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From classic favorites to rule-bending experimentations, this year was an inspired one for beer. We sipped, quaffed and guzzled our way through bottles, barrels and kegs to pare down the best of the best from 2010.
Angelís Share Grand Cru
The Lost Abbey
Angelís Share is one of the most sought-after beers around, but it got even more exclusive this year when co-founder Tomme Arthur opened up his entire barrel library to create a blend of vintages past. He carefully choreographed barrel-aged Angelís Share from 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2006óthe brewís debut yearófor a palate-coating sensation of flavors: Mature licorice, plum, molasses and chocolate layer above roasted bitterness for a deliciously syrupy swallow that finishes remarkably dry.
Ranger India Pale Ale
New Belgium Brewing Co.
You may know this brewery best for its ubiquitous malt-driven beer, Fat Tire, but this year New Belgium released another brew that quickly became a crowd pleaser. Ranger India Pale Aleís an Łbercitrusy, Cascades-packed drink that tastes like grapefruit in a glass. Bright, juicy hops and drying bitterness make this an exceptional example of the style, and its approachability and mass appeal make it worthy of the widespread praise it received. Itís undoubtedly one of the yearís must-haves.
Belgian Golden Strong Ale
Delicate yet demanding of your respect, this classic 100-point brew defines the Belgian golden strong style: Peppery spice punctuates pear, orange and floral hop scents, while on the tongue, ripe pear and peppery yeast tango before sweet honey balances a prickly hop finish. Itís a classic, and with each passing year remains a shining example of how an evolving beer world still holds flawless tradition close to its heart.
Samuel Smithís Old Brewery
The only beer this year to receive a perfect, 100-point score from our panel, Yorkshire Stingo nails the BJCPís guidelines for old ales at every step, and goes the extra mile by delivering complex malty surprises with each trip back to the glass. Every sipís memorable as rich caramel and sherry flavors play alongside deep, woody oak notes and molasses threads. The complexity is masterful and might be the best thing to happen to your snifter all year.
Pursuit of Hoppiness
Grand Teton Brewing Co.
American Red Ale
A bold, bright mouthful of hops, Pursuit of Hoppiness is one of the standout brews leading the burgeoning American red ale movement, and this year it transitioned from limited-release status to year-round availability. Sticky caramel flavors balance brawny bitterness while piney, citrusy hops deliver on the beerís name. Displaying a stunning balance between hops and malt, this beerís new distribution earns it a regular place in any discerning beer fridge.
Odell Brewing Co.
Odellís Single Serve Series is full of perennial favorites, but this yearís addition of Saboteur set a new benchmark for the brewery. The brewers age a traditional English brown ale in American oak barrels once used to house the breweryís refined, cork-and-cage Woodcut series, then inject rowdy Brettanomyces yeast for a secondary fermentation. The result is a sophisticated blend of toasty brown ale notes, tart Brett, vanilla and rich, dark cherries. A subtle pineapple note beneath the funk tips this beer into the realm of excellence.
21st Amendment Brewery
Belgian Dark Strong Ale
A collaborative effort that took a year to complete, Monkís Blood is the brainchild of 21st Amendment owners Shaun OíSullivan and Nico Freccia, chef and DRAFT contributor Sean Paxton, and the team at Belgiumís De Struise Brouwers. This brew packs in a laundry list of ingredientsódried mission figs, caramelized sugar syrup and American hops, to name a fewófor a sugary-sweet profile thatís spiked with spicy cinnamon, dark fruits, vanilla and oaky
tannins and wraps up with a fun, sour finish. Thereís simply nothing else like it.
Hop in the Dark
This year saw a tidal wave of bottled black IPAs, but none caught our attention like Hop in the Dark, a Cascadian dark ale. It may not be credited as the first of its kind, but after 22 attempts to perfect the recipe, it tops the list. Cascade, Citra and Centennial hops offer citrusy, piney hop flavors over a bed of lightly roasted, coffee-infused malts. Itís a blend of two worlds and a standard for those exploring this new style.
As DRAFTís first-ever 100-point review, we just canít help returning to this beer time and again. Westmalle embodies the tripel style with a thoughtful balance of sweet, fresh pear, lemon zest and a dash of peppery spice. Its flirtatious effervescence sweeps the mouth clean, while lingering lemony hops leave the mouth pining for more. Quaffable yet world-class, this beer displays a quiet elegance achieved over a few hundred years of monastic dedication, and for that, the beerís a timeless favorite.
Happy Ending Imperial Stout
Sweetwater Brewing Co.
Russian Imperial Stout
Big beer continues to bubble up from the South, and this 9%-ABV, ink-black brew from ATL is the one worth noting. Lurking beneath a robust blanket of roast, chocolate and coffee, plums and raisins sink into the taste buds while a bright flash of citrus hops introduce a wave of bitterness that cleans the luscious, heavy flavors from the tongue. Itís bold, complex and unsung in the world of hyped-up stouts.
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