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Belt’s Beer Garden: Best of 2016

Breaking down the best beers of the year as we head into 2017.


I’ll have more beers for you next week but this week I wanted to take back and look at the past year in beer. And what a year it’s been. Between all the celebrity deaths, taking a 90 day road trip, visiting 20 states, and what seemed like the longest election cycle ever…I realized 2016 sure did make me drink.

After tabulating my totals (on 12/28…so it might change a bit) I had finished 832 new beers this year, bringing my total up to 2034 distinct beers since April 10th, 2014, or just over two beers per day!

Between Christmas and the New Year there is a week of reflection and, like every other beer blog, I thought I would share with you my favorites from the year.

As I only showcase about 100 beers per year, there are a lot of amazing beers that I haven’t written, so while some have been on BBG, the vast majority will not have been.

And, as I am such a hophead (over 70% the beers I drank this year were IPAs or a similar style) and want to give a shout out to those beers that weren’t any iteration of the India Pale Ale, I’ll have a two countdowns for you: The Top of the Hop (IPAs, pale ales, sessions, DIPAs, etc.) and The Top-5 Best of the Rest (literally every other style).

So without further ado;

2016’s The Top of the Hop:

10: Networking is for Wieners, Spiteful Brewing (Chicago, IL), DIPA

I first had this beer back in April and it blew me away. Most of the beers Spiteful makes are small batch releases that don’t last more than a month (they do have four regularly brewed beers though). Networking is for Wieners is a double IPA brewed with passion fruit and packs a 9.2% ABV. It was very tropical and citrus fruit forward with a slight hop twinge. If it’s released next year…it’s one you need to find! 9/10

9: Disco Superfly Batch #2, Mikerphone Brewing (Elk Grove Village, IL), Double Pale Ale

Mikerphone, like Spiteful, releases small batches of beers that disappear from shelves quickly. And they have quickly become my second favorite breweries in Illinois (right behind Maplewood). This pale ale, with a 6.5% ABV, was SUPER juicy and bursting with tropical flavors like mango, grapefruit, orange, and pineapple. There was a complimenting hop bitterness that ended the sip but, overall, this was an amazing beer. 9/10

8. Grapefruit Solis, Mike Hess (San Diego, CA), DIPA

Mike Hess used to brew for Stone but a few years ago he opened up his own place, complete with a very good IPA – Solis Occasus. However, as the fad was this year, they took their Solis and added grapefruit to it…creating something amazing. The beer was juicy and sweet without leaving a lingering stickiness on your tongue. Complete with a 7.5% ABV, Grapefruit Solis was a homerun! 9/10

7. Lizard King, Pipeworks Brewing (Chicago, IL), APA

If you ever visit Chicago, you need to pick up a four-pack of Pipeworks. I don’t care which beer of theirs you get, just do yourself the favor and try them. My favorite is their Mosaic hopped American pale ale – Lizard King, which I did review for BBG back in March. This lighter beer has a 6% ABV and is packed with grapefruit, mango, and pineapple flavors. It’s sooo smooth and easy to drink I can’t imagine a person not liking this beer. 9/10

6. Punk Rock for Rich Kids (with Nugget hops), Solemn Oath Brewery (Naperville, IL), Belgo-American Pale Ale

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Solemn Oath just took home a medal at the Great American Beer Fest this year, and loves to create Belgian-inspired beers – including this one. Throughout 2016, they released three version of Punk Rock; one with Amarillo hops, one with Crystal, and one with Nugget…the latter being the best of the bunch. Punk Rock starts with a Belgian yeast quality and some sweet caramel malt and a whole lot of flavors depending on the hop. The Nugget hops added huge orange and grapefruit flavors that is easy to drink and incredibly tasty. The only drawback to this beer is that it’s available in draft you need to hit up the brewery to find it. 9/10

5. IPA 97, Silver Moon Brewing (Bend, OR), IPA

Originally I bought IPA 97 because I like the can a lot…but it turned out what was in the can was even better. It was my first (and, so far, only) encounter with Silver Moon…but it was a great one. I reviewed IPA 97 back in October and it was big on mango and grapefruit with some light pineapple and sweet malts rounding it all out. It was a really well done, really balanced IPA and you should definitely try it! 9/10

4. Shimmy Shimmy Ya Batch #3, Mikerphone Brewing (Elk Grove Village, IL), Pale Wheat IPA

Yes, Mikerphone is on here twice (the only brewery to do so!)…and for good reason. This pale wheat brew was the last beer they brewed this year (I tried it just 18 days ago) and features Citra and Simcoe hops. Shimmy Shimmy Ya was filled with tropical, citrus, and stone fruit flavors that really exploded on your palate. I wasn’t sure how this beer was going to be when I first poured it…but it was amazing! 9/10

3. Incredible Pedal, Denver Beer Co. (Denver, CO), IPA

Denver Beer Co. is hard to come by in Illinois so anytime I can find a can/bottle I make sure I get my hands on it. In August I shared with you three of their beers, including their year-round IPA, Incredible Pedal, describes itself nicely. It was, for lack of a better word, incredible. It was one of the most sessionable 7% beers I’ve ever had. The grapefruit, mango, and balanced malt backing really made this beer one of the most delicious brews I’ve had. 9.5/10

2. Son of Juice, Maplewood Brewery and Distillery (Chicago, IL), IPA

A photo posted by Dave Drury (@ddrury86) on

Of course Maplewood was going to be on this list…they make so many great beers. I reviewed their Son of Juice back in October. It’s a Northeast style IPA that is a lighter “sequel” to their Juice Pants IPA. And, while Juice Pants is another amazing beer, Son of Juice was just phenomenal. This super hazy beer was like drinking alcoholic fruit juice. It had big notes of mango, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, and lemon to it. So damn good. 9.5/10

1. Lunch, Maine Beer Co. (Freeport, ME), IPA

MBC is my favorite brewery, it’s no secret. So when I found their Lunch on draft at a bar near me, you know I had more than just one glass of it! I had been waiting a long time to try the intensely hoppy flavors inside this brew. Huge tropical notes with some nice pine and a backing of sweet malt made this the best beer I had in 2016. I hop e I can find it again soon…and can’t wait to try their Dinner as well; which, for now, is the one that got away. But if you ever see a MBC beer buy it, try it, and you’ll probably love it. I know I do. 9.5/10

2016’s Top-5 Best of the Rest (All Non-Hoppy Brews)

5. Deschutes River Ale, Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR), Blonde Ale

This golden blonde ale is one of Deschutes’ year round brews and I can’t believe I hadn’t had it before 2016 (maybe I’m slacking?). But it starts with some bready and biscuity malt before the citrus flavors really kick in – adding grapefruit, apricot – and ending with a touch of pine. Perhaps it’s because it’s a hoppier ale, but this was really tasty. 9/10

4. Supplication, Russian River Brewing (Santa Rosa, CA), Sour Brown Ale

Russian River Brewing is the Holy Grail of breweries…so when I got to visit this June, I was awestruck. Supplication is a brown ale that is aged in pinot noir barrels with sour cherries…and it was amazing. It’s very sour and has a wild funk to it from the cherries. There are notes from the oak barrel and red wine it once used to hold that added a nice earthy quality to it and limited the sourness just enough so you don’t pucker with every sip. A great brew (like everything they do). 9/10

3. Sting, Nectar Creek (Corvallis, OR), Mead

Nectar Creek focuses all their attention on mead, and while that’s not technically a beer…I’m saying it counts. Because Sting was amazing. Sting is a ginger session mead that is a tad spicy and a whole lot of fun to drink. It starts sweet from the honey, but while most meads have a alcoholic burn to them, this one was cut into by the ginger. Instead it’s semi-spicy and a really light, easy to drink mead. At 6.2% ABV it has roughly half the alcohol as typical meads but twice the flavor. Great stuff!! 9/10

2. Spray Tan, Division 23 (San Diego, CA), Brown Ale

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I hadn’t had anything by Division 23 until I stepped foot in the San Diego International Beer Fest this year. There they had what was easily my favorite beer of the entire festival; Spray Tan, a coconut brown ale. Now normally I’m not a fan of coconut or brown ales…but this combination was just outstanding! It was like drinking a Samoa Girl Scout cookie…but with booze in it! A must try in the San Diego area. 9/10

1. Sublime Ginger, Forbidden Root (Chicago, IL), Spiced Beer

This spiced wheat beer was by far my favorite non-IPA of the year. Forbidden Root took your usual wheat beer and added key lime juice, ginger, and a few other botanicals (honeybush, lemon, and lime peel). The result was a slightly spiced, slightly sweet, semi-floral, and super delicious beer. There is a nice balance between the citrus zest and ginger bite. The only downfall is the low ABV, at just 3.8%...but it tastes so good, who cares! 9/10