Bottle & Tap: 10 of this year's best brews

Prairie Artisan Ales/Evil Twin Bible Belt - COURTESY
Prairie Artisan Ales/Evil Twin Bible Belt

It's a distinct pleasure to be a published drinker, and even more so when asked to deliver one's year-end beer best-of. It felt half like cheating, since many of the brews I wrote about in the past half-year wound up on this list. Regardless, after wading through the deluge of breweries available on pour, both at home and away, I have winnowed the multitude of double IPAs and Belgian tripels down to the following nine beers: some local, some national and all among the best from The Year Craft Brewing Broke.

This year was a banner one for your humble beer correspondent: marriage, fatherhood and their attendant responsibilities all came my way. I learned quickly that compromise is a great guarantor of domestic happiness, and so between Mrs. Correspondent's affinity for hops and my proclivity for the dark and heavy, a notable number of black IPAs made this list. Chief among them was the Uintas Dubhe Black IPA. Named for the biggest star in the Big Dipper, Dubhe carried off a velvet-smooth balance of chocolate malt and resinous hop smack despite an astronomical IBU rating of 109 and an ABV edging towards the double digits. Though advertised as being brewed with hemp seeds, Dubhe satisfies without requiring a box of Honeybuns.

Ranger Creek, too, had a banner year in our book, as they notched another successful experiment with the Small Batch No. 9. However, the greater achievement was the Dark Side Of The Hop in their year-round offerings. More muted in its flavors than the Dubhe, this black IPA carries plenty of coffee and a little citrus. While Ranger Creek could make an IPA "Any Colour You Like," they came up with a formidable recipe here.

Speaking of Floyds, we'd be remiss not to recall the Blakkr Imperial Black Ale. From summertime to snowfall, we stuck with this tri-collaborative brew from Real Ale, 3 Floyds and Surly brewers. In trv kvlt form, this most metalsome of black beers offered the palatial equivalent of a Xasthur LP—heavy, bitter and intense as some dark forest in a snowdrift.

There's no denying San Antonio's romance with Houston beer, with Karbach the comely young newcomer aiming to charm us away from longtime BAE Saint Arnold. At $5.95 per bomber, El Hopadillo Negro made for a cheap date, but its elegant combination of Cascade hops and two-row malts embodied pure class.

As I drank far and wide in research for this column, I came to favor a few beverages that have warranted a New Year's commitment to joining Gold's Gym. The first of these is the Deschutes XXVI Birthday Reserve. I believe this beer was consumed at some point near my own birthday, and though my diaper-to-drinks-dollar-diversion ratio has limited repeat purchases, it made for a pretty fantastic present. Involving cocoa nibs, pomegranates, cranberries and half a year sitting in bourbon barrels, this imperial porter lent me continuing hope that if things can be this good after a quarter-century crisis, they can even be better after 30.

In a similar vein, the Founders Breakfast Stout served to fill me up as well as any lumberjack's morning meal. Brewed with coffee, oatmeal and chocolate, rare is the beer that works to wake up and put to sleep its consumer so simultaneously (though the Real Ale Coffee Porter has done and continues to do so).

Still other beers, which on paper appeared to have been brewed on a dare, wound up becoming clear favorites. Foremost among them was the Prairie Bible Belt. After modifying the recipe for their BOMB! to collaborate with Evil Twin Brewing, the Healey brothers struck the right balance between the caffeinated, spiced-up and the sweet (in addition to reducing the ABV from 13 percent to a less-challenging 11 percent) for their flagship stout.

Aloha Piña, the beer that began it all for Cibolo's 5 Stones Artisan Brewery, effortlessly incorporates the bold flavors of South Texas—namely, pineapples and jalapenos—into a big, beautiful blonde ale. While all of Seth Weatherly's beers would warrant mention here, the Aloha Piña made the most memorable impression.

I will conclude here with an anecdote. On June 14, the love of my life and I made our first marital toast in the Marfa USO with cups of Big Bend Brewing's La Frontera IPA. Over all the other pints of the past 365 days, it is the glass I remember best.

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