2014, I miss you already. The years seem to go by faster and faster, but at least the beers keep getting better and better. Especially here in the city, where our craft beer scene has blossomed into one of the nation’s most vibrant. Not long ago, NYC-based breweries were overshadowed by more prominent players from neighboring regions. But the past half-decade has been defined by a renaissance of first-class fermentation. We now boast dozens of producers with global significance, and even more exciting newcomers on the horizon. As we struggle with the inevitable hangover of a new year, here’s a little hair of the dog to help you through. In no particular order, here are the ten best local(ish) beers I drank in 2014.
10. Grimm Artisanal Ales – BFF Husband-and-wife team Joe and Lauren Grimm — self-described nomadic brewers — consistently produced some of Brooklyn’s best beers in 2014. The dynamic duo’s skills were handily showcased in this hop-heavy Tripel. A thoughtful melding of styles, BFF has the aroma and bitter-forward action of an American IPA, but manages to round itself out with a yeasty, Belgian backdrop. The most disappointing characteristic of this spring seasonal one-off is that it, like most Grimm beers, will probably never be brewed again.
9. Evil Twin Brewing – Sour Bikini
This unapologetically sour pale ale is not for the uninitiated. If you’re a noob looking to delve into the curiously complex realm of wild beer, look elsewhere. This is a sour beer for sourheads. It’s tart, it’s tangy, and it’s terrific. It’s also usually on tap over at Torst in Greenpoint, where it’s safe to go through several pours of this unexpectedly sessionable tongue-tickler.
8. Sixpoint Brewery – Barrel-aged 3Beans Baltic Porter
Ironically, if it wasn’t for a last minute trip to Portland for the annual Oregon Brewers Fest, I might not have ever tasted this robust Baltic porter. Although it was available briefly in cans and on draft throughout New York, if you blinked, you would’ve missed it. This unique concoction was partially brewed with cacao and coffee beans, resulting in a rich, roasted finish. Far more direct than your typical coffee-infused affair. [
7. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company – Golden Delicious
As a matter of personal taste, I despise ciders. Or any liquid that’s even remotely apple-like, for that matter. So Captain Lawrence really threw me for a loop when I found myself drawn to the 2014 rendition of their annual Golden Delicious release. Aging this Belgian Tripel in apple brandy barrels didn’t result in any cloyingly sweet undertones. Instead, there was a crisp dryness to accompany swirls of tropical fruit and tannins. Its alluring drinkability is belied by a formidable 12 percent ABV.
6. The Hop Whisperer – 508 Gastrobrewery
The award-winning Manhattan brewpub created this dry-hopped saison in collaboration with Brian Strumke of Stillwater — a man known for his devotion to the style. Traditionally associated with peppery spice, this particular saison offers more in the way of barnyard funk and pine-laced bitterness. Those added flavors come courtesy of heaping portions of citra hops and yeast collected from the bottom of Spanish Sidra bottles.
5. Void of Light – Gun Hill Brewing Company
Perhaps the most provocative stout I drank in 2014 came from this Bronx bomber. Oozing with caramel and cream, it’s nothing less than a decadent dessert for beer lovers. And I was hardly the only one impressed; Void of Light took home gold in the Foreign Stout category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.
4. Barrier Brewing Company – Tenderfoot
A big blast of bitterness is to be expected from a Double IPA. But Tenderfoot shirks expectations by leaving the tongue to consider a pronounced dryness, rarely tasted in a beer this heavy. It was a standout among a slew of solid releases from this Oceanside-based microbrewery. Once ravaged by the effects of Hurricane Sandy, Barrier Brewing — like its surrounding community — has declared itself a proud survivor.
3. New England Brewing Company – Fuzzy Baby Ducks
While it pains me to include a Connecticut beer in this list, what with so many fantastic offerings to choose from here in the five boroughs, I simply cannot ignore what might be the best IPA to come out of the Tri-State Area. It’s everything the style should be: juicy, aromatic, offering a glimpse of resiny bitterness without going off the reservation. I had been chasing this whale for quite some time, and was thrilled that when I finally slew it, Fuzzy Baby Ducks was worthy of the hype.
2. Carton Brewing Company – Rav
Far and away the most redeeming release to emerge from the reviled season of “pumpkin spice everything,” Rav was unlike any fall-themed beer I tasted in 2014. That’s because it was inspired by zucca ravioli, and brewed partially using its deconstructed parts. The flavors of squash, sage, cinnamon, and even Italian biscotti aren’t just hinted at, they’re actually in the beer. Long past their prime, Bruce and Bon Jovi should beware; nothing from Jersey is rocking quite like Carton Brewing these day.
1. Other Half Brewing – All Green Everything
Long established as the Cultural Epicenter of Everything Ever, it’s difficult to imagine that Brooklyn somehow managed to up its game in 2014. But the arrival of Other Half Brewing along the industrial outskirts of Gowanus did just that, bringing the city’s best new craft brewery to the county of Kings. Of all the magical brews the brewery flooded the scene with this year, none impressed quite like this hypnotic double IPA. Initially evoking a different tropical fruit upon every part of the palate it meets, All Green Everything encores with a thoughtful dose of pine sap. New York will doubtlessly be seeing a lot more of this beer in 2015. But I can’t wait that long. I need one right now.