Kyle Harrop’s (Horus) Top 10 Beers of 2021 + Five Favorite Meads
From Danny – Each year, we look forware to giving the “pen” to our dear friend Kyle Harrop aka HORUS from Horus Aged Ales to compile his list of favorite beers of the year. Even with the pandemic, there was no stopping new, cutting edge craft breweries from thriving and making beers of note to try. Hopefully this writeup inspires you to seek out some of the beers and breweries that you have yet to hear about. We hope you enjoy.
2021…one of the more bizarre years I can remember. To be always evolving and adapting is an understatement. I would have never guessed it would be nearly impossible to buy things like empty glass bottles, aluminum cans, or honey, but that is the environment we are living in at the moment. The world seems to be changing daily, as well as the craft beer scene. Unfortunately, the Dodgers came up short and the Lakers are not looking very good so far either. On the bright side, I got my mead project off the ground, which was a dream come true. Exploring new varietals of honey and transitioning a decade and a half hobby into a professional venture has been very rewarding, including a gold medal for my Blueberry Mead at the Mazer Cup for my first commercial mead release. Since I started Honey Hawk this year, it seems fitting to include my five favorite meads of the year this go around too. I sampled nearly four hundred meads and almost five thousand beers this year. With all that said, the following are my favorite ten beers of 2021 in no particular order:
Anchorage Brewing Company “Gutted”
This beer took me back to my college days when I drank a lot of different Belgian Dark Strong Ales. The beer tastes like Raisinets candy drenched in Bourbon and oak. The contrast between milk chocolate and caramel mixed with dark fruit is awesome. The Double Oak Woodford barrels give off their traditionally heavy vanilla flavor and add just the right amount of sweetness to balance everything out. The yeast profile is as complex as it gets. It is scary drinkable for having an ABV in the double digits. This might be the best representation of this BDSA style I can ever remember having.
Burial Beer Co. “One Of Us Will Have To Bury The Other”
The presentation of this beer is beautiful in itself, showcasing the vibrant golden hue in a clear bottle. Foudre Aged Mexican Lager is not something I had ever had before, but it is something I want a whole lot more of in the future. This bone dry lager is insanely crushable and the oak presence is mind boggling. The prickly carbonation and crisp body make this a very easy drinker. There is a hint of sweetness and some Vienna malt that makes itself known too. I could drink this every day. It is complex yet approachable for anybody. You could get your Corona-drinking college roommate to drink this but it also satisfies the nerdiest of craft beer aficionados with its novelty and perfect execution.
Forager Brewery “Quiet The Crowds”
The Gem of the North strikes again. Austin has consistently been putting out my favorite barrel aged non adjunct Stouts for years. This particular blend is packed with cocoa aromas and flavors along with a variety of different whiskey notes. It is crazy to drink this and not think there is caramel, chocolate, coconut, marshmallow, toffee, or vanilla in it, but there is not. There are so many different things going on at once but they all play in perfect harmony. I am currently sipping on this beer as I type this, and I am blown away by how much fudge character this has. This is a Bourbon barrel aged no nonsense masterpiece.
Russian River Brewing Company “Mosaic Stack”
I drank more West Coast IPA than any other style this year and this was easily my favorite. This is a one hundred percent Mosaic straight up hop bomb. Some grapefruit, some stonefruit, lemon, grass, and pine. It is clean and crisp with a unique earthiness. It is not nearly as tropical as one would think a beer made up entirely of this hop would be, but instead there is a big blueberry and white grape presence, especially once it warms up slightly. They seem to have the perfect level of dankness dialed in for these type of beers whether it is Blind Pig, Pliny, this, or another one of their West Coast IPAs. This could not be more different than one of my go to West Coast IPAs, Mayberry from El Segundo, but that shows how diverse of a hop Mosaic can be depending on the particular crop and farm. This was a home run.
American Solera “Roosevelt’s Distraction”
Something I get the most satisfaction out of on the non adjunct barrel aged Stout side of the spectrum is releasing a single barrel that has all the qualities of a blend of several of your best barrels. There is nothing to hide behind. It is one beer that spent time in one barrel, a blank canvas that showcases the grain bill and what the oak imparted. Simplicity that is very difficult to do, but Chase and Matt nailed this one. Buffalo Trace is prevalent throughout and there is a pronounced sweetness that is supported by a wonderful boozy backbone. I think this was made for a Tulsa liquor store or restaurant if I understood correctly. There was not much of this to go around and I am thankful for the opportunity to have it a couple times.
Fidens Brewing Co. “Triple Jasper”
I had three different people who do not care for Hazy IPAs try this beer and they were all as blown away as I was. Citra, Citra, Citra, and more Citra comes out with both guns blazing. It seems like they had to have used twenty pounds per BBL to get these results, but I know for a fact that they did not use close to that amount. They have this style absolutely dialed. This as creamy and smooth as it gets for a 10% beer. Thick but not too thick, sweet but not sweet, fruity but not too fruity. Dangerous is an understatement. This is like an orange creamsicle mixed with a tropical bouquet of fruit. This was my favorite Hazy IPA or Triple IPA of the year without a doubt. I had it four different times across four weeks and it somehow seemed to taste better each time.
Private Press Brewing “A Silent Pursuit”
Brad Clark and I share a lot of the same practices and values, we make a very small quantity of beer that is almost entirely for our bottle club members, we brew on other brewery’s equipment, and we are one man operations. I am looking forward to doing a collaboration blend with Brad up nnorthin January. His pursuit of perfection and pushing boundaries without any short cuts is inspiring, as is his ability as a brewer. He has changed my mind with how much Munich malt can go into a Barleywine and Stout, but more importantly he created a whole new beer style in itself, Munichwine! I had the pleasure of tasting his new style of beer directly from a California Grape Brandy barrel in Santa Cruz and it was a palate rollercoaster that blew my mind. I think it is even more so in the bottle though as part of a blend. The amount of fruit character is off the charts and then it is all balanced by butterscotch, caramel, and a marzipan finish. There is a hint of pecan and walnut too. The flavor is like a date shake from Indio blended with a barrel aged Barleywine. A groundbreaking beer that really made me think and dissect its components, which does not happen to me much these days with how many different beers I try.
Cellarmaker Brewing Company “The Edge Of Time”
While up in San Francisco brewing a new Stout with Tim, Connor, and the Cellarmaker crew, we tasted through our barrels that were filled the previous year and then they pulled me samples of Barleywine from a couple Blanton’s Bourbon barrels. Those same two barrels ended up making up the blend for this beer a few months later. The beer tasted great straight from the oak but even better in its final bottled form. This is my favorite beer style done perfectly. There is a reason why this won Toronado’s Barleywine Fest this year. The crème brulee and toffee character in this is insane. The finish has tons of dark fruit that lends the way to a bold Bourbon presence. The only problem I have with this Barleywine is that I do not have any bottles left to see how it ages, which I am sure it will improve even more these next few years. Life at its finest!
Templin Family Brewing “Heidelberger Edel Pils”
Kevin Templin and his crew make my favorite lagers in the United States. Salt Lake City might be the last place people would expect to find such clean, impeccable, and true to style crispy bois, but TF Brewing cranks them out regularly. Heidelberger was my favorite of this past year due to its biscuity malt character and mild citrus finish. While a touch sweeter and less dry than their other pilsners, this beer exudes freshness. Also, the aggressive carbonation coupled with a huge creamy white head makes this one of the easiest beers to drink out there. I love the lingering hop flavor and lemon character in this full bodied gem. Templin does things the right way, while time consuming and labor intensive, it sure pays off and shines through in their final product. A milk pour of this on a hot Utah summer day cannot be beat.
Halfway Crooks Beer “Vary”
I had not tried a single beer from Halfway Crooks until this year. I sat down with six different lagers of theirs and all were great, even the Smoked Helles, and those who know me know that I have little to zero smoke tolerance. This Bohemian Lager had the craziest malt expression I have experienced in this style and that is likely due to the super long boil. The Czech Saaz shines in this one with a big spicy note dominated by pepper, flowers, and persistent bitterness. The carbonation is soft for the style but I felt like that allowed the shortbread, nutty, and honey notes to come out of the grain profile. This is one of the beers that you could crush all day long and I am sure the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks fans love to have this place in Atlanta because it is a perfect beer to drink while watching sports.
And the following are my favorite five meads of 2021 in no particular order:
Standard Meadery “Far From Grace”
Black currants are an extremely difficult fruit to use. They are as tannic and tart as they come. Adam does not shy away from them and knows exactly how sweet his honey base needs to be to balance them out. This mead got even better with barrel aging. Then, it added vanilla, and that took it up yet another notch. This is a beverage worthy of being named after his sweet daughter.
Boneflower Craft Mead “Red Soul”
I have not had a Raspberry Mead this good since the first time I tried Endovelicus from Superstition. The French Oak tames things out a bit and lets the vibrant berry shine. This has great vanilla character from the barrel and the adjunct itself. Imagine drinking raspberry jam that was not cloying in the slightest with a fragrant perfumey vanilla backbone. This might be my favorite mead from Aaron ever.
Lost Cause Meadery “Wolf: The Dawning”
Smoked black peppercorns and Lapsang Souchong Tea are not remotely close to being my favorite adjuncts, but wow do they work wonders in this. It brings out the blackberries and grape flavors in a big way. There is such a cool lingering spicy aftertaste. It starts off sweet, then gets smokey, and finishes dry with notes of Sherry. This was the most complex honey wine I tasted all year.
Schramm’s Mead “Bourbon Barrel Aged Black Agnes”
When I saw that one of my favorite meads of all time got a barrel treatment, I knew I had to try it and it did not disappoint. The wild ride of going from sweet to tart and tart to sweet a dozen times each sip is quite the sensation. The Bourbon barrel added depth and more dryness along with a mild coconut character. This tastes like the fruit I pick right off my in-laws’ tree every summer in Wisconsin.
Manic Meadery “Banana Bochet”
I have not had either a bochet or banana mead I enjoyed this much since Kuhnhenn’s French Toast rendition a few years back. This is caramelized dessert in a glass. Bananas foster with butterscotch and toffee. The meadowfoam honey is smores like and full of milk chocolate and marshmallow. This is the most banana flavor I remember tasting in any beverage and the rum barrel amplifies it even more.