Franny Fullpint’s Favorite Beers of 2014
In what seems like a blink of an eye, 2014 has come and gone; leaving us to reflect upon a whirlwind of a year for craft beer. There were many hits and misses, brewery openings, and bottle releases. There was new legislation within our state and federal government that have helped and hurt the way craft breweries must think and operate into the new year. There were big victories and small ones — one of the most notable being the fact that craft beer as an aggregate outsold Budweiser. But as I look back on the year of beer, it’s dizzying to compile a list that even scratches the surface of what I thought were the most well-executed brews of 2014.
Franny Fullpint’s Favorite Beers of 2014 (in no particular order)
Jester King Brewery, Snorkel: Right off the bat, I just know someone will get mad at me for not selecting one of the handful of world-class sour ales produced by Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas, but hear me out. I fell in love with this brand in 2013 after trying their off-the-wall Funk Metal and the first batch of their impeccable raspberry sour ale, Atrial Rubicite. But after tasting Snorkel, a farmhouse ale brewed with alderwood smoked sea salt and oyster mushrooms, I gained a new appreciation for JK’s attention to developing nuanced flavors. They’re not an “IPA brewery,” nor are they a one-trick sour pony (although their barrel-aged fruited sours are on my all-time favorites list). Jester King brings whimsy and experimentation to their brand without the superficial bells and whistles.
Bagby Beer Company, Dork Squad: Jeff Bagby is no stranger to the The Full Pint. We’ve long been following his career since his days brewing up some of the best beers out of Pizza Port Ocean Beach. After his departure in 2012, TFP collectively grieved the loss. Luckily for us (and all of you), Jeff and his wife Dande have finally opened the doors to their much-anticipated Oceanside, CA brewpub. Landing a bronze medal for Asphalt Jungle (an Irish Dry Stout) at GABF in 2014, Bagby’s beers are exactly what we hoped and dreamed for them to be: fucking delicious. His Dork Squad IPA was the first keg to blow at the recent Los Angeles IPA Festival and has been on my mind constantly since the last time I had it just a few weeks ago. 2015 will be an exciting year for the Bagbys, so take note.
Toppling Goliath, King Sue: I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how Iowa’s Toppling Goliath consistently brews IPAs that a west coast hop head such as myself drools for. Their Pseudo Sue is one of my all-time favorites, a single-hopped IPA featuring nothing but bright, fruity Citra. This year, TG finally released one bottle run of King Sue, an imperial version of this juicy brew.
Wicked Weed, Serenity: Can you believe that Wicked Weed has only been bottling their beers for a year now? The two-year old Asheville brewery has hit the scene hard with their full-flavored brews of both the hoppy and sour persuasion. This barrel-aged 100% Brett beer won the hearts of GABF judges in 2013; earning them a gold medal and strong buzz the following year. All of this is much deserved as Wicked Weed has, in a short amount of time, cranked out exceptional brews dedicated to quality and flavor. The recent addition of their Funkatarium (a sour tasting room) was also an A+ move.
Societe Brewing Company, The Highbinder: Societe’s lineup of beers is well-beloved in these parts and their super-limited distribution (pretty much only in the SD area and a sprinkling to some accounts beyond) make their beers a special treat when you can get your hands on it (on tap and in growler fills only). While The Pupil remains as one of my favorite California IPAs and The Butcher is a glorious example of a Russian Imperial Stout, one of their stand-outs this year for me was definitely The Highbinder, one of their first sour releases out of their modest barrel program. Aged in wine barrels for two years with Lacto, Pedio, and Brett, The Highbinder is a funky and expressive sour, balanced with sweetness from raspberries.
Highland Park Brewery, Wake Up at Michael’s: Coffee beers. There sure are a lot of them out there– many good ones and many that I’m sure we wish we could forget. One great coffee beer made here in Los Angeles is made even better with one of my favorite (and most polarizing) flavors: lavender. The months-old Highland Park Brewery situated within The Hermosillo makes an American Brown Ale called Wake Up dosed with locally roasted Trystero Coffee. Wake Up at Michael’s is a special one-off of this already limited production brew — dosed with a magical tincture of fresh lavender plucked from one of brewmaster Bob Kunz’ friend’s house. The floral and coffee flavors meld wonderfully bringing almost cinnamon-y raspberry notes that are balanced, and I swear, not the least bit soapy. Also recommended: Neon IPA and Lazy Susan.
Firestone Walker – Barrelworks, Feral Vinefra: Barrelworks Barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson and Masterblender Jim Crooks have made some magic this year as shown with their lineup of highly sought-after bottle releases this year. All of this year’s Barrelworks sour ales had something unique and expressive to say, but I have to give a special mention to Feral Vinefra, their first collaborative effort with local wine makers. Composed of a wheat-based wort fermented with grape juice from David Walker’s vineyards, Feral Vinefra was fermented, matured, and blended with Andrew Murray Vineyards. The final product being a beautifully multi-dimensional wild ale rich with tropical fruit, structured tannin, and dry minerality.
Hill Farmstead, Aaron: Is there anything Shaun Hill can’t do? In only a handful of years, Hill Farmstead has dazzled beer lovers with refreshing IPAs, rich stouts, and farmhouse ales that any saison die-hard would jump for. Hill takes a style we love and makes one of the greatest iterations of that style. Aaron is no exception. Aged in Bourbon barrels, Aaron brings a depth of flavor to the classic English Barleywine; rich with caramel and toffee notes and laced with dried fig and vanilla. Wow.
Noble Ale Works, Nelson Showers: Not going to lie. Selecting Noble Ale Works’ Nelson Showers is just a little arbitrary at this point. Brewmaster Evan Price and his team of talented (and very tall) brewers have been on their A-game for a couple of years now and each subsequent release from their Shower Beer Series has flown off store shelves in near-record time. Team Noble once again claimed the top prize at the Los Angeles IPA festival with their I Love It IPA, but Noble’s deft hand at single-hop IPAs truly exemplifies their strong understanding of hop flavors. When it comes to hops, Evan, Brad, Matt, and Joseph really know how to make it rain.
Three Weavers Brewing, Stateside IPA: A stunning session IPA from the freshman brewery with award-winning brewmaster Alexandra Nowell at the helm.
Crooked Stave Artisan Ales, Passion Party: Bursting with glorious passion fruit flavors, this sour golden ale was a stand-out in their tasting room this year.
Cascade Brewing, Blackcap Raspberry: Do we really need to tell you that Cascade hit it out of the park with yet another fruited sour ale? Lambic lovers will rejoice.
Sante Adairius, Nonna’s Blend #6: If you don’t stop and look around a little, you may just miss this uber-small batch gem in Capitola, CA. No hands down, one of the best breweries in California. Nonna’s Blend #6 lends beautiful farmhouse funk with lovely citrus notes.
Golden Road Brewing, 2020 IPA: Golden Road’s first red IPA was a stunner for me when first released this year. Brewmaster Jesse Houck’s first experimentation with Ahtanum melded tropical notes with pine complimented by Simcoe, Cascade, Chinook, Palisade, and Warrior for this custom IPA brewed for the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corp. *Full disclosure: While I am an employee of Golden Road, all opinions here are my own and are not affiliated with the company.
Cellarmaker, Hop Killah: If you haven’t made your way to Cellarmaker in San Francisco, add that to your to do list this year. Cellarmaker’s killing it right now…especially their Hop Killah IPA.
Did I miss one of your favorites? Tell us what you loved in 2014 in the comments!