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One of the biggest takeaways for beer lovers in 2015 is this: It was the year when we set a new high for the total number of breweries in America—there are now more than 4,150, compared to the previous all-time high of 4,131 back in 1873. And, while I didn't get the chance to sample beers from all of them, I did my best. One thing's for sure: There is a hell of a lot of awesome new beer being made, primarily (but not exclusively) by independent, small-production brewers. Sours, especially simple German-inspired ones, continue to rise in popularity, though it's unlikely that they'll replace IPAs any time soon as the most favored style. Dry-hopping—the process of adding hops for aroma (rather than bitterness) after the initial boil—is now all but ubiquitous, breaching every category from Saison to Gose to Pilsner. Now, without any further ado, here are the 10 best beers I tasted in 2015.
Evil Twin Brewing Mission Gose
Light-bodied, tart, and refreshing, Gose is a once-almost-forgotten German beer style, historically brewed with salt and coriander and native to the town of Goslar, that's recently reemerged as one of the hottest beers around. This one from Evil Twin Brewing, made for New York's Mission Chinese restaurant by nomadic brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, incorporates eucalyptus for a faint but pleasing medicinal and herbal tang and a snappy, clean finish.
Grimm Artisanal Ales Psychokinesis
Lauren and Joe Grimm, the Brooklyn-based husband-and-wife duo behind Grimm Artisanal Ales, crafted some of 2015's most exciting and exquisite new beers—assertive, fun, and always packed with flavor. I'm a little obsessed with their Double Negative Imperial Stout and their whole lineup of sublime Double IPAs. But of all their beers, this zesty Farmhouse Ale is the best. Dry-hopped with El Dorado, Mosaic, and Jarrylo hops for a floral, fruity character that perfectly counters the beer's acidity, it's positively bursting with tropical-fruit notes.
Prairie Artisan Ales Brett C.
This Farmhouse Ale from Oklahoma's Prairie Artisan Ales, a brewery known for its whimsical, cartoonish labels, celebrates the claussenii strain of the Brettanomyces genus, an increasingly popular critter known for bringing low-intensity funk along with big aromas of overripe pineapple. Cascade and Citra hops boost the fruit factor with the heady scents of lemon, grapefruit, and honeydew, while a sprinkle of sea salt imparts a discernible savoriness.
Wicked Weed Pernicious
Asheville, North Carolina's Wicked Weed Brewing brought a shiny new 40,000-square-foot production brewery online this summer. Pernicious, its first new beer, is a resinous, massively dry-hopped aromatic sipper that I can't seem to get enough of. I'm not the only one who's singing its praises, either. Pernicious netted Silver at the Great American Beer Festival for American-Style IPA, the competition's most crowded category.
Trillium Brewing Co. and Other Half Brewing Co. Street Green
Two of the East Coast's freshest IPA makers—Boston's Trillium Brewing Co. and Brooklyn's Other Half Brewing Co.—teamed up for this hazy, hopped-up collaboration ale. While early East Coast IPAs were malty and mildly bitter, this IPA is the epitome of the new Northeast style, which eschews piney-ness for juiciness and exalts floral aromatics rather than traditional bitterness. It's citrusy and creamy, with aggressive pineapple aromas—further proof that, collectively, East Coast breweries are distinguishing themselves from their West Coast counterparts with their own brand of ripe, hop-forward beers.
Peak Organic Brewing Company Super Fresh
This aggressive but smooth India Pale Lager—a category-straddling, rule-breaking hybrid of IPA and Pilsner—is the big brother to Maine-based Peak Organic Brewing Company's hoppy Fresh Cut pils. The lager yeast keeps the base clean, empowering Fresh Cut's vibrant floral aromas to whirl through. That it's packaged in crushable, ever-fashionable 16-ounce cans is simply icing on the cake.
Allagash Brewing Company Cuvée D'Industrial
Inside the wild beer cellar at Portland, Maine's Allagash Brewing Company—located on Industrial Way, hence the name of this beer—lie rows upon rows of American and French oak barrels, full of funky beers maturing and developing. Cuvée D'Industrial is a blend of those beers, aged in the barrels for between one and five years (and let me tell you, very few breweries age their beer five years). The results are phenomenal. Tart and multifaceted, this beer gently unfurls woodsy vanilla aromas with hints of oak, menthol, and tropical fruit.
Stone Brewing Co. Xocoveza for the Holidays & the New Year
Originally brewed as a one-off collaboration with home brewer Chris Banker and Tijuana brewery Insurgente, this chocolate- and coffee-infused milk stout from San Diego's Stone Brewing Co. is spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and smoky pasilla peppers for a beguiling mélange of warm holiday flavors. Unlike with most chili beers, the peppery notes are subtle here, reminiscent of a well-crafted mole or a thick cup of champurrado.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company 19th Anniversary Ale
Each year, central California's Firestone Walker Brewing Company releases an anniversary ale comprised of a blend of finished beers from its vast portfolio. The 2015 iteration is unique in that it includes only Firestone's barrel-aged brews—Parabola (chewy), Stickee Monkee (toasty), Bravo (caramelly), and Velvet Merkin (chocolaty)—and none of the fresh hoppy beers in earlier vintages. The final combination, perhaps Firestone's best Anniversary vintage yet, is a marriage of rich, sticky chocolate with an undercurrent of dark fruit, spice, and leather.
Goose Island Beer Co. Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout (2015)
Rare is the—ahem—rarest of this year's Bourbon County Brand Stout variants from Chicago's Goose Island Beer Co. The 2015 vintage was aged two years in 35-year-old Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels (serendipitously discovered a couple of years ago at the distillery) before bottling. An extravagant beer—weighty and thick with vanilla, toffee, chocolate, and booze—it's also surprisingly smooth.
Note: Beer samples provided for review consideration.