There has never been a better time to drink a beer.
After a 2016 spent sipping imaginative, meticulously crafted brews, my confidence in that statement is high. But it comes with a few caveats.
Drinking good beer is expensive, and it was especially so in 2016. This was the year I spent $34 on a 4-pack, for a barrel-aged kriek at Hermit Thrush Brewery in Brattleboro, Vt. It was the year I regularly dropped upward of $20 for 4-packs of Trillium Brewing’s exceptional IPAs. It was the year that, just the other day, left me speechless when a Southie restaurant charged $10 for a 10-ounce pour of a low-ABV lager.
It’s also a year in which more bad beer — much of it also not cheap — reared its ugly head. There are now more than 5,000 breweries in the United States. Many of them don’t pass muster, and how could they all? Not every NBA player is Larry Bird. More than ever before, I found beer on shelves that was either bland or overwrought. Some of it was too old then, and some of it is probably still sitting there.
But more often than not, my faith in beer’s progress as a drink to be respected, celebrated, and relied upon was richly rewarded.
2016 was the year brewers drilled down into singular ingredients: entire brews made with single hops, coffee sourced from a single farm. It’s the year I wrote a column about two coffee beers that couldn’t have been more different. The first was a collaboration between Finback Brewery and Proclamation Ale Company, a hazy orange juice bomb with a strong undercurrent of espresso. The second, from Mystic Brewery, meshed the bright fruit notes of a saison with a single-source coffee’s berry, orange, and plum undertones.
2016 was the year more of us drank directly from the source. In Massachusetts alone, Notch, Dorchester, Bone Up, Trillium, Idle Hands, Barrel House Z, and Exhibit A were among the new brewery openings. Again and again, we drank fresh beer steps from where it was made, then came back for more.
It can be hard to pick favorites, but my most memorable brew of 2016 was Crossfade, from Maine’s Oxbow Brewing Company. Crossfade is described by brewery cofounder Tim Adams as farmhouse ale “with less flabbiness.” It’s a blend of two hop-forward saisons, bursting with pineapple and a hint of barnyard. As it warms, it emits the unmistakable smell of Pixy Stix candy. Store a bottle in your cellar and, Adams says, it’ll get even funkier.
Pretty impressive, guys.
GARY DZENGary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen