Young and Hungry

Beerspotter’s Top 5 Beers of 2009


It wasn't easy, but during the delicious beer year that was 2009 I managed to taste every beer in the world. Well, OK not quite. But I tasted plenty, and from spankin' fresh IPAs to spicy Belgians to face-altering sour beers, it was nearly impossible to choose the five best. Again, my job is very, very hard.

A lot of wonderful new beers hit the market, pushing boundaries and becoming new favorites. They're not all new per se; some are new to D.C., and some are pretty new but might have come out in 2008. But the main point is that these five are all delicious and worth seeking out. So, because I love countdowns more than Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest's unborn son, here are the Top Five Beers of 2009. Let the discussion begin.

5. Goose Island Matilda – You know what's even better than a great Belgian beer? One that doesn't have to travel 5,000 miles to get here. What makes America the best beer country in the world is that you can find nearly every brewing style (not to mention that we're making up new styles every other week). With serious allspice notes and a mild touch of funky-sweet apricot, Matilda is one of the best Belgian golden ales you'll find on either side of the Atlantic.

4. Duck Rabbit Schwarzbier – Yes, lagers can be dark! And in this case, they can also be thick and chewy, and practically burnt with roasted malt. That's why my second-favorite part of sharing this six-pack was telling my friends that it was a lager. My favorite part? The grill marks.

3. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale – When it comes down to it, IPAs are my favorite, and I suspect many of you share this disposition. This summer seasonal tastes like the lovechild of Stone IPA and Bell's Two-Hearted Ale, with honey sweetness and grapefruit bite that give way to a blanket of bitter hops. Summer can't come soon enough.

2. Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge – 2009 was the year sour beer came to town, and the horse it rode in on was Cuvee des Jacobins. Cherry sweetness meets uber-tart pucker, all wrapped together in a barrel-aged package. If soda could taste this good, I'd drink soda for breakfast.

1. Stone Cali-Belgique IPA – And here we are. Of all the beers I tried in 2009 — including the ones I can't remember — this is the beer I want, all the time. Stone's regular IPA is a big, bludgeoning bottle of eau de hops. Cali-Belgique is that same beer with a Belgian yeast strain replacing the ol' Stars and Stripes, and the effect is something like when Jimi Hendrix covered "All Along the Watchtower." The basics are still there — you won't miss your hops — but the crazy yeast shows up with wafts of strawberry and tropical fruits, going completely Jackson Pollock all over your basic IPA canvas. Don't call it a Belgian IPA. This is American beer: flavorful, bold, creative, and above all, as good as it gets.

Wait, wait, don't tell me: You disagree, right? Did I miss your favorite beer? Or commit some other woeful folly? I'm sure I did, but don't just sit there and fume — flex those keyboard muscles and say something!

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  • Hannah Neprash

    Amen on the Lagunitas! Opinions on the worst beer(s) of 2009?

  • CS

    I dug that Duck-Rabbit Schwarzbier too (and their Milk Stout).

    Best beers for me were:
    1. Founder's Harvest Ale - pure hop bliss. The west coast is spoiled with this type of deliciousness. We don't get enough hoppy beers this good on the east coast. Also loved being able to finally get the Centennial IPA and Breakfast Stout in DC.

    2. Brooklyn Black Ops - I'm not even that much of an imperial stout lover, but this stuff bowled me over. I hear the next batch will be easier to get.

    3. Dogfish Head Squall IPA - A friend and I had a good conversation over a bottle of this. I don't know if that's what's coloring my judgement, but I absolutely loved this beer.

    4. Troegs' Nugget Nectar - Always amazing. look forward to it every year

    5. Stone Levitation - Great to be able to get this regularly in DC. I'm hoping session beers finally become a big trend in 2010 (am liking the Smuttynose Winter Ale as a winter session beer right now)

    Worst beer I had this year was Clipper City's Big DIPA. Yuck. Nothing close to what I'd hope for in a double IPA. Victory's Yakima Twilight and Sierra Nevada's Torpedo were big letdowns for me too.

  • Ben

    Love your choices!

    Here are my top five...

    1. Russian River's Pliny the Younger - What every big IIPA strives to be.
    2. Dogfish Head's "Randalized" 90 Minute IPA - straight from the Rehoboth Beach brewpub, fresh hops give the frothy head a tint of green.
    3. Oskar Blue's Ten FIDY - best beer I've ever had from a can. Period.
    4. Bootlegger's Plum Riot - a Belgian style ale with flecks of pureed plum floating around. Thinking out of the box!
    5. The Bruery's Black Tuesday Stout - an 18% behemoth of rich dark beer candy in a glass.

  • James

    Whoever Ben is is totally right about Oskar Blue's. Best beer by far out of a can.

    Otherwise, IPA's don't own the universe, but reading this post you wouldn't know it

  • Drew

    Good picks, but I have to disagree on the Bocker Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge (not a sour ale guy) and Stone's Cali-Belgique IPA (I was surprised at how much I didn't like this beer. Much too bitter.) Here are my five:

    1. Terrapin's Gamma Ray: It took way too long to get Terrapin up here. The Gamma Ray is the best example of what we've been missing.
    2. Flying Dog's Raging Bitch: For my money, this is the hands-down best new Belgian-Style IPA. A far better balaced beer than Stone's. Much better.
    3. Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo: Simply a fantastic barrel-aged ale.
    4. Abita's Abbey Ale: A great, rich ale that seems to be flying under the radar a little.
    5. Three Floyds' Robert the Bruce: To hell with Fat Tire, it's about time Three Floyds entered our market. Until then, this is one of the best reasons to frequent Pizzeria Paradiso.
    Three Floyds' Robert the Bruce

  • Raul

    I have to agree with Drew when it comes to Flying Dog's Raging Bitch over the Stone Cali-Belgique. I found the Raging Bitch to be a much more balanced beer with enough malt to balance the hop bitterness. Also, the Flying Dog has a bit more booze (8.3% vs. 6.5%, I believe) and comes at a fraction of the price. I bought a case of it recently for $26. Best beer purchase I've made in a long time!

  • Marc

    My top 5 of 2009!
    1.) Troegs Nugget Nectar
    2.) Founders Devil Dancer
    3.)Clipper City/Heavy Seas BIG DIPA
    4)Legends Barleywine
    5.)Bells HOP SLAM

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