My favorite beer of 2013? You’re going to have a week till I make that announcement. In the meantime, there were lots of other notable newcomers throughout the year.
Best canned beer – Sly Fox Grisette. Named after the drab factory-class women of 17th-century France, this lemony wheat beer might be considered “saison light.” Thirst quenching with a bit of peppery yeast, it’s the perfect can to pop on the beach or at a bbq. Runners-up: St. Feuillien Saison and Manayunk Dreamin’.
Best lager – Pilsner IPA. A hybrid from the new Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery in Lafayette Hill, with the light, refreshing body of a pilsner and the fresh, hoppy aroma of an India pale ale.
Best name –Sweet Baby Jesus. It’s easy to see how a Chocolate Peanut Butter porter could go terribly wrong, but on draft or in bottles this one from Maryland’s DuClaw Brewing is praiseworthy (if not a tiny bit blasphemous). Runners-up: Braaaiins! (Spring House Brewing), That’s What She Said (Dock Street).
Best beer with the worst name –DirtWolf. This strong, mango-like double IPA is the best new beer from Victory since Summer Love in 2010. But DirtWolf? Sounds more like a vacuum cleaner.
Best evidence that a corporate takeover is not the end of the world – Sofie Paradisi. Whatever you think of Anheuser-Busch’s acquisition of Goose Island, you can’t deny that the Chicago brewery is still putting out exceptional beer. Its Bourbon County series is a wallop upside the head, but for pure artistry this grapefruit-flavored version of its highly regarded Sofie saison is hard to beat. As crisp and complex as a white Burgundy.
Best evidence that mega-brewers still don’t have a clue – Beck’s Sapphire. Tasteless, watered-down faux Euro-swill. Runner-up: The upcoming limited-edition re-release of the original Miller Lite can.
Best evidence that craft brewers don’t have a clue, either – Straubator Doppelbock. The Brewers Association declared that – because Pennsylvania’s tiny Straub Brewery uses adjunct ingredients, including corn – it isn’t “traditional” enough to qualify as a true craft brewery. Which means this solid, full-flavored lager is… what? Not real beer? Note to the Colorado-based B.A: The 141-year-old Straub was making beer two years before your state was admitted to the Union.
Best beer you never tasted –Splinter Brown. A sour mash and oak barrel aging gave this sour brown ale a complex flavor I’d compare to Rodenbach. Unfortunately, because a bit of over-carbonation turned bottles into cork cannons, the limited release could be tasted only under adult supervision at Troegs own brewpub in Hershey.
Best label – Manneken Penn. OK, I’m decidedly impartial because it was designed as Philly Beer Week’s annual Belgian collaboration while I still led that organization. But Brasserie De La Senne’s artwork of Brussels’ famed Manneken Pis statue whizzing off the top of City Hall wasn’t just a symbol of Philly’s love affair with all things Belgium. It was t-shirt worthy. The light-bodied dubbel was perfect in hot, hot, hot June.
Best beer down the shore – Cape May Pale Ale. The Garden State’s southernmost brewery seems ready for great things, stepping up both production and quality. Its single-hop pale ale might actually be hoppier than its IPA, with a long-lingering finish that is both dry and refreshing.
Best pumpkin beer – Warlock. Imagine the flavor of Southern Tier’s highly regarded Pumking in a rich stout. Lots of vanilla with dark-roasted malt.
Best new beer in the Philly market –Jubelale. Deschutes Brewing is a longtime favorite from the Pacific Northwest that came east with a big bang. While its core brands (Black Butte, Mirror Pond, Inversion) are all well made, this malty, full-bodied winter warmer is top-rung. It’s a Christmas beer for people who don’t like spice.