With Christmas this Friday, I decided to do move this year’s finale of Belt’s Beer Garden to today instead of the holiday.
I think we can all agree on one thing - thank God 2020 is finally coming to an end. Just one more week until we ring in the new year. In this quarantined year, I was only able to try 540 different beers...a much lower number than the 703 beers I had in 2019 and the 808 beers I found in 2018.
But, even though many of us weren’t able to leave our homes for a large chunk of the year, Belt’s Beer Garden was still able to feature 59 beers and ciders from 28 different states and three countries. So far BBG has showcased a beer from every state but one...just missing West Virginia (which I will hopefully get to next year!).
As I still tend to lean towards hop-forward beers and have sampled many more IPAs than other styles, I broke the rankings down into two categories - Top of the Hops (Pale Ales, IPAs, DIPAs) and Best of the Rest (all other styles). This year, however, things will be a bit different. Instead of just doing the top-5 “Best of the Rest” brews as I had done in previous years, I will be expanding that into the 10 best non-hoppy beers of the year.
*NOTE: just because the beer is on this list doesn’t mean it was first brewed in 2020, just that I had it for the first time this year*
So let’s get started!
BEST OF THE REST: TOP 10 NON-HOPPY BEERS
10: Mischief Managed: Guava/Passion Fruit - Monday Night (Atlanta, Georgia)
Style: Berliner Weisse
This sour beer was made with guava and passion fruit and aged in French oak foeders for a nice funky flavor that mixes with the fruit really well. Super tasty but a bit acidic. Still worth every penny.
9: Dragon Fandango - Toppling Goliath (Decorah, Iowa)
Style: Kettle Sour
Dragon Fandango is a kettle sour brewed with Citra hops, dragon fruit, passion fruit and mangoes. It’s slightly tart, super fruity and juicy, and 100% tasty.
8: Coffee Coconut Stout - WeldWerks Brewing (Greeley, Colorado)
Style: Imperial Milk Stout
Coffee Coconut Stout is exactly what it sounds like - a delicious blend of coffee and sweet coconut. The higher ABV is completely hidden and the beer drinks more like a coffee than a beer.
7: Crumble Cakes - Maplewood Brewery & Distillery (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: Golden Ale
Crumble Cakes comes from their Cake Series, which are dessert inspired brews. This beer is inspired by an apple crumble and features apples, cinnamon, vanilla, and lactose. It’s a bit sweet but, damn, did it taste like a liquid apple crumble. So good!!
6: Triple Stone Fruit Hill - Southern Grist (Nashville, Tennessee)
Style: Fruited Sour
Coming from their Hill Series of sour beers, Triple Stone Fruit Hill was made with peaches, apricots, and nectarines. It was slightly tart but much more fruity than anything. Quite simply, their Hill beers are always a safe bet but this one tops the list from 2020.
5: Grisette (Blend #7) - Side Project Brewing (St. Louis, Missouri)
This Belgian-style table beer is soft and floral and has a complex and slightly dry finish. Blend #7 was aged for six months in wine barrels with a Brettanomyces yeast to give it a nice funk. They sell out very quick so, if you see it...buy it!
4: Sour Me: Unicorn Farts - DuClaw Brewing (Baltimore, Maryland)
Style: Glittered Sour Ale
Unicorn Farts is one of the most interesting brews I’ve seen. This Sour Ale was made with edible glitter, a trio of fruits, and Fruity Pebbles cereal!! So interesting and so tasty! It even sparkles when you pour it. For a full breakdown of this brew, check out my review here.
3: Martin Denny Complex - TrimTab Brewing (Birmingham, Alabama)
Style: Fruited Sour Ale
Martin Denny Complex is Fruited Sour Ale brewed with passion fruit, peach, and vanilla. It’s an homage to the “father of exotica”, Martin Denny, who was a piano player/composer that celebrated tiki culture. This sweet, fruity, slightly sour beer embodied the music he made and was absolutely crushable and delicious.
2: Spruce Budd - Ft. George Brewery (Astoria, Oregon)
Style: Spiced/Herbed Ale
Spruce Budd might be the first beer I’ve ever had made with ZERO hops...not a single one. Instead it’s made with 100 pounds of spruce tips that were hand picked by the entire brewery and marketing team. And, even with no hops, it was insanely tasty and crushable. Can’t wait to get more of this next year. You can read my full review here.
1: V. Latte w/ Blue Heron Coffee - Bearded Iris (Nashville, Tennessee)
Style: Imperial Oatmeal Stout
V. Latte is a series of Imperial Stouts and this version was made with vanilla beans, lactose, and Blue Heron (a blend of Ugandan and Guatemalan coffees) coffee from Crema Coffee. This was actually my favorite beer of the year. It was sweet, crushable, and drank like iced coffee more than beer. If I could have one beer every morning...this is it.
TOP OF THE HOPS: TOP 10 HOPPY BEERS
10: Braincake - Parish Brewing (Broussard, Louisiana)
Style: Double Wheat IPA
This super juicy IPA was made with Cashmere, Citra, and Stratus hops and was incredibly smooth and fruity. Braincake was filled with mango, guava, and berry flavors that made it super easy to drink, even with the higher ABV.
9: Pocketful of Misses - Missing Mountain (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio)
Style: New England IPA
This hazy beer was made with Vic Secret, Idaho 7, and Citra hops (three of my favorites!) and was insanely crushable. Juicy up front with some flaked wheat notes and a bit of bitterness on the back end, it went down real easy.
8: Citraquench’l - Heist Brewing (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Style: New England IPA
The first ever New England IPA brewed in the Tar Heel State was Citraqench’l and it remains one of the best. This all Citra-hopped beer was super juicy and I had finished my pint before I even knew it! Need to get more ASAP.
7: Lupulin Mutant - Sloop Brewing (Hopewell Junction, New York)
Style: New England IPA
Lupulin Mutant is only made afew times a year. It’s brewed with Citra and Galaxy hops and has incredibly juicy flavors of tangerine, lemon, and grapefruit. I only bought one can when I saw it and, as soon as I sipped it, I knew that was a mistake. It’s so crushable and tasty that a 4-pack is best.
6: Orange Hwip - Alter Brewing (Downers Grove/St. Charles, Illinois)
Style: Milkshake IPA
Orange Hwip was named after John Candy’s famous order in the Blues Brother movie and this beer was brewed with copious amounts of vanilla and oranges. It was thick, sweet, juicy, and unbelievably tasty. Like drinking an Orange Julius.
5: Fiddler’s Dream - Newgrass Brewing (Shelby, North Carolina)
Style: American IPA
Brewed with Azacca, Centennial, and Palisade hops, Fiddler’s Dream was a great blend of hoppy and fruity. It had a slight hoppy bite but featured awesome flavors of orange, tangerine, and lemon. The flaked wheat/oats added some nice sweetness and made the beer super crushable. The full review of this beer will be up next week as well.
4: Time, Love & Tenderness - Wild Leap Brewing (LaGrange, Georgia)
Style: Double IPA
Time, Love & Tenderness was made with five hops - Cashmere, Citra, Enigma, Galaxy, and Nelson Sauvin - and had a soft and pillowy feel to it. There was a bold hopiness to it but the sweet tropical fruit flavors easily quelled any bitterness and made the 8.5% brew drink much, much lighter.
3: Hidden Secret Cove - Hop Butcher For the World (Chicago, Illinois)
Style: Milkshake Double IPA
Brewed with Citra and Rakau hops, four fruits (banana, coconut, pineapple, and strawberry), and vanilla, Hidden Secret Cove was a legitimate milkshake with a 7.5% ABV. It was sweet, fruit, and unbelievably easy to drink. Hop Butcher continues to make amazing beers for Chicagoland and this one might just be the best.
2: DDH Galactic Falconer - Junkyard Brewing (Moorhead, Minnesota)
Style: New England IPA
Galactic Falconer was made, and double dry-hopped, with Galaxy and Falconers’ Flight hops and was by far one of the tastiest and most crushable IPAs I’ve ever had. Super juicy with almost no bitterness, this beer’s best feature might be that it was sold in 750 mL cans (25.9 ounces), making it nearly two beers in one! Junkyard has quickly become one of my favorite breweries this year and this was where it all started. You can find the full review here.
1: Who Needs Galaxy - Southern Grist (Nashville, Tennessee)
Style: Double IPA
This Azacca, Mosaic, and Citra hopped DIPA was insanely good. Who Needs Galaxy? was easily my favorite IPA of the year. It was soft, juicy, and very, very, very delicious. Up front it featured tons of tropical fruit flavors (like mango, grapefruit, and pineapple) before ending slightly dry with a mild citrus rind bitterness. Grist has climbed the rankings of my favorite breweries over the past two years and this one has it cemented in the Top-3. Can’t wait to head back south and pick up more! You can find the full review here.
BEER OF THE YEAR:
V. Latte w/ Blue Heron Coffee
Yes, for the first time ever, my favorite beer of the year was not a hoppy brew. Bearded Iris’ V. Latte was easily the best brew I had in 2020. It was like drinking a 9% iced coffee with cream and sugar. Sweet vanilla and sugar with that slightly bitter coffee flavor...sheer perfection! Here’s to hoping they’ll make another batch of this amazing brew soon.