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Belt’s Beer Garden: Best Beers of 2018

Counting down the best brews of the past year

neon3

As New Years approaches, I like to look back on the past 365 days and rank the best beers I was lucky enough to have tried. Since I started keeping track of my beers, in April of 2014, I have now tried 3583 different beers.

This year (as of 12/27) I drank 808 new beers (+72 from last year’s total of 736) from 19 different countries, although the vast majority were from the good ol’ US of A.

But, as I only showcase around 100 brews per year on Belt’s Beer Garden, a lot of my favorite beers of 2018 might not have been seen here.

And, as I have done the past few years, since I lean heavily towards hop-forward brews like pale ales, IPAs, and DIPAs, I have created two separate categories: Top of the Hop (all the IPAs, ect.) and Best of the Rest (every other style). Since the majority of the beers I drink are hopped up brews, I’ve had a lot more of those, so I’ll count down the top-10 Top of the Hop beers and then the top-5 Best of the Rest.

So let’s get on with the countdown!

(Note: these beers were NOT necessarily first brewed in 2018 but this year was when I tried them for the first time).


2018’s Top of the Hop

10: Maplewood Brewing - Fluffy Bottoms

maplewoodbrew.com

Stats:
Style: Pale ale
From: Chicago, IL
ABV: 5.6%
Cost: $7 for a 16-ounce pour at the brewery

We start off with a draft only brew that was quite amazing. It’s double dry-hopped with Cashmere and Motueka hops and brewed with oats, lactose, and wheat which creates a very soft, fluffy mouthfeel and packs a huge punch of tropical fruits. I wish it was available in cans...maybe next year. 9/10

9: Hailstorm/Transient Artisan Ales - Boat Socks

https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/34258/346570/

Stats:
Style: Imperial IPA
From: Tinley Park, IL/Bridgman, MI
ABV: 8%
Cost: $18/4-pack (16-oz cans)

This one costs a little more but, man, was it worth it. Double dry-hopping this brew with Citra, Galaxy, and Vic Secret hops made Boat Socks incredibly easy to drink and filled to the brim with tropical fruit flavors with very little bitterness. 9/10

8: Bearded Iris - Hotline

https://beardedirisbrewing.com/beer/hotline/

Stats:
Style: IPA
From: Nashville, TN
ABV: 7.0%
Cost: $16/4-pack (16-oz cans)

Hotline is a DDH IPA that features juicy tropical flavors from the massive amount of Citra, Mosaic, Motueka, Nelson, and Simcoe hops used in making it. The7% ABV is completely hidden and those hops leave just a twinge of bitterness on the back end...super tasty. 9/10

7: Bearded Iris - Chasing Rainbows Four

https://beardedirisbrewing.com/beer/chasing-rainbows-four/

Stats:
Style: IPA
From: Nashville, TN
ABV: 5.8%
Cost: $16/4-pack (16-oz cans)

Back-to-back Bearded Iris beers? Absolutely! This IPA uses a oat base with Amarillo, Citra, and Mandarina Bavaria hops. It’s super hazy, super tasty and every variation of Chasing Rainbows (they’re up to #7 now) should be sought after! This one had huge juicy tropical fruit flavors and a sweet malt backing. 9.25/10

6: Southern Grist - DDH Mixed Greens XXXI (31)

https://untappd.com/b/southern-grist-brewing-company-ddh-mixed-greens-xxxi-31/2900692

Stats:
Style: NE IPA
From: Nashville, TN
ABV: 6.2%
Cost: $16/4-pack (16-oz cans)

Brewed with Citra and Motu (a new experimental hop from New Zealand) hops, this version of their New England IPA was one of the easiest drinking beers I’ve ever had. It was super juicy and filled with tropical fruit flavors like orange, grapefruit, and mango. 9.25/10

5: Black Isle Brewery - Long Time IPA

https://www.blackislebrewery.com/product/long-time-ipa-440-can/

Stats:
Style: IPA
From: Inverness, Scotland
ABV: 6.9%
Cost: ~$4.5/440 mL can

This brew isn’t available on this side of the Atlantic but this Scottish beer featuring Cascade, Centennial, and Citra hops was delightful. Fruits like mango, guava, passion fruit, and others blasted my taste buds with tropical goodness and made it one of the best brews I had on my excursion to the UK. 9.25/10

4: Moor Beer Company - Return of the Empire

https://www.sheltonbrothers.com/beers/moor-return-of-the-empire/

Stats:
Style: English IPA
From: London, England
ABV: 5.7%
Cost: ~$2/12-oz can

Staying in the UK, Moor Beer Co’s Return of the Empire is available year-round and features flavors of peach, honeydew, apricot, and mango. It was easily one of the best spots to drink in London and I wish I had brought back more of their cans. 9.25/10

3: Maine Beer Company - Dinner

Stats:
Style: Double IPA
From: Freeport, ME
ABV: 8.2%
Cost: $8/16.9-oz bottle

I had been searching for this beer for a long time and was lucky enough to stumble upon it on draft at the brewery a few weeks after its release. This DIPA, brewed with Citra, Falconer’s Flight, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops is packed with intense grapefruit, lemon, and citrus flavors with a light pine backing to it. So freaking good. 9.5/10

2: Brew By Numbers - 42|02 DDH Pale Ale #2

https://www.radbeer.com/product/brew-numbers-4202-ddh-pale-ale-number-two/

Stats:
Style: Pale Ale
From: London, England
ABV: 5.8%
Cost: $6.5/16-oz can

This British beer might have cost a lot for a single can but, my God, was it worth it. Brewed with Citra, Ekuanot, Loral, Mosaic, and Summit hops this pale ale was one hell of a tasty beer. Pineapple and mango lead it all off in an incredibly easy to drink, juice-like ale that I wish I had access to at all times. 9.5/10

1: New England Brewing Co. - Fuzzy Baby Ducks

Stats:
Style: IPA
From: Woodbridge, CT
ABV/IBU: 6.2%/60
Cost: $12/6-pack

The first brew that I actually featured on BBG also happens to be the best hoppy brew of 2018. Fuzzy Baby Ducks was an amazing beer from start to finish and the people that run New England Brewing are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet! FBD was chalked full of citrus flavors and was insanely smooth and easy to drink. I could have this beer every day for the rest of my life and it still wouldn’t be enough. 9.75/10


2018’s Best of the Rest

5: Hill Farmstead - Flora Plum (Batch #3)

Stats:
Style: Wheat ale aged in wine barrels with plums
From: Greensboro, VT
ABV: N/A
Cost: $22/375-mL bottle

This was the most expensive beer I have purchased to date but it was totally worth it. This slightly tart wheat ale had a bouquet of plum, lemon, and white wine grapes that blended incredibly well together. 8.5/10

4: Penrose Brewing - That Hoppy Brett Beer

http://penrosebrewing.com/

Stats:
Style: Wild sour ale with Brett
From: Geneva, IL
ABV: 4%
Cost: $6/glass

This Taproom-only brew had a great funk to it from the Brett yeast and lots of carbonation. There was a nice mixture of flavors - from earthy pepper to tropical melon - and it was as easy to drink as any wild ale could be. After my first sip it became a top-3 beer from them and I hope to find it again soon. 8.5/10

3: 4 Hands - City Museum Pilsner

https://www.binnys.com/4-hands-city-museum-964115.html

Stats:
Style: German Pilsner
From: Geneva, IL
ABV: 4%
Cost: $11/6-pack

This pilsner brewed with ginger and tangerine was sweet, spicy, and nothing but tasty. The ginger doesn’t bite too hard and, when it does, it is eased up some by the sweet grainy backing and the juicy tangerine. I am not a fan of many pils...but this one was delicious. 8.75/10

2: More Brewing - Frooted: Guava/Passion Fruit/Blood Orange

https://www.morebrewing.com/

Stats:
Style: Fruit beer
From: Villa Park, IL
ABV: 4%
Cost: $14/32-ounce crowler

Not to be confused with the British Moor Beer Co, this is More Brewing and they’re located in a Chicago suburb. Frooted is a series of sour wheat ale that features different blends of fruits. The one using guava, passion fruit, and blood orange was simply outstanding. Slightly tart, mostly sweet, and really pulpy...it was like an alcoholic smoothy with just a touch of booze burning at the backend. 9/10

1: Hawkes - Elephants On Ice

https://www.wearehawkes.com/products/elephants-on-ice-winter-cider/

Stats:
Style: Spiced Cider
From: London, England
ABV: 4%
Cost: ~$5/16.9-oz bottle

This winter cider was made with cloves and cinnamon and was incredibly delicious. It was sweet, lightly spiced, and had a touch of cinnamon that balanced with the apple sweetness perfectly. 9/10