October's Rookie of the Year

January 09, 2018

By Eno Sarris, January 09, 2018

Giving any one beer a title is very difficult.

First, there's the subjectivity thing. Short of having one person drink every single new beer this year – definitely not recommended with now somewhere around 7,000 breweries in the United States, not to mention the rest of the world – you're going to run into the problem that comes from the fact that we all have our own interactions each beer we drink, and those interactions are affected by things like food, temperature, quantity, and company. Good luck teasing that out. It's like trying to scout a baseball player off of one look one day when maybe he wasn't in a good mood. 

Over at BeerGraphs, we tried to take the wisdom of the many in order to figure out which beers were truly the best. It's the back of the playing card approach – what numbers does that young player play to? That's how you get The Streets from Trillium as the best new beer of the year. Because it's hazy and juicy and comes from New England. 

Look at the breweries that had multiple new top 50 rookie beers, and a trend emerges. Other Half leads the way with 9, Trillium with 5, Tree House with 3 – kings of New England haze. Power hitters. Even Modern Times (4), Cloudwater (3), Old Nation (2) and Tired Hands (2) are purveyors of haze. Hoof Hearted and Bissel Brothers and The Alchemist. The list goes on. 

But if you don't live near those breweries, it's a bit like that Cuban outfielder with the pythons who can hit 500 foot bombs... in Cuba. Every best of list has a ton of beers that you'll never see on it. Obscure high school lefties hitting triple digits in Wyoming – nice, but can I get it here at my local store?  

Our list won't be free of that sort of issue, but we'll at least try to give you a diverse set of individuals from around the country. My pick can't even be free of these issues. Not only am I just one human being trying to taste my way through life, but I also don't want to award my pick to the top BeerGraphs rookie that I happened to drink, even though that collaboration from Jackie O's and De Garde – With Friends Like These, a muscat grape sour that drank refreshing – was great. 

Collective Arts Guava Gose
Hamilton, Ontario

Instead I'm going to pick a beer I had three times this year. I previewed it first at the October launch in New York at Three's Brewing. Then I had it again at OctFest in Brooklyn in September. Finally, I had it at October's Hannibal Buress and Thundercat show in Chicago in December. 

Collective Arts not only features great can art, but their Guava Gose hits it out of the park with taste as well. Pink Himalayan Salt, guava flesh, and their core Gose combine to give you a light beer with fruit and floral flavor that's refreshing without being boring. It's not the most sour beer, but it's tart enough to crisp up the smooth mouthfeel and finish the fruit. You want another sip, and I'm glad I had it three times.

-- Eno Sarris 

The perfect accompaniment to herb-roasted chicken, creamy goat cheeses, or a shrimp Pad Thai. Might work at a ballgame too.”

Honest Weight Artisan Ales Overly Dedicated Oak Aged Farmhouse Ale
Orange, Massachusetts

Year end lists typically confound me. Given the breadth of a person’s expertise – beer or music or movies – what denotes “best” or “favorite?” Baseball has it easy; There are metrics by which to guide this decision. Beer talk is dominated by whales and hype and haze. My rookie of the year goes to: Honest Weight Artisan Beer Overly Dedicated. The oak-aged farmhouse ale is bright and effervescent, with a little barnyard funk, and a light tartness. To finish the baseball analogy, like Jose Altuve, the 4.8% alcohol by volume Overly Dedicated proves that lack of size doesn’t mean you can’t hit for power.

Honorable Mention: Firestone Walker Bravo

-- Matt Osgood

Highland Brewing Co. POW! Triple IPA
Asheville, NC

Three years ago, this beer coming from this brewery would have been unheard of, but that's the kind of impact Hollie Stephenson had on Highland. Formally of Stone Brewing, and now head brewer at Guinness' Maryland facility, Stephenson allowed for a hop-forward revamp of Highland's lineup, culminating in this frighteningly easy-drinking 10.5% behemoth made with Simcoe Lupulin Powder and intense dry hopping.

On flavor alone, the beer stands out. Aromas of pineapple and peach crescendo with a white tea taste, and even as the beer warms, the alcohol never gets too boozy. It's an experience that never would have happened without Stephenson's inspiration, a key part of more modernization in Highland's future, and a force that made the entire lineup better.

-- Bryan Roth

Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery Pockets of Sunlight Mixed fermentation saison
Athens, Ohio

When Brad Clark at Jackie O’s began making mixed fermentation ales in the mid-to-late aughts, sour beers were an incredibly niche product, and the ubiquity of quick-and-cheap canned kettle sours was still years away. Clark is a firm believer in traditional methods of sour beer brewing: mixed-culture fermentations take longer, are more finicky, and the resultant beers tend to command a higher price.

Pockets of Sunlight is a study in patience and skill: a mixed-fermentation saison brewed with honey, lemon verbena and coriander, the beer undergoes a long secondary fermentation period with one of Clark’s prized house mixed cultures, then referments in the bottle for a fine, prickly effervescence. The beer is bright, lightly acidic, bewitchingly floral, with a dry, mineral finish. The perfect accompaniment to herb-roasted chicken, creamy goat cheeses, or a shrimp Pad Thai. Might work at a ballgame too. 

-- Miles Liebtag

Kicking & Screaming is what the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man would serve his buddies on poker night.”

Other Half C.R.E.A.M. Get The Honey
Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewery makes exceptional hazy IPAs and Wu-Tang Clan inspired ale has the pedigree. It’s a single-hop ale – Mosaic, if you’re scoring at home – loaded with oats and honey sourced from the Hudson Valley. Brewed in the New England style, the turbid brass-colored beer is sweet without being cloying, citrusy without overpowering and full-bodied without weighing you down. It’s a simple, delicious beer that never once smashes you in the face with its citrus and tropical flavors.

Simply, it was one of the finest ales I poured all year.

-- Jared Paventi

Speciation Peach Genetic Drift Farmhouse
Grand Rapids, Michigan 

In a virtually self-anointed Beer City such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, it’s hard to make an innovative splash. This year, however, a tiny brewery named Speciation Artisan Ales made major waves, both in the West Michigan and national beer communities. At the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Speciation found itself a variety of “must-try” and “best of” lists.

As founders Mitch and Whitney Ermatinger continue to ride the wave of hype, they continue to push out amazing small batches of beers. Each month’s releases are different – December’s release included sour golden ales aged in wine barrels with grapes and chokeberries – but many of Speciation’s beers have Incipient, a golden sour, and Genetic Drift, a wild saison, at their core. Genetic drift is mostly dry-hopped with combinations of new and old world hops, but Speciation has also released Peach Genetic Drift.

Michigan took notice, much of the country has as well, and many more likely will in 2018.

-- Pat Evans

Threes Brewing Kicking & Screaming Pilsner
Brooklyn, New york

In 2017, I finally went mad for pilsners, filling my fridge with all manner of moderately boozy, massively crisp thirst assassins. A cynic might mark this as my turning point in embracing Middle-Aged Dad Bod™, but the larger truth is I’ve lost my unbridled lust for murky hop grenades and souped-up stouts inspired by the dessert menu. Sure, I still dig the occasional double dry-hopped flavor bazooka, but pilsners have been quickening my heart like young love.

Few made my ticker pitter-patter faster than Threes Brewing’s Kicking & Screaming. It starts life as a pilsner, all prickly and perfectly refreshing, then spends a good long while in oak foudres. Here the magic happens, the wood softening the edges and delivering a neat note not unlike toasty marshmallows. Kicking is what the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man would serve his buddies on poker night. Make more, please.

-- Joshua M. Bernstein

Wild HeavenA beer with purpose.

Wild Heaven (Collaboration) To Dan! Coconut Double India Pale Ale 
Decatur, Georgia

Easily the most heartstring-pulling brewing collaboration of the year, Decatur's Wild Heaven collaborated with a dream team of brewers to craft an amazing double IPA infused with fresh coconut called the To Dan! Due to an unfortunate circumstance, this IPA was brewed to help raise funds for the former wife of the late Dan Rosen, a stellar brewer, globetrotting beer authority and co-founder of the award-winning Mazurt Brewing Company who was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident in early June of 2017.

Wild Heaven’s brewmaster Eric Johnson, Hamp Covington (Dan’s business partner of Mazurt), Cigar City head brewer Wayne Wambles, and Max Lager’s owner John Roberts proved that craft beer is for more than imbibing; its for paying respect, unifying, and giving during somber times. The To Dan! was a complete success by the way. And delicious.

Honorable mentions: Monday Night Situational Ethics stouts, Creature Comforts Tropicalisma DIPA, Red Brick Journey Without Maps DIPA, New Belgium Felix

-- Ale Sharpton

Day Beer Lager
Los Angeles, California

When the makers of Day Beer decided to brew a light lager for their friends to drink at parties, they thought it would be easy. They were wrong. After a crash course in beer production – the three Day Beer masterminds work in the music industry by day – and a few imperfect batches, they realized the simplest beers have the least room for error.

This quest for uncomplicated perfection resulted in Day Beer – highly drinkable and brewed in homage to Tecate, Dos XX and other market-dominating light lagers. Produced in small batches in downtown Los Angeles, Day Beer comes in a sparely designed can inspired by the 1984 cult classic Repo Man and is only available at a handful of locations around town. The best place to get one? The backyard parties thrown by the Day Beer crew.

-- Katie Bain

Sole Artisan Ales/Aslin Beer Company Mocking Birds Mocking Oatmeal IPA
Easton, Pennsylvania

This Oatmeal IPA was a collaboration between Sole Artisan Ales of Easton, Pennsylvania and Aslin Beer Company of Herndon, Virginia. Now, 2017 was a year where I had many beers that were new to me, but not too many that were new in 2017. I only checked this in once on Untappd, giving it 4 out of 5 stars, but by the time my fridge was all out of Mocking Birds Mocking, I knew it was one I would sorely missed.

At only 5.2% ABV, this beer was perfectly light for summer drinking but still brought enough body from the oats and enough bright, tropical flavors from Idaho 7 and El Dorado hops. As of now it appears to have been a one time offering, but I am holding out hope that either Sole or Aslin makes another run at this for next summer.

-- JR Shirt

Suarez Family Backroads Saison
Livingston, New York

As Dan Suarez's brewery moved into its second year, some of those barrels he had been aging since day one finally started coming to maturity, and no longer were (admittedly world-class) clean beers his only offerings. Suarez's brewery is in the backroads of the Hudson Valley countryside – though not exactly on a farm – and, thus, he calls his farmhouse ales “country beers.”

Typically letting wild yeast and microflora subtly speak for themselves, with Backroads he gets a little more playful. Foraged staghorn sumac and locally grown tangerine marigold from nearby Letterbox Farm Collective are added, producing an insanely complex melange of grape skin, berries, and orange peel flavors, with finally, a finish that is straight Lemonheads candy. As Suarez's own press materials say for this beer " cool." It truly is.

-- Aaron Goldfarb


Thanks to Remo Remoquillo for the header image.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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