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Belt’s Beer Garden: Best Beers of 2021

Counting down the best beers of the year.

With 2021 coming to an end tonight, it’s time for a look back at the best beers I tried over the past 365 days.

As always I like to start with a few stats (because I’m a nerd like that).

After just over seven years of beers of Belt’s Beer Garden, I have now showcased 618 beers from 390 different breweries from all 50 states and 14 different countries.

Personally, in 2021 I was able to try 658 new beers (up from the 540 I had last year) from 255 different breweries so narrowing it down to the 20 best beers was a difficult process.

Since hop-forward beers continue to be my go-to and, having sampled many more IPAs than other styles, as always, I divided the rankings into two categories - Top of the Hop (Pale Ales, IPAs, DIPAs) and Best of the Rest (all other styles).

Let’s jump right in to it with my ten favorite hoppy brews!

*NOTE: just because the beer is on this list doesn’t mean it was first brewed in 2021, just that I had it for the first time this year*


TOP OF THE HOP: TOP 10 HOPPY BEERS

10: His Airness - Magnify Brewing (Fairfield, NJ)

Style: Quadruple IPA
ABV: 12%

This behemoth of an IPA might sound intimidating, being a QIPA with a 12% ABV, but it’s actually insanely smooth and drank like a beer half its strength. It’s so juicy and smooth and filled with tropical fruit flavors that you’ll swear it’s only 6% ABV...until the can is gone and you’re already tipsy!

9: Defiant - Scout & Scholar Brewing (Bardstown, KY)

Style: Sour IPA
ABV: 6%

Defiant was a delicious, slightly tart, IPA conditioned on loads of tangerine, mango and apricot. It starts with a short sour kick before the fruits explode on the back end and make it a super smooth, very crushable beer.

8: Huffy Puffy - Missing Mountain Brewing (Cuyahoga Falls, OH)

Style: New England IPA
ABV: 7.4%

Citra, Mosaic, and Nelson Sauvin hops give this brew an fantastically juicy flavor with some hoppy dankness hitting underneath. It’s creamier and heavier but, man oh man, is it a good brew.

7: MO-J - Heist Brewery (Charlotte, NC)

Style: New England IPA
ABV: 7.1%

MO-J was brewed, and then double dry hopped, entirely with Motueka hops which gives off huges notes of orange juice and other citrus. Underneath the massive amount of orange is a hint of lemon and lime but, overall, it’s an adult OJ...and that should be enough to make you want to try this beer right now.

6: Rad AF - City Barrel Brewing (Kansas City, MO)

Style: New England IPA
ABV: 6.4%

The Citra and Mosaic hops give Rad AF a super soft and pillowy mouthfeel with big juicy notes of mango and papaya. Absolutely crushable and worth every cent. You can read the full review of it here. And if you stop in their taproom, they have an amazing kitchen as well...their food was just as delicious as their beer.

5: 70s Rock Label - Junkyard Brewing (Moorhead, MN)

Style: New England IPA
ABV: 7.4%

This beer came in a 750 mL oil can and, while I initially intended to share it, it was just too good to give away. The HBC-586 hops they used provided loads of tropical fruits (mango, passion fruit, guava) and citrus. It was so good I think I finished the 25.4-ounce can in under fifteen minutes.

4: Featherweight - HopFly Brewing (Rocky Mount, NC)

Style: Triple IPA
ABV: 9.5%

Another high ABV IPA that drinks insanely light. Featherweight is sweet, juicy, and tastes like a liquid gummy peach ring with some grapefruit appearing later on. You can read the full review here.

3: DDH Mixed Greens LIV (54) - Southern Grist Brewing (Nashville, TN)

Style: New England IPA
ABV: 6.2%

Every beer from Southern Grist’s Mixed Greens series is good but there was something special about the 54th version of it. Brewed and double dry hopped with Motueka, Sabro, and Strata hops, this beer is juicy, creamy, and 1,000% crushable. If you ever get to Nashville or have SGBC available in your area, don’t hesitate at all...just buy their beers.

2: Flavor Country - Austin Beerworks (Austin, TX)

Style: Pale Ale
ABV: 5.9%

Hopped with Centennial, Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops, this beer was light, crisp, and super juicy, and flavorful. It’s one of their Core Beers for a reason...it’s too damn good to not produce year round.

1: Reptar Juice - Twenty-Six Acres Brewing (Concord, NC)

Style: New England IPA
ABV: 7.2%

This was one of the first beers I had in 2021 and it stood out so much that even a full year later I still think about how good it was. Citra and Mosaic hops compliment the flaked wheat and oats perfectly. It’s soft, juicy, and by far the best IPA I had this year.


BEST OF THE REST: TOP 10 NON-HOPPY BEERS

10: Prickly Pear Gose - Backstep Brewing (Crawfordsville, IN)

Style: Sour - Gose
ABV: 5%

This Gose was brewed with prickly pear cactus and sea salt resulting in a nice combination of sweet and salty. The fruit hits first before the sea salt take over the back half and balance the beer out nicely.

9: Space Camp Tramp Stamp - The Peddler (Huntington, WV)

Style: Kettle Sour with Tang
ABV: 4.9%

My first trip to West Virginia had me stopping at The Peddler for drinks and dinner. And when I saw they had a kettle sour brewed with Tang, I needed to try it. And holy cow, was it good! The Tang added a bunch of sweet orange that cut into the tartness nicely. In the end it tasted more like a mimosa than a beer...so good.

8: Rainbow Smiggles - Pontoon Brewing (Sandy Springs, GA)

Style: Fruited Berliner Weisse
ABV: 7%

Sour beers don’t normally reach 7% but Rainbow Smiggles did and you couldn’t even tell! The reason? It was brewed with 300 lbs of Skittles, over 100 boxes of Trix Cereal, vanilla, lactose, and heaps upon heaps of strawberries and pineapple. Insanely tasty and a perfect way to kick off your morning drinking habits.

7: PB&J Wheat - Ingenious Brewing (Humble, TX)

Style: Pale Wheat Ale
ABV: 4.9%

Ingenious Brewing found a way to liquefy the best school lunch and add a nice touch of alcohol to it. PB&J Wheat was conditioned upon peanut butter, blueberries, and strawberries that make it taste exactly like the sandwich. So damn good. Read the full review here.

6: Caramel Macchiato Flavored Stout - 903 Brewers (Sherman, TX)

Style: Milk Stout
ABV: 8.7%

It tastes exactly like it supposed to. Coffee base with plenty of sweetness from the vanilla and caramel to cut into those roasty notes. Between it’s higher ABV and how easy it is to down this bad boy, 903 has a super dangerous beer on their hands. Read my full review here.

5: Shadow Games I - Sori Brewing (Tallinn, Estonia)

Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 13.1%

This beast of a stout was made with hazelnuts and Canadian maple syrup before being aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels. It drinks super light and the 11.2-ounce bottle was gone before I knew what hit me! So freaking good. Read the full write up on it (and Shadow Game III) here.

4: French Toast - Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland, VA)

Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 8%

I though Rainbow Smiggles was the best way to start a morning until I tried this beer from Lickinghole Creek. This Brown Ale was made with vanilla and cinnamon and has a nice maple syrup quality to it as well. If you can’t eat a good breakfast, you might as well drink a good breakfast. Here’s the link to the full review.

3: Breakfast Bar: Java Coco-Crunch - Southern Grist Brewing (Nashville, TN)

Style: Double Milk Stout
ABV: 8%

Grist is the only brewery to make the list in both categories...and both beers were in the top-3!!! Java Coco-Crunch had a plethora of additives - lactose, vanilla, granola clusters, coffee, toasted coconut, and almonds - which made it sweet, salty, and amazing.

Not only was this a near perfect beer but it was also the 5000th different beer that I checked in to Untappd!!

2: M.O.B.: Cookies & Cream - Maplewood Brewing (Chicago, IL)

Style: Double Pastry Stout
ABV: 10%

Maplewood hit it out of the park with this version of their Morbidly Obese Pug (an imperial version of their year-round stout, Fat Pug). The Cookies & Cream version of M.O.B. features chocolate and vanilla cream so it tastes like your favorite dunkable cookie (or ice cream). The 10% ABV is completely hidden as well, making it a dangerous brew.

1: Pixie Mix: Orange Lavasplash - Untitled Art (Waunakee, WI)

Style: Hi-C inspired Hard Seltzer
ABV: 5.5%

One of the best brewed drinks I had this year was this hard seltzer from Untitled Art. The Orange Lavasplash variety from the Pixie Mix series is made to taste like Orange Hi-C...every child’s favorite drink growing up. And it hit it right on the head. I slammed this can so quickly that I think it was gone in like five minutes, tops. Absolutely delicious, albeit a little sticky. Read the full review here.


BEER OF THE YEAR:

Reptar Juice - Twenty-Six Acres

After having a Stout as my top beer last year, I’m back to my hoppy ways in 2021. Reptar Juice was simple amazing and edged out the seltzer Pixie Mix by just a hair. I wish I lived in Concord, North Carolina so I could swim in the tanks that make this beer. If you’re in the Tar Heel State and like IPAs, you’ll love Reptar Juice. Truly the best of 2021.