2013 was a rather busy beer year for me. After spending most of 2009-2012 living in Asia, returning to Europe and then spending a few months in San Diego allowed me to venture back into the world of craft beers in a big way. In total, I tried almost 700 different beers last year! Now granted, a large number of these were small tasters in breweries in Southern California, but each of these was a unique beer for me to try for the first time.
Overall, the quality of the beers I tried in 2013 was quite good. Of the 690 ratings, only 37 were not able to garner an “OK” rating of 3 out of 5 on my personal taste scale. 359 beers were in the 3-3.5 / 5 range, and 272 I enjoyed enough to score in the 4′s. Only 21 different beers, from 13 different breweries managed to earn a 5 out of 5 for me. This is 3% of all of the beers I tasted in 2013.
I expect 2014 will be a rather prolific year as well. In fact, when I return to the Netherlands, I still have a large number of beers from the Our Tasty Travels 23-country road trip to sample. I’m looking forward to seeing if any of them stand out.
Interested in what some of my favorites of 2013 were? Here’s a rundown of some of my top Breweries and Beers of 2013
1) AleSmith – For many, San Diego has become the capital of craft beer in America. And, lucky for me, work has had me spending quite a bit of time in San Diego towards the end of 2013. One of the first breweries I visited was AleSmith. Within San Diego, many of the breweries are well known for their IPA’s. AleSmith is different, as its specialties tend to run darker and heavier. Some of my favorite beers from AleSmith were the Old Ale, Decadence, and Speedway Stout. The top for me, however, was the Barrel Aged Speedway Stout that was released not long after I arrived in November.
2) Brasserie De L’Abbaye Des Rocs – Abbaye Des Rocs has always been one of my favorite Belgian breweries, and last year, I tried a couple of new bottlings from them, including my new all-time favorite, the Abbaye des Rocs Triple Imperiale. I look forward to finding this one again!
3) Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen – Another new favorite from Belgium, 3 Fonteinen is one of the kings of Belgian lambic beers, along with Cantillon. I was lucky enough to visit 3 Fonteinen at their Open Beer Days each of the last two years, and a few of the beers I picked up there made my top list of 2013, including the Straffe Winter, Oude Kriek and the Oude Geuze Vintage (2008). I also shared a bottle of Druiven Geuze (Malvasia Rosso) during Cantillon’s Zwanze Day at Moeder Lambic which was also quite outstanding. I have a number of bottles of Vintage Geuze and other special offerings still in my cellar, which I am very much looking forward to trying still.
4) Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon - I visited the Cantillon brewery in Brussels a number of times throughout 2013, including a visit in September for their Zwanze Day event both at the brewery and at the Moeder Lambic pub in Brussels. One of the best benefits of visiting in person is that you can often sample beers at the brewery that are not available for retail sale for take-home consumption, but only for sampling on site. My favorite beers tasted from Cantillon in 2013 were the Lou Pepe Framboise and the Fou’ Foune 2013 (Peach Lambic) on cask. I also very much enjoyed the Fou’ Foune 2012, Zwanze 2012 as well as their normal Kriek 100% Lambic and Rosé de Gambrinus offerings.
5) Alpine Beer Company – Coming back to San Diego, one of the best breweries in the area isn’t in the city itself, but around 30 miles east of the city. Alpine Beer Company is in the small town of Alpine, CA, and makes some of the best IPA’s around. They also make some pretty great barbecue at their restaurant at the brewery, which makes for a fun and delicious visit. My favorites from Alpine were the Bad Boy Imperial IPA, Pure Hoppiness Imperial IPA, Great (Barleywine), and Nelson IPA, my favorite, which unfortunately they were not selling bottles of when I was there.
6) Brouwerij De Molen – While the majority of my favorite beers from living in Europe are Belgian, there are also quite some good Dutch beers as well. I tried a number of very excellent Dutch beers in 2013, and their craft offerings continue to improve and impress me. The king of the Dutch craft beers for me would definitely still be De Molen, with its line of stouts (and impressive bottle shop of beers from elsewhere in Europe, and even the US.) Its Rasputin (Disputin in the US, as they cannot use the Rasputin name due to trademark issues) and Hel & Verdoemenis Imperial Russian Stouts are both very strong offerings that I enjoyed immensely!
7) Brouwerij Rodenbach – Rodenbach will always hold a special place in my heart, as their Grand Cru is the first sour beer I tried, and turned me into a huge fan of the style, helping me to enjoy the lambic offerings of breweries like 3 Fonteinen and Cantillon. As much as I love the Rodenbach Grand Cru, I was enamored with my first taste of their Vintage Oak Aged line, having a bottle of 2010 Vintage Oak Aged Ale (Barrel No 144) near the top of my list for 2013.
8) De Struise Brouwers – Another Belgian Brewery on the list, De Struise continues to impress me with their line of beers. With favorites like the Pannepot already under the belt, I was thrilled to fall in love as well with one of their Christmas beers, Tsjeeses. Their Kabert Russian Imperial Stout was also one of my favorites of 2013.
9) Red Rooster – Ok, so these weren’t the absolute best beers I had all year, but these beers from Palau Brewing Company definitely earn the time and place award for 2013. We tried these beers on a visit to Palau back in April, and not only did we enjoy the beers, we also paid a visit to the brewery where they took the time to give us a tour of their operations in the middle of their busy day. We tried their Amber Ale, Stout, Wheat and Light, with the Wheat being my favorite, especially drinking it with lunch at the restaurant next to the brewery.
10) Rough Draft – I add Rough Draft to the list for a combination of very good beer and great people. I was sampling beers at AleSmith with fellow bloggers, Michael and Stephanie, who were also visiting San Diego, when we started talking with another taster at the bar. Turns out he is a brewer at Rough Draft Brewing Company and had stopped over after closing the tasting room for the day. He offered us a private tour of the brewery, where he walked us through the entire process. He provided us with samples of their full lineup of beers, including a side-by-side sample of their Eraser IPA still maturing in the tank along with the finished product from the tap. Overall, I enjoyed all of their hoppier IPA’s the most, as well as their Freudian Sip Strong Ale and Belgian Vanilla Stout
11) Stone Brewing Co. – Spending a lot of time in San Diego, it’s almost impossible not to try some beers from Stone Brewing Co. And this is a very good thing. Stone has been one of my go-to beers when there’s not much else craft on tap, and visiting the World Bistro and Garden in Escondido for dinner and some beers is a treat whenever we make the visit. With 74 new beers created in 2013, there’s almost always something new to try each time you visit! While their core pours like Arrogant Bastard Ale and Cali-Belgique IPA are all excellent, I was most impressed with some of their more limited offerings, such as their Enjoy By IPA’s (10.25.13 and 12.13.13), Imperial Russian Stout 2010, and Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout.
12) The Bruery – Of all the breweries I visited while in San Diego in 2013, the best brewery I went to, unfortunately, wasn’t in San Diego, but around two hours north in Placentia, Orange County. I have heard so much about The Bruery over the past couple of years, but hadn’t had much opportunity to try any of their beers. I decided to make the drive up, and fell in love! Their line-up of sour beers helped me feel back at home with my lambics from Belgium. I tried a number of different tastes on my visit, and all of them hit the mark. My favorites were Bois (Bourbon Barrel Aged) Old Ale, Mash & Grind English Barleywine, Tart of Darkness (regular and with Cocao and Vanilla Beans) and most of all, Melange No. 3 and Grey Monday. I am very much looking forward to trying their Black Tuesday in 2014!
13) Three Floyds Brewing Company – I managed to try two beers from Three Floyds Brewing Company of Munster, IN in 2013, and one of them was beyond a doubt my beer of the year, Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord With Vanilla Beans (2012). I lucked into a taste of this beer while attending Zwanze Day 2013, taking part in a bottle share between my visit to the brewery and the event itself at the Moeder Lambic pub that evening. The Apocalypse Cow was also a highlight.