The worst beer I had in 2018 was skunked, drunk at a party or out of a keg that hadn’t been changed in too long, an IPA that was supposed to be bright and bitter turned flat and sad.
This happened a lot, actually. As more breweries open and product sits on shelves, beers that were once fresh and beautiful turn muddy and ugly. Some come to the store without packaging dates and with price tags in the high-teens. I never buy a beer if I don’t know when it was made, and you shouldn’t, either.
The best beer I had was something from Bissell Brothers, or perhaps Mystic, Foam, Allagash, Notch, Idle Hands, or a couple dozen other breweries making consistently exceptional stuff right now. I drank a red ale made with New Hampshire seaweed (salty, as you’d probably guess, and surprisingly good) and a Canadian stout brewed with black truffles (Collective Arts Origin of Darkness, a little too fungal). It’s a good time to drink local, or not, from brewers you trust.
(Now that I think more about it, Bissell’s Nothing Gold IPA was my standout, summer-in-a-can, bought fresh from the source just as the weather turned).
2018 was a year of change. According to the Brewers Association, craft beer sales grew 5 percent year over year, contributing $76.2 billion to the US economy. More than 7,000 breweries operated in the country in 2018, a 20 percent increase from the year before. Eighty five percent of American adults now live within 10 miles of a brewery.
Some of the changes weren’t good. Trillium, whose growth has been celebrated as a major success story, was forced to address labor complaints at its new Fort Point tap room. Smuttynose, in business since 1996, was sold at a foreclosure auction and is still trying to find its footing. Beer is a business, and while many more breweries will open in 2019, others will inevitably close.
Partially because of that explosive growth, though, it’s easier to notice the good. 2018 was the year of the beer garden: Night Shift, Castle Island, Notch, and many others encouraged us to drink outdoors. A vegan beer hall opened in Quincy. Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vt., are still enclaves of creativity. And for the first time ever — if you know where to look — you can choose from more than one good beer at Gillette Stadium, TD Garden, and Fenway Park.
What were your impressions of the beer scene in 2018? Shoot me an e-mail, or I’ll hear you in the comments.
Thanks for reading, and cheers to 2019.
Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.