Thursday, 14 January 2010 16:00

Top Ten Beers of 2009

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Every year breweries around the world compete in a sundry of beer festivals and competitions. Rounds of tasting win loyal customers and make every competition that much more challenging to pick the best beer.  The Brewers Association announced that the U.S. has 1525 breweries and brewpubs, July 31, 2009.  Thankfully, that’s a lot of beer.

In 2009, thousands of the best domestic and international beers were judged at the Great American Beer Festival, the Great British Beer Festival, the biennial World Beer Cup and the World Beer Awards, among many others.

The following ten beers deserve honorable mention, not just because I thoroughly enjoyed them in 2009, but because they won the taste buds of those festival judges and beer lovers everywhere.

1.  Robinson's Old Tom, Dark Ale – Strong (Barley Wine), 8.5% Unicorn Brewery, England. Can cats wink?  Robinson’s Old Tom apparently thinks so.  The black bottle with the sassy cat on the label has been crowned as the Worlds Best Ale at the 2009 World Beer Awards.  With aromas of dark fruit and chocolate, it has a dry taste and a superb spicy finish, with hints of liquorice and plums. Some resiny, flowery hops and burnt raisins flavors are present. Some of the ingredients for Old Tom are Halycon and Pipkin pale malts, crystal malt, small percentage of flaked maize and torrified wheat, caramel, Goldings whole hops and small percentage of Northdown. It’s dry hopped in cask with Goldings pellets.  This strong ale scores serious points for taking risks in distinctiveness and uniqueness.

2.  Rogue Dry Hopped Red, Pale Ale was awarded World's Best Pale Ale in 2009.  This beer is made with Chinook and Centennial hops giving it a piney, hoppy and boozy fruit smell. It’s not as bitter as you might expect from the very hoppy nose and 44 IBUs of bitterness.  It’s a brave, rich, yet drinkable amber ale.

3. Gonzo Imperial Porter was a 2009 GABF Gold Medal winner. This Imperial Stout is named in honor of Aspen legend Hunter S. Thompson. It's A dark brown/black beer with a complex mixture of aromas.  First sip brings a rather sweet interplay of sweet smokey malt, molasses and roasted coffee, followed by a touch of caramel and hoppy bitterness. It's sweet and complex enough for those discerning drinkers and is a perfect beer for a cold winter night.

4. YouEnjoyMyStout brewed by Cambridge Brewing Company in Massachusetts was the winner of American Cask Beer competition at Great British Beer Festival in 2009. This stuff smells like bourbon….definitely bourbon, and hints of anise and vanilla. Complexities abound, I tasted big roasty chocolate flavors alongside oats, dark caramel and black coffee. The hops are subdued but the barrell-aging process produces dramatic effects. It's definitely a sipping beer. And yes, I did enjoy their stout.

5. Sweetwater 420 by Sweetwater Brewing snagged the gold medal for Golden or Blonde ale in the U.S. Open Beer Championships. Last year, more than 500 beers were submitted for judging. This American pale ale coming in at 5.4% pours a bright gold and has a nice west coast style hop flavor. There’s an earthy hops smell, vaguely citrusy with a thin layer of malt, as well. Drinkability on this one is a nine out of ten.  

6. Tripel, Allagash Brewing Co. out of Portland is one of my favorites and took home the silver in the Belgian-Style Abbey Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival.  I can’t say enough good things about this beer.  As their website states, “This golden hued ale is marked by passion fruit and herbal notes in the aroma, with subtle suggestions of banana and honey surfacing from its deep and complex palate.”  At 9% ABV, a wonderful aroma and such strong Belgian yeast and sugar flavors, the drinkability of this one is nearly perfect.

7. Harpoon Leviathan Big Bohemian Pilsner was released in May 2009.  Leviathan is defined as a sea monster defeated by Yahweh in various scriptural accounts or something large or formidable. The ominous label portrays an abstract green monster peering with one eerie, celadon eye.  Harpoon Leviathan Big Bohemian Pilsner’s taste has a thicker mouth-feel than any other pilsner I've tried. It’s a large lager, with massive aromatic hop character and clean malt flavor.  The forth release in Harpoon’s Leviathan Series, also known as their “exploration in brewing big beers for adventurous palates,” the line is designed to appeal to the niche of beer enthusiasts who weren’t thoroughly impressed with the impact of Harpoon’s ‘100 Barrel Series’. The Carafoam malt produces a nice, frothy head with a nice amount of lacing.  It resembles the style, but in true Spinal Tap fashion, Leviathan then turns it up to 11, which yields a 9-percent and 75 IBUs-mighty monster Pils! The malt character is hearty, but surprisingly not too heavy and the high ABV is well disguised.  Overall, a great beer with a bite…

8. Duck Duck Gooze grabbed the gold in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category at the GABF last year.  Brewed by The Lost Abbey, it lends a very complex nose.  The taste is inspiring, with a dry, quenching smooth acidic quality.  Along with tart white grapes, apples and lemon are the two big players here. The mouthfeel is perfectly carbonated for this style, with just the right amount of pucker. Wine Enthusiast Magazine listed Duck Duck Gooze in their top 25 beers of 2009 with an excellent rating of 93 out of 100.  

9. Released in April 2009, Alaskan White Ale is an Alaskan twist on a Belgian classic. “The White is a very likeable and approachable beer, but with a lot of complexity and interesting flavors to balance the effervescent character of the style,” said brewer Tracy Bird.  It pours a rich golden color. Brewed with coriander, bitter orange peel and malted wheat; honey like sweetness, citrus and spice show throughout the finish.  It’s a refreshing, quaffable brew.

10. Stone 09.09.09 Vertical Epic Ale is a Belgian Porter with spices.  Beginning with the first release in 02.02.02, Stone’s Vertical Epic Ale series is an eleven-year endeavor with each new edition released one year, one month, and one day after the previous years, culminating in a truly Epic Vertical tasting on 12.12.12. The last few Stone Vertical Epic Ales have been golden in color, but September’s ale is a dark Belgian Porter, and used two German hop varieties: Perle and Magnum.  At 8.9% ABV, the beer was also featured on Wine Enthusiant’s top 25 beers of 2009 with a rating of 92.  It’s aged on French Oak, further enhancing the vanilla character.

With so many amazing brews to choose from, it was a hard call, but one I thoroughly enjoyed making. 

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