Best beers I tried for the first time in 2016

By Ryan Urban

As I work on a larger year in review article, I thought a good way to start would be to review the best beers I tried for the first time in 2016. Some are new, some are classics. Some are regional, other came from the southern and western U.S. and beyond. Here’s the some of the best I had in 2016:

  1. Toppling Goliath Pompeii—Though I am not a hophead, this beer made me realize the draw of this craft beer giant. It has all the wonderful fruity flavors of late-hop additions, without the mouth-numbing IPA bitterness I associate with the style. Pompeii blew my mind.
  2. Burial The Rosary Export Stout—I had the pleasure of visiting the Asheville, N.C. in 2016 and touring a beer scene that definitely lived up to the hype. The unexpectedly pleasant surprise of the trip was Burial Brewing Company. The Rosary is all the black goodness of stout with a Belgian twist—something sure to be emulated more in the years ahead.
  3. Hi-Wire Lager—Another Asheville favorite. My fondness for a flavorful, easy-drinking lager was satisfied with this beer.
  4. Green Man Porter—One more from Asheville. This made me fall in love with porter all over again after tasting a long series of “meh” versions. This is a ROBUST porter, and everything it should be.
  5. Live Oak Pilz—I only ventured outside the Midwest once, but my girlfriend Anna did many times and brought me some great stuff from many places. Austin, Texas proved to have awesome stuff. This has soft maltiness and spicy Saaz hops that make Pilsners so satisfying.
  6. Austin Beerworks Black Thunder—If there’s anything I like better than a good pils, it’s a tasty schwarzbier. Oil black, big on flavor, this was just the ticket.
  7. Summit Keller Pils—This St. Paul craft beer pioneer delivered again and again in 2016. A highlight of this well-rounded 30th anniversary lineup was this refreshing lager. Superb summer beer.
  8. New Glarus Oud Bruin—New Glarus remains No. 1 on my list of favorites thanks in part to a winning regular lineup and once-in-awhile gems like this. I don’t go wild for sour beers, but this was awesome.
  9. Central Waters Cassian Sunset—Another winner in a phenomenal barrel-aging program. I was skeptical at first, but goddamn was this delicious. Central Waters makes awesome beers top to bottom, sunrise to sunset.
  10. Sierra Nevada-Mahrs Brau Oktoberfest—Have I mentioned that I like lagers? This was a super cool interpretation of a German classic. I refilled my stein many times over.
  11. 3 Floyds Wigsplitter—I had come to think of 3 Floyds as one of the most overrated breweries out there. Same for coffee beers. But I finally came around this year, and boy was this tasty tribute to dark brewed goodness.
  12. Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale—The best of beer is barleywine, especially on a cold night in the Upper Midwest. I had many of those, and nothing warmed me more than Bell’s Third Coast. Every sip is a bit different, more complex than the last.

Check out the archives for more beer reviews from 2016. And follow me on Twitter and Untappd for more throughout the coming year.

Beer of the Week: Central Waters Cassian Sunset

 

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Central Waters Cassian Sunset.

If Goose Island is #1 in the barrel-aged beer game, Central Waters might well be a close second. This is a common ranking in the Midwest.

In my book, however, Central Waters is #1. Granted, I’ve only had two vintages of the original Bourbon County Brand Stout. Reason: 1. Hard to get in Northern Wisconsin 2. Only released once a year 3. I’m not into shelling out extra cash or trading for beer 4. Goddamn InBev.

Alternatively, I can get better than a half-dozen of this Amherst (WI)-based brewery’s barrel-aged beers in a year’s time for less than $15 per 4-pack. This lineup is all affordable, consistent beers with big barrel character.

Granted, this has changed somewhat with tickets to the brewery’s anniversary releases selling out in minutes and the introduction of $40 per bottle Ardis Insignis.

So, is Ardis Insignis worth it?

Hell, I have no idea. I didn’t even bother to enter the raffle because I’m not paying $40 for 22 oz. of beer. Hey, I gotta draw the line somewhere.

No, rather I’ll be reviewing another recent release, Cassian Sunset.

Central Waters says: “A bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with local Emy J’s coffee, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon.”

First thought: “YAASSS! A new Central Waters beer!”

Second thought: “Oh no, they’ve taken a perfectly good BB stout and ruined it with spices and shit.”

You must understand, beers jam-packed with vanilla and/or coffee have almost always ended in disappointment for my taste buds.

Well, I bought some anyway. After all, I could attest to the fact that Emy Js has great coffee, having spent 4 years in college in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. And, Central Waters’ Brewhouse Coffee Stout is a rare exception to my “coffee beers suck” belief.

After my first glass, my suspicions seemed correct. I was ready to give away the other three bottles.

But, the first taste was from a shaker pint glass at a cold temperature. I felt I had done an injustice. So, a week later I had another from a tulip/snifterish glass at the proper temp. Big improvement.

Yes, the coffee, vanilla and cinnamon is there, but remain subtle enough. I still can’t say I’m a fan of these additives, but there is good balance in this beer. I certainly can’t fault Central Waters for trying something new with its tried-and-true barrel aging project.

This beer is, ultimately, another testament to the fact that Central Waters is one of the best in the business.

Too often beers are made extreme for extreme’s sake. Central Waters has certainly jumped in on the popular trends of incorporating barrel aging or huge amounts of sexy hops, fruit, peppers, spices, etc. But the brewery has also shown enough restraint and skill to produce flavorful beer that is also easy-drinking. I was surprised how quickly I finished my glasses of Cassian Sunset.

This supped-up bourbon barrel stout is decadent, like maybe spice cake, brownie and coffee ice cream mixed together. That sounds a little strange and excessive, but damn, I’d be a fool not to try it.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg