The Top 25 Beers of 2016

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, WE’VE WITNESSED AN EXPLOSION of new beer styles. Where sours were once obscure, today American wild ales and their fruited variants are the darlings of craft beer. Where session IPAs initially had us scratching our heads (How are they different from pale ales? Are they supposed to be less alcoholic or less bitter than IPAs, or both?), they’ve now distinguished themselves as one of the most popular beer styles on shelves.

But 2016 was different: Unlike in years during which we celebrated wholly new styles, this time around we relished in a deepening and broadening of the types of beer we’ve celebrated in the past. We found a 14%-ABV barrel-aged blend from Deschutes and Hair of the Dog that was gorgeously layered but surprisingly easy to drink, and a balanced Czech Pilsner from Live Oak Brewing that was wonderfully complex. We saw IPAs that took on new forms—but were still IPAs at heart—with cloudy, juicy and fruited versions landing among our favorites. And while brewers are still playing with fun, unusual and exciting ingredients in beer, this year we enjoyed the thoughtful flavor construction of their food-infused brews.

This was the year that the thrill of finding something novel was replaced by the delight of experiencing something expertly crafted. These 25 beers, all new or newly packaged in the last 12 months, are a testament to where beer is today—and, we can only hope, where beer will continue to go.

Peach Rye Dreamland

Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales
Denver, Colorado
Rye Whiskey Barrel-aged Golden Sour with Peaches

Tart, fruited wild ales continued their meteoric rise this year, but few boasted such graceful and balanced barrel character as this one-off variation on Black Project’sDreamland sour. Peaches (84 pounds’ worth)lend their juicy ripeness while a wet A.D.Laws Secale Rye Whiskey barrel contributes custardy vanilla and a warm coconut flavor.Soft acidity deftly slices through, tempering pastry-crust malt richness reminiscent of spiced peach pie a la mode.

2016 | 25 Breweries on the Rise

James and Sarah Howat began fermenting the first Black Project beer in February 2014 in a back room at Former Future, the Denver brewery they were preparing to launch. Both breweries have found success, but Black Project stayed under classified status for a while.The husband-and-wife duo didn’t even tell most Former Future employees what was happening in that room; it remained an Area 51 until eight months later. Once the first Black Project beer was released, the floodgates opened. Geeks clamored for the sour and funky brews, all made with native, wild microflora (the Howats don’t purchase any yeast for Black Project beers from a lab). After two Black Project beers, Flyby and Ramjet, won medals at GABF in 2014 and 2015, word spread nationally. “You hear about engineered scarcity, but we’ve never been able to produce more than a few barrels at a time on our four-barrel system,” says James. “Right now, we’re literally trying to brew and bottle them one beer at a time.” The beers age 10-12 months on average and don’t lend themselves to repetition. But that’s not what the Howats seek anyway; Former Future is their outlet for clean, if not always repeated, beers including the Singularity Principle series of single-malt, single-hop pale ales. Black Project prizes variation. “Wild fermentation isn’t boring and it’s not even really understood,” James says. “It takes a long time to find your answer.” The Howats favorite results have been Ramjet, a red wine barrel- aged dark sour brewed with cherries, and Kalmar, a spontaneously fermented gose that has only improved in the bottle since its November 2015 release. Black Project is currently looking to expand production and distribute to other states. Safe to say the secret’s out.