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Looking Back: The Best 2014 Craft Beer Had to Offer

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I’ll not sugar-coat this.

After all, is it not the season for cold hearted, hardnosed introspection? The kind of introspection you do when you realize that your social media has gone dark, 75% of your photos are selfies taken from the same three bathrooms, your bank account balance is the same as it was when you were twelve, and your credit score is the same as your bank account balance. ‘Tis the season for looking back and realizing that some of your decisions may have been questionable. However, knowing all of you the way I do, I know that 2014 wasn’t a total loss. It wasn’t a loss because while you were declining all those Candy Crush invitations, taking those selfies, and spending all the money you didn’t have…you had a beer in your hand and that softens any blow. Even the discouraging blow of a year ill spent.

As I am an eternal optimist and favor that “glass half full” mentality, I feel it only appropriate that I take a stroll down memory lane (aka my Untappd profile) and salute my favorite brews of 2014.

Best Overall Craft Beer – Black Tuesday by The Bruery:

Barrel aged beers are generally a solid investment. Bruery beers are also generally a solid investment. So naturally, it should follow that a barrel aged beer from The Bruery would deliver in all the right ways, and it does. Even for the crafty community there are certain brews that are just harder to get our sticky fingers on. This is one such beverage. I had the chance to taste this beauty twice during 2014, which is more than any man deserves. My first experience with this monster of a stout was at a free weekly beer school with one of my best friends, hosted by a local crafty bar (Brew) in Richmond. Never have you seen two men revel more in a thimble’s worth of liquid. My second experience with Black Tuesday came at a significant milestone in my life: my college graduation. Alex, my friend who had shared in the bliss of Black Tuesday at the tasting a few months before, had bartered away a portion of his cellar and his first-born to obtain a bottle as a gift to celebrate my journey through academia. That night, after a gratuitous dinner of lobster, filet, scotch, and joyous laughter, I sat down with two of my best friends and my life long mentor to crack open the whale. It was everything and more that I remembered. Feeling like a mechanic changing the oil on antique Model T, I partitioned out four equal pours of that viscous goodness. The room was silent. Eagerly shoving my nose into the mouth of the snifter, I took sniff that would have humbled Keith Richards. It smelled like a bourbon barrel that had been dipped in chocolate, and left to sit in Santa’s workshop. We exchanged some glances and mischievous grins and dove in. A bourbon soaked ball of dark fruit, wrapped in dark chocolate, and thrown into a Columbian coffee roaster exploded in my mouth. It was strong and you knew the alcohol was there, but it was balanced and warmed your innards. It tasted like a beer with a well kempt beard. It lingered, coating my mouth with what can best be described as: “damnnnnn.” It was devilishly drinkable and divinely tasty. So there I was, having (arguably) the best beer of my life with some of the best people (unarguably) in my life, celebrating the biggest achievement (why not?) of my life…and that, my friends, is why Black Tuesday was my favorite beer of 2014.

Most Pleasantly Interesting Craft Beer – ASBC Kumasama by BFM:

I was fortunate enough to have this wonderful little gem whilst celebrating the birthday of BFM’s head brewer, Jerome, at one of the best beer bars in the country; Mekong. Jerome brought along an arsenal of high caliber beers to ring in his big 50th. In true Mekong fashion, the pours were generous and the prices charitable. Needless to say, many wonderful Swiss brews were consumed that evening, but one stuck out. Upon nosing the ASBC Kumasama, I was struck by the uncanny scent of a woman. Yes, a woman. I looked around to make sure some beautiful dame hadn’t materialized over my shoulder; as stranger, albeit, less pleasant things have happened in the presence of good beer. I even sniffed the outside of the glass itself, thinking perhaps it had brushed the wrist or neck of that imaginary dame. Despite my suspicions, it was indeed the Kumasama that I smelled. I took a quaff…and melted. That SMELL. It unfolded across my palette into a wonderfully floral, sweet, slightly fruity, delicate flavor that had my cheeks going rosy. Ripe red fruit, dry grain, flowers, and a subtle tart bite when you least expect it. It tasted like kissing a woman. A woman wearing pure essence of rose perfume, which had just eaten a strawberry, which nips at your lip before turning away coyly. If this description doesn’t make sense to you, you’ve got the right idea.

Best Hoppy Craft Beer – Ephraim by Hill Farmstead Brewery:

Admittedly, for quite some time I was generally averse to hoppy beer. I was not ushered into the beer promised-land by an edgy west coast IPA like so many before me. Beers with the word “pale” in their designation took some effort for me to appreciate. However, after much persistence and a significant amount of trial and error, something clicked. It took a special beer and an open mind to flip the switch in my brain and turn me on to hops. When I first took a sip of an IPA that I actually enjoyed I felt something akin to accomplishment, I had made it through the wall. At that glorious moment I could identify with all the hipsters hunched over their IPAs…until of course, they picked a new, “less commercial” style. Ephraim was not the beer that brought me to the light. In fact, I don’t even remember which beer popped my hop cherry but it was well before I took my first sip of Ephraim. I share this little anecdote with you because I believe it lends credence to my statement that Ephraim is not only the best hoppy beer I had in 2014, but the best hoppy beer I’ve ever had. Due to my troubled past with hoppy natured beer, I am more mindful and critical of that “pale” beer in front of me. Ephraim was graciously served to me free of cost at the same Richmond bar (Brew) where I first tried Black Tuesday. In addition to being free and fresh, it was also served alongside David by Tree House Brewing Company, Double Sunshine by Lawson’s Finest Liquids, and Beer Advocate’s champion of the bine: Heady Topper by The Alchemist. Suffice it to say, the playing field was level. Despite the stiff competition, Ephraim was perfect. It was more than perfect, it was transcendent. In the nose, it was almost underwhelming but when it hit your mouth, GODDAMN! Colossal citrus notes of grapefruit and pineapple rolled across my tongue, but subsided so gracefully leaving my mouth with a tingly longing for another sip. That bitter bite so often associated with world-class imperial IPAs was nowhere to be found. It had been replaced with a palette encompassing tingle. It was a fresh as fresh gets and with every sip I found some other intricacy to appreciate. That day I drank some of the craftiest hoppy beers out there, and yes, they were all damned good, but not as good as Ephraim. Ethereal Ephraim took my appreciation of hops to the next level.

Best Surprise Craft Beer – Barrel Aged Narwhal Imperial Stout by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co:

No special story here, just a fine beer. When I picked this up the local Total Wine I had no expectations. Some of my crafty friends had told me that it was surprisingly good so I figured, “what the hell.” It wasn’t exactly cheap but I had faith in my compatriot’s judgment, and the craft beer culture is dependent on taking the occasional risk on a beer you know next to nothing about. As it turns out, Barrel Aged Narwhal was one of the best beer investments I made in 2014. After cracking it open and watching the inky drink fill my snifter I caught the distinct whiff of coconut. Being the coconut fiend that I am, I did the only natural thing and crammed my face into the mouth of the glass and breathed as though it were my last. It could have been and I would have been content. Chocolate and its partner vanilla were there, which I was expecting but I had not anticipated the nutmeg and cinnamon that wafted past my eager nostrils. And then there was the coconut, that beautiful coconut that made my mouth water and my knees weak. I thought it might be too good to be true, this heavenly aroma but for once, I was glad to be wrong. It tasted EXACTLY how it smelled, which was just all sorts of lovely. Most dark beers begin to show their nuances as they warm up to room temperature and this was no different. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. The coconuts on this one were the size of Volkswagens and I rode them all the way back to Total wine for another bottle.

2014 may have been the best year of your life and if that’s the case; cheers to you! However, 2014 might not have been your best…

Hell, lets be honest: you may have shat the bed.

….but it doesn’t mean that you have to lay in it throughout 2015. Cheers to another year of great beer and great experiences!

Stay crafty my friends,
Adam Fisher, Richmond, Virginia 

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