy The Mountain (Oregon). Caramel apple, sour apple, apple fruit leather, light strawberry and raspberry, some dry chocolate, dust, wet wood, balanced sourness with a chewy texture, woody bitterness. Incredibly well-balanced, tart finish with good acidity, drinks similarly to a Oud Bruin. As it warms up the yeast character jumps in, adding a grape seed minerality.
(96) Wolf’s Ridge Brewing Bourbon Barrel Coffee Joy (Ohio). Bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout with coconut, coffee and cacao. Released at the brewery’s 4th anniversary party. Pours black with a thin brown head. Overwhelming sweet coffee and coconut aromas. Chocolate and coconut mingle together with the sweet booziness of bourbon. Full bodied and malty. 10.4% ABV, 60 IBU.
(95) Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont Cuvée Dry Hopping 2017 (Belgium). Banana Runts, spicy bread, aggressive herbal yeast notes, touch of orange peel, the yeast and hop profile is insanely balanced, touch of fresh spearmint, light stone fruit notes in the background, soft, creamy mouthfeel which is par for the Cuvée Dry Hopping series, green mineral, some herbal hop bitterness balances everything in the finish. Yeast, hop, malt, mineral are all as cohesive as can be.
(95) The Bruery “Mischief” Belgian-style Strong Pale Ale (California). Poured hazy yellow/gold in chalice. 1-finger snow-white head with excellent retention. Bready aromas with hints of orange and coriander. Medium in body and carbonation that dances across the tongue. Sweet biscuity malt flavors lead to well-balanced, medium hop bitterness. Finishes with a long, spicy bite, slightly dry, dusty and woody. All components in fine balance and dangerously drinkable at 8.5%, this is one of the better Belgian-style SPAs this side of Antwerp. 8.5% ABV, 44 IBU.
(94) Clown Shoes Undead Party Crasher 2014 (Massachusetts). Looking for a beer brand to age? Clown Shoes belongs in your cellar. Their heavy brews age exceptionally well. This stout, 10% ABV, isn’t even barrel-aged and it held up phenomenally. The dark roasted malts have mellowed into a wonderfully smooth, milk-chocolate, sweet-smoky flavor. Still thick on the palate.
(94) Prairie Artisan Ales “Imaginary Friends” IPA (Oklahoma). Poured cloudy orange/gold in tulip glass. ¾ finger dirty-white head with average retention. Citrus aromas of orange peel, tangerine and white grapefruit. Light-medium in body and carbonation. Leads with light biscuity malt flavors that evolve into good, earthy bitterness with a touch of peppery spice. The nice, dry, long finish allows more citrus characters to emerge, particularly orange peel and grapefruit juice. Although not categorized as such, the haze and juiciness suggests an NEIPA. This is a terrific IPA from a brewer more known for their killer stouts. 7% ABV, 66 IBU.
(93) Witch’s Hat Brewing Co. Bourbon Barrel Dragontrax Night Fury (Michigan). Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout with vanilla, cocoa nibs, coconut and peanut butter. Bottle cellared for over a year. Pours black with a thin tan head. Lots of peanut butter and chocolate on the nose. Taste is reminiscent of peanut butter cups. Full bodied with very little trace of alcohol. 13.8% ABV. BD
(93) Belhaven Wee Heavy (Scotland). Just an amazing example of the style. Pours out as a deep, dark ruby color with a creamy, tannish head. A sweet nose from the heavy malts follows through with both a taste of the roasty malts and dark fruit. Nice on the finish, with no aftertaste. 7.4% ABV.
Four Star Beers
(92) The Fox & The Goat Pale Ale (Indiana). A collaboration between Indiana’s 18th St Brewery and Chicago’s acclaimed restaurant Girl and the Goat. Pours out a hazy, golden color with a strong white head. Really shows off the skill of the brewer with a very traditional hop nose, leading to a very well balanced and smooth pale ale. Proves that you don’t need session on the label to have a sessionable beer.
(92) Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery Bourbon Barrel Aged Brick Kiln (Ohio). A barleywine that has aged in a variety of bourbon barrels for 9-14 months and then blended. Pours a dark brown with a thin white head. Aromas of sweet bourbon and raisins upfront. Lots of sweet raisin and fig finished off with a slight alcohol burn. Overall, a well-constructed barleywine that could be drank now or saved for years to come. 11.8% ABV.